One of the world’s most frequent fliers reveals how he lost more than 30 pounds while staying at home.
Josh Gates has scaled the planet’s most remote mountains, trekked through its densest jungles and ventured to the depths of its darkest caves. Pre-pandemic, Gates was spending the majority of his year overseas while filming the hit Discovery Channel series “Expedition Unknown.” It was a lifestyle that made the 43-year-old adventurer an expert at sleeping on airport floors and grabbing meals—any kind of meals—on the go.
The result was a lack of regular exercise and healthy diet that Gates says made a healthy lifestyle difficult. But recently, the everyman’s adventurer has changed his routine, dropping more than 30 pounds since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic while inadvertently documenting the results onscreen. This week, I connected with Gates to see how one of the world’s most frequent fliers views fitness in the field.
Joe Sills: What is your typical travel schedule like?
Josh Gates: Pre-pandemic, it was being overseas 200-plus days a year. We have a really aggressive travel schedule at “Expedition Unknown.” We spend a lot of time out of the country and we spend most of the time that we are back either preparing for the next expedition or writing, editing and getting shows ready to air. It really is a year-round lifestyle.
Joe Sills: It sounds more like a lifestyle than a job.
Josh Gates: Yes. It is. When you are out there on the road, everything you do is servicing the show. We are not really in tourist destinations usually. We are out there in the middle of the jungle, out in the desert somewhere, or at an archaeological site. Everything you are doing is about trying to tell the story of whatever legend or mystery or artifact we are studying that week.
Joe Sills: When did you make the conscious decision to lose weight while you were at home?
Josh Gates: I think everybody during the pandemic has gone one of two ways: either you haven’t paid attention to your fitness at all and you’re at home and stuffing your face. Or, like a lot of people, you have become goal-oriented because you can focus on different things.
I spent a few weeks sitting at home not doing much, and it kind of hit me…I have this time and it is important to use this time. There’s so much about this current situation that is tragic, but it is also a real shakeup for most of us from this routine that we are in. For me, the pandemic was an opportunity to craft a new routine.
Joe Sills: Describe your journey with weight.
Josh Gates: I am kind of a lifelong lose weight, gain weight kind of guy. I’m a buy guy; I’ve always been a big guy. I go through phases where I am being really disciplined and lose weight. Then, I go through phases where I am super stressed out and stuck in an editing bay all day or unable to find healthy food, or I’m eating chips on the side of the road on the other side of the world somewhere.
It really depends, I kind of go up and down like most people.
Joe Sills: How easy it is to order takeout when you’re in the editing bay?
Josh Gates: I think there’s where most of us get into trouble—with prepacked, processed food. A lot of our weight struggles in general have to do with that. Sometimes, the easiest food to get your hands on is the stuff that’s the worst for you. It’s the most high in saturated fat. It’s the most calorie dense, and it’s really the least nutritiously beneficial stuff.
There’s a reason fast food is popular: it’s cheap and easy to get.
I have a mindless diet and a conscious diet. My mindless diet is pizza and carbs. I love carbs. I could go forever without eating ice cream and sweets, but for me the pizza and bread are weak spots. I have to moderate that. If you want to lose weight, limiting carb intake and eating a lot of fresh vegetables while being conscious of your sugar intake works.
Joe Sills: Have you ever felt limited in the field because you were riding that rollercoaster and maybe weighed a little more than you wanted to at the time?
Josh Gates: Yeah, I think that and age. Adventuring around the world is a young man’s game. I am not in my 20’s anymore. But a lot of it isn’t so much that I am out of breathe. I actually have pretty good endurance still. I can go hike up a mountain and carry a heavy pack for a long time. It’s my knees that are not as strong as they used to be and my flexibility. It’s my core strength.
If you haven’t worked out in a while, the first week or two can be miserable. But, once you start getting into it again and being active, it’s amazing how incredibly quick you gain back a lot of that muscle memory and that strength.
Joe Sills: Tell me about your workout routine. What are you doing now to stay fit?
Josh Gates: I think a lot of people are intimidated by figuring out their perfect workout routine. For me, it’s a much more simple philosophy. It’s about moving. It’s about being active. I am not trying to get into a specific kind of shape or train for a specific thing. I am at my best when I am being active every day and making time in my schedule every single day to go jogging or hiking or go for a walk. Even a simple 30-minute walk can do wonders for your day. My routine is a combination of that and monitoring what I eat.
I am big believer in calorie tracking. It’s not for everyone—because it requires a lot of attention— but for a lot of us who kind of mindlessly eat, it works. I am kind of a stress eater, and a fitness tracking app can do wonders for that. It is so instructional to see what you think you eat in a day compared to what you really eat in a day.
A lot of the things that we mindlessly eat, like a bag of chips or a snack, are not even a satisfying experience to eat. They are just a quick carb load or sugar rush. For me, it’s about being mindful. I have a great relationship with my Apple Watch and my calorie tracking app. I use it everyday and just let that keep me honest.
Joe Sills: Your new show, “Josh Gates Tonight” started right when the pandemic hit, and it’s interesting to literally watch your weight loss journey unfold weekly onscreen. How did that show come about?
Josh Gates: It was something of a weird miracle. We were well-positioned to film something when the pandemic hit, because we make a lot of after shows for “Expedition Unknown” that are kind of in the wheelhouse of a talkshow already. We also had lights and cameras laying around; and because I am very involved in the show already, I have some facility to set that stuff up.
Really quickly, we threw “Josh Gates Tonight” together in a spare bedroom in my house, which had bookcases in it that looked sort of adventurous and had some of my artifacts on them. Then, we started having conversation with people over Zoom. At the time, we didn’t know how that was going to translate onscreen but it has become the norm.
It’s been a fascinating adventure for me. It’s a different muscle to flex and I am having such a blast talking to celebrities and really interesting people, while giving folks a break every week that lets them have some fun.
Joe Sills: As someone whose career is based onscreen, people might assume you are always comfortable in your own skin. Do you ever find yourself looking back at old footage and not loving the way you look?
Josh Gates: No. I think you can’t get too caught up in that or you are chasing the wrong thing. I have just always been a big guy. I’ve never been some buff adventure dude. But the thing about me is I am authentically this guy. I travel the world. I climb up mountains. I go to really distant, exotic and far away places. I know that I walk the walk. I am that guy.
I have never felt pressured by any network I have ever worked for or anybody to change the way that I look.
I think all of us would love to snap our fingers and be Chris Pratt, but in the real world, as long as I am able to get out there and move around and have adventures and go to all of the places that the show takes us, I feel great about it.
Making “Expedition Unknown” is such a challenge. Just to get access to the places we go and investigate this stories, following them to the places that those tales take us around the world is a challenge. That’s where my focus really is, and I try to be as healthy as I can be along the way.
Joe Sills: I feel like you are a “normal” guy and you’re inspirational to other “normal” guys who want to do great things.
Josh Gates: I think that’s a big part of the appeal of the show. When people watch “Expedition Unknown,” the impression I want to give them is that they are along for the journey. In order to invite somebody on a trip and take them with you around the world, you have to have authenticity. What we are not trying to do is present this overly heroic version of things.
We go, we have these adventures; but we also want to show all of the flat tires and bad food and the things that go wrong that go along with it. Part of the mission of the show is keeping it real, in that sense.
Joe Sills: Is “Josh Gates Tonight” going to continue until you’re able to film “Expedition Unknown” again?
Josh Gates: Like all things right now, that is a bit of a mystery. The show has been really well received. It is rating really well, so I think we are all really happy to keep making it for now.
We are having great conversations with great guests every week. We have had on famous athletes like Shaq. We have had famous actors and archaeologists and explorers. Neil deGrasse Tyson is coming on soon. It’s an awesome way to see the world and hang out and have a cocktail with interesting people every week.
That said, I am excited to travel. That’s my thing. It has been supremely weird for me to not get on an airplane. That has been my life. I lived on airlines and lived on airport floors. My whole life was based on the weird ecosystem of airports, so that’s been a huge adjustment for me. I miss that world. It’s what I love to do, so I am hopeful to get back out to adventuring the world soon, but I am also really happy that fans love “Josh Gates Tonight.”
Joe Sills: As a new talkshow host, is there a guest you would find intimidating to interview. Say, David Letterman?
Josh Gates: I would be terrified to talk to David Letterman. Terrified.
There are definitely guests who I sat down and fired up the Zoom for, and I was nervous with sweaty palms. But the longer I do the show, the more I am able to sit down and realize that all of the folks are going through the same thing the rest of us are. All of the red carpet glitz and glamour they are usually framed in has been stripped away. They are just hanging out. Their kids are in the background, and they are just down-to-earth, interesting people with amazing life stories that want to chat.
Joe Sills: Can you give the readers a detailed artifact to spot in the background of your set? Something that has a cool story behind it?
Josh Gates: I have to tell you that my office on the show is actually my office. It is not a fake set. It really is the room I work out of. We redesigned it a bit during the pandemic. It has a lot more detail behind me, because we took a lot of my items out of storage and dressed the back of the room nicely. But almost everything behind me is real.
There are masks from countries I have been to. There is an architectural piece from a beautiful Indonesian traditional house that was gifted to me. There are a bunch of spears I have collected. We did an episode on Nefertiti and there’s a 3D print of her face behind me. I have hidden many Easter eggs on the set that I like to see if people can see or call out. So if you’re an Eagle-eyed viewer, you can spot those.
“Josh Gates Tonight” airs weekly on Wednesdays at 9ET on Discovery Channel and is streamable anytime via the Discovery Channel app. Follow Josh Gates on Twitter (@joshuagates) and on Instagram (@gatesygram) to follow his weight loss journey and interact with him on the show.