Five years ago, Lou Maldonado and his son, Josh, were watching a TV show that featured a girl who was bullied because her mom was overweight. Maldonado asked Josh if anyone ever teased Josh about Maldonado’s weight — he weighed 540 pounds and was 6 foot 4. Josh said no, but added something that caused Maldonado pause.
“He said ‘I wish you would be able to do more with me.’ That really struck a chord,” Maldonado, 47, told TODAY.
Maldonado was always heavier, averaging around 300 to 320 pounds in high school and college. That wasn’t a problem when he was an offensive tackle on the football team at Gavilan Junior College in Gilroy, California. But after college he never lost the extra weight.
Then, about a decade ago, he was in a car accident and broke some of his ribs and collarbone. Recovery curbed his activity and his weight increased to 450 pounds. A few years later he tore his ACL, for the second time, and his weight really ballooned.
“That’s when I got over 500 pounds,” he said. “The weight gain was a combination of a lot of things.”
Despite struggling to stand or walk, he did push himself to play baseball with Josh or coach his sports teams. But it became increasingly hard.
“I was struggling just getting around … I was always in pain,” he said. “I was very limited.”
But after his candid talk with Josh, now 13, Maldonado knew he had to improve his health. He joined a gym and simply started walking.
“It wasn’t easy in the beginning,” he said. “I could walk for 12 minutes then I would be in a little pain and a little out of breath.”
But he continued going back. Soon he built up his stamina. He also started improving his eating habits. First, he cut rice from his diet. Then he stopped drinking sodas and sugary beverages.
“I cut one thing at a time. I wasn’t trying to do (it) cold turkey,” he explained.
In the first month, he lost about 15 pounds. It wasn't a lot, but it was enough to keep him motivated. Fast forward to nearly a year and a half later, he lost 100 pounds. But he knew he had to keep going.
“The next 100 was a little bit of a struggle,” he said.
He asked the trainers at Anytime Fitness in Mays Landing, New Jersey, for advice and they’d help him alter his diet or workout habits.
If he hit plateaus, “I would push it a little harder,” he said.
Over the next four years, Maldonado lost another 200 pounds. Now he’s about 20 pounds away from his goal weight of 220 pounds. While those last pounds have been slow to come off, he feels proud of what he’s accomplished.
“As long as I put my mind to something and I keep it realistic I can do it,” he said.
Maldonado provides tips for others hoping to shed weight.
1. "It is going to take patience."
It took Maldonado years of unhealthy living to gain so much weight. And, he also realized it would take him years to lose it.
“You didn’t gain all that weight overnight,” he said. “It took a lot of months and years of just abusing your body and eating wrong stuff. It is going to take patience (to lose it).”
2. It’s tough.
There are days that Maldonado doesn’t feel like going to the gym or wants pizza instead of chicken breast and Brussels sprouts.
“There was a time when I wanted to give up,” he said. “It is hard to lose weight. It is not just a physical battle, it is a mental battle.”
3. Don’t beat yourself up when you make mistakes.
When you do skip the work out or eat junk food, be kind to yourself, Maldonado advises.
“Not every day is a good day. There is going to be a day where your workout isn’t what you want. You might have that pizza you shouldn’t have,” he said. “Tomorrow is a good day.”
For more weight-loss inspiration, check out our My Weight-Loss Journey page.