How do you get to a million steps in a month? Meet a man who was classified as morbidly obese and challenged himself during the pandemic to lose weight while creating a healthier, happier life.
In 2020, Frédéric Tossou, a call center performance manager in Oise, France, decided to challenge himself with a walk-a-thon throughout 24 hours. What may seem crazier than a 24-hour one-man walking marathon and a million-step milieu is that only one year before the feat, this 39-year-year old father weighed in at 315 lbs (143 kg). “I wasn’t always overweight,” he says, “but I gradually gained weight without realizing it.”
Life happened and weight climbed
A sociable life, children, more frequent outings to restaurants, and so many other reasons began to weigh heavy on the scale. Following a removed thyroid in 2016, Frédéric’s doctor had said that he would lose weight without trying after his operation. Unfortunately, Frédéric says that he did not manage to lose an ounce.
One day he calculated his BMI and received the following result: he was morbidly obese. “I was worried; I was approaching 40 years old, wanted to live a long life, and had been planning to do more with my kids.” In an epic turnaround over the course of a year, he managed to gradually lose almost 100 pounds. How did he do it? He walked the walk…
Walking advice from father to son
“My father always told me, ‘The best sport is walking.’ I naturally didn’t take him seriously. I didn’t believe him at all! But by the time I realized I was morbidly obese, I had reached too critical a weight to be able to take up another sport.”
Walking seemed to be the only sport that was accessible to Frédéric because of its gentleness, comparatively relaxed nature, and no equipment requirement. He had also previously played basketball, a sport where one can easily regulate effort, but it is a collective sport which meant his teammates weren’t always available, and that made it more difficult to play every day.
“I also wanted to take a more calculated approach to weight loss. I wanted to tally the number of steps I was taking to motivate myself and see how hard I was trying. I have a competitive soul and didn’t want to miss a single step!”
Unfortunately, losing weight during a pandemic was not an obstacle Frédéric had been planning to navigate, and walking 1 million steps in a month was far from his mind.
“I wanted to lose weight in 2019, so I walked a lot and lost 15 kg [33 lbs]. Unfortunately, I regained some of that weight, and then the quarantine came and I gained more.” Stay-at-home orders, fear of contagion, and other restrictions on movement changed many people’s activity behaviors. “I was so angry at myself for yo-yoing during the beginning of that time.”
Luckily some motivation emerged from other activity-driven members of the exercise community. Frédéric was a member of “Objectif Santé: + active with Withings”, a Facebook group dedicated to exercise and health. Activity challenges are posted on the group, and Frédéric became inspired by the goals combined with his natural competitive tendencies.
“You had to record at least 30 minutes of moderate activity per day for 10 days. I wanted to try to be in the top three of the challenge. It must be said that it seemed completely impossible to be first because some members of the group were truly impressive. One person even took 100 million steps in 6 years.”
Frédéric began considering how to optimize his drastically modified routine that he had become accustomed to after years of office life. Like so many workers, his commute to work became non-existent, and with an extra 3 hours a day, he began planning.
“I could wake up two hours before work started, and this allowed me to surpass any previous walking routine I had established before as I began walking in the morning before work, during my lunch break, and in the evening after finishing my day. I couldn’t do that when I had to commute to Paris.”
Losing weight lightly
Frédéric lost weight little by little, and this gradual approach was especially important for him. “I’ve always been monitored by my doctor who I see once a month to balance my thyroid treatment. I have to be careful not to lose or gain weight too quickly because it could affect my heart.”
Frédéric shared his renewed mission with his doctor, and together they set an initial weight goal of 220 lbs. Frédéric managed to lose 77 lbs between March and November by eating healthier, resuming basketball, and of course, walking a lot. In August he began CrossFit, but with gyms being closed, he hired a trainer that provided him with an adapted food and exercise program. This extra help pushed him under 220 lbs to 216 lbs.
“Today I weigh what I was 10 years ago. I’ve never been this low before!”
Losing weight was an incredible transformation, but Frédéric saw other advantages extending beyond kilos. “I feel lighter, people have pointed out that my gait is much faster, but above all, I sleep better.”
In fact, Frédéric’s quality of sleep has improved so much that he actually sleeps less than before. “I can sleep less at 7 hours and still feel fresh in the morning. It only takes me 10 minutes to get up whereas before it was more like an hour and a half.”
Losing weight improved Frédéric’s quality of sleep, his energy level, and consequently, his personal feelings about endurance. His renewed confidence opened up new goals, and slowly, he was walking his way towards a personal marathon and million-step goal.
Goals are born
Frédéric’s natural competitiveness was enhanced by physical and mental fuel, and as an active member of a Withings Facebook group, he saw more challenges to complete.
“I work a lot on challenges, and when I see others’ posts, I want to do as well or even better. I have met friends in the group that I talk to almost every day and who always push me further. The atmosphere is really chill, and there’s healthy back-and-forth between the members that pushes me towards my goals.”
But how does one walk a million steps in a month?
Frédéric first calculated that when he could return to the office, his daily walk could be 15,000 steps as long as he didn’t take the bus to the station. So, he walked to and from the station in the morning and on the way home! 30,000 steps a day—check.
And the mental strength to surpass potential boredom?
“I watched shows on my phone or called my relatives. Staying in touch has its own benefits beyond a mental release, but make calls when you move; you’ll take a few more steps without realizing it.”
Frédéric didn’t let any potential weather inconveniences stop him either. “I invested in a pro treadmill so that I could walk as much as I wanted whether I was allowed to go out or not. This was my answer to the curfew set at 6:00 PM. Purchasing a treadmill even felt like a boost, and I could do the same thing with watching shows and calling people. Constraints can sometimes be a source of motivation!” Several thousand more steps—check.
All of this exercise requires a lot of organization and time, and being surrounded by people who cheer on the effort is integral. Frédéric voiced this by saying, “I’m lucky to have a very supportive wife and children. They understand my struggle and they help me to achieve my goals.”
And the 24-hour marathon?
Frédéric was inspired by his rising endurance, and after completing 40,000 steps, he said, “‘Why not aim for 70,000+?’ My usual route was 6,000 steps, and I figured I could do 3 laps before I needed to rest for 3 hours. So I started at midnight and repeated the pattern until 11:30 PM. 76,000 steps later, I thought to myself, ‘Well, that was crazy.’ But that same determination took me to over 1 million steps in September.”
Frédéric had a realization, adapted to adversity, identified resources, built on his support networks, and drew from his natural behavioral inclinations. Most importantly, he slowly built up to the 24-hour challenge and reached 76,000 steps by integrating practices into his daily routine that could heathfully support the endeavor.
“It sounds crazy but it was exhilarating to reach this goal. I lost 45 kilograms, and I can prove it: walking works.”
Thanks to Frédéric Tossou for his inspiring story and congratulations to all those who, like him, continue to take care of their health despite the constraints of life. Frédéric finds his healthy-living community in the Withings Objectif Santé group. To join Withings English-speaking community, head to Withings Activity Mates to share your goals and inspiration.