As a kid, I was healthy and active. I played baseball, ran all around my Chicago neighborhood, and rode my bike regularly.
But in my junior year of high school, I fell in love with a girl. She wasn’t active, and most of her meals were deep-fried and fast foods. I soon adopted her ways of eating, and stopped exercising. In a year, I went from weighing 170 to more than 215 pounds.
Long story short, my girlfriend got pregnant and gave birth when I was 17. And when I found out she had been cheating on me the entire time, and that the child I had raised for a year wasn’t mine, my health plummeted.
I started to stuff my face not because I was hungry but because I was sad and angry. I was miserable and didn’t value my life anymore.
I drank two liters of soda a day. I ate fast food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, not caring at all about the consequences. I thought exercise was a joke, and it got to a point where I’d get winded just tying my shoes. Weight loss wasn’t even on my radar.
At 5-foot-8, I was rapidly approaching 230 pounds. I didn’t realize that I was slowly killing myself.
Then, when I was 18, I started repeatedly falling asleep at my desk at work. I even dozed off while driving the company car.
My employer immediately sent me to see a doctor. I was glad — I also wanted to know what the heck was going on. I was sick of having no energy and falling asleep during the day.
At the doctor's, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. After an overnight sleep study, I also found out I had severe obstructive sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea means there are repeated episodes during the night when you actually stop breathing. These episodes are hard on your body and interfere with sound sleep.
It’s a scary disease to have — and I was terrified. In fact, my doctor said that if I didn’t do something immediately about the condition, I could die in my sleep or have a heart attack.
He gave me two choices: I could either have major surgery or sleep with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which forces airflow into your lungs at night. He also said that either way, I’d benefit if I lost weight.
So what did I do? I chose the lazy way and decided to sleep using a CPAP machine. I continued the same nutritionally void diet and sedentary lifestyle.
It’s very uncomfortable to sleep with a hideous CPAP mask on your face all night. But with it, I felt rested for the first time in two years.
How I Finally Shed the Pounds
Fast-forward to New Year’s Eve, 2001. I was still sleeping great with the CPAP, but I was also the most obese I had ever been.
At 245 pounds, I was miserable. I suffered from lower back pain because of all the extra weight, and would get winded from the most minimal physical movement.
It got to the point where I was simply sick of living that way. I had to make the choice to stop blaming my ex-girlfriend — and start taking responsibility for my actions. I didn’t want to be overweight and on a breathing machine for the rest of my life.
So I decided to make a New Year’s resolution to start exercising and eating healthier. On January 1, 2002, I started working out on basic machines at the gym for the first time in six years — and actually stuck with it.
Still, I was frustrated that after a month I had lost only 5 pounds. So my Dad gave me some encouragement. He bought me a vinyl sweatsuit and a pair of boxing gloves. I punched the bag he had in his exercise room every day for weeks straight. To make it fun, I pretended I was doing rounds in a boxing match. With that, I really started sweating my fat off!
But I also wanted to work on my diet. The first thing I eliminated was soda — not easy when you're used to drinking three extra-large servings of soda a day.
By the spring, my weight was down to 210 and I was feeling great. So I decided to also eliminate all fast food and anything fried, eating homemade salads and sandwiches instead.
It was incredibly difficult to battle the constant cravings since my body was so used to junk food. But I fought with everything I had inside me to keep going, because I never wanted to be obese again. For motivation, I put up photos of myself when I was 245 pounds all over my bedroom as a reminder that if I don’t get my ass moving more and eat less, I'd end up looking like that again.
With the weather warming up, I also decided to take my workouts outdoors. I started going on 40-mile bike rides three times a week, and hiking in the local forest preserve.
At this point, I decreased the CPAP machine usage to four times per week, and soon got it down to two times per week. I was happy to find I was sleeping soundly without it.
By August 2002, I weighed in at 180 pounds. I looked, and felt, like a new person.
I kept up with the exercise routine while continuing to read anything and everything about nutrition and holistic health. I also took my diet one step further and gave up all sweets and processed foods. At this point, since I had already eliminated so many toxic junk foods, it really wasn't difficult.
By early autumn of 2002, I was down to 170 pounds. In October, I decided to stop using the CPAP machine all together. And when I went for a follow-up exam in November, the doctor said not only was my blood pressure normal, but my sleep apnea had completely subsided as well. I was ecstatic.
To this day, 13 years later, I no longer have any issues with sleep.
Where I Am Today
For more than 10 years, I stayed at 170 pounds. But after moving to Florida in 2013 with my amazing wife, I took up water sports and more bike riding. Over the course of five months, I ended up losing another 30 pounds.
I can now say that at 145 pounds, I’m finally at my ideal weight. I love my body and my life more than I ever did. Compared to where I was in 2001, I’ve lost a total of 100 pounds — a whole person!
I now have a huge passion for helping others struggling with their weight. Two years ago I became a certified health coach and even wrote a book about my experience.
I know what it’s like to be overweight, and I know what it’s like to struggle to lose weight. Pills, surgery, fad diets, and fasts can be a temporary fix — but in my experience, none of these will bring positive and permanent changes as much as a complete lifestyle transformation.
Photo courtesy of the author. On the left is the author in 2001, at almost 250 pounds. On the right is him today at 145 pounds.