Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson says he’s back in his size 40 pants after losing 68 pounds in 18 months, feeling healthier and energized.
“Let me put it this way: I’ve gone out of my fat suits. . . . I want to call Marie Osmond and say, ‘Fifty, that’s nothing,’” said Simpson, 65, a ninth-term congressman from Idaho Falls.
Aided by the Fitbit on his wrist, which is constantly measuring his steps, Simpson walks an average of 5 miles a day. In August, he’ll set his sights on something new and higher: climbing 11,815 feet to the top of Castle Peak, the highest point in Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains. After a 15-year effort, Simpson won passage of a wilderness bill for the White Clouds and other central Idaho mountain ranges last summer.
Simpson has dropped his weight from 275 to 207 pounds — though he jokes that he’s not counting. He wants to get down to 190, just five pounds more than he weighed in 1968 when he graduated from Blackfoot High School.
275 Rep. Mike Simpson’s weight 18 months ago
207 Simpson’s weight today
Encouraged by the results, Simpson wants more Idahoans to take up walking. On June 1, he’s launching a “Hike with Mike” Idaho Step Challenge, urging people to sign up to walk 2,963 miles in the next 12 to 15 months.
That’s roughly the distance from the Statehouse in Boise to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, through the Black Hills, St. Paul, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Participants can post their miles on a website that will show how far they’ve gone on the virtual walk. In the fall of 2017, those who signed up will be invited to join Simpson for a 5K event from the state Capitol in Boise to Julia Davis Park.
“A 5k walk — my hips don’t allow for jogging,” Simpson said. “We’re going to invite anybody in Idaho — or anybody anywhere, actually — to join us.”
Simpson, who stands 6 feet tall, said he’d gotten serious about losing weight when his doctor advised him to do it. He still smokes, though significantly less than in the past.
“I’m smart enough to know that I needed to lose some weight anyway,” Simpson said. “You know that you need to do it. It’s just a matter of getting it done. . . . I do feel better.”
In addition to exercising more, he said he was eating smaller portions and drinking more ice water, while not giving up any particular foods.
Do I still have a Snickers every now and then? Yeah. But I don’t drink as many Cokes as I used to, not by a long shot. Rep. Mike Simpson
“I cut back on a lot of sugary stuff,” said Simpson, who represents Idaho sugar-beet growers and is a member of the House Sugar Caucus. “I have not changed what I eat, but I’m more conscious of it.”
THE SEDENTARY LIFE OF A CONGRESSMAN
No one’s prouder of the congressman’s achievement than his high school sweetheart and wife of 46 years, Kathy Simpson.
“You know, the life of a member of Congress is not very conducive to a healthy diet,” she said. “It really raises havoc on eating healthy.”
You know, the life of a member of Congress is not very conducive to a healthy diet. Kathy Simpson
She suggested that Simpson get a Fitbit in November 2014, shortly after Thanksgiving, “having no idea what his reaction would be.” But he quickly said yes.
“And the rest is basically history,” she said.
Simpson, who weighed 225 when he was elected to the U.S. House in 1998, blamed his weight gain on a sedentary lifestyle that accompanied his work.
“We’re in meetings all day, sitting behind desks, talking in hearings, all that kind of stuff,” he said in an interview in his Capitol Hill office. “I could go to breakfast, lunch and dinner every day with somebody. We have meetings around meals, so you end up eating a lot more than you need to. And when you get home, it’s really easy not to do anything.”
Simpson recalled how all members of his incoming class of freshmen in 1999 were told to schedule time for exercise, but he rejected the advice.
“Of course, when I came here I was 48,” Simpson said. “You know that’s good advice, but do you do it? I’ve never been in the House gym.”
Now Simpson’s favorite exercise is using his treadmill, often in the wee hours of the morning, since he gets by with an average of 4 to 4.5 hours of sleep each night.
During his first 15 years in Congress, he said, he always rode the underground tram from his House office building to the Capitol for votes.
Rep. Mike Simpson’s exercise playlist: Bruno Mars, Adele, John Legend, Coldplay, the Beatles and the Beach Boys
That’s happened just three times since he got his Fitbit.
“I don’t want to lose 500 steps,” Simpson said.
When he’s outside, he plugs in his headphones and steps it up to music old and new: Bruno Mars, Adele, John Legend, Coldplay, the Beatles, the Beach Boys.
‘BEATING ALL THE KIDS’
Simpson’s wife and most of his staffers now have Fitbits, too, allowing them to monitor and compete with one each other’s performance.
“It’s very motivating,” said Emilee Henshaw, Simpson’s executive assistant and scheduler.
Kathy Simpson, who often walks with her husband, said the congressman thrives on the competition.
“He takes much pleasure out of being this 65-year-old guy that’s beating all the kids,” she said. “He’s at the top of the leader board almost every single week.”
Last month, the nonprofit American Council on Exercise honored Simpson and his staff after they placed second in a congressional fitness challenge, which drew 400 staffers and elected officials. Members of the Simpson team averaged 439,346 steps in the seven-week event, which sought to highlight the nation’s obesity epidemic.
Scott Goudeseune, the organization’s president and chief executive officer, said the event was designed to show “that a healthy, physically active life is within every American’s reach.”
GETTING TO A 38-INCH WAIST
29 The percentage of Idahoans who are obese
In Idaho, 29 percent of the population is obese, with the state ranked 29th highest overall, according to a 2014 study by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and Trust for America’s Health. The study said cases of obesity-related heart disease in Idaho were expected to approach nearly 400,000 in the next 15 years; that’s roughly four times the number of cases in 2010.
With 133 million Americans – 45 percent of the population – already suffering from at least one chronic disease, the exercise council noted that a solution to increasing physical activity and preventing disease can simply be walking more.
It seems to be paying off for Simpson. He said his resting heart rate was down dramatically, from the low 80s to the low 60s in beats per minute, and he’s hoping he can eventually stop using his cholesterol medication.
Simpson has been asked a few times if he’s sick, because he’s looking so much thinner these days. He joked that many people suspect that a man of his age who loses so much weight must be ill or having an affair. Neither, he said, is true.
After organizing his closet recently, Simpson donated his size 48 pants to Goodwill, along with the 46s, the 44s and the 42s.
“Now I’m down to where 40 is comfortable and it’s a little too big,” he said. “Soon it’s getting back to 38.”
How did he do it?
Rep. Simpson lost nearly 70 pounds by eating smaller portions and walking regularly.
Breakfast: Chobani Greek yogurt.
Snacks: Bananas, nuts and Clif Bars.
Meals: Simpson still eats food he enjoys, just less of it.
Favorite recipe: Oven-roasted asparagus (link at IdahoStatesman.com)
Workout routine: This varies greatly based on his schedule. When in D.C., Simpson works out on his treadmill doing interval training at various times, most often late at night. Home in Idaho, he gets up early and walks in his neighborhood or hits the treadmill.
Source: Office of Rep. Mike Simpson
Rep. Simpson and his office are launching this 2,963-mile challenge next week. Follow this link for updates on Simpson's progress, info on how to sign up for the challenge and details on how to participate in the #HikewithMike campaign on social media.