Growing up, when Christopher Huerta felt stressed or depressed, he turned to food for comfort. He first put on weight after his parents divorced, but anytime he felt insecure, he sought solace in food.
“Just the sadness of being alone and having the food available to me at all times with nobody really checking me, it just mounted up. I definitely had a wall up,” Huerta, 28, of Glendora, California, told TODAY. “A lot of stress eating.”
As he got older and transitioned to adult life, he turned to food when he felt overwhelmed. A beloved uncle died, then a friend passed away and eating became a crutch.
“I was severely depressed for years after that and I ate a lot,” Huerta said. “It’s the same reason why people turn to certain addictions whether it’s sex or alcohol or drugs, they need something to make them feel good because they flat out can’t on their own.”
At 6 feet tall, Huerta weighed 382 pounds. In May 2016, he decided to do something about his weight. His friend Hector — who enjoyed working out and healthy eating — helped Huerta with an exercise and meal plan, which included few carbohydrates and no sugar, but lots of lean protein. Yet when Huerta thought about losing weight, it seemed impossible. Then he went to Kobe Bryant’s basketball game and thought of what the star had achieved and that inspired him.
“He tore his Achilles and he thought about calling it quits,” Huerta said. “I looked at losing 100 pounds the same way … All I can do is take it a day at a time. The 'Mamba mentality' is about bettering yourself.”
Huerta knew Bryant woke early in the morning to work out, so he did the same. He set a modest goal for himself at first — just try to get through five weeks.
“I set up little achievements, little challenges and I knocked them down one by one to achieve something bigger,” he said. “I wouldn’t have made it through if I didn’t come to that realization.”
It was tough. He felt sore all the time from the 20 to 30 minutes of cardio and bodyweight strength training. And, he was hungry all the time. But he felt shocked when it worked. He lost 38 pounds during the first five weeks. Then he lost 35 pounds the next six weeks, then 32 pounds the next six weeks.
“In one summer I essentially lost like 90 pounds,” he said. “I was committed. The doubt wasn’t there anymore. The insecurities about going to the gym weren’t really there.”
In nine months, Huerta lost 170 pounds to weigh 210 pounds. Throughout his journey, he’d think of Bryant.
“The way he looked at it was, ‘I want to be the best,’” he said. “That’s the mentality I had to adopt with losing weight. I want to be the best at losing weight. I want to absolutely crush it.”
After losing so much weight Huerta relaxed his diet a little, but still exercised. While he maintained his loss for a while, he did recently regain 50 pounds. But he committed himself again to his original diet and is losing weight again to weigh about 202 pounds.
“I’m in the best shape of my life,” he said. “I’ve approached it differently this time. I’m listening to my body, feeling my body out, but knowing what my body can do. A lot of what was holding me back is the people telling me I should be doing this or I can’t.”
Here are his tips on what helped him be successful.
1. Get support.
While his friend Hector encouraged him to get started, hearing from friends, family and even strangers when he was losing weight provided support.
“I can't tell you the amount of people that … (would say) ‘I just really have to tell you I'm really proud of you. I've been seeing you in here every day and you're killing it. You look amazing,’" he recalled. “Those words go such a long way.”
Since his story first became popular in 2017, strangers contact him to share their success and that makes him feel great, too.
2. Make sure health doesn’t become unhealthy.
Huerta used to eat when things were bad; after changing his habits, he realized he'd try to exercise his feelings away. He’d be worried if he ate pizza and would work out too much to make up for it. Soon, he realized he needed some balance.
“There’s stress eating and then there’s stress exercising. I was exercising a ton and I finally think I’ve reached a mental spot where it’s like I don’t need to obsess over this,” he said. “It was almost kind of like I was running from something."
3. Offer advice to others.
Talking to others about their weight loss and sharing tips helps Huerta. He shares his progress on Instagram.
“I want to help others become more knowledgeable. I want to teach people. I want to inform people,” he said. “That’s what I feel my purpose is.”