With a 5'11" frame and a max weight at one point of 375 lbs., being overweight was taking a toll on truck driver Benjie Burns' life and ability to do his job. That was early last year, and now — although he doesn't usually monitor his weight with a scale — he's down to about 250 and has his sights set sky-high.
"I don't have a target weight, but I need to get down to 225 to go skydiving," he says, a goal he has for this year.
Benjie says he made a lifestyle change back in February 2015, right about the time of year when many people's New Year's resolutions have fizzled out. He was a tanker truck driver based out of Greenville, S.C., and was a bit lower than his heaviest weight at around 345. He was a borderline type 2 diabetic, and was getting ready to add insulin to the list of medications he was taking.
"It was hard to get up and down off of those tankers, being as heavy as I was," he tells Fleet Owner. "I kind of woke up and said to myself, 'You're going to die, and you're going to let a spoon and fork kill you.'
"I grabbed hold of myself and decided it was time to get this weight off."
Need to change
When Benjie decided he had to make some big changes, he says he was eating mostly fast food and junk food and loading up at roadside buffets. He needed to sleep some 10-12 hours a night to feel rested. He was on one medication for high blood pressure and another three related to diabetes.
Things weren't on a very positive path, and single dad Benjie says part of his motivation came from wanting to be there for his young son.
"I got this trucking job for me and him," Benjie explains. "I want to be the best dad that I can and set a good example; I want to be healthy and be around for him."
But that's not easy for truck drivers, Benjie says. It's an epidemically unhealthy profession, with the highest obesity rates of any in the United States. He adds that he believes truckers often get overweight because they make too many quick, "comfort food" meal choices out on the road.
"I would say a lot of it is stress eating," Benjie notes. He points to things like home-life stress out on the road or drivers being hurried along by dispatchers or others, though he credits his employer, Slay Transportation, with excellent back office-driver interaction and avoiding that kind of stress pileup on drivers.
"We've got a bunch of unhealthy truck drivers out there," he surmises. "You'll see truckers who can barely get across a parking lot because of their weight. You can get bigger quickly.
"At a truck stop, you'll see all these drivers there trying to get a front-row parking spot," he continues. "And maybe that's all the walking they'll do — from that spot to go inside and back — because then the next morning, they'll just roll right out of bed and get behind the steering wheel."
So not only are many truck drivers not getting much physical activity, again, they're making lots of bad choices for what and how much to eat, Benjie says, just like he was.
"I told one driver, 'You've got a choice: You can keep going to McDonald's and getting that no. 3 or whatever combo in a brown paper bag, and at some point, you're going to have a bag of medicine in your other hand,'" he contends.
Smoothies and more (and less)
Benjie says he resolved to take the weight off through self-discipline and consistent choices, not any quick fix from a bottle. "I didn't take any pills to get big; there's no magic pill I'm going to take to get skinny," he quips.
His new, healthy meal and lifestyle plan includes replacing two meals a day with a smoothie from Smoothie King. That might be breakfast and lunch, or if he knows he'll be driving until later at night, Benjie says he'll try to eat a "hard meal" for lunch and have a smoothie on the road for dinner so he won't have to eat too late.
"And when I say 'hard meal,' that's usually salad or soup," he explains.
Benjie keeps a blender on his truck to make smoothies. When he's on the road, he says he'll get a bag of ice and keep that in his cooler; he'll typically blend up a scoop of smoothie powder (he sticks to chocolate flavor), a scoop of natural peanut butter, maybe a banana, skim milk and some ice. At home in Easley, S.C., he replaces the ice with frozen strawberries, and he'll also pick up smoothies from Smoothie King locations.
Now and again, Benjie says he'll do things like go get pizza with his son — though not from a pizza chain, and he doesn't overeat. "We'll get a personal-size pizza and I'll eat a slice maybe as big as your hand, then I'll fill up on salad," he tells Fleet Owner.
"I can go months without having pizza or anything like that," Benjie says. "I can flip that on and right off now like a switch. I don't need it; that's not who I am. That's not what I want to be now."
As far as anything to avoid altogether, he notes he does stay away from one thing that'd be easy for him to overeat: Mexican food.
Benjie has also upped his walking and physical activity in addition to healthy eating and portion control. He says he'll deliberately park farther away at those truck stops and often uses the truck terminal to get in a good walk.
"If you look at it, the trucking industry has some of the best workout facilities around," he says. "You've got these huge parking lots, and there's nobody back there but us truck drivers.
"Utilize that big parking lot for a walking track," Benjie advises. "I've done two laps around a big parking lot, and that might be a mile."
In addition, maybe once a week, he says he'll go to a kickboxing class when he's at home to break up the walking routine.
Results and what's next
Right away, Benjie says his lifestyle change — he emphasizes that this is no diet to go on and off, seesawing up and down — started making a huge difference. He started a "Trucker Slim Down" page at www.facebook.com/Trucker-Slim-Down-398378623696097 to chart his progress.
He felt better and much more rested, he says, and the positive results complemented each other. "My energy has been through the roof. When the weight started falling off, I could walk farther," he recalls. "It was easier on my knees, easier on everything. Everything got easier."
Initially with the meal-replacement shakes, there were some hunger pains and adjustment necessary, he admits. "At first, I'd get the munchies around 10 and 3, but now that I've been doing it awhile, I'll have a 20-oz. smoothie for breakfast and have to remind myself to eat lunch," he notes. "That shake has everything you need in it in terms of nutrition, and it's healthy."
And since a year ago, when he felt he had to sleep some 10-12 hours every night to feel rested, he says he feels like he's wasted the day sleeping if he goes over 8 hours.
"I feel like I've had years put back on my life now that I've done this," Benjie contends. "It's been a remarkable ride, and I'm going to stay on it."
And those meds he was on? The doctors have since taken Benjie off all of them.
He says he's not into counting calories and stays away from scales and weighing himself. "If you're eating healthy, you're going to know it," he says. "The only way I know I've lost weight is that people see me and tell me I look thinner." And those big old clothes just don't fit and he keeps needing smaller ones, he adds.
As far as what's next, Benjie notes there's no target weight, but he's sticking to the program. Right now he says he wants to get down to a size "large," but eventually can see reaching an ideal, trim weight for his body size.
"Ultimately, I want to try to get down to maybe a buck ninety, buck eighty," he reckons. "It's doable; anything you set your mind to is. But nobody can make your mind up for you — you've got to do it yourself."
And along with going skydiving sometime soon, Benjie says he'd also like to help other truck drivers turn their lives around and get in shape.
"They can all start back to getting healthy, no matter where they're coming from," he tells Fleet Owner. "If I can help just one other person, that'd be good. If I can help five, that's great.
"If I can help 100-plus people, that'd be awesome," Benjie says. "So that's a goal of mine."