This week our Stronger U Member Spotlight is shining down on Jesse Solomon, who is working with Coach Nick Sorrell. Congrats, Jesse!
What’s your name?
Tell us a little about you in 5 sentences or less. Where are you from? Are you a parent? What are your hobbies? Anything unique about your life that you want to share?
My husband, Jay, and I are the fathers of two three-year-old twins, Sam and Nico, and an orange tabby cat named Laszlo. We live in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside of Washington DC, where I am a partner in a law firm practicing antitrust law. I represent clients in large-scale, fast-moving transactions, which can involve a good deal of travel and schedule adjustments on the fly–a significant challenge when it comes to fitness. I grew up in San Diego, California as the first-generation son of South African parents who left Johannesburg during apartheid. I was a short, scrawny kid who did not really play team sports, so I’m always impressed by short guys who are incredibly fit, like Anthony Bainbridge.
What led you to join Stronger U?
One of my favorite people in the world, Jason Yauman, told me he had a friend who’d had a great experience with Stronger U. So Jason and I both decided to give it a try. I’d been giving my exercise regimen serious focus and wanted to learn how to eat like an athlete. And doing Stronger U with a close friend made it feel more motivating.
What dieting experience have you had previous to Stronger U? Was there a reason you were or were not successful? Why did you stop?
My previous fitness efforts were more blunt, less surgical. They failed for two reasons—one conceptual and one practical.
On concept, I thought about fitness as “dieting”—as in, eating in a particular way to achieve a particular short-term result. Then, as my kids say, I would “be all done wit’ dat.” So I’d achieve my short-term goal and then did not have medium-term or longer-term goals to transition me to a lifestyle I could maintain. I’d go back to baseline consumption and undo my efforts, instead of building on them.
On practice, I’d focus on total calorie consumption and not on macronutrient composition, with a significant deficit (say, 1300 calories max) and no real attention to protein intake. I also did far too much cardio (ha!). So I’d lose fat and muscle tone, landing up skinny, tired, and grumpy, with kind of a mid-90s Calvin Klein waify look. Like I had spent the day listening to Pearl Jam and feeling angsty. But who wants a Calvin Klein model when you can have an Abercrombie?
It’s clear Stronger U worked for you. Why do you think Stronger U worked so well when other programs or diets may have not?
It addressed the two problems I’d been facing in my fitness. First, it’s not a “diet,” per se—it’s a system for adjusting your nutrition over time. You can achieve a short-term goal (say, fat loss) and then build on that goal to achieve a next step and a next one (say, muscle gain, or maintenance of body composition). That may sound needlessly fancy, but to me it has been critical to shift my mindframe from “what I’m doing for my body for this temporary period” to “how I take care of my body from now on.” Second, it’s not really focused on weight—much more on body composition, building muscle and stripping fat. I can eat much more and maintain energy and focus while retaining muscle, and without worrying about weight. I also have a better understanding of how my body reacts to different macros and to the bioavailability of the foods I choose to eat.
Can you give some insight into your eating habits BEFORE joining Stronger U?
Sure. Generally, a lot of prepackaged foods that were low in overall calories but high in carbs and sodium, and a few glasses of wine/whiskey per week. A heavy concentration of my carbs were starchy carbs and sugars, and I often felt tired because my food choices did not fuel my energy past initial bursts. So I’d get frustrated because I was being disciplined in my overall calorie consumption, but I was not eating in a way that was best for my body. I needed to eat more overall calories with a better macro balance, better hydration, and better nutrients.
Now that you’ve joined Stronger U, how have your eating habits changed?
They’re a lot simpler, with fewer deviations. Early on, I took the program’s advice to stick mainly to single-macro foods, and I’ve kept with that approach—so every day I have building blocks for my sources of protein, carbs, and fats, with plenty of stock on hand. I also drink much more water, which helps to maintain energy through the day. Long conference calls are substantially more difficult, however. 🙂
More broadly, though, I have a better feel for which foods make my body feel good and which do not. My choices are pretty simple and flexible—grilled lean meats, high-quality dairy proteins, vegetables, and whole grains. And my kids are in on the action, too. I have an amazing nanny who makes nutritious food for the kids, and they love eating some of the same foods I do. A favorite in our house is “Dada muffins,” which are really just six-grain muffins from the recipe on the Bob’s Red Mill box.
If you exercise or train for a sport, what does a typical week look like? Did Stronger U have any impact in your decision to start exercising or training for a sport?
I work out four to six times per week, mostly weight-lifting, about an hour per day, with upper/lower splits. Nothing complicated. I see my trainer in person once per week and otherwise am on my own at an amazing new gym in my city, The St. James. I try to get my workouts in first thing in the morning so that they’re done and ready to power me through the day. I’d been lifting weights before Stronger U, but Stronger U helped channel and focus my energy for workouts and taught me which supplements were worthwhile for me.
How much weight did you lose with Stronger U?
My awesome coach and friend, Nick Sorrell, started me out with a cut. That brought me down about 8 pounds to ~7-8% body fat at my lowest point. Then we did a longer-term bulk to build muscle, up 20 pounds to about 16% body fat. I am now working on another cut, in which I’ve stripped off about 9 pounds so far.
How did your waist measurements change with Stronger U?
We stripped about 5.5” off of my waist in a three-month cut, put about 3” back on during a ten-month bulk, and are currently 2” down two months into another cut.
What were 3 major non-scale victories you experienced with Stronger U?
At the beginning of 2018, I traveled to Patagonia to hike two mountains—one along the W circuit in Chile and the other in Argentina (the Fitz Roy). It was an incredible experience in itself, but more than that, as I was approaching 40, it was an amazing opportunity to push myself, take risks, and accomplish goals that I never imagined I could achieve. Or enjoy.
By the end of 2018, I could do 25 strict consecutive pull-ups, which is precisely 25 more than I was able to do when I started up with Stronger U. And I’m not a Crossfit guy (sorry), but I throw in a Murph workout every few weeks. The idea of a Murph would have been ridiculous to me a while back.
Maybe the best NSV, though, is that I no longer think of myself as a scrawny, little guy. Because I’m not anymore.
Has your change in body weight or composition improved other areas of your life? If so, explain what areas and how.
Definitely. Without being arch, I feel stronger. I love the play on words that Mike chose for Stronger U, but it’s really true—and not just physically. I feel more confident day to day, more resilient in the face of adversity, and more adventurous and open to new challenges. I’ve also focused on being more present in immediate moments and appreciating the world around me and the people in it today, for who they are now. In a culture driven by individual achievement and competition, that is not an intuitive lesson. But for me, a lot of the joy of this community is in cheering on others more than driving myself to hit a particular goal. Those are gifts that go way beyond losing a few pounds or hitting a PR in the gym.
Are there any tips or advice you’d give to new members of Stronger U to help them succeed early on?
I’ll distill it down to two tips:
- This program is not about you being told what to do; it’s about choosing to learn from a supportive group of experts. So be proactive and take control as quickly as you can. You win or lose on your own merits.
- If you try to compare your progress to others or “compete,” you’ll lose out. Make a point of taking pride in others’ accomplishments and supporting them; that spirit will come back to you, too.
If someone is thinking about joining Stronger U, what would you tell them?
Haha, I wish someone would tell me that they are thinking about joining! You will laugh but I wear my Stronger U gear when I fly, because I always hope I’ll run into someone from the program or someone intrigued by it! I’d suggest giving it a try for 12 weeks and gauging whether it’s a fit. If not, that’s cool. But why not? There is no real downside, and extraordinary potential upside.