Two years after losing and maintaining a 125-pound weight loss, Dr. Kevin Gendreau still worries about emotional eating. He’s developed healthier ways of coping with stress, but after a lifetime of enjoying ice cream, pasta or chips when he was sad or frustrated, he knows there's a risk of slipping back into bad habits.
“When you are used to being 300-plus pounds, you are always going to look at food for comfort,” the 31-year-old primary care physician from Fairhaven, Massachusetts, told TODAY.
Knowing that he is an inspiration to his patients and other people motivates him to keep on track.
"It is pressure, but the good kind of pressure.”
Gendreau, who is 5 feet, 9 inches, started stress eating during college, a routine that continued through many difficult moments in life, including medical school and his father's death from skin cancer. At 28, he weighed more than 300 pounds, had high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and sleep apnea.
At the same time, his sister, Rachel, was dying of aggressive ovarian cancer. He realized that she had no control over her health, but he could control his.
“I was choosing to be unhealthy,” he said. “As my sister’s conditioned worsened, it motivated me on the path. I knew I was going to be an integral part of my niece’s and nephew’s lives.”
To lose the weight, Gendreau started intermittent fasting, also known as the 16:8 diet. He ate healthy foods, such as chicken, turkey legumes, vegetables, black coffee, tea, non-fat Greek yogurt, fruits and nuts.
Learning how to forgive myself has been a huge part of the healing and the shrinking process.
He's managed his weight over the last year by sticking with fasting and eating a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet. While he skipped exercise for most of his weight loss, as he reached his goal, he slowly added activity into his daily routine.
He started a running group at his medical practice and works out often. One revelation from his weight loss: exercising helps him grapple with stress, emotional eating and other daily challenges.
“I feel that urge to binge and I go for a run,” Gendreau said. “It has been a perfect outlet.”
He’s also noticed another benefit of exercise: He can play more with his 8-year-old niece, Sophia, and 4-year-old nephew, Henry. Being able to do cartwheels with Sophia or play soccer with Henry brings them closer together.
“We do more activities,” he said. “They definitely appreciate that more.”
Now that Gendreau is at a healthy weight, he's reversed his high blood pressure, diabetes and other conditions and enjoys improved sleep and mental clarity.
The biggest challenge: maintaining the weight loss takes loads of hard work and dedication. He still makes mistakes, but has learned that forgiving himself goes a long way.
“There are times when I binge eat or I am emotionally vulnerable and I eat,” he said. “Every time, I sit down for a meal, it takes thought.”
But he’s kind to himself when he does make a mistake and that helps him stick with his healthy habits.
“One of the most important things is not blaming yourself or hating yourself,” Gendreau said. “You are just causing this terrible cycle, making a mistake and hating yourself because you’re getting caught up in negative emotions.”
By talking it through with his weight-loss buddy — his brother-in-law who lost the same amount of weight — Gendreau has cultivated compassion for himself.
“Learning how to forgive myself has been a huge part of the healing and the shrinking process. I do make mistakes and will own up to them,” he said.
The year he lost weight — from August 2017 to August 2018 — was a difficult one. However, he realizes now that maintenance is much tougher than he understood.
“I thought I was a strong person for losing the weight. The maintenance mode shows just how strong you have to be,” he said. “When I tell patients about the journey, I think they appreciate that I have been this weight for over a year and they know how hard it is.”