Oprah calls them “aha moments.” Edison would prefer a reference to the light bulb. But for Curtis Speer, the instant everything clicked came with a big question mark and a simple question: will you change?

Speer had always been overweight. At 13 he pushed 200 pounds and had a 38-inch waist. Although growth spurts in high school helped his proportions, by no means was he a small guy. Then in college he started taking exercise classes for the same reason we all took them—easy A. But something stuck.


“That’s how I got into it,” Speer says. “That’s when I started my journey trying to educate myself on proper nutrition and exercise.”


Today, Speer is a trim 174 pounds with a 31-inch waist. He lost a total of 51 pounds through controlled diet and exercise and now teaches his techniques to other people facing his same struggles. Speer was so inspired by his own transformation that he became a certified personal trainer through the Cooper Institute of Aerobics and the National Academy of Sports Medicine, as well as a certified life coach.


His evolution from insecure, overweight teen to confident, fit young man was no easy task. Gym classes may have been the start, but it was a rocky road to the finish. In 2006, Speer had his second of two back surgeries, brought about by injuries from a serious car accident in 2001. During the post-op consultation, his doctor spewed bad news: vigorous exercise would be a thing of the past, and a desk job looked probable for his future—a far cry from his then profession as a photo stylist, doing projects for the likes of Williams-Sonoma and Neiman Marcus.


Speer was devastated.


“I had reached the point where I had to ask, what are you going to do?” he says. “Sit there and complain about it, or do something?” Ultimately, Speer took the road less traveled. And, as you might guess, that decision has made all the difference.


Speer finally began taking responsibility for his actions. “It’s about being more self-aware,” he says. So he started at square one, measuring his food to understand proper portions and keeping a food journal to always be cognizant of his caloric intake. Exercise was a more gradual transition; after his surgery, he could barely lift five pounds. Now, as a personal trainer at Energy Fitness, he’s constantly in the gym.


Looking at him now, it’s hard to believe Speer ever had weight issues. The bright-eyed 35-year-old with the fit frame and inspirational book always in tow is the image of health and wellness. It’s even harder to believe that his most significant trans­formation occurred only in the last two years. But his experiences have opened the door to a new life for Speer.


Now, through his personal training and life coaching, he is able to give his clients the insight and instruction of someone who’s been there, met those challenges, and overcome them. There’s nothing he’d ask you to do as a client that he hasn’t done himself. In fact, he has all of his clients start their wellness programs in the same way he did: by keeping a food journal and measuring their portions.


“You know, I still have the stretch marks from being an overweight kid,” Speer says, “but now I’m comfortable with it because that’s where I came from and it’s just a sign of how strong I am today.”

Speer’s Tips for Eating and Exercising Right

1 Get moving. “Calories equal energy, and if you don’t use the energy, it will be stored as fat,” he says. He suggests a workout schedule of three to four times a week.

2 Change workout programs periodically. “Muscles adapt to exercises in four to six weeks,” Speer says. “They become more efficient at getting through the exercise routine,” thus burning fewer calories. This is true whether it’s cardio or resistance training, so you have to change up your exercises.

3 Eat small portions and eat often. But make sure you’re eating the right foods—organics, lean meats, green veggies, whole grains, and good-for-you fats like avocado, olive oil, and almonds. “At first, I didn’t think about eating the right meals,” Speer says. “I just ate. Then I could not figure out why I wasn’t making progress.” Keep a food journal to help you keep track.

4 Eat things that satiate you. “Ask, am I going to feel full after I eat this?” he says. If the answer is no, choose something else.

5 Avoid processed foods and high fructose corn syrup. The chemicals and additives disrupt our digestive system.

6 Simply try to eat as healthfully as you can, sticking to organic foods as much as possible. “For me, it’s about feeling healthy and having energy,” he says.

7 Avoid the run-reward pitfall—i.e., go for a run, then have a cookie as a reward. “You pretty much nullify what you’ve done in the gym,” Speer says.