This is the 24th installment of Real Life Biggest Loser interviews and they never fail to be downright inspiring. Kevin’s story is no different. He’s 61 years old and has lost about 100 pounds. How? As he puts it, “I tuned in.”
I met Kevin a few weeks ago when I received a phone call from him out of the blue after he read my “Diet Wars” paper that recently appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In short, the paper says that weight loss isn’t about finding the perfect diet, it’s about changing your life. Kevin said he was nodding in agreement the whole time while reading it because for him, losing 100 pounds wasn’t about finding the right “diet.” It was about delving into the psychological side of his habits. He used food as a reward. It didn’t matter if it was a good day, an average day or a bad day. Food became the punctuation mark of every day, every emotion, every success, every loss, everything. One day he made the decision to take on the challenge of creating a healthy life and he hasn’t looked back. He says he now wakes up everyday and thinks, “What do I have to do today to be healthy?” As you can see, he’s rewriting his story and this version has a whole new set of punctuation marks…
Occupation: President/CEO Management Consulting Firm
All time high weight: I was 312+ lbs the last time I weighed myself, but I stopped weighing myself so likely weighed even more.
Current weight and height: 214 lbs, 5’10”
Total weight loss: ~100 lbs Went from waist size 46 to 36
How did you gain the weight? I’ve been “husky” all my life. I weighed 230-240 from 1972 to 1990, then in 1990, I made a career change by entering the consulting world. From 1990-2006 my weight ballooned from 240 to over 312 lbs. Consulting involves a lot of wining and dining with clients, lunch meetings, and constantly being offered snacks and food. With this career change I also started making more money so I could afford custom made clothes. When I needed a new suit, shirt or pants, I would get measured and have one made. If I grew out of clothes it was no big deal because I just had new cloths made so I never had a sense of my clothing size or even my measurements. I had no ability to manage my food intake. I ate to reward myself for everything. A good day, a bad day, an average day, it didn’t matter, I rewarded myself with food after any day. As the old joke goes I was on a “see food” diet if I saw food I’d eat it. I knew I had gained weight but I didn’t think much of it. I knew every fat joke in the book, I learned them all so I could tell them before I had to hear them. If people joked about my weight, I assured myself that with the weight came career success and achievement.
One funny little story I’ll share… when we would go out to eat with friends after the meal was served I observed that when the question came up from the server about wanting desert it was almost always ME they looked at and handed the menu to. I made a running joke out of it for years and would bet friends on it happening. Crazy but true.
When did you begin your weight loss journey? 2006
What motivated you to lose weight? Did you have an A-HA moment? Over time it was an accumulation of things that led to my commitment to losing weight. My dad used to warn me that I was going to get diabetes and he was very brutal about it. He said, “It’s great that you have done well financially, too bad you won’t live long enough to enjoy it.” He even criticized my wife (boy can she bake!) for not pressuring me to lose weight. One night I rolled over in bed on my stomach and I couldn’t breathe. My body weight had put so much pressure on my chest. I thought to myself, “You had a good time, didn’t you? I gotta get rid of this.” I never looked back.
When I was about 3 years into my weight loss journey my business partner died suddenly of a congenital heart problem. Everybody was shocked. Immediately after his death his widow asked me if I could call his friends to deliver the news since she was so distraught. I must have made 40 phone calls. A common reaction from our friends was, “Wow, I would have thought if either of you died it would have been YOU.” Hearing this was infuriating. I thought if they think that of me now, what did they think of me when I was 30-40 lbs heavier? This incident gave me another big push to prove everyone wrong.
To what extent had your weight affected your physical health? My weight had not affected my health yet. I had high blood pressure but I had it even before I had gained the weight.
How did you lose the weight? Tell us about your diet and exercise regimen. I started by reducing my carbohydrate intake (e.g., pasta, bread) and especially sweets. I used a gradual approach, eliminating portions by about 20%, then 20% more, and so on. I slowly whittled down my portions and over time the weight fell off. I did not weigh myself very often because to me that became a reason to eat because my weight was down or eat because I said screw it my weight was up.
I have just focused a lot on how much I can eat while still losing weight. I pay close attention to portion size. I never once tracked calories. I dine out 4-5 times a week but mostly at the same places so I know what I can and can’t eat on the menus or in what volume. I experiment with how much I can eat by what happens on the scale (I now weigh myself regularly) and have learned over time about the right portion size for me. When I look at a plate of food that I’m eating (and enjoying!) I will try and eat slower and ask myself am I eating the rest of this meal because I’m still hungry or am I eating it because it’s there.
My current diet involves a breakfast of 4 eggs and 1 yolk with fruit and a small glass of OJ. For lunch, I have cottage cheese or smoked salmon, fruit, and 4-5 almonds. I go out to dinner on most nights. I make a habit to NEVER take leftovers home because I’ll eat them before the container ends up in the fridge or I’ll eat it for lunch the next day– making for a larger lunch than I would normally eat. The to-go container is the kiss of death for me!
I have no forbidden foods now. The funny thing is I used to have forbidden foods when I was heavy. I would never eat a lobster roll but then I’d eat an entire pizza. My diet rules made no sense. Now I have a more flexible approach to eating because I feel so under control and even more importantly, I just do not have the appetite that I used to.
For exercise I ride a recumbent bike at home for 40-45 minutes on 7 days a week at a fairly high intensity pace. While riding I listen to music, read a book, or take a conference call (on mute!). I also do a light dumbbell workout each day. I’m very busy during the day so at the beginning of each day I try to think of where the hour is that I can carve out for my exercise and I make sure to do it. If I ate more on any given week, I ramp up the exercise to compensate for it.
I have also taken an approach in which I lose about 30 lbs at a time then maintain it for 4-9 months before trying to lose another chunk. In that “maintenance” period I try to figure out how to eat at my new weight. Once I prove to myself I can maintain it with ease, I restart my effort to lose again. This way I’m very confident in my ability to maintain what I’ve already lost and only need to focus on the new challenge ahead.
Who was the most influential person/people to you during the process of losing weight? Me. I had to make the decision for myself. It’s a mental process not a physical process… Looking back on it I never ate because I was hungry. How can you be hungry when you are eating all the time?
Have you ever lost weight and then gained it back? If so, how was this time different? I have never gained it all back. When my dad died a few years ago I gained 25 lbs. I knew I was in a temporary rough time, I knew that when it was over I would get back on track. I did. When my mother died 9 months later, I vowed to not let the same thing happen. I did not gain weight then, but instead poured myself even more into changing my mental attitude towards food.
It’s easy to let your diet drift or slowly stop exercising. What do you find to be the key to STICKING TO IT? I wake up every day and ask myself, “what do I have to do today to stay healthy? What am I going to eat? How much do I need to exercise?” Sometimes I need an extra workout because I overate the day before. Every day I have a mental plan and having a plan is not as hard as it sounds.
Just starting off, losing weight is hard. Tell us, did it get easier or harder for you over time? The minute I got into the mental state of wanting to lose weight, it was easy. More recently it has gotten more difficult because the next 30 pounds have been the toughest to lose. I am still trying, we’ll see how it goes!
If you could tell your former self anything, knowing what you know now, what would you say? I’m disappointed that I lost that much control. I’d tell myself this is psychological problem—my using food to medicate everything. Being fat was an out of body experience I didn’t look at myself the way people looked at me. I was healthy, active, and had a terrific social life. I didn’t see what was happening. Once I tuned in, it all became clear to me.
Do you worry about gaining weight back? How do you prevent yourself from gaining it back? There is not a chance on earth that would happen. I don’t have the appetite that I used to. Overeating makes me feel so uncomfortable. I eat what I want but manage volume.
What is different (if anything) about your life (and/or health) now that you have lost the weight? This will sound tacky, but I like walking in a room now and hearing people say, “Wow you look fantastic!” In terms of health, my blood sugar has dropped considerably.
What’s your advice for someone just starting off? I didn’t find advice from other people helpful, however I did find it helpful to hear about how other people lost weight. Find out what other people have done and decide what is right for you. For me, I started by reducing the carbohydrates and processed sugar (baked sweets, candy) which were so rich and plentiful in my diet and that made a big difference. As I’ve suggested earlier this is much more of a mental challenge than a physical one.
I would also suggest asking for support. For the longest time I ate with the crowd at all those business functions. Now I tell people I’ve lost weight and have to eat a certain way and it’s amazing how supportive everybody is about that. I wish I had done that sooner. If you tell people you are trying to lose weight and can only order certain things on the menu, they always support you. Speaking up makes all the difference!
Kevin lives in Northborough, MA with his wife, Erla. He has two adult children and 4 grandchildren.
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