Reversing a Lifelong Trend
by Ryan Mangipano
It was the Summer of 2011 and I was with my Family at an indoor water park. As I walked toward the pool, a little boy was running. He was about to run into me when he stopped short. He gazed up at me, dropping his jaw, as a look of disbelief came over his face. He held his arms wide apart and screamed “WOW, look how fat that guy is!”. Then, the little brat proceeded to run away as his embarrassed mother ran after him scolding.
These words would drive me to… Well, I wish that I could say it was to commit to major changes in my diet. However, it actually only led me to feel really, really bad every time that I ate an unhealthy meal. I have always been a big eater. For example, consuming an entire small pizza or ordering a second sandwich to go along with my double quarter pounders with cheese was not a rare occurrence. Nevertheless, this is mostly what I continued to do. My last name, Mangipano, is Italian. It means “to eat bread”. I did live up to it. Sometimes, I used to eat 4+ slices of bread with my 2 plates full of pasta and meat sauce. I also ate lots of potatoes, pastas, rice, and breads. I read all about healthy protein and eggs in bodybuilding magazines when I was a teenager. As a result, I always ate lots of protein also.
Except for a couple of times between age 16 and 19, I was overweight during my entire life. I tried a few different things to lose weight in the past. For example, I had tried cutting all my portions in half for a while. I often drank black coffee and unsweetened tea. I had also tried some weightlifting on and off over the years. However, I usually didn’t lose weight at all. The one or two times I saw any weight loss at all, I could never keep the weight off for more than a couple of months. One problem was that life would reach a point where it gets too busy for all the cardio or too rushed/inconvenient (and then I would eat fast food). Another problem has been that I end up binge eating once I could not take the hunger starvation anymore.
Anyway, I had let my weight get out of control. I had heard warnings regarding how bad things were getting several times in the past. For example, my doctor advised me to “Exercise and watch your diet” in 2005 when a lab test showed that my triglycerides were 305. Also, when I told my health class teacher that I was too busy to exercise due to studying and working, she replied that “a degree won’t do you any good if you are dead!”.
This was simply a problem that I could not defeat. Except for the areas of food, I would not say that I am a person without willpower. In fact, I consider myself to be a person that has a lot of self-discipline (learned at US Army Infantry training at Ft. Benning, Georgia when I was 17). As an example of this, I quit smoking cold turkey around 1999. Also, I once took 20 hours of college classes in one semester (while working) and earned straight As. I have tried to tackle my eating problem with this type of willpower in the past; however, I failed many times. One summer, around 2006, we got a blockbuster movie pass and an elliptical. I positioned the elliptical to face the TV. Then I spent any non-working moment during the entire summer watching every movie that blockbuster carried. When my knees would hurt too much from the hours of on the elliptical, I would go hit the punching bag. I also swam at the pool and ran laps during lunch. I also hit the weight room for hours and the treadmill. During this time period, I tried to reduce my calories as much as possible. However, I would often go back for second servings during the meals that followed these workouts. It felt that it was ok because I was burning it off. Besides, I had replaced my breads and cereals with whole grain options. I had mostly quit drinking soda. I counted my calories using an old palm pilot. Using this method, I actually made some progress and lost about 15 pounds or so. I believe the lowest weight I was able to reach using this method was around 218 or so. Unfortunately, the half days full of aerobics were not something that could go on forever, and after that summer, I gave up the excessive cardio. I could no longer take the starvation. The weight piled right back on. After this, my weight went up and eventually approached 250. Since I am only 5’5” tall, this was a very serious weight problem.
However, things got a lot more serious in late 2011. I went to the doctor for a digestive system issue that I had developed. While searching for the cause of this issue, they found that I had a condition called “fatty liver”. My gastrointestinal specialist explained to me that he would expect something like this given my excessive waist size. I weighed in at 247 during this visit. He explained to me that this would most likely just be the beginning of the suffering for me. He predicted that my future would be filled with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and a bunch of other horrible things. He told me that what I was doing to my health was not fair to my three sons. He explained that, in some cases, fatty liver disease can be reversed through dietary change.
Furthermore, I was always tired and had no energy to do anything. Due to my weight, it hurt to lay in certain positions in the bed. I had taken a very heavy load of college courses and was employed full time behind a desk. This meant that I was always sitting. Due to this, I had lost tons of muscle mass and gotten very weak. Bending over to tie my shoes caused pressure to build up everywhere. I felt so unhealthy and so much older than my age. One would think that all I had to do was cut back on how much I was eating and become active. However, this never worked for me. This time, I felt like my life was on the line. I had had about enough. I set out on a quest to repeat my aerobic adventures of many years ago. Only this time, I planned to starve myself like never before. I told myself that I would make weight loss a new year’s resolution. I purchased an overpriced exercise bike and pointed it at the TV. I joined a gym and I vowed to spend a spend a ridiculous amount of time there. I bought a calorie tracking application for my phone. I hung the punching bag up in the garage. I even planned to take a semester off from school to give me more time after work to focus on the gym and aerobics. I hoped that if I would attack this weight problem with excessive planning and crazy dedication, I just might defeat it. Nonetheless, at the same time, a part of me was also very scared that I was going to fail again. After my previous dieting attempts failed, I wondered if I was destined to slowly continue gaining weight every decade for the rest of my unhealthy life.
Nevertheless, I was motivated and I was ready to face the challenge and the suffering that was about to begin. I thought that the reason that I had failed in the past was my inability to control how much I ate. I knew that since I had so much weight to lose, I would have to starve myself for well over 6 months to see any real progress. I knew that would be hard because I eat a lot more after I start working out. What was worse, I had to find a way to keep the weight off for good. My plan was to lose the weight first before worrying how I would keep it off. I tried to perform some research; however, I only found a sea of contradictory information.
I started my quest of starvation and suffering as planned on January 1st, 2012. I started the cardio, whole grains, and starvation. I saw some quick but minor weight loss during the first week. Then on January 8th, something changed. My employer, Microsoft, ran an intranet news story regarding a Microsoft programmer that wrote a book about losing weight without starvation. I bought this book, which was The Smarter Science of Slim. I could not put this book down. I read the book every free moment that I had for 3 days straight. After reading this, I realized that the strategy that I was planning to use was flawed. I felt like I finally understood why I was unable to control my hunger. I truly felt like I had a chance.
(Did Ryan have a chance? Or was this going to be like all the other diets he had tried? Stay tuned for Ryan’s Success Story: Episode 2)