(New) man in the mirror

How simple lifestyle changes helped Jim Copeland lose 151 pounds

28 Oct 2019

Jim Copeland’s story may sound familiar to others who have struggled with obesity. As a child, he recalls being the “pudgy little kid on the playground”—the one who was teased by his peers. Later, as an adult, his weight prevented him from participating in certain activities, like taking long walks or riding a bicycle alongside his wife.

Key takeaways

  • 650 million people across the globe are considered obese, per UBS Chief Investment Office
  • Jim Copeland decided to transform his life after witnessing his father’s early death due to poor health
  • Healthy food, regular exercise and social support helped him lose over 150 pounds 

He’s not alone. Nearly two billion people across the globe are overweight, 650 million of whom meet the criteria for obesity, according to UBS Chief Investment Office (CIO). Rapid urbanization is largely to blame, as it has led people to move less while consuming more calories.

Copeland, a UBS market supervisory officer with the Long Island Market, recently sat down with Anthony Pastore, host of the UBS On-Air podcast, as the first guest in a new series called “We Are UBS,” which shares the stories of UBS employees. Copeland spoke with Pastore about his efforts to lose weight, and his realization that something had to change.

A wake-up call

By his late 40s, Copeland had cultivated a resume that included management roles at Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch. Measuring six feet, two inches tall, he weighed 380 pounds.

In early 2016, Copeland’s father, who was also overweight, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. There was little they could do, the physicians told his father, in part because of his overall poor health.

“That’s literally when the light bulb went off in my head,” Copeland said. “Listening to the doctor speak, trying to digest what’s going to happen with my father and the road ahead. In the back of my mind, I was thinking about me ... It was like looking in a mirror.”

Copeland’s father died that December, the same month Jim joined UBS.

A new routine

Throughout his adult life, Copeland had tried every diet he came across. But each time, he failed to keep the weight off. Still, he said, when his father became sick, he decided he would return to an “old reliable”—a Weight Watchers plan he knew would get results.

Once the diet kicked in, Copeland told Pastore, he quickly lost 45 pounds. In the past, he would have soon put the weight back on. This time, he was determined not to fail. “I felt like I was in a place where I needed to do more,” he said. “I needed to get moving. I couldn’t just sit here and count points for the rest of my life. I needed to go to the next level.”

Copeland’s niece told him about a team weight-loss class that was being offered at his local gym. He quickly signed up and completed his first workout on January 3, 2017. The class met three times per week at 5:30 a.m., and was led by a personal trainer. “She was a tremendous inspiration to me,” Copeland said. “She taught me ‘don’t worry about it. There are things you’re going to be able to do, there are going to be things that you can’t do, but if you can’t do something, I’m going to show you an alternative.’ ”

The early-morning starts were effective, Copeland said, because he didn’t have all day to think about skipping the class. “When I tried to go to the gym after work, the gravitational pull of the couch [was] just too strong.” This class came with a trainer and peers who kept him motivated and helped hold him accountable. Failure, he said, was never a possibility.

A new life

Before he knew it, he had adjusted to not only the regular workouts, but also to eating well, Copeland told Pastore. He now eats small meals every two to three hours, and he sticks to healthy foods like grilled chicken and vegetables, which he prepares well in advance. Between this diet and his exercise regimen, he had shed a total of 151 pounds as of last September.

One day, while Copeland was working out, his personal trainer put his success into perspective. She pointed out that he was lifting as much as he lost. “I carried this weight around every day with me,” he said. “It’s just remarkable.”

The journey to where he is now hasn’t been easy, Copeland admitted. He’s had “peaks and valleys” along the way, and he’s had to balance his workout and dietary planning time with a very demanding job that often requires travel. But he can now climb the three flights of stairs to his office without getting winded, and he has even competed in two obstacle-course events—challenges he never would have attempted in the past.

Now that he’s lost so much weight, Copeland told Pastore, he feels “amazing.” He goes to the gym, bikes with his wife, and feels more confident at work, especially when presenting “to a room full of FAs or CSAs.”

Copeland would still like to lose another five to ten pounds, but that doesn't prevent him from having a beer on occasion or going out to dinner on the weekends. “I've accomplished, from my perspective, an incredible goal,” he said. “I look in the mirror today, and I literally can’t believe it’s the same person.”

For more on obesity and its implications for investors, see this recent report  from the UBS Chief Investment Office.

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