How I Lost Over 100 Lbs. and Kept It Off for Years!

My Before and After Weight Loss Pictures

I do not actually have a photo of myself at my heaviest weight of 296 lbs. Understandably, I was ashamed of how I looked and I don’t have too many photos saved from back then.

Despite this, I did find two photos which offer a pretty good idea of just how big I had let myself go:

  1. A picture while I was recovering from a broken leg. I was younger here, and quite large. How much I weighed I am not sure, but BMI-wise it was close to my biggest.
  2. A picture taken during a relapse about 8 years ago in Guatemala. I weighed about 275 lbs.

Fast-forward to the present, and I now look like this:

That’s a total weight loss of 121 lbs., and I am happy to say that despite some setbacks along the way, I have maintained my 100+ lbs. weight loss for many, many years now.  

Why My Weight Gain Started

I was not always overweight. In fact, I was reasonably fit and slim until about the age of 6 or 7 or so. At that point my family permanently relocated to the United States from Ireland, and my weight gain began in earnest.

I honestly do not remember these early days too well, but I know for certain that my weight gain can be at least partially attributed to the following factors:

  • The Western Diet: Pizza, hamburgers, French fries, chicken nuggets, potato chips, candy, soda… I started eating and drinking ALL of it. I don’t remember this being a part of my diet while in Ireland. It was, however, a fixture of my American diet. While healthy options did exist, I would over-eat them, too.
  • Emotional Eating: All of this unhealthy food tasted good… really good! I quickly learned to associate eating with positive feelings and developed a coping mechanism of over-eating and emotional eating in times of stress. As you can imagine, gaining weight and becoming “The Fat Kid” was stressful, which led to more eating, which perpetuated itself until I finally found better ways to deal with and manage my stress later in life.
  • Lack of Health and Fitness Education: I was an ignorant kid and didn’t really learn habits of good exercise or proper nutrition at school or at home. Perhaps it had been taught to me (maybe?!), but I never internalized it as something important or necessary. Instead, I was content with comfortable living and plentiful eating. In particular, I remember my daily lunch at high school being, and I’m not joking here: 2 slices of pizza covered in French fries, chicken wings, way too much ketchup, and plenty of extra salt. Oh, and I washed it down with a soda. This was a regular occurrence.
  • Sports Injuries: I was actually pretty sporty and active as a kid. I played Gaelic Football, baseball, I golfed for a bit, I wrestled for a season, and I was pretty active outside with friends. I also suffered MANY sports injuries. Some of these were pretty serious broken bones which resulted in many, many months spent in a cast recovering. One particularly bad broken leg resulted in a 6-7 month recovery. This recovery time allowed for little physical activity, and plenty of emotional eating. It was a recipe for rapid weight gain.

What It’s Like Growing Up as “The Fat Kid”

Being “The Fat Kid” is horrible!

If you haven’t experienced it yourself, let me paint you a picture:

  • you are always self-conscious about how you look
  • your clothes never, ever fit comfortably or feel right
  • gym class is a nightmare and your least favorite class (should be the opposite, right?!?)
  • you are constantly comparing yourself to how others look
  • you constantly belittle yourself and put yourself down because other people look better than you do
  • you have zero self confidence when it comes to dating or relationships
  • you are worried about getting bullied
  • you think other people are judging you because of the way you look
  • other people do judge you because of your body

And despite all of this, the only coping mechanism you have developed for yourself to deal with the stress is to stuff your face with more unhealthy food.

It’s a horribly vicious circle which, at the time you are stuck in it, seems hopeless to break free from.

“I eat because I’m unhappy and I’m unhappy because I eat. It’s a viscious circle.”

-Fat Bastard, from the Austin Powers movies

Funny enough, but I’m not sure how much of a problem I realized this was until about 7th or 8th grade when I was maybe 11 or 12 years old.

Prior to this I was big, but other kids weren’t strong enough to push me around or bully me. Also, looking for a relationship wasn’t the most important thing for our young minds. We just wanted to play and have fun with our friends.

As my classmate developed physically and hormonally, however, I gradually started feeling even more like “The Fat Kid” who was unattractive and weak. That led, of course, to more emotional eating!  

What Was the Heaviest Weight I Reached?

I started freshman year of high school at about 240 lbs. I wanted to lose weight, so I joined the wrestling team. I started in the super-heavyweight category as a 13-year-old, which was embarrassing in-and-of- itself.

I finished the 4-month season weighing about 190 lbs. and I was in the best shape of my young life! I had lost 50 lbs. in four months and was feeling great.

Then, disaster struck!

I injured my shoulder during one of the last practices of the season. I gained weight back during my recovery, and I decided not to wrestle anymore after the injury. Instead, I immersed myself in my studies and other non-athletic hobbies such as chess.

Without any physical activity, and with a horrible diet, I ballooned up to 296 lbs. by my senior year. I was 17 years old. At my height of about 6 feet and 2 inches, I was Class II Obese!

The Moment When My Weight Loss Journey Began

I’ll be honest, I knew I was big but I never realized just how big I had gotten. Then one day during my senior year in high school, at 17 years old, I decided to actually step on a scale just to see and I was shocked by what I saw: 296 lbs. staring back at me!

Perhaps you remember the classic TV-show The Simpsons?! There is one particular episode where Homer intentionally tries to gain weight to go on disability. If he got over 300 lbs. he would qualify. At one point in the episode, he steps on the scale and it shows a weight just under 300 lbs.

That was what I was thinking about when I looked at the 296 lbs. staring back at me. In the moment I figured I had two choices:

  1. gain a few more pounds, crack 300 lbs., and live an unhealthy life forever, or…
  2. start losing weight more seriously and never look back.

Fortunately for me, I decided in that very moment that it was time to finally start making my health and fitness more of a priority in my life. The problem was, I had no idea where to even begin!

Diets and Other Things I Tried on My Weight Loss Journey

I wish I could say that I’ve been a model of health and fitness for the last 17 years since peaking at 296 lbs. The reality of the situation is quite different.

I knew NOTHING about health and fitness, healthy weight loss, proper training, or anything of the like. I figured it out as I went, and I made many mistakes along the way.

I tried many “diets” and shortcuts in my desperation to lose weight. As you might have guessed, this led to quite a lot of yo-yo dieting and failed weight loss journeys.

Some of the diets and shortcuts I tried over the years include:

  • The Atkins Diet
  • The Warrior Diet
  • Diet Pills
  • Diet Bars and Shakes
  • Skipping Meals
  • Refusing to Eat / Starving Myself
  • Binging and Purging (unsuccessful… I could never do it)
  • Shrink Wrapping My Belly
  • Electronic Abdominal Toner (If you don’t know what they are, you can get an idea what modern versions of them look like here on Amazon. Just DO NOT buy them!)
  • And more, I’m sure, that have gone forgotten over time.

None of these worked in the long term, and some of them were seriously dangerous. Despite being an academically smart man, I was emotionally desperate and looking for a shortcut to permanently solve my weight problem.

The problem is that while some of these solutions actually did work in the short term, I found non sustainable over the long term. The weight ALWAYS came back, and sometimes with a vengeance.

What ACTUALLY Helped Me to Lose the Weight

Looking back on it now, I can confidently say that these things actually helped me to lose weight:

  1. Accepting the Problem: Stepping on that scale and seeing 296 lbs. helped me to realize and accept the seriousness of the path I was going down. Being Class II Obese at 17 years old was a problem. I finally accepted it as opposed to ignoring it, and that acceptance put me on a better path towards health and fitness. I wasn’t sure what the path was at the time, but at least I was heading in a better direction.
  2. Mindset: I can be quite determined and stubborn in many areas of my life. This sounds terribly contradictory, right? How could I be on top of my studies and work ethic, for example, but not my health? Well, once I accepted that my weight was truly a problem, I developed a mindset of correcting it and working on it no matter what. I created a long-term focus on getting healthier and staying that way. There were ups and downs along the way, but my mind always drifted back towards getting healthier.  
  3. Learning to Cook: After university I began travelling internationally. I was the most independent I had ever been in my life and I had no idea how to cook, but little-by-little I learned. I learned how to make healthy food that was affordable and tasted good to me. Taking control of the food I put in my body was a game-changer. Eating less processed and high-calorie food was a game-changer. Learning about proper portion sizing was a game-changer.
  4. Drinking Less Alcohol: At university I started losing weight. I also started drinking for the first time. I essentially substituted one emotional and social crutch for another. While the weight started coming off, drinking and the drunken binge eating that came with it helped put the weight back on. It also messed me up emotionally, which led to more emotional eating. And of course, there is no motivation to be physically active when hungover. Drinking is fun, but I have found that my life is healthier and happier without it.
  5. Appreciation for the Outdoors and Nature: During my travels I found myself outdoors and hiking quite often. I grew to love it. Hiking became a passion, and the considerable physical activity that it demands certainly helped keep my weight in check even if my diet was not always optimal.
  6. Other People: There are so many other people out there who inspired and educated me in my weight loss journey. They taught me how to cook, how to train, how to rest and recover, and were there when things didn’t go so well, too. It’s hard to imagine being able to have lost all that weight and keeping it off without them. Their social, motivational and educational support was invaluable to me. Thank you!!!
  7. Success Breeds Success: It’s funny how exciting a little bit of success can be! Losing your first 10 lbs. makes you want to lose another 10 lbs. Going on your first hike makes you want to go on another one. Doing a 40 kg. bench press makes you want to get to 50 kg. Little victories meant a lot to me over the years, and certainly pushed me towards future goals and future successes.
  8. Patience: Weight loss does not happen overnight. It took me 17 years to get to 296 lbs. and it would take me 17 more to get back down to 175 lbs. Sure, I wanted the change to happen overnight, but that is impossible. I had to take a big-picture approach to it. Once I realized that health and fitness is not something that happens overnight but something you do every day, I was able to develop more patience. Being patient and seeing the bigger picture helped me keep my eye on the prize, which was being healthier and more confident in myself. It also helped me get through frustrating periods, plateaus, and relapses.
  9. Experimenting and Failing: I was not sure how health and fitness would look for me, so I tried many different things to find out. Some I enjoyed and continue doing to this day. Others I did not enjoy and stopped. Some strategies worked and some didn’t. I figured it all out like a scientist, experimenting along the way, and adjusting my strategies as I went.

Long Term Weight Loss Statistics and Data

Losing weight is easy enough. Keeping it off, however, is a whole other story.

I had lost lots of weight over the years, but I always gained the weight back. Sometimes, I gained back more than where I originally started. In fact, this seems to be the norm for most people.

According to a research by Rena R Wing and Suzanne Phelan, who published a paper called Long-term weight loss maintenance in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:   

“research has shown that ≈20% of overweight individuals are successful at long-term weight loss when defined as losing at least 10% of initial body weight and maintaining the loss for at least 1 year.”

-Rena R Wing and Suzanne Phelan

So, only 20% of people maintain a weight loss of at least 10% of their initial body weight, huh?

I started at 296 lbs. I lost 121 lbs. I lost almost 40% of my initial body weight! THAT’S CRAZY!

To be fair, I currently weight on average anywhere between 180 lbs. and 185 lbs., but still… That’s over 110 lbs. that I have lost and kept off 17 years after I started my weight loss journey.

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How I Was Able to Keep the 100+ Lbs. Weight Loss Off

Keeping the weight off for so long had nothing to do with choosing the right diet or the perfect exercise plan.

I have been keeping my weight off because I changed my lifestyle!

Among other things, my lifestyle now looks like this:

  1. I exercise regularly! I make it a point to get dedicated physical exercise in at least 5-6 times per week. I do resistance training 4 days per week and I jog 2 days per week. I also do flexibility training, balance training, and I foam roll. Being physically active is now my favorite part of the day. It’s also a priority, so I make sure to plan it in my schedule at 7:00am every morning, and my day is incomplete without it.
  2. I increased my NEAT! NEAT stands for “Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis”. It’s basically all of the activities we do when we are not sleeping and not performing dedicated physical exercise, hence the “non-exercise” part. It’s the difference between driving to the store and walking to the store. It’s manually doing the dishes instead of letting a machine clean them. It’s standing up and walking as opposed to sitting and consuming TV. I increase my NEAT as much as possible these days, whereas in the past I was content to sit around all day doing nothing.
  3. I cook and eat healthy food! I rarely eat out at restaurants; rather, I eat home-cooked meals every day. It’s mostly plant-based, whole foods with some limited meat and dairy. This is a huge change from the Western Diet I used to over-consume regularly in my youth. Now, I think about the food I will eat, prepare it, enjoy it, and get some extra NEAT in the preparation and cleaning process.
  4. I stopped drinking alcohol (mostly)! Alcohol can be consumed within a healthy diet and lifestyle. The problem was, I binge consumed it in the past. Over time, I realized that alcohol was merely another coping mechanism that only made things in my life worse in the long term. Now, I almost never consume alcohol, and when I do, I do so responsibly.
  5. I wake up early and go to bed on time! I used to have poor sleeping habits. I stayed up late, and those evening hours were not spent exercising. They were spent watching TV or some other time-wasting, sedentary activity. Now, I go to bed early and on time, and I wake up early, usually between 5:00am and 6:00am). This is part of the lifestyle change I spoke about, and I find it more conducive to maintaining a regular routine of daily exercise coupled with proper rest. I also find that it helps with maintaining a regular eating schedule that is easy to plan for and thus healthier.
  6. I weigh myself regularly! I hated weighing myself when I was fat. Now, I weigh myself regularly. Sometimes I weigh myself every day for months at a time, sometimes I weigh myself once a week, but I never go too long without weighing myself. At this point in my life I am managing my weight loss, and to be a good manager you need good data. I use this weight data over time to make sure I am staying on track and not allowing myself to go off course for too long.
  7. I realize that weight naturally fluctuates! There was a time when I used to get upset when the weight would come back on, especially when I had been training hard and working out diligently. IT was frustrating, and sometimes demotivating. Now, I realize the weight loss is not linear. You do not lose weight in a straight line. It naturally fluctuates up and down, especially throughout the course of a single day, and also over the weeks and months. As long as I am more or less sitting in the range of weight that I am comfortable with, I don’t mind about a weight loss swing of a couple pounds or so.
  8. I realize that I am not my weight! At the end of the day, I am not my weight. It almost feels funny to say this considering how much my weight has influenced my life, both negatively and positively. Being at a healthier weight allows me to live a healthier and more fulfilling life. It gives me more energy and stamina to do all of the other wonderful things I enjoy doing. It increases the quality of my life. But it is not my life.

“What’s managed is what’s measured.”

Taking YOUR Health and Fitness to the Next Level

After 17 years on my health and fitness weight loss journey I feel like I am only just beginning!

Losing weight and being healthy is not about the best diet or the best workout routine. It’s about how you live your life.

I made many changes to my life over the years. It wasn’t always easy or immediate, but I did it and I am still doing it.

If you are considering starting a weight loss journey of your own and are looking to get healthier, I would encourage you to start small and look for ways to make changes which can become permanent. For example, start replacing soda for water or start walking for 30 minutes every morning.

Once the first change becomes a permanent habit, move on to the next change. Repeat this process over and over again until your life is filled with healthier habits.

Keep pushing yourself. Stay determined. Have faith in the process. Know that other people, like myself, have done it, so it can be done. You can do it, too!

It’s About More Than Just Weight Loss

If you are obese like I used to be, weight loss is important. Your health is important.

But really, what I’m talking about here is living a life that is infinitely more enjoyable than ever before!

It’s about:

  • being happier in the skin that you are in.
  • increased self-confidence and self-worth.
  • moving without pain or without getting easily exhausted.
  • enjoying a higher quality of life into your old age.
  • not dying young from preventable diseases.
  • having more energy to do all the things you enjoy doing in life.

It’s about more than just that number on the scale.

I wish you all the best on your weight loss journey, and as you work hard to become the person that you wish to be, whatever that may be.

Jack Clancy

Everything I do is focused on this concept: "To inspire personal change, so that together we can become the people we wish to be."

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