Case study: Weight loss by walking, swimming and healthy eating

by Ryan Wagner

This week’s blog post is a little different than my usual articles. I have on deck an inspiring story that I think will really resonate with anyone who may be feeling that they just don’t know where to begin when it comes to losing significant weight. We’re going to discuss smart strategies for weight loss by walking, swimming and healthy eating.

You see, one of my very good friends lives all the way out in Burbank, CA. His name is Shawn Mckibben and he runs a successful blog called Simple Fellow. His blog has been growing by leaps and bounds, but what many of his readers don’t know is that when he isn’t busy writing articles and building personal development courses, he is laser-focused on getting down to a healthy weight.

I have been coaching him remotely and simply put, the amount of weight he has lost over the past 7 months or so has really blown me away. I said, “Shawn, you have to share this with people!”

He’s a humble guy, but my prodding finally paid off!

So, if you’re looking to lose some weight yourself or know a friend who is, I encourage you to carefully read this post.

That being said, there are really two reasons I want to focus this week’s post on weight loss.

Firstly, because Shawn’s story is downright inspirational. And if it helps just one person to follow Shawn’s good example, then it’s well worth my time.

Secondly, I want to help you bridge the gap between the movement you want to have and where you may be right now. Whether you’re a little overweight, or a lot overweight, it may feel a bit overwhelming to see the videos of Ido Portal or even the bent-arm handstand I perform in the image on my homepage.

But the thing to remember about fitness is that it’s a continuum. At any given time, we are all both students and teachers of fitness. You just have to start somewhere.


At Motus I focus on movement patterns. The squat, deadlift, press/pull and the carry. These are things that all of us humans do. Even if you play a sport you can break down the movements into these components. And so it’s of fundamental importance that everyone has competency in these patterns. Because if you do, you are more likely to build an injury-proof body and be able to do the things you want to do, whatever that may be.

On the upper end of the movement spectrum you see some of the gurus showing just what is possible when you have well developed strength throughout your full range of motion.

However, if you’re a bit overweight, then some of these basic patterns may be difficult, if not impossible to perform. If you carry a little extra weight around your mid-section, then even the humble push-up may be out of reach. And squatting is usually difficult as well for overweight folks. Your stomach may actually be in the way of your knees as you squat down.

So, if things like triathlons and weightlifting and team sports are your end goal, I’d like to offer up my opinion on a roadmap. Consider the following for your long term strategy:

[First, check with your doctor to make sure you can begin moving more. Even though the exercise I’ll discuss in a moment is relatively low impact and low intensity – walking and swimming – it’s still exercise, so always make sure you have the green light from your general physician.]

1. Work on reducing your weight to a healthy level.

2. Begin to stretch and get your muscles and fascia moving more smoothly and efficiently.

3. Re-learn the basic calisthenics movements and train with bodyweight.

4. Then, it’s up to you.

I’d be remiss, if I didn’t insert a 3.a: Find someone to test you with a Functional Movement Screen to ensure that your patterns are in a safe zone. This is a great tool to objectively see how you’re moving.

Then, I think it’s up to you. If you want to weight lift, then start a progressive resistance training program. Or, maybe it’s pick-up basketball. A sprint triathlon? Whatever it is, once you get your weight down to a manageable level, all movement becomes easier – your joints and soft tissue will be reacting against much less load (less overall stress). What this means for you is that movement will feel a whole lot better and be more fun.

But you know this, right? So, what can you do?

Let’s take a close look at what Shawn did to lose 45 lbs in 2014:

1. Walking

First off, Shawn was a healthy individual with no injuries or other clinical concerns that would prohibit him from moving safely. In fact, with hands-on supervision, he probably could have lifted weights or signed up for a bootcamp or some other social exercise program that would guarantee a good sweat. But for people looking to begin an exercise program, there is often a far easier way – walking.

It’s free, just about everyone can do it, and you don’t need any fancy equipment.

So, Shawn started walking.

He began with about 15 – 20 minute stints several times a week and as he started to get into a routine, the numbers went up. Before long, Shawn had a calendar full of exercise, not unlike a disciplined triathlete! Instead of ‘3 mile run, 2000 meter swim,’ Shawn had ’30 minute walk Monday’ and ’45 minute walk Wednesday.’

Shawn told me that walking was something that he had always enjoyed doing but never really considered exercise. That walking was a way he could gather his thoughts and get away from the computer for a while.

Walking has a long list of benefits for those looking to lose weight, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle. Fortunately for Shawn, he pushed himself to step outside of his comfort zone and do something that he hadn’t done in years….

2. Swimming

For those of us that didn’t swim in college or high school, swimming is hard. And when you’re overweight, it can be a challenge just to show up poolside with your shirt off. However, if you can muster up the confidence, as Shawn did, you may just learn that it can pay serious dividends.

“The first step was just getting in the pool! I thought I needed to wait until I purchased certain swim gear, was an expert swimmer, or that other swimmers would judge my ability…Honestly, the biggest challenge was convincing myself to go. Yes, my first time wasn’t easy, as I quickly lost my breath! I overcame these challenges by setting very specific times and dates that I was going to go, no matter what. I made the decision before I ever went (packed my bag the night before). It became part of my routine.”

Now, Shawn’s calendar had ‘swim’ written on select days of the week.

And as he became a more regular swimmer, not only did he meet some of the regulars in the pool, but he became much more comfortable in the water. His breathing rhythm improved and so did his strength. In fact, at press time, Shawn is now spending around 45 minutes in the pool on his longer swim days.

Fortunately for Shawn, and anyone else looking to lose weight, swimming is a huge calorie burner. Estimates vary on a number of factors, but for a 200 lb individual, you can expect to burn in the neighborhood of 500 calories/hour of moderate intensity swimming(1). It’s also low impact with a low risk of injury.

So, with Shawn walking and swimming multiple times a week, he was burning some serious calories and moving his body almost everyday. He also made some new friends at the pool and started to really get in a routine of walking.

But let’s take a quick look at what Shawn wasn’t doing. He wasn’t breaking a serious sweat with his workouts – at least not of the type you’d associate with reality TV shows or your neighborhood bootcamp. Yes, someday he will get to that point, and research has shown that a healthy sweat is a wonderful thing, but Shawn has proven to himself that in order for him to consistently lose weight, he didn’t need to push himself that hard.

But, wait a minute, there’s something we are forgetting, isn’t there?

3. Healthy eating

I’m not a nutritionist and so I’m not going to offer up any advice in particular – it’d be irresponsible of me – but I would like to offer up some notional advice.

Think of your weight loss effort as a pie chart. Shade in 80% blue and the remaining 20% green. The colors are made up as are the statistics, but consider the concept that 80% of your weight loss is going to come from healthy eating and only 20% from movement and fitness. In other words, you can exercise like a pro, but if you consume those lost calories all over again in your daily nutrition, then you’re right back where you started, aren’t you?

It’s through healthy eating that I believe much of Shawn’s weight loss may be attributed. He started to eat less of the junk and more of the real food. He put the time in to discover new recipes and to ensure that his fridge was stocked with something healthy at all times.

“My diet has changed significantly. I would say the biggest way it has changed is that I’ve moved more from convenience food and take the time to prepare meals. I haven’t stopped eating anything all together but do recognize that certain foods need to be eaten in moderation. More than anything, I’ve discovered a world of flavor with spices and herbs that add of lot of taste, but not a lot of calories,” says Shawn.

“I try and be more mindful of not only what I’m eating but how I’m eating – paying attention to the flavors, portions, and whether or not I’m actually still hungry. It’s still a work in progress, but I’ve taken the same approach to fitness as I have with nutrition – slow and steady wins the race. Crash diets and strict portion control never worked for me. I’m in this for the long game, not the quick fix. I get to choose the lifestyle I want and try to incorporate healthy eating into that lifestyle, every day.”

The takeaway: Eating real food + near daily light/moderate exercise = a powerful combination

Wrap up

When I interviewed Shawn for this post, one of his answers really stood out. I asked him if at the very beginning of his movement program, did he think that walking 3 or 4 times a week and swimming twice a week was really going to help?

And he said no!

He went on to say that, “When you have never truly enjoyed exercising, it’s more like a chore that you feel obligated to do. I often thought to myself, “What’s the point of exercising if I’m not in the shape I want to be?” I thought I’d have to run, lift weights, and do CrossFit if I wanted to be healthy.”

It’s easy to think that in order for fitness to work – to make you healthier/slimmer/look good naked – we have to be extreme, intense, #beastmode. But that’s honestly not the case – Shawn proved that he could personally do it with 3 tools. He lost almost 50 pounds by walking, swimming and eating better.

And he did so in a very progressive and safe way. He would lose between 2 and 4 pounds a week. Some weeks he would gain a few pounds, but that only served as a reminder for him to redouble his efforts. But the best thing about losing weight in this slow and steady method is that your body is much more likely to adapt in a positive manner and create a new homeostasis.

Walking, swimming and healthy food choices may be the mechanisms by which he lost the weight, but the root cause was something deep within.

Shawn was determined.

You may be a part of the New Year’s Resolution crowd or you may not be. Regardless, your body is indifferent to the calendar. If you’re hoping to lose weight this year (this quarter, this month!) – then I see it as a simple question: Are you determined to lose the weight?

Shawn’s story is meant to be inspirational and to get you thinking in a new way. I want you to start to understand that even light/moderate exercise, when combined with good nutrition, can have a huge impact on weight loss. That weight loss by walking is possible, and the benefits are compounded when you add other forms of exercise.

Perhaps most importantly, now Shawn knows how to lose weight. He has a formula that works for him, and that’s a powerful thing.

Let me leave you with some wise words from Shawn:

The best part about getting healthier is your increased energy and stamina. I have way more energy that I used to and actually look forward to exercising. I never thought I’d say that! The only way to start improving your health is to create small habits that will result in big wins. Consistency is the name of the game.

Further Reading:

Mayo Clinic: Can I lose weight if my only exercise is walking?

To learn more about Shawn Mckibben, visit him at his blog, where he works to help introverts conquer social anxiety and to become the most confident version of themselves.


(1) Livestrong: How many calories are burned while swimming?

Case study: Weight loss by walking, swimming and healthy eating by