Imagine being so overweight that when you tried and failed with a diet, you would gain back between 75 and 120 pounds. Imagine being so encumbered by your own body weight that you suffered from everything imaginable, from hypertension and gastroesophageal reflux disease to high blood pressure, depression and sleep apnea. Finally, imagine being so helpless in your own skin that it cost you your career in the military.
That 'was' the life of Chad Soileau, who in March 2006 weighed in at 464 pounds. But after his obesity prevented him from accepting a promotion to 1st Lieutenant in the Army and drastically threatened his health, Soileau underwent the procedure of RNY gastric bypass surgery to initially shed some pounds. Afterwards, he vowed to change his eating habits and exercise regularly to eventually hit his target weight of 205 pounds.
Along the way, his mini-goals were simple, realistic ones, including driving his truck without having his belly touch the steering wheel, riding a roller coaster again, to fly in an airplane without having to wear an extender belt, and, eventually be able to walk one mile.
Today -- 260 pounds lighter -- Soileau is now a competitive triathlete and has completed over 50 races since the start of 2008, including his most recent challenge: the Foster Grant Ironman World Championship 70.3 in Clearwater, Florida on November 14, 2009. Competing against 1,500 athletes from around the globe, he swam 1.2 miles, rode his bike 56 miles and ran 13.1 miles, finishing in just over 7 hours.
From 464 pounds to the finish line? What's Soileau's secret? You'll be surprised how his simple approach to weight loss may do wonders for you. Here's what he told That's Fit:
That's Fit: How did you feel physically prior to losing the weight?
Chad Soileau: I felt terrible. It's humorous to me now when I think about how the world associates fat people with being jolly. I hated who I was and I hated where I was headed. Physically, I always felt like I was going to snap every chair that I sat in (I actually snapped the legs of three computer chairs and broke my toilet seat when I was overweight.) It was a dark, dismal time in my life.
TF: When did you first know that you would succeed in reaching your weight loss goal?
CS: There wasn't really an exact time. As I crossed goals off my goal list, I knew I was making progress toward living a healthy life. It was all about making progress with the small things, which I knew would eventually lead to the big things. I never tried to take a big step. Instead, it was a bunch of little steps.
TF: What were the foods that you had the hardest time giving up?
CS: I had a tough time giving up candy and soft drinks. I don't believe in dieting. Instead, I believe in moderation. That's why I'll still have a coke and an occasional piece of candy, but now I will drink one coke instead of twelve, or have a piece of candy, rather than the entire bag.
TF: What was the first change you made to your diet that helped you lose weight?
CS: I started eating more protein. I consider protein to be the building block of weight loss. Picture your metabolism as a fireplace. What would you put in there to keep it burning for a longer period of time: a log or a bunch of papers? Obviously, a log gives off more heat and burns a lot more efficiently than a bunch of papers that burn up quickly. That's the difference between protein and carbs. Protein is like throwing a log into the fire because they rev your metabolism and take slower to burn for energy, whereas carbohydrates are like pieces of paper. Once you eat them, they burn quickly and do little to stoke your metabolism.
TF: What did you initially do to begin losing weight when it comes to exercise?
CS: Initially, I walked. For me, it was being able to walk from my driveway to the first stop sign down the street. The next day, it was being able to walk from my driveway to the second stop sign down the street. Each day, I slowly and gradually increased how far I was walking, then started to mix up how far I would walk versus run. I started by running to the stop sign, then walking the rest of the way. Pretty soon, I realized I was running most of the way. Next thing you know, I was running exclusively.
TF: Give us a timeline on how quickly the weight came off?
CS: In March 2006, I was 464 pounds. By May 2006, I was 400 pounds and losing 30 pounds a month. By March 2007, I was down to 264 pounds and by August 2007, I hit my goal weight of 205 pounds.
TF: What are your official health stats right now?
CS: Right now, my body fat is only 13.8 percent and I weigh 218 (due to tapering and hydrating for the Ironman). My resting pulse is only 45 beats per minute and my waist size is 43 inches (I was a 64-inch waist).
TF: What's a typical training day for you now?
CS: A typical week for me is getting in a 90-minute run, followed by a 60-minute swim one day, then a 90-minute bike ride along with a 30-minute run on another day.
TF: What mistakes do you see other men make when it comes to eating and exercise that you wish they would change?
CS: Simply put, many men don't move around enough and eat too much. Eat less and move around more is the soundest advice.
TF: What advice would you give to men that think they will never lose the weight?
CS: It goes back to persistence and realizing it isn't going to happen overnight, and, that it takes determination and heart to realize any weight loss goal you may have (no matter if you have 20 pounds or 200 to lose). Maintaining my weight loss will always be a daily struggle for me, but I now feel like I am finally the exception to the rule. It's really about taking small steps and never focusing too much on the big ones.