Personal Best: How I Saved My Health and Gave My PR Career New Meaning

April 1, 2019

[courtesy of mark mohammadpour, apr]
[courtesy of mark mohammadpour, apr]

It’s 4:30 p.m., but it feels like midnight. You’ve just concluded your eighth conference call of the day, and a new crisis has reprioritized your to-do list. You haven’t stood from your chair in four hours. Your only sustenance has been two slices of cold pizza from a lunchtime training event in the conference room.

Another two or three hours of work are ahead of you. You’re not thinking about dinner. Or exercise. Or anything besides meeting the next deadline. Afterwards, your meal will be something heavy, seemingly rewarding and yet highly caloric, food to regret immediately.

If you’re a busy PR person, this scenario might sound familiar. I used to live this way myself. And it nearly killed me.

Red flags

In 2006, I was preparing for a week-long, bicoastal press tour that would visit three cities in five days, in the middle of a hot summer. But for me, the most stressful parts of the trip were unrelated to the tour’s objectives. They were things like: How am I going to survive sitting in the middle seat in coach for a six-hour flight? What if the elevators aren’t working in the hotel or in the Time-Life Building we’re visiting, and I have to walk up a dozen flights of stairs? How am I going to handle 100-degree heat while walking from meeting to meeting in midtown Manhattan?

These are the kinds of things you think about when you’re morbidly obese and weigh 350 pounds.

During the first seven years of my career, I gained 100 pounds. It started after college when I got my first PR job, working full time at a firm in downtown Portland, Ore. I was on the road constantly. When you’re in your 20s and get to take business trips, stay in hotels and expense your meals, you begin to feel like a member of the royal family.

Even when I wasn’t traveling, I ate too much and exercised too little. But mostly I overate too late in the day, and didn’t understand how simple choices could have led to permanent improvements.

As I gained more weight, red flags started to rise. I found I had to shop at “big and tall” clothing stores. I started to accept that I had to wear size 50 jeans, and 4XL T-shirts and sweaters. But my health situation wasn’t an emergency. Yet.

When you weigh too much, comfort becomes an issue. Taxicabs, airplane seats and restaurant tables suddenly look very small. I would ask myself: Can I sit in this restaurant chair and be confident it won’t snap in two? Upgrading to more comfortable airplane seats in first class was never an option for me.

I was also dealing with sleep apnea and afraid to see a doctor, worried I would be diagnosed with a serious medical issue. By the time I proposed to my wife Christine in December 2007, I knew I had to make major changes to my personal and professional life. And so I did.

From December 2007 to when we were married in September 2008, I lost more than 110 pounds. And now in 2019, I’m proud to say I weigh 200 pounds. In all, I’ve lost and kept off a total of 150 pounds over 11 years.

A new perspective

When people ask me how I lost the weight, I tell them that I ate less and exercised more. But my friends, family, colleagues and clients have also been incredibly supportive, something I’ve been reflecting on fondly as I near my third decade as a PR professional.

I recently started to educate myself about fitness, health and wellness. Through the American Council on Exercise (ACE), I became a certified personal trainer and health coach. The process, much like receiving my APR, has given me a new perspective and helped me better understand the decisions I’ve made throughout my life.

As I’ve analyzed my life’s changes, my career and the time I’ve spent with PRSA, I’ve also thought about my next chapter with the organization and how my colleagues in the field can protect their own health and careers. 

Our profession will always be stressful. In fact, annual surveys validate that public relations ranks up there with surgery, air traffic control and journalism as one of the most stressful professions in the world. Anyone who knows a public information officer should thank that person for helping save lives under extreme pressure during emergencies.

As business leaders, our counsel, decisions and influence have never been more important. And while gaining experience and learning practical skills are crucial, if we are to advance the PR profession and the professional we must be mentally and physically capable of enduring the challenge.

Together we can apply our planning and implementation acumens to our personal lives. Start by avoiding unhealthy foods like cold pizza. Get up and move, and make your mind and body a priority. Your personal health, and your PR career, will thank you.

I learned these lessons the hard way more than 10 years ago, and now I want to help my fellow PRSA members. I look forward to sharing more of what I’ve learned in future articles.

Mark Mohammadpour, APR

Mark Mohammadpour, APR, is a senior communications executive and certified health coach who believes everyone has a great story. Download his health and wellness podcast, Chasing the Sun, at anchor.fm/markmoh. Contact him at markmohammadpour@gmail.com, or follow @markmoh on Instagram and Twitter.  

Comments

Rhonda Morin, APR says:

What an encouraging story, Mark. Great job! Though I have never struggled my weight, I long ago made health and exercise a priority. I have also been mindful of my career choices so that they positively influence my health. I too serve as a coach. I enjoy helping others achieve athletic and fitness goals, as well as encourage and demonstrate functional movement. All of this CAN BE DONE and you can have a rewarding career. We have to prioritize, be realistic and sometimes say "no."

April 5, 2019

Debra D. Peterson, APR says:

Congratulations on your weight loss and commitment to health, Mark. It was great to meet you in Portland during the recent PRSA/PRSSA meetings. I am glad you are sharing your story as inspiration for all of us and a reminder to take care of ourselves.

April 23, 2019

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