At 55, I weighed over 440 pounds. Every single “normal” activity was a chore, and I spent almost all of my time inside at home or the office—going out was a challenge, and I didn’t want people to see the way I looked. I wanted to support my kid’s school activities but was always worried that I would embarrass them by being the “fat dad.” My obesity made regular exercise basically impossible.

It’s awful and lonely to be an obese person in today’s society. We are constantly being judged by others (fat people are lazy/stupid/etc), stared at, and discriminated against in the workplace. We’re stuck wearing clothes that never quite fit or look right, and sitting in airplane seats that are too tight. At every turn, we’re tempted to buy/consume more. Why buy a small drink at McDonald’s when it costs the same as a large one?

In that kind of environment—in society today, basically—it’s frustratingly hard to make meaningful change. It feels like everything is stacked against you. It’s a vicious cycle where simple activities that most people take for granted become more complicated (or impossible), and too often it just becomes easier to recede into further sedentary and food-fueled isolation.

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Obesity runs in my family. I’ve struggled for years with my weight issues, trying diets that never quite seemed to work. I’d lose some pounds in the short term only to have them come back with a vengeance.

And I made a lot of excuses. Food can be seen as a reward and a diversion, and there’s always a good excuse for eating poorly and not exercising — work, family obligations, medical issues, stress, other priorities. I always rationalized my behavior as bad genetics and embraced the idea that the “right” time to start making changes was just over the next hill.

How change happened

By my 55th birthday in November 2018, I realized that I was running out of time to make a meaningful change in my life. After a lot of consideration, and an extremely helpful psychological evaluation and consultation with a nutritionist, I decided to undergo bariatric surgery.

That accounted for the first 60 to 70 pounds—really just an enabler to get started. From there, it was up to me, with a combination of diet and exercise. After the operation, my diet radically changed; I can really only eat egg-sized portions. So I eat smaller portions but more often, focusing on protein and avoiding foods like sodas and bread that have no nutrition and quickly fill me up.

I learned from my pre-bariatric consultations about the psychological drivers behind obesity: basically, I had an addictive personality, and food was my focus. Bariatric surgery doesn’t eliminate that, but it did give me a chance to refocus that energy more productively toward exercise (which I had always hated). Several months after my surgery, I was profoundly motivated by a documentary about ultramarathons. It made me focus on pushing myself to set and achieve goals I never thought I could physically accomplish.

Running evolution

When I first started out, I could barely do a mile and seemed to have blisters after every outing. Eventually, I learned how to buy the right shoes and socks, how to hydrate and eat prior, and how to plan appropriate routes. I subscribed to Strava to keep track of my progress. I also set up an Instagram account so that family and friends could see how the journey was going. (Yes, it is easier to get up at 4 AM on a Saturday for a race when you’ve already told 100+ people you’re going to do it.)

The bulk of the weight loss occurred over 18 months—that was more than 200 pounds. I feel like a totally different person. I was fortunate that my obesity didn’t cause any major medical issues. I accept that, in my mind, I will always be an obese person, albeit in a smaller body, and I have to work every day of my life to keep the weight off. There will always be good days and bad days, it is important not to get sidetracked and fall back into bad habits.

I recently completed my first full marathon, and have completed 28 half marathons in 18 states, planning to be at 55/30 by the end of next year. My goal in the next five years is to finish 100 halfs in all 50 states. I recently finished the HOKA Chicago Half Marathon produced by Life Time in just under three hours. Yes, I’m the slow guy at the back, and that’s ok. I will never finish first in a race and really don’t care. I’m only competing with myself.

This has been a true second chance for me, and a journey both physically and mentally. For anyone who might be stuck where I was, I say, first find a way to love yourself for who you are. If you believe that you can change your life, you’ll let nothing get in your way. Don’t focus on others, and don’t be discouraged by what they are or aren’t don’t. Celebrate your victories and learn from your defeats. Most of all, enjoy yourself.