I LOST OVER 125 POUNDS WITHOUT COUNTING CALORIES, WITHOUT REGULAR EXERCISE AND WITHOUT EXPENSIVE DIET PLANS.

This is my story of why I started gaining weight, when it brought me close to death and how I battled my way back to the living by finding the hero hiding under 350 pounds.

FINDING COMFORT IN FOOD

The first hero most boys have is their dad. However, when their hero dies and a 3-year-old boy asks, “When is daddy coming home?” what do you say? When he gets confused hearing his mom on the phone with the hospital and declares, “Just write God a check so daddy can come back,” what do you do? My Italian/Irish family did everything possible to comfort and protect me. What they would say is “mangia” and what we would do is “eat.” That is how it all began; my journey finding comfort in food. Feeding my feelings was a quick fix, but ultimately resulted in a lifelong struggle with weight. This is my story about the battle I recently won and the war I continue to fight.

GROUNDED: NOT FIT TO FLY

Fast forward to December 2015 and I was not in a good place. I was working in a stressful job, exceeding company goals, but was still going nowhere. I felt trapped and unworthy of a better position. By now, I had gained so much weight stuffing my emotions that consequently I became too large to fit in airplane seats, which only further restricted my contact from family and friends. Frustrated by these added limitations I had placed on myself, I even pulled away from God, who I believed had abandoned me, like my Dad did when he died and left me at three years old. Yes, my thoughts were irrational, but I was sick spiritually, emotionally and now physically. The abuse I put my body through had finally caught up with me, and besides the high blood pressure and borderline diabetes, I ended up being hospitalized with pneumonia; my body had gone septic and was close to shutting down. It was during my hospital stay where my fight-or-flight response kicked in. I forced myself to take inventory of my life and the choices I had made that placed me in that cage without walls. It was time to break free.

MAKING MY ESCAPE

After recovering from my serious health scare, I took the first step towards taking care of myself and in March 2016 seized an opportunity to leave the unfulfilling job for a career. I knew I deserved a better work environment and Fidelity Bank of Florida was the door God opened for me to run through. Then, after I had only been at the bank a few weeks, I received the email from human resources (HR) about a Wellness Program Challenge, and I recognized it was another chance to continue the healing process. The fact that it was a weight loss contest only added fuel to my competitive fire inside, cementing my drive to both improve my health and impress my new employer.

VICTIM vs HERO

On April 11, 2016, just shy of a month from starting at Fidelity Bank of Florida, the Wellness Program Challenge began. It was designed to be a team event (must be paired with a coworker). Weigh-ins would be tracked weekly by HR and at the end of three months, the team that had lost the greatest overall percentage of weight would win over $300. I had fixed my job and now it was time to fix my health. As part of a two-person team, I started the challenge. HR would send regular emails on healthy living, ideas to combat stress and weekly updates with the team weight loss percentage totals and rankings to encourage us. Having this regular accountability and daily support from my co-workers and employer was another crucial aspect of my success. Only one month into the challenge, my teammate left the company. Most people would have used that as an excuse to play the victim and quit. I understood that now I would need to continue as if I was still a team of two. I chose to change my perspective, hero up, and run my own race. I won the first challenge by losing over 16 percent of my body weight versus the second-place team combined total of 9.8 percent! Once I tasted success, I decided to remain focused on improving my health with high protein, low carb, smart food choices like: grilled chicken vs. fried, mashed cauliflower vs. potatoes, grilled vegetables vs. rice, salad with lemon, oil and vinegar vs. dressing, and sugar free Jell-O vs. ice cream. Eating lean proteins, fresh veggies and drinking 64-124 ounces of water daily was the basis of my diet – no sugar, bread or pasta.

ABOVE AND BEYOND

In total, I’ve lost over 125 pounds, over 36 percent of my total weight, been taken off all blood pressure medication, received excellent blood work results and even won over $300 in prize money since April of last year. Admittedly, the cash and recognition was great, but it was never about those things — I had bigger motivations. During this journey, I drew on strength from above. I reconnected with God and began talking with Him regularly. I realized how easily I could gain the weight back and how life is riddled with stumbling blocks, so it was critical to for me to reestablish the solid foundation of faith I was raised with. Another motivation was my young nieces and nephews. I enjoyed spending quality time with them, but as they became older and more active, I found myself losing energy and unable to keep up. I didn’t want to continue missing out on valuable moments and activities with them. Now, when I see them, we can play outside, go to the beach and fly kites. I’m able to engage a lot more. That’s priceless to me. Last October, I could fly on a plane, which enabled me to start rebuilding relationships with family and friends I had been hiding from in the past. Today I’m working on living my life with gratitude. I changed my eating habits, but now I need God’s help to change the mental junk food I’ve been feeding myself for years. I’m still learning to take care of myself and how to trust the resilient hero that’s been inside of me this entire time.