What We All Can Learn From Zach

Sept 7, 2013…

“Hi Mike,

I am looking for a personal trainer/health coach for my brother, Zach.

Zach has Down Syndrome, an underactive thyroid, and is extremely overweight. He is borderline glucose intolerant. […. ] Now I would like to really get serious and hire someone to work one-on-one with Zach. I would like this person to perform a health assessment and design a health and wellness program tailored to Zach’s individual needs.

 Zach is a very friendly man and responds well to males who can be friendly but firm, because Zach needs to understand how important it is for him to lose weight and adopt healthy lifestyle habits. This trainer should also have a good sense of humor.

 What do you think? We are anxious to get the ball rolling as soon as possible. You may reach me through email or at XXX-XXX-XXXX.

 Thanks for your assistance.”

This is an email that I received from Zach’s sister. At this point, I had been a trainer for a few years, and a legally licensed dietitian for only a few months. Needless to say, I was up for the challenge, and interested to learn as much as I could before taking Zach on as a client.

However, I didn’t find much. A few articles here and there about how “people with Down Syndrome cannot gain muscle” or “struggle to lose fat” or “are prone to injury because of hyper-mobility” … great…

If anyone knows me, they know that I like a good challenge, and these articles provided a perfect spark to light the fire that would burn strong for the next few years to come…

This is where my story ends, and Zach’s begins.


When I first met Zach, we instantly clicked. Besides rooting for opposite football teams, we got along great. We chatted about Elvis, Johnny Cash, The Rock and other WWE wrestlers, and discussed our favorite Rocky movies. We also discussed diet and exercise.

1) Come Up With a Sustainable, REALISTIC Plan of Action – AND BE CONSISTENT

There wasn’t much complication about the nutrition plan that I laid out for Zach and his staff to help with.

The guidelines were:

  1. Eat balanced meals – protein, veggies, carbs
  2. Drink “8 big glasses of water” per day
  3. Cut out fast food, and junk calories
  4. Be consistent on steps 1-3

That was it. No calorie counting, no macro tracking, just those things.

The only adjustments we made were:

  1. About 3 months in, he was getting really hungry after breakfast – so I increased his protein intake and breakfast by introducing egg muffins to him and his staff, he now has 2 of them every single morning.
  2. Once he lost his initial weight (more on that later), we introduced “cheat meals” and snacks back into his diet – not without some issues, but those were fixed too.

That is all.

As far as exercise, the plan was – and pretty much still is:

  1. 10,000 steps per day
  2. Workout with Mike 1x/week
  3. Bike at home 3 days per week x 30 min
  4. Do 3×10 pushups and 3 x 20 squats 2 days per week

That is all.

So how has this plan worked?

Zach lost 65 pounds in about 1.5 years, reversed his pre-diabetes, got off other meds and has maintained that weight loss over another 1.5 years (while adding muscle – as confirmed by increases in strength, and lean body mass %)


I’d say it has worked pretty well.

What was the biggest factor in his success? CONSISTENCY!!

Zach’s awesome staff has logged his food EVERY SINGLE DAY for THREE YEARS! As you can see, we don’t measure calories really, just intake and I look it over every week to see if any issues show up.

Zach has shown up to his weekly workouts EVERY SINGLE WEEK (besides vacations here and there)

Zach has been CONSISTENT.

2) Patience 

“Lose 65 Pounds in 1.5 Years, then Maintain that Result for another 1.5 years FOR only $7,800” – would sell very little…because it’s not quick, or sexy – and frankly those results still can’t be guaranteed because I have no control over what you do outside of the gym.

How’s that for a harsh reality?

Did Zach lose weight every week? Nope

Did he gain weight some weeks? Yup…especially after summer camps 🙂

Did he stick to the home fitness and nutrition plan 100% of the time? Nope

Did he sneak a few candy bars into his house and eat them all, chased with a liter of Mt. Dew? Maybe 😉

The point is: you must chase long term progress and not perfection.

If Zach didn’t lose weight, but his nutrition was on point, and he was doing his at home stuff, all I would say was “don’t worry, keep doing what you’re doing” – I wasn’t worried, he was.

If he hit a stretch of a few weeks of not losing, or trending upwards – I would look closer at his food journal, and make a few tweaks, but honestly nothing too crazy. We never panicked and slashed carbs, or put his on a cleanse or detox – it was always just “stay consistent, and get back to doing what you were doing”.

3) Embrace the Process, the Steps, and Have Fun

When I see Zach every week, we have fun. We joke about things, poke fun at each other (he enjoys “accidentally” saying “yes ma’am” and asking how my wife, Amanda, is doing)

We do get serious sometimes.

We have always been setting little “minor” goals throughout the process. These goals are always based on performance or strength – not weight loss.

Instead of focussing on a negative, or “loss” mentality – we focus on what we can gain.

  • Today we will deadlift 95 pounds (done that).
  • Today we will do 50 pushups (done that)
  • Today we will walk a half mile under 8 minutes (did it)
  • This week Zach will get 50,000 steps (done it)
  • This week Zach will enjoy one cheat meal at Culvers with his group (did it)

By setting minor goals like this, it takes the stress out of focussing on losing weight, or what he “needs” – because by beating the minor goals I set for him, I know that he will indirectly meet his goals.

Once Zach hit his initial weight loss goal – without ever setting a weight loss goal – we made our biggest changes.

  • Slowly add in more balanced snacks (protein and fruits/veggies)
  • Add in one cheat meal per week ( to help with social situations, and for sanity)

– and monitored it all, and adjusted accordingly.

4) Have a Support Team

Whether it be friends, family, fellow gym members, or whoever – you need people to support and help you. It makes things much easier to not go at them alone.

Zach has a phenomenal team around him which I work with closely. They help him out daily with cooking and meal prep.

They drive him to the gym for workouts. They drive him to work. They drive him everywhere.

I realize that it would be great to have someone to make all of your meals for you, but that won’t happen for most of us. However, the time and effort that it truly takes to do this is not as hard as most think.

The bigger picture is that he has support. People who care about him, and help him reach his goals. They support his goals, and do what they can to help.

If you are trying to get results, but constantly have people ripping you for being healthy, or tempting you to break free form your plan – then those aren’t the people you need in your corner.

Truth is, any “friends” who don’t support your goals and mission probably struggle with their own issues, and maybe could use a little help themselves. Many times, they subconsciously reflect their own insecurities into how they react to you and what you are trying to accomplish.

Surround yourself with people who support you, distance yourself from the haters – or offer to help them yourself.

Zach has been an inspiration to myself, and many around him – this is what we all can learn from Zach, and if you trust in the process, and be consistent in your efforts, you will find results.


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Stay healthy my friends,

Published by Mike Gorski

Registered Dietitian and Fitness Coach OWNER OF MG FIT LIFE LLC