He’d always considered himself a pretty healthy guy. After all, Jay Topper, Chief Technology Officer at Vitacost.com, stayed active most of his life, doing cardio exercise semi-regularly and focusing on weight training. Eating healthy wasn’t a huge priority, but he thought he was doing a decent job, and at age 54, he could lift 350 pounds—a greater weight than he’d managed during his college football-playing days. It seemed as if he was on the right track.
But then, in October 2015, Topper got a wake-up call. During his regular wellness checkup with his physician, his provider expressed concern about his blood pressure, cholesterol, history and age. Testing was ordered, and the results prompted the prescription of several different medications to address issues that had been found. Determined to take control of his health, Topper jumped head first and eager into his healthy-living journey.
Next came big changes to his diet, exercise routine and attitude, and more than 6 months later, he’s still going strong. Here’s how Topper has made it happen.
What did you do to tackle health head on?
In December 2015, I had a full blood work-up done, and right after the New Year – on January 6th – I made the switch. I began my new healthy lifestyle by cutting down my calorie intake from 5,000 calories to 2,500 calories a day. I quit candy (I’d been eating probably 8 to 15 ounces a day!) and cut way back on sodium. I also completely altered my work-out time, doubling my cardio and halving my weight lifting (I still do a lot). I’m a little “weaker” now, but I’ve dropped 30 pounds since January (down to 228 this morning!). All of my blood work measurements improved drastically within 90 days. I also just recently ran for over an hour non-stop—about 6 miles—which is a new record for me at any age or any time.
What are some of the secrets to your success?
I use a combination of FitBit, MyFitnessPal and, of course, Vitacost. The secret is transparency—for everything. Calories in, calories out. And, what those calories are. Technology today makes it so easy. Also, I was (and still am!) super public about my journey, which has put some pressure on me to succeed, especially initially. I like pressure! Lastly, there is a meaningful and important spiritual component that helps drive me. Healthy is a 180-degree journey, and I’m continually evolving my mind, body and spirit. It might sound trite, but it’s true!
My family plays a big role! The number of people in my household was just reduced from nine to five. But even those five members are diverse. My wife Laureen and I are FitBit buddies, and we work out together almost every morning at 6 a.m. before the household wakes up. Our buddy and fellow Vitacost employee, Jerry, joins us. We also have a small community that is really fun. My daughter is dairy and gluten-free (gluten-free is a medical requirement for her). Her son (my grandson) has allergies. And my 14-year-old daughter is a championship-level Irish dancer, so she has her own special needs. We all really respect each other and have a common baseline of needs that all fit together. I share cooking duties, as well -- and making healthy tasty is key.
What's the hardest part about healthy living for you?
Travel. Eating healthy on the road can be painful! For one, it’s hard because so many meetings and social gatherings involve food and meals. Secondly, not everyone understands (or enables) the journey. One thing that I thought would be especially hard is cutting out sugar—but it wasn’t! Ditto for salt/sodium. They fell out naturally, and I feel blessed about that. Really, I could list a lot of things that are difficult about healthy living, but it ultimately comes down to having self-discipline in the face of worldly pleasures. That’s truly the hardest part. Every minute. Every day.
How do you stay inspired?
This part is easy! I manage Vitacost’s customer advisory group, VitaVoice, and every one of those customers is on some sort of journey for health. They – the individuals and their stories – inspire and uplift me every day. Also, I rely on communities like my family and social media (I even use Snapchat to blast out my meal-making!). I’m very connected. I draw strength from others.
I don’t know that I do, but I guess by example. I have my failures like everyone else. Staying healthy requires eternal vigilance. I did get Laureen to start waking up early (5:30 a.m.) with me daily—and I think she’s glad that she does now (she is not a morning person!). I do strive to champion a healthy diet and lifestyle, in spite of failures. I’m comfortable knowing what’s right, even if at times I’m not perfect. So I guess in a way I probably encourage people by failing—but still sticking with it!
What’s one healthy thing you do every day, without fail?
Without fail? Probably nothing! How about 90%? I eat an apple as part of my breakfast almost daily. My diet is basically fruit before noon, a healthy salad with protein and fiber for lunch, and then some sort of healthy and moderate (and creative!) dinner. I follow that mostly without fail. Working out is foundational for me, too. I have to work out five times a week, and on days that I don’t, I still try to get in my 10,000 steps. Also, I try to say a prayer daily, mostly without fail as well. It’s hard to say I do anything without fail!
What’s your “splurge” and how often do you splurge?
Well, truth be told, I do like Irish whiskey. I’m a big chunk Celtic, and I blame it on that. I age my own and just like the taste as well as historical sentimentality of it. I eat beef, a good-quality cut, about once a month. And when I hit a milestone, like when I reached 230 pounds, I’ll eat a meal from “the old days” (such as pasta or whatever I want!). If I over-deny myself and try too hard to be perfect, I won’t be. So I don’t make perfection my goal ever, with anything. I do make swaps sometimes, too; for example, eating high-quality, whole grain bread if I’m going to eat bread. So eating breads, pastas and meat—those are my splurges. And Snappea Crisps! I treat myself to those weekly. I love the wasabi flavor.
Vitacost is critical to my health! If you checked out my spending pattern, you’d see that I’m a big-time customer. What I like most about Vitacost is how it lets me “discover.” Every one of my orders includes something new to try. And why not? If I don’t like something, I can get a refund—no questions asked. I try things I’ve searched for myself and made some pretty yummy recipes with them, like this mango-red pepper hummus. I try what our customers recommend. I walk the fulfillment center and find items I didn’t even know that we sell. My family gets me to try things, and I get them to try new things, too. Vitacost is like a “candy store” for healthy living! And as one of our customers put it—I am fueled by Vitacost!
Which clean-eating foods and healthy-living items from Vitacost from are musts for you?
- Vitacost Coconut Oil (I personally prefer the smaller sizes, but the 54 oz. coconut oil is definitely a great buy)
- Julian Bakery Paleo Turmeric Coconut Wraps
- Vitacost Pink Grapefruit Essential Oil
- Calbee Snapea Crisps Harvest Snaps (Wasabi)
- Melindas Hot Habanero Mango Sauce
- EO Essential Oil Products Organic Hand Sanitizer Spray (Peppermint)
- Dang Toasted Coconut Chips
- Vitacost Pressed Avocado Oil
- Bob's Red MillSouthern Style White Corn Grits
- Vitacost Unsalted Almond Butter
- Bragg Organic Fat-Free Braggberry Dressing
- The Honest Kitchen Keen® Dehydrated Dog Food for Adult Dogs (Turkey)
- Vitacost Sublingual Quickdots Methyl B-12 Cherry
- Taza Chocolate Organic Chocolate Mexicano Disc (or any flavor--I don't even like chocolate but these are really good! Careful, though, they melt!)
What’s your health “dream”—where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
I want to be able to bench press 300 pounds when I am 60 years old. I want to run a 10K (I run 5Ks on my own now, once or twice a week). A 10K scares me! I want to keep up with my three grandchildren—better yet, I want to exhaust them! I want my children to see my drive and focus and to learn by example. It’s like the poem by Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night. That’s me. I want them to know that failure is OK, too.
Whatever my limitations are, or become, I want to get the most out of myself. That’s really what it’s all about for me—I don’t want anyone to have to tell me that! I see myself in 5 to 10 years no differently than I see myself now: active, passionate, ready. And when life deals me a blow—life hits all of us in the face sometimes—I want to work through it with wisdom, grace and humility. A healthy mind, body and spirit are the keys.