Matt Ellis does a kickboxing workout Wednesday night at Farrell's in south Des Moines.

KNOXVILLE - Matt Ellis knew something had to change.

“I couldn't stand to look in the mirror or at a picture of myself,” he said. “I couldn't walk from the car across the parking lot into work without getting winded. I reached the highest weight I had ever been.

“I had to make a change in what I was doing or I didn't know how long I would be around.”

Ellis realized last May what strikes many people near the start of a new year. And like many who make resolutions, Ellis also made mistakes.

Ultimately, though, he changed his lifestyle and possibly saved his life.

It started simply enough. Ellis eliminated bad carbohydrates from his diet. Foods made with flour and sugar were the first to go.

“Anything that’s white. Anything that’s good,” he sighed. “That helped me some, but I wasn’t feeling any better.”

Then a friend invited Ellis to work out with him last summer at Farrell's Extreme Bodyshaping in Des Moines. Ellis was scared.

“I heard the workouts were really tough,” he said. “I didn’t think someone my weight would be able to do it.”

He was 316 pounds of wrong. He survived the workout, then started taking fitness classes in September.

Now he’s down to 262, and classes have become a habit.

“I’ve decided that this needs to be a lifestyle change for me,” Ellis said “I’m going to keep doing it as long as I can.”

He’s at the gym six days a week. He does a kickboxing class three days a week. It’s a nonstop cardio workout with punching and kicking split up with sit-ups and push-ups. Strength training classes take place twice a week. Then there’s a Saturday workout with kickboxing and strength training combined. On Sundays, he rests.

Farrell’s staff provide motivation and guidance on nutrition and proper technique. It’s all paying off for Ellis.

“I can see it in the way my clothes fit and the feedback I get from my friends,” he said. “But I still can’t feel it in myself.”

Poor self-image has shadowed Ellis all his life, going back to when he grew up in Knoxville and was known by his first name, Blair. He moved to Bedford, in southwest Iowa, during high school and wrestled at 98 pounds.

“Even then, I thought I was fat,” he said.

Now 54 and back in Knoxville since 2009, Ellis is more realistic. He hopes to drop to 183 pounds. On his 5-foot-4 frame, that’s still considered obese, but it’s the point that a nutritionist says he can reach without losing muscle, Ellis said.

“It’s a perfect weight for me,” he said.

The goal, like the journey to it, is all about finding what works for you, Ellis said. He tried working out alone at local fitness facilities. The problem, he said, is that he’d drive home from his job at Athene USA in West Des Moines and stay home. He’d never get back out to the gym. Farrell’s is on his way home from work five days a week.

“There’s no excuse,” he said bluntly.

The proof to his commitment comes Saturday, when he drives to Des Moines to work out. Ellis also has discovered the importance of not going it alone.

“The class setting is very good for me,” he said. “I get some accountability and I get some support.

“This is finally something that works for me.”

Pat Finan is the managing editor of the Journal-Express. He can be reached in the newsroom at 641-842-2155 or via email at pfinan@journalexpress.net.

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