It’s a new year, and that means, for many people, finally getting into shape. (No, really, we mean it this time, right?) But for those looking to lose a significant chunk of their body weight — like triple digits — what does that really do to your brain and body? We asked three guys who’ve done it.
Daniel de Sailles, 41
I couldn’t say exactly how much I weighed, but I was over 500 pounds at my heaviest. I lost about 100 pounds in about five months. It was almost too fast! I spend about three hours a day at the gym. I do about an hour of weights and about 30 minutes to an hour of cardio, then the steam room and Jacuzzi just to unwind.
My entire life, I’ve been overweight. I’ve always had a really strong personality, and I’ve always been able to have a pretty normal life. Of course, it was also one of those things where no one says anything to you until they’re mad, then they’ll call you fat. When I was a kid, that was my experience. But I was always “the cool fat guy” — I still had friends, still went out, still dated and still had a regular sex life, so I got to enjoy that, just not to the degree and quality that I could have.
I was over 250, coming up on 300 in high school. It all goes back to the fact that I dealt with a lot of trauma as a kid. I moved around a lot — I went to 17 schools before I graduated from high school. I was abused in every way imaginable as a kid — sexually, physically — and had to deal with that. I ended up in a foster home when I was 15 years old, and from then on, I was on my own. From 16 to 19 I even joined a cult — a Christian fundamentalist cult! I had tweaker biker parents. I turned to food for comfort, for fun, for all these other things than what it should be, which is fuel.
I used to try and lose weight probably once a year. I reached my heaviest point because although I was making good money, a couple business ventures didn’t work out, and I was depressed. My feet were swollen. My ankles were swollen. It winded me to get up the stairs. It was bad. I ended up having a bad coughing spell from sleep apnea, so I tried to get an umbilical hernia. I was about to get it operated on, but the day before the consult, my surgeon talked to several anesthesiologists and none of them wanted to put me under because they felt that at my weight it was less of a risk to live with an umbilical hernia than to get the operation. I decided to either go out with a bang or really give it one more try. I watched one of my friends on social media lose all his weight — the entire time I’ve known him, for 10 years, he’s been a fat guy, and he lost all his weight in like a year! So I asked him how he did it, and he said he’s on the keto diet.
The first thing I did was a two-week fast, where I drank two protein shakes and three intestinal cleansers a day. I dropped a lot of weight from that. The whole goal of that was to break my sugar addiction, so that when I started the ketogenic diet I’d just get right into it. A lot of people who start the keto diet have sugar withdrawals and get headaches, mood swings and stuff, and I avoided that by fasting.
Nowadays, there’s just better science. There really is. I have a lot more motivation now, too. In the past I always tried to stick to a perfect diet, and when I fell off of it, I’d be really upset. But I gave myself a break and said I’d be consistent, because you only see progress when you look back a month, you don’t see it day-to-day at all. If I get 28 perfect days out of 30, that’s great, right? I’m not gonna beat myself up over those two days. I’m just gonna make it worth it and enjoy it, because I treat going out to sushi (or whatever it is) as it should be: A treat.
Not being addicted to sugar, though, you’d be surprised how many things you’d think you’d miss, but you don’t. I don’t care about cake, cookies or candy, and I don’t ever want any of that stuff. I miss textures, sometimes — I miss bread, but I’m not gonna shoot myself or quit if I have a really good sandwich one time. I just have a rule that if I ever step out of my diet, it’s gotta really be worth it. A lot of times you pay for it, too, like I can’t really drink now, because for some reason you get way drunker when you’re in ketosis. I’ll get a hangover off a giant beer!
Losing so much weight, there’s a little bit of body dysmorphia. I was wearing 5X size shirts, and they were getting tight on me when I started. Now I wear a 3X shirt and it’s loose on me, but when I pick it up, it looks like it’s too small in my hands, like it’s not gonna fit me. I have to get new pants once a month. That’s the biggest expense. But I used to throw trade shows and companies all gave me T-shirts — their biggest would be 3X or 2X, so I have a ton of free T-shirts to go through.
It’s really nice not having to fly first class just so I can fit on the plane. I can use a seatbelt in every single car I get into, and I can sit in booths at restaurants, that’s all nice, too. People do honestly treat you differently — it does seem like, when you reach a certain weight, you just get written off. Society doesn’t accommodate you. But now, things like getting flirted with in public, I don’t even know how to handle it. Sometimes when it hits me and I realize how much of a change it’s been, it’s overwhelming. Other times I feel like I’m still just as big as I was. It’s kind of like a phantom limb — it’s phantom flesh.
Everybody is really encouraging. I feel like everybody likes a success story, you know? If I really wanna get some kind of boost, I’ll post a picture in Reddit progresspics and get thousands of people supporting it, or on my Facebook or Instagram. I get a lot of people telling me they get inspired, so sometimes when I feel like not working out, I keep that in mind. It’s a shortcut to getting a ton of support when I need it.
My ultimate goal is to be around 200. I now weigh 338 — I’ve lost 162 pounds so far, and at 250, I’ll be able to get my hernia fixed. The key to it all has been consistency over perfection.
Christopher Barnett, 44
At my heaviest I was 318 pounds. A year and a half later, I’m at 199.
As a kid, I was a little bit heavy, but not too big. I just made bad eating choices as an adult. It started in my early 30s. I do body piercing, so I’m not active during the day. There’s a lot of sitting around, and being at the tattoo shop, we eat out almost every meal. So it’d be Carl’s Jr. in the morning, pizza for lunch and something just as bad for dinner. Looking back, I probably ate 6,000-plus calories a day, and I wasn’t active at all.
I’d gone back-and-forth with weight through the years. Me and the wife both dropped weight, then she got pregnant. I had kept it off, but we ended up losing that child, and we both got heavy again. Then she got pregnant again, then lost the weight, and we just kind of yo-yoed back and forth. It led to sleep apnea, so the wife would be really fearful of me making it through the night!
Four and a half years ago I had a small stroke, and at that point, I had pretty much accepted the fact I wasn’t gonna be here much longer. Then we went on a Groove Cruise, and the boat was full of amazing-looking people. It was the cruise that woke me up. It wasn’t the health issues!
In the past when we’d lost weight, we were eating regular carbs and doing the gym. It just seemed that, for the effort we were putting in, we weren’t seeing the results. Finally getting on the keto diet worked well for both of us. Now I’m at the gym almost seven days a week — I’ll lift four days a week, then do abs and cardio three days. I’m usually there for about an hour to an hour and a half.
Every aspect in life is better: Me and the wife are thinner than we ever have been. She’s lost probably 55 or 60 pounds; I’d say we’re probably almost smaller than when we met. People do treat you differently. For example, when we used to go to the gym, even as often as we did, you’d notice the people didn’t really talk to you. But now that I’m fit and look different, everybody talks to me at the gym!
Sean Anderson, 47
I weighed 500 pounds when I was 19. I’ve since lost over 300 pounds.
I crossed the 300-pound mark at age 13. That was a turning point. I remember the moment when I was weighed at the doctor’s office — my mom was getting really concerned about my weight. They put me on the scale, and my mom starts crying. The doctor handed my mom a diet plan: 1,000 calories a day. He told her to put me on it, and that would be the fix. It wasn’t. It lasted a few days before I realized it wasn’t for me, and what I needed was much more than somebody saying, “Eat this.” It was something deeper.
My tendency to be an emotional, compulsive eater developed really early. I have vivid memories at five or six years old of sneaking food and overeating. I was raised by a single parent, poor, lived in the projects and never knew my father. In that environment I developed this need to try and take care of my mom, so I looked for a support structure in other ways, and for me, that escape was food.
I was bullied in school. You’ve gotta remember, this was at a time when there were only one or two “fat kids” in school, and before the childhood obesity epidemic. I can’t tell you how many times I’d walk to school and remind myself that no matter what happens today, at 3:30, I’m gonna be sitting in front of my television, eating food and losing myself in whatever TV program I was watching. I could escape my reality at school and find comfort and peace in food.
When you’re 500 pounds, everything you do must be thought about and intentional. Everywhere you go, you have to take into account your size. Will you fit in the vehicle you’re riding or driving in? Is it possible to put the seat far back? If I’m meeting friends at a restaurant, I have to scope out the seating ahead of time in case it’s a fixed booth, or if it’s a table with chairs with narrow arms. Many times I’d take my young family to a restaurant — we’d walk in, scan the dining room, turn around and walk out. It was such a normal part of life that it didn’t have to be spoken — there was just a glance from my wife.
One of the biggest sources of anxiety for the morbidly obese is flying. Oh my goodness gracious. I was never asked to buy two seats, but it got my anxiety going: Will I fit in the seat? Will the plane be full? If I have someone sit next to me, I hope it’s a five-year-old and I can use half their seat. If it’s an adult they’re gonna hate it, and I’m gonna apologize profusely.
You’re also constantly on alert. I was always aware of myself and every situation. Every room I’d walk into I’d brutalize myself with incredibly negative head chatter: “I’m the biggest, ugliest, fattest person in this room.” The things I’d never say to any other human being, I’d say to myself. There’s also an acute awareness that morbid obesity is gonna kill me. That brings on a whole new area of anxiety where every little twinge of pain, heartbeat or something as minor as indigestion is like, “Is this gonna be the big one?”
Here’s the catch 22: What do you think it makes me wanna do? Eat. More. And more. It’s a cycle.
Now I don’t worry about any of that stuff. It gives you an incredible amount of mental freedom. I tried so many different food plans, weight loss plans, pills, shakes, pretty much every method. I was constantly looking for something to do it for me. I wanted something to magically come in and handle it. There were times when I wouldn’t do anything simply because I was convinced that the solution for me hadn’t been created yet. Isn’t that interesting? If you’re addicted enough, you can come up with some of the wildest rationalizations to continue that behavior. There’s a constant search to validate what we’re doing.
I had one attempt in 2004 where I lost 100 pounds for the first time. I restricted myself to a certain number of calories, but I was doing it very much as a means to an end, simply changing my consumption habits and white-knuckling it every single day in pursuit of that number on the scale, constantly waiting for the day when I could just go back to being me. I had a celebration dinner at a restaurant with loads of fried mushrooms and pizza, and that was the beginning of the end: We went on a family vacation shortly after that, and leaving town we said out loud, “Forget our meal plan, let’s eat what we want.” We came back, and I never got back to it. Six or seven months later I had all the weight back on and was above 500 pounds.
In September 2008, I began a process of losing 275 pounds. What I did differently than before is I embraced accountability and support. I knew at the end of the day I was gonna be sitting down and writing a blog for the first time. When I was accountable, it attracted an incredible amount of support.
I would often write and talk about my “nothing is off-limits” philosophy. During that initial 275-pound weight loss, I’d do crazy things simply for the opportunity to write about it in my blog. If I had 280 calories left at end of the day I’d eat a Snickers bar, write about it and explain that I’m still losing weight. My whole point was that I was being a rebel. I was going against the grain.
Soon, AOL ran a story on their homepage in the summer of 2010. My blog went nuts when they did this story, “Man Loses 250 Pounds Without Ever Eating Salad.” That led to a book deal, and I was getting hired to go and speak places. I thought I had all the answers — I was mister know-it-all.
But I wasn’t considering the emotional components, and the components of addiction. I got divorced, and it took going through a painful breakup with a girlfriend after my divorce to wake me up. I always thought getting to a healthy body weight would be the answer to everything: Better marriage, stronger family, more successful career, happiness. When I reached my ideal body weight, I discovered that none of that was true. It actually had a negative effect — it contributed greatly to the demise of my marriage after 21 years. Talk about crushing disappointment: When you put so much stock in everything and label it the answer to everything, then you get there and discover it’s not, it leaves you empty and hollow.
I spent a year and a half regaining 164 pounds. I was living in hiding: If I went to the grocery store I’d do it at 4 a.m., because I’d run into people who knew me. My book was a bestseller in this area, so I’d run into people everywhere who’d read my book. I’d find myself in the drive-thru line every night at 10:30 getting ice cream or milkshakes. I’d be going over to a friend’s house and fantasize about what I was gonna order later that night in the drive-thru. Those compulsions were scary as hell, because it was as if my thoughts were no longer my own. I would sit in the drive-thru and audibly ask myself, “Why? Why am I doing this? I just can’t stop. I’ve just gotta get it.”
Soon I had what I refer to as my epiphany day. I was pulled over the day before, and my driver’s license had expired. I had to get a new photo. I remember getting it, looking at it and I was so upset, like, I can’t believe I’ve done this to myself. Out of the clear blue, I started having this flood of thoughts: Why should the size of my face, or pants, or the number on a scale, control how I feel about myself? I just couldn’t get that thought out of my head. There are things about me that were great even when I was 500 pounds and some of those elements of me, the core elements of me, those still exist.
It made me realize this is bigger than just weight. For me, it was like discovering the secret of happiness. I know that sounds big, but all of a sudden, things made sense. You always hear, “Happiness must come from within.” And it was like, “Oh okay, this is what they’re talking about!” I was always searching for something external to make me happy. I ignored the core elements of me because I was too busy hating myself and caught up in the anxiety and stress.
Now I have a daily practice where I start every day humbly admitting, “I don’t got this.” I learned the hard way: If I ever think I have all the answers, I’m done. So I wake up saying, “What can I do today to get me one more day?” That level of dedication comes from an enormous respect I didn’t have before. I visualize and get excited about the future: What I’d be able to do at a healthy body weight gave me incredible mental and emotional freedom.
I now have the tools that give me the ability to have a measure of happiness come what may. That means that no matter what happens, I have so much to be grateful for. Gratitude is a huge part of this. Am I happy? Yes. Is life perfect? No. Looking at the expectations I had before, where everything’s gonna be perfect and I’ll be happy, that’s an impossible expectation and I don’t live my life with that anymore. When you look at it and dig deep, it’s so much more than just food or exercise. That’s really the least of it.