Jon Orton once weighed nearly 500 pounds—but now he competes as a blue belt
BY ALISA HRUSTIC MAR 20, 2017 JON ORTON
Jon Orton was always conscious of his size. Even though he loved skateboarding and playing football as a teen, it didn’t work off his daily McDonald’s diet. By sixth grade, he weighed in at 230 pounds, and that number only continued to snowball in his high school years. He knew he was a heavy guy, and for most of his life, he tried to do something about it. Orton would work really hard, lose 60 to 70 pounds, then gain it all back, plus some. Four years ago, at just 36, the California resident hit his heaviest weight: 478 pounds, as he appears in the before picture above.
“I realize now it was because my mentality was wrong,” Orton says. “I was looking at a temporary solution to a permanent problem.”
“I was sitting on my couch and I was just miserable. Just sitting there was uncomfortable. At that weight, everything is difficult. You’re living in a world that you physically do not fit in. It’s like nothing is made for you,” he explains. “Shopping for clothes is awful. Going to the movies is difficult. Walking any length was not easy. I knew I was only going to get bigger—and people that big just don’t live very long.”
The time had come for a permanent change, so he reached out to his friends: He happened to be close with an MMA fighter, a personal trainer and bodybuilder, and a Jiu-Jitsu black belt who was opening his own gym. After listening to their advice, he stripped his diet of fast food, soda, and convenience foods, like pizza. He started prepping his meals, cutting down his calorie intake, and fueling his body with lean protein, like chicken and tofu. (For an easy-to-follow 28-day program, try the Metashred Diet.)
Then he hit the gym as often as he could. Despite feeling intimidated, he’d head to the elliptical in the back corner of the room. Once he started feeling the support from his fellow gym-goers, he made his way to the weight room, where a newfound love for pumping iron was born. After about 4 months, Orton saw some progress, but still weighed 400 pounds.
He knew he wanted to keep going, but needed something that would push him, reallychallenge him. Orton had always appreciated martial arts. His black-belt friend encouraged him to start training Jiu-Jitsu, so he decided to sign up for classes before the gym was even open for business.
But on his first day, he sat in the parking lot, too afraid to go inside.
“I did the same thing for about the first month of going to the gym. I would sit in my car and basically chicken out because I was too embarrassed,” he recalls. “I sat in my car for a while. I had done a little bit of Jiu-Jitsu, it’s one of those things I had done off and on but I never really dedicated myself to it. I could see the guys training, I could see the guys rolling, and none of them were like me.”
But he didn’t want to give up, so he met with the class instructor, Albert, who easily sensed what was going on. He made Orton feel welcome and encouraged him to come train. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have come back,” Orton says.
He started training a few days around his work schedule. He’d go during the day because those classes were smaller, then he worked his way up to night classes, and eventually, he started doing both. Realizing that no one was going to take it easy on him, all of his reservations started to disappear.
“Jiu-Jitsu is going to be different every single time,” Orton says. “There’s going to be a new set of challenges. Something just clicked: Initially, I started Jiu-Jitsu as a way to help me lose weight and somewhere along the way, it switched. I wanted to keep losing weight so I could be better at Jiu-Jitsu.”
The classes were no joke. The warm-up alone mocks a 20-minute high-intensity interval training session by including fast bodyweight exercises, like bear crawls and squat hops. After the instructor spends time teaching the class new movements and drills, the real work begins. For the next hour, Orton would get a full-body workout “rolling” with an opponent, using moves like arm locks and choke holds. (Looking to pack on muscle and shed fat like Orton did? Check out Maximus Body from Men’s Health—it’s full of workouts guaranteed to transform your body.)
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“I spent a solid year as a white belt,” he says. “I went from training just a couple of times a week to training a couple of times a day. I was training with some really really tough guys, and I was just trying to survive.”
Along the way, he didn’t stop lifting once he committed to Jiu-Jitsu. Farmer’s walksand lifting atlas stones (a classic move in strongman competitions) are signature exercises in his routine, he says.
“It’s really simple, but it’s really hard,” Orton says. “It really pushes me, and it blows me away how these simple movements are so exhausting.”
Now, nearly 4 years after hitting the gym and gaining muscle along the way, the father of two currently sits at a healthy 225 pounds (shown in the after picture above) and even competes at the blue-belt level.
“Jiu-Jitsu was the catalyst for everything, that’s what got me where I am now,” he explains. “So find your fire. Find that thing that’s going to burn inside you that’s not going to stop. You have to find something that you love. For me, it was Jiu-Jitsu and weight lifting. If you hate being on the treadmill, you’re not going to stick with it. Do something that’s going to get your moving and find something that’s going to let you be better than you were yesterday.”