When Joe struggled to fit into size 54 pants, he knew it was time to make a change.

Over the course of 10 months, the information analyst lost 128 of his 310 pounds—all while managing to indulge his passion for video games. Nerd Fitness helped him along the way.

“It’s one of the most drastic, amazing transformations I’ve ever seen,” Nerd Fitness founder Steve Kamb told the Daily Dot over Skype. “My favorite part though is that he did it right. He did it with strength training and clean eating. Joe’s been such an inspiration, not only to the community but to me as well. He’s completely transformed his life.”

In fall 2009, Kamb, an avid gamer from an early age, started Nerd Fitness in response to one simple question he asked himself: “I’m a nerd and I like fitness... I wonder if there are other people out there like me?”

A certified personal trainer, Kamb applied gamification—using game-design techniques, like creating virtual currency, achievement rewards, a progress bar to foster engagement and commitment—to fitness. The site looks almost like a comic book and presents users with a series of personal challenges to help people to “level up,” or make incremental changes to improve their life as they would in a game. In other words, it creates an ideal environment for both slimming down and geeking out.

“There was already a million fitness websites out there,” Kamb said, “but I don’t think there are very many out there are catering specifically to nerds that love to play video games and also want to get healthy.”

Nerd Fitness is actually more like a multiplayer game. There’s a thriving community of so-called “rebels” on the site, roughly 8,700 forum members discussing fitness tips, sharing success stories (whether workout milestones or powering to a new job), and just hanging out. Rebels, who are asked to abide by a few simple rules, arrange regular offline meetups as well.

“I think the fact that people can show up to Nerd Fitness, click on the message board, and see, ‘not only can I learn about fitness, but I can talk about Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Call of Duty and feel at home,’ Kamb said. “I can’t tell you how many comments I’ve got from people saying ‘I feel like I’ve found my new home.’ That means so much to me.

“Most people who read are the one person in their group of friends who wants to get healthy. Being that person is very difficult. I think it allows people to become more attached and more passionate about their lives. The community has been so instrumental in not only allowing Nerd Fitness to be successful and grow, but grow deeply with the people that have found it."

There are currently 28,000 nerds attempting to power-up with Nerd Fitness, and there’s one thing don’t have to battle in doing so: Trolls.  

“Our goal is to provide a supportive, helpful, constructive, and enjoyable experience, and if that’s not something you’re after or you can’t abide by those rules, this isn’t the home for you,” stated Kamb. “Just play nice, and if you can’t, you’re gone. We don’t have to enforce those rules often, but we do it gladly. We encourage healthy debate, but [negativity] hasn’t been an issue at all. We don’t really deal with trolls. It just doesn’t happen.”

Finding the right balance of work, play, and fitness isn’t always easy. One of Nerd Fitness’s core beliefs is that “exercising and living healthy can be part of what you are, but not at the expense of who you are.” In other words, if you’re an avid gamer, you can still indulge that passion, but Kamb believes you need to take care care of yourself and your family.

When asked what simple things people could do to start getting healthier immediately, eating well was at the top of Kamb’s list. He said that it wasn’t until he changed his diet that his health really improved.

"If you’re trying to get healthy 80 to 90 percent of it is gonna be your diet. If you’re trying to lose weight or build muscle, it’s all diet. The work out allows you to build a little more muscle, cut a little more fat off. Cut out liquid calories. things like soda, juice, alcoholic beverages... People don’t realize how much liquid calories they’re consuming on a daily basis, and how awful those calories are to the system. 

“Start eating more real food: more vegetables and meat that does not come from Burger King or McDonalds. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, meat, things of that nature. Drastically changing your body overnight is probably going to give your body quite the shock and you’ll be miserable for a while. Instead, make small changes.”

Kamb’s now in the process of building a “half fitness tracker, half online role-playing game” called Rising Heroes, which aims to sate both of the community’s main passions. When the project was announced at the end of July, the launch date was supposed to be “a few weeks away,” but those who’ve been active in the Nerd Fitness community and have participated in the regular six-week challenges have already been playing the game—even if they didn’t know it.

By choosing a “class,” much like one would choose a character class in World of Warcraft or another role-playing game, rebels work towards self-defined goals using a specific type of training. Completing real-life goals, fitness or otherwise, will help them improve their in-game characters.

Kamb has certainly been leading by example. A couple of years back, Kamb set out on what he called his Epic Quest of Awesome, travelling the world and ticking off bucket list items. Most recently, he’s crossed off hitting 20,000 email subscribers and delivering a TEDx talk.

“The thing that surprises me most [about Nerd Fitness] is how excited people are to be a part of it,” Kamb said. “I’m one tiny part of this massive movement of rebels, all around the world, who are trying to live their lives better.”

With Nerd Fitness, everyone gets an extra life.

Photo via Steve Kamb/Twitter

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