After Todd Gonzales lost his sister due to bypass surgery complications, his life changed forever.
The Texas resident had celebrated the season with his family, only to receive a 4 a.m. call that would forever change the way he looked at life. His sister, who was pregnant at the time, had suddenly passed away due to complications from her bypass surgery.
Trying to make it to her before it was too late, he hopped into his car for the 45-minute drive. By the time he got to the hospital, she was gone.
Just before that, Gonzales had also lost his dad, who was diabetic and had gone through heart and bypass surgeries of his own. Both losses hurt, but the sudden death of his sister threw Gonzales into a deep depression.
“I didn’t want to get out of bed, I didn’t want to do anything, I didn’t want to play with my kid,” he recalls.
The reality of his size hit him even harder after that. Gonzales went through a year of counseling to cope with his grief, then his son was born, and keeping up with the fast pace of two young children as a stay-at-home dad became a struggle. Since he had worked as a retail manager for eight years, fast food lunches were the norm—and the pounds quickly piled on for decades. He didn’t pay any attention to what he ate or drank, his portion sizes consisted of multiple meals at once, and exercise was never really a priority.
“Just doing day-to-day things was very difficult,” Gonzales recalls. “We would go on vacation, say Disneyland, and they would be on the rides and I would be watching because I couldn’t fit on the rides—and I love rides. That would kill me every single time. I put up a front that I didn’t like Disneyland, because I didn’t want to be there. I was embarrassed to be there.”
That feeling, paired with the loss of his sister, was enough to make Gonzales realize he needed to do something about the number on the scale, which read 428 pounds at his heaviest. “I knew I had to change my life. I can’t not be the dad [my kids] deserve, when my sister wasn’t even able to be the mom she wanted to be,” he says.
But surgery—which he had considered before—was no longer an option. So in February 2015, Gonzales turned to the only thing that had helped him shed pounds before, which was Weight Watchers. From the beginning, he just focused on losing 5 pounds at a time, rather than his bigger picture goal of 200 pounds, which was understandably overwhelming at the time.
Here’s how it works: Based on your age, weight, height, and gender, you’re assigned a customized point value. It’s simple, you stay within those points and healthier foods will cost you fewer points than junk foods. Basically, you’re guided into choosing better-for-you options.
Before your skepticism kicks in, know that Weight Watchers has actually been backed by science. In fact, one Indiana University study found that people on a prediabetes Weight Watchers plan lost nearly 6 percent of their bodyweight after six months and maintained that weight loss after a year. It may not be for everyone, but for Gonzales, it was exactly what he needed to get back on track.
Gonzales started by opting for some of the lower-point frozen dinners just to get into the swing of things. Then, he started cooking and planning more of his meals. With a few small changes, he quickly started seeing results. The biggest change in his diet? Eating more vegetables.
“I think just adding vegetables makes you feel different. You’re getting things you wouldn’t get from fast food, like vitamins and minerals. It does make you feel better,” he says.
So instead of fast food for lunch, Gonzales loaded his plate with grilled chicken, roasted zucchini and red onion, and a side of rice—all foods he actually enjoys eating. For the first 6 months, all he focused on was his diet. Since he was constantly experiencing back pain, sore legs, and swollen ankles, exercising was hard. Once he dropped 60 pounds in half a year, he knew it was time to get up, so he started by walking down the block of his street and back.
But then Gonzales got a Fitbit (like this one), which was a huge game changer. After he realized he was only walking an average of 850 steps a day, he decided to take things up a notch. “My initial goal was just to hit 10,000 steps a day—and then, it started getting really competitive, and I would just push and push and push. Last night, I logged 30,000 steps,” he says.
Gonzales now consistently averages 25,000 steps a day. The real kicker? He’s down 213 pounds—and doesn’t go to the gym. He’s pushed himself to do a 5K (which he ran in 31 minutes with little training) and partakes in the occasional 30-day pushup or plank challenge, but other than that, he walks in his neighborhood.
“I average like 300 miles a month. At night I go out and walk about 5 miles. It takes me about an hour and 15 minutes and you get a pretty good sweat going. It’s not just a stroll,” Gonzales says. “Sometimes I get up early and walk 5 miles first and then go to work and walk 5 miles at night. It just depends on how I’m feeling.”
You might be wondering—how the heck can walking be that effective? Consistently doing an exercise you actually enjoy is key here, says Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S., owner of CORE in Brookline, Massachusetts. Walking is the perfect “entry point” for people looking to lose a lot of weight, since it’s less stressful on your joints than running, doesn’t require any equipment, and you can literally do it anywhere, explains Gentilcore.
“The reason walking was so successful in Todd’s case was because he had more to lose. His starting point was so much more outside the bell curve compared to say, someone who started at 150 pounds,” he adds.
Now, Gonzales is leveling up with another race and has even started cycling, thanks to the new bike he got for Father’s Day. Paired with the consistency of Weight Watchers, he’s never looked or felt healthier.
The result? “My life is completely different. I think that I’m actually the Todd that I was meant to be now.”
Before, Gonzales couldn’t even fit in the booth at a restaurant, would break chairs in public, and couldn’t volunteer at his daughter’s school because they didn’t have shirts that fit him. Now, he’s the happiest he’s ever been at 44 years old—and his kids have trouble keeping up with him.
“It’s not a matter of if you’re going to struggle, it’s when. And when you do, remember the reason why you started,” he says to anyone looking to make a lifestyle change. “Hold on to that and never give up on yourself, because you’re damn worth it.”