The botched kayaking trip that changed my life for the better

A student shares how an embarrassing family vacation in Puerto Rico on June 22 encouraged him to become a healthier person.


June 22, 2023

Since I was young, I’ve always struggled to cultivate healthy habits. I didn’t take kindly to eating my greens, and I preferred playing video games and watching TV indoors rather than exercising or taking part in any outdoor activities. 

Most damaging to my health, however, was my constant consumption of sugary drinks and high-calorie junk foods. I would drink soda constantly and snack on potato chips and ice cream all day long. Oftentimes, I wouldn’t be eating out of hunger, but merely out of boredom or stress.

During the initial COVID-19 quarantine in 2020, my damaging behavior peaked. I was in my bed all day, barely moving unless I was getting food or if my parents forced me. 

Then, when I went to college in 2021, I went from being trapped in the same house with my family to living on my own with no one to encourage me to stay healthy. I gained a substantial amount of weight as the next couple of semesters continued. I felt sluggish all the time, my sleep schedule fell out of line and I was losing confidence in myself and my body.

My harmful habits progressed through the next couple of years and led to a breaking point this past summer, when my family and I went to San Juan, Puerto Rico for a week-long vacation.

Our plans in San Juan included lots of hikes and visits to various forests and historical sites. The physical labor required to participate, especially in such high temperatures, proved to be too much for my out-of-shape body to handle, leading me to feel miserable throughout most of our stay.

On June 22, we set off for a kayak tour at La Parguera Bioluminescent Bay in Lajas, which I was very excited for. When swimming around in the lake, the algae in the water was supposed to react to movement and glow. It sounded incredible, and I was looking forward to taking videos of it.

When we finally got there, the employees running the tour singled me out and had me step on a scale so they could check my weight. At the time, I weighed around 260 pounds and was in the worst shape of my life. 

They sent me back into the crowd for a couple of minutes before calling my dad over to tell him they couldn’t let me on the kayaks because I exceeded their weight limit.

He was furious, far more furious than I would’ve been, and after yelling at the employees, he decided to make even more of a scene than he already had. 

In his infinite wisdom, my dad gathered a small crowd and angrily announced that the tour company wasn’t letting me go on the trip, wanting to publicly criticize and embarrass the workers who had given him the bad news. However, by bringing more attention to my weight, the only person he succeeded in embarrassing was me.

My dad, whom I didn’t even want to look at, stayed back with me while the rest of my family went on the tour. As embarrassed as I was, I didn’t want them to suffer the consequences of my poor habits or my dad’s well-intentioned outrage.

I was already self-conscious about not being able to keep up with my family on our trip, but the shame and embarrassment I felt in that moment was the single greatest motivator to begin working on my health. 

That day defined not just who I was, but who I wanted to be going forward. I wanted to be someone who could keep up with my family without my health slowing me down. I wanted to be proud of who I saw in the mirror. 

I reflected and I knew to reach my goals, I would have to make changes to my unhealthy habits, and that’s exactly what I ended up doing.

When I returned home from my trip, I completely replaced my soda consumption with carbonated water to satisfy my need for a fizzy drink without all the caffeine or sugar. It allows me to stay hydrated and avoid the numerous headaches I used to get.

I also started an intermittent fasting diet, which allowed me to eat what I like while helping me remain in a calorie deficit. Nowadays, I usually only eat in the late afternoon and evenings so I’m not going to bed hungry, and I eat around 1,500 calories, which is 1,000 calories below the amount my body naturally burns in a day.

I even started to get out and exercise, whether it be going on longer walks between classes or hyping myself up to go work out either in my residence hall or at the gym. By exercising I can burn even more calories and build muscle, which gives my body more definition and makes it easier for me to do physical activities, like the hikes I couldn’t complete during my family trip.

I think about June 22 often, and it still motivates me to take my health seriously. I am now down to 225 pounds and quickly approaching my goal of being in better shape by winter break. All of my motivation and hard work has left me far healthier both in mind and in body than I was before my trip to Puerto Rico, and I am incredibly proud of how far I’ve come.

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