Weight-Loss Win is an original Yahoo series that shares the inspiring stories of people who have shed pounds healthfully.
Kevin Gendreau, MD, is 30 years old, is 5-foot-9, and currently weighs 175 pounds. In 2016, after his sister was diagnosed with cancer, he was inspired to pursue a healthier lifestyle. This is the story of his weight-loss journey.
The turning point
I was an extremely active kid. Given my youthful metabolism and my love for karate and the outdoors, I always managed to stay a healthy weight prior to adulthood. At 17, I moved away to college at Boston University, and at the same time my father grew sick with terminal cancer. Seeing my hero succumb to such a horrific disease — metastatic melanoma — was debilitating for both me and my family. Between the stress of being an overachieving premed student and watching my father’s health slowly deteriorate, I gained the freshman 50 instead of the freshman 15. The weight gain snowballed when I entered medical school. By the time I became a doctor, I had gained a total of 125 pounds of excess weight.
I decided to start losing weight when my sister was diagnosed with cancer. Rachel was a 32-year-old mother of two beautiful children, Sophia and Henry. She was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer in 2016 and passed away a year later. Just like my father, my sister’s diagnosis and ultimate passing was not a choice. Putting unhealthy food in my mouth every single day was a choice. I grew tired of remaining obese and sedentary while millions of people struggled with incurable and unchangeable illnesses worldwide. Once I modified my perspective and saw my excessive weight as a choice, I was able to conquer it. I changed my fate. I had no option but to become healthy; my sister’s children needed their uncle. My brother-in-law, Jacob, started a very similar weight-loss journey at the same time. Combined, we have lost over 240 pounds.
At first, I used the app MyFitnessPal to calorie-count. It worked well for the first 30 to 40 pounds. I then decided to switch to a more whole-food diet, which is how I lost the rest of my weight and kept it off. I still eat that way. I essentially eat unlimited amounts of fruits, vegetables, raw nuts, nonfat Greek yogurt, olive oil, chicken, and turkey. I eliminated all processed foods, breads, crackers, cookies, rice, pasta, refined sugars, vegetable oils, red meat, and beer. I lost the weight quickly and kept it off because I have not introduced these foods back into my diet. As a physician, I have yet to read a single article convincing me of why any human physically needs rice, bread, or pasta to survive. I see these foods as the dietary equivalent of cigarettes, rather than a healthy part of a balanced diet. I attribute almost my entire weight loss to my new eating habits. I am quite busy at my current practice as a primary care physician and currently only exercise about once per week at a local gym. I try to do 90 minutes of cardio (elliptical, jogging, rowing, bicycling) and/or high-intensity interval training. I also do squats, pull-ups, push-ups, and some free weights at home if I have spare time.
Within the first three weeks of these lifestyle changes, my energy level tripled and my confidence improved. Every 10 pounds lost fanned the flames of my weight-loss fire and motivated me to reach my next goal. Nothing feels better than slowly going from a size XXXL to M and donating dozens of large black trash bags of your old clothes, knowing that you will absolutely never go back. I was also motivated when my blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol began to improve. After losing about 100 pounds, all of my vital signs and laboratory tests normalized!
Since losing almost all of my excessive weight, I feel fantastic. I have an improved mood, endless amounts of energy, and an improved sex drive. My life has changed for the better; I can keep up with my new puppy, work more effectively and efficiently, and have more confidence in the dating world. I also love that I can be an inspiration to my patients, many of whom are overweight and need motivation to make major life changes. My most significant life change has been my health. Prior to losing weight, I had pre-diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, plantar fasciitis, and mild sleep apnea. All of these issues have resolved completely; I take no medications at this time. I’m also proud of myself for having lost the weight without surgery.
I still can’t get over my old friends’ reactions when they see me for the first time in a year or two. It’s pretty funny and exciting. I sometimes feel like I went on one of those makeover shows. I didn’t quite anticipate the loose-skin issues that accompany major weight loss. I’m trying to improve it with exercise and am unsure if I will ever need surgery to remove the excessive skin in the future. I am also still shocked when I try on a small T-shirt or pair of jeans with a 31-inch waist and they actually fit. The last time I wore size 31 pants was in middle school!
My eating habits have remained the same for the last 18 months or so, and I still go to the gym and do cardio about once weekly. The only major difference lately is that I’ve been doing intermittent fasting. I essentially only eat from the hours of noon to 7 p.m. I don’t eat anything overnight or in the morning — just water, black tea, and/or black coffee. I have a family history of diabetes, and intermittent fasting helps improve insulin sensitivity. It also helps with weight loss and maintenance; I attribute it to helping me lose the last 30 to 40 pounds.
My patients keep me motivated. I have started dozens of them on a diet very similar to my own (whole foods, minimal processed foods, no bread/pasta/rice), and they do incredibly well. We use a laboratory test called hemoglobin A1c as a way to track diabetes over time. I’ve had at least 20 patients fully normalize their HbA1c — practically curing their own diabetes — with this diet in the last three months alone. It works, and quickly! My niece and nephew also serve as continued motivation for me to stay on track with my healthy lifestyle so I can set a good example for them.
I’d say that the hardest part of maintaining my weight is the fact that temptation is everywhere. At my workplace, homemade baked goods and doughnuts abound. It’s also very difficult to go out to a restaurant with friends and find healthy, unprocessed foods. Now that I am a normal weight, I know that I can indulge on occasion, but that can be a very slippery slope. I have yet to find a way to balance how and when to cheat — or if I even should.
Find your motivation to lose weight. If you don’t have a good enough reason, you’ll never be able to give up the foods you’ve become so addicted to. Eating processed carbohydrates is a hard habit to break — arguably more difficult than quitting smoking. For me, it was my sister and her horrible cancer diagnosis that motivated me to lose weight. For some, it’s when their diabetes worsens to the point of requiring insulin injections. For others, it’s seeing a loved one struggle with obesity and its co-morbid complications. This has to be a complete lifestyle change, not a temporary fad diet. Once you’ve found your inspiration and motivation to lose weight, commit to it. And most importantly, never look back.
Disclaimer: My story and opinions are my own and are not those of my employer, Southcoast Physicians Group. Obesity cannot always be considered a “choice” for everyone. Some people have co-morbid or genetic conditions (i.e., hypothyroidism) that predispose them to weigh more than average. Please consult your physician before starting any diet or exercise plan.
Follow Kevin’s journey on Instagram: @kevingendreau
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