How Cracker Barrel Made Me Skinny and Other Lessons from a Healthy Professional by Jake Engel

Note: This is my third installment ever featuring a guest blogger – a dedicated teammate of mine from work! Many thanks for his willingness to share a story here on my site, especially one that features such good advice from me. Ha, ha! Sadly I do not always follow my own wise guidance. But I’m happy and proud that Jake did! Hope you’re inspired by him…

It’s not every day that you receive life-changing advice in a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. But that store is exactly where my story started.

I’m Jake and I am proud to the next guest blogger here on While Michelle is most definitely not my mom, she is, in fact, my boss. I’m proud to see her dream of starting a blog has finally become a reality and getting to be a small part of the page is an honor. 

Now that you know me, let’s head back to Michelle’s and my favorite lunch spot. Our offices are located in downtown Indy and are surrounded by many great dining options. However, our favorite continues to be the Southport Cracker Barrel. In the four years that we’ve worked together, we’ve made countless trips there, and it is ALWAYS the site of my semi-annual performance reviews.

I’m here with the story of how Michelle’s performance goal for me has led to awareness and action that completely turned my life around in the last year and a half. 

Back Isn’t Always Better

A couple of years ago, I began taking medication that led to a major gain in weight. Think more than 50 pounds in five months. It sucked because the medication was helping, but the side effects were hurting. 

After reluctantly ending the medication, I played the victim card. I believed the weight gain was the doctor’s fault for giving me that medication. I wanted there to be an easy way to get back to where I was before. But I realized that going back to where I was before wasn’t what I needed. Back isn’t always better. 

Completely unrelated to my recent weight gain, but around the same time, I asked Michelle to give me an overarching goal that I could focus on for the rest of the year. We would discuss it during one of our Cracker Barrel performance reviews. I expected it to be something related to communications, design or branding. But instead Michelle gave me a task that has led me to a new life. 

She challenged me to become a “healthy professional.” And those are two words that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. At that point I realized that I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t want to feel how I felt before the weight gain happened. I had the opportunity to go forward and build a life that was centered around health and happiness. So, I did.

Avoiding the “About”

I’m a naturally curious person. I ask a lot of questions, want all of the details and always have expectations in my mind before doing anything.

When I began my journey to becoming a Healthy Professional, or “Healthy Profesh” as Meesh has dubbed it, I knew that I was going to have to do things that were uncomfortable, annoying, and just flat out hard to reach my new goals. 

Back on April 15, 2019, I took the first step in my Healthy Professional journey by attending a 60-minute high-intensity interval training class at Orangetheory Fitness Downtown Indy. I remember signing up for the class on their website and wanting more than anything to click the “About” tab and read what would happen during the class. I wanted to ask my coworkers who had attended before how the class was structured. The uncertainty was killing me.

But walking into the studio with no expectations is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. And since then, I’ve claimed a personal motto in uncertain situations: “Don’t think, just do.” 

That method goes very much against everything that my mind naturally says to do. I’m a thinker, sometimes an overthinker. I make informed decisions, and I’m known to elevate ideas to the next level because of my high expectations. But sometimes, painting a picture in my mind leads to a negative mindset or, worse, makes me avoid doing difficult things.

If I had read the “About” page of the website, I know that I’d never be writing this blog right now. I would’ve been terrified of being surrounded by 45 other people while running, rowing and weightlifting. But I avoided “About.” 

Now, I go to Orangetheory nearly every day and have lost about 75 pounds. With every pound that I’ve lost, I’ve gained confidence, strength and happiness. My advice? Never allow your mind to create expectations that cause you to avoid doing the tough stuff.

The Agent of Awareness

There’s no doubt that the “Healthy Professional” goal led me to Orangetheory, which led me to a major life change. But working out alone doesn’t lead to a balanced life. 

The next task on my “Healthy Professional Checklist”?  To better understand my eating habits. As an avid fan of mashed potatoes and pizza and a very anti-fruit and vegetable guy, my diet was pretty shocking. I was working so hard at Orangetheory that there was no way I could let a horrible diet cancel out the daily hour of breathless cardio, heavy weightlifting and intense mental pressure.

I knew I needed help, so I met with a Registered Dietitian. I went into the meeting as clear minded as possible, using my “don’t think, just do” method. I knew I was going to get advice I didn’t want to hear. But usually the advice that you don’t want to hear is the advice you need the most. 

I expected Dietitian Kate to tell me to count my calories, join Weight Watchers, or completely kick McDonalds to the curb. But that wasn’t the case. She asked me to spend three weeks handwriting a list of my food and drink consumption in a notebook. I never listed the number of calories or ingredients. I just casually wrote everything down.

She gave me suggestions on eating less each meal, choosing healthier options and avoiding foods that really canceled out my goals. But there was never the expectation that I was going to completely limit myself. The only goal was to make me consciously aware of what I was consuming.

And awareness was the agent of my change. After handwriting these lists filled with horrible carb-loaded meals, large desserts and excessive snacks, I’ve retrained my brain to no longer crave these foods. By no means am I a “healthy eater,” but I’m highly aware of the impact of food consumption and often turn down items that go against my goals. Simply writing down my meals for three weeks led me to a new mindset. Try it, I dare you.

Moving Forward

If I’m being honest, I worry every day that something will disrupt this pattern of healthy change in my life. It’s not easy. But it’s worth it. People ask me all the time, “how did you do this?” or “what’s your secret?” when they see my significant life changes. There’s no secret, but if I had to give you my best advice, here’s what it would be: 

  • Back Isn’t Always Better: Don’t approach your goals thinking that you want to return to a place where you previously were. No matter how happy or healthy you believed yourself to be then, there’s always better in the future. Think ahead and craft the version of yourself that’s best for today.
  • Avoiding the About: Stop screwing yourself over by setting expectations that lead to poor outcomes. Take a risk and do things that scare you. Sometimes you don’t need the whole story to get started. 
  • The Agent of Awareness: You can’t do much about things that you fail to admit or understand. Grab a notebook and start writing. Whether you’re looking to change your eating habits, finances, workout plan, or relationships, writing in that journal for three weeks will boost your awareness and retrain your brain to support your new goals. 

And when all of the COVID craziness is over, I can’t wait to get back to that life-changing Cracker Barrel with Michelle. My meal might just look a little different this time.

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