Three years ago, Joe Hernandez sat wearily on a park bench, watching his young daughters play. He longed to run and jump with them, but debilitating fatigue held him back. Having reached his heaviest weight — 285 pounds — he desperately needed a change. But he didn’t know where to start.
Joe and his wife joined a small group at Saddleback Church and began the Transformed Campaign, learning how to radically change every area of their lives. Joe discovered The Daniel Plan, which outlines God’s design for spiritual, emotional, mental and physical health. “I didn’t think I could be that healthy guy,” Joe admitted. But as the number on the scale crept higher, he grew determined. He enlisted his small group for support and began making minor changes in his daily routine.
First, Joe traded sugary, energy drinks and sodas for water and tea. Next, he swapped out other favorites. Growing up in the South, Joe had become accustomed to heavy, fried foods smothered in butter and gravy. With a newfound mindset, he paid attention to his diet, and soon, his pants grew looser. Wanting to become more active, he bought a Fitbit device, aiming for 2,500 steps a day. Though far from the recommended 10,000 daily steps, the goal seemed a great start in the right direction.
“Once I began doing 2,500 steps, I thought, maybe I could do 2,600 steps,” Joe said. “Every time I began thinking I couldn’t do something, I prayed with my small group, and they encouraged me to keep going.”
After following The Daniel Plan blog, Joe and his wife took things to the next level. They purchased The Daniel Plan book and began the 10-day detox, cutting out sugar, caffeine, dairy and gluten. Though not easy, they stuck carefully to the diet, replacing unhealthy substances with fruits, vegetables, seeds and protein.
“A detox helps flush everything from your system,” Joe explained. “When you do this, your body reacts, and you realize how much the foods you eat can affect you.” Though he experienced soreness and fatigue during the process, prayers and encouragement from his family and small group kept him going.
Shortly after completing the detox, Joe walked through the door after work and was greeted by his young daughter, who offered him a homemade cupcake. Not wanting to hurt her feelings, Joe accepted the sweet treat.
“In The Daniel Plan, we learn to be conscious about the things we eat but also to enjoy what God’s given us,” Joe said. With this in mind, he did not overindulge.
Following the detox, Joe and his wife began the 40-day program outlined in The Daniel Plan. Desiring additional physical activity, Joe took up mountain biking with a guy from his small group. He enjoyed riding local trails, taking in God’s creation and the fresh air. Mountain biking became a regular part of his routine, as did healthy eating. Joe’s pant size continued to shrink, and after a year of persistence, he lost a staggering 115 pounds and ten percent of his body fat.
“My appearance changed so drastically that a TSA agent at the airport nearly refused to let me board a plane because she did not believe the overweight guy in the photo on my ID was really me,” Joe said with a chuckle.
Friends and family were all amazed by Joe’s tremendous weight loss. At work, he began going through The Daniel Plan with his co-workers, supporting them as his small group had supported him. “It was a great, non-threatening way to encourage them in the areas of fitness, fellowship and faith,” he said.
Three years after beginning his remarkable health transformation, Joe has kept off the weight. He remains active, biking 25 miles a few times a week. A resident of South Orange County, he enjoys exploring the beautiful local trails. “Being out in nature is a great way to experience quiet time alone with God,” he said. “I like to get out on my bike early in the morning, before the family is awake. Then I have more energy and flexibility to play with my girls the rest of the day.”
In addition to biking alone, Joe joined a couple Christian cycling groups. This past year, he participated in a 50-mile bike race. “Biking is my play,” Joe said, referring to The Daniel Plan, which reminds us that the best exercise is the one we enjoy doing the most.
Though biking remains Joe’s primary passion, he has begun training for the LA Marathon as well. “I don’t consider myself a runner,” he admitted. “But I have some friends who run, so I’m going to do it.”
As with any major lifestyle change, Joe’s journey has not been void of struggle. “The holidays are always difficult,” he said. But since adopting a new healthy mindset, Joe stands by the 90/10 rule – eat healthy 90 percent of the time, and enjoy the occasional treat. For Joe, that includes a bountiful Christmas dinner.
Joe’s mother, the classic Southern cook, has remained supportive of his dietary changes. “We eat over at her house frequently,” he said. “She’s given up a lot of junk stuff for me and has made several Daniel Plan meals for us.”
Today, Joe’s daughters know him as an active, healthy father who has no trouble keeping up with them at the park. As he reflects on his incredible journey, he knows it would not have been possible without the support of his family, small group and God. He relies on his favorite Bible verse, Isaiah 40:31: “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.”
“If you trust in God, he will give the energy to fulfill your purpose,” Joe said. “I have seen my physical energy and vitality restored. My life is fuller than I ever thought it could be.”