511-pound Les Stratford faced his mortality when his heart stopped at 40 years of age.
Hear how he’s made the most of his second chance and has dropped over 310 pounds!
“There is no better time than the present to let go of the past and embrace the future.”
Weight Gain Background and Contributing Factors
Les had been overweight most of his life. As a child, he spent much of his time indoors with action figures or creative projects. Les skipped gym class in school to work on creative pursuits, which unfortunately led to even less physical activity and more weight.
He was often told that he was just “big-boned.”
“I latched on to that, and I believed it. Like, this is just the way I am.”
Les had some success dieting down to around 240 pounds (109.1 kg) in the 90’s with a restrictive approach of eating mostly salads, but that was ultimately unsustainable, and the ups and downs of life continued adding pounds until Les found himself at a peak weight of 511 pounds (232.3 kg) at the age of 40.
Uncomfortable or unusable movie theater seats, two airline tickets & seats for every flight – Les ran into reminders of his weight’s impact on his life in many places.
The Turning Point
Shortly after a layoff, Les experienced some shortness of breath at a social event that he initially attributed to fatigue. When he woke the next day, he was unable to walk without immediate difficulty breathing.
Les hadn’t seen a doctor in three years, and initially thought it was pneumonia, but it only got worse over the next few days. When it progressed to the point that Les was unable to even walk the six feet to his bathroom door, he knew something was very wrong.
After a few tests in the emergency room, Les was hurriedly admitted to address the multiple blood clots in his lungs.
That night at the hospital, Les flat-lined.
He describes the surreal scene as he returned to consciousness with people asking him questions he was unable to respond to, the smell of burnt hair still in the air.
Les had six pulmonary embolisms (blood clots that travel into the lungs), and had emergency surgery – while awake – to fix them. It was on that operating table that Les decided his health needed serious changes.
“If I do get through this alive, I’m going to get fit… because I don’t want to ever deal with this kind of situation again.”
Starting The Weight Loss Journey
Less started by immediately cutting out things he knew were bad food choices for his health.
He began walking 3/4 of a mile daily (1.2 km) and drinking more water.
When post-operation tests showed healthy heart function and his doctor cleared him for physical activity, Les increased his walking to 1.5 miles (2.4 km) twice a day.
Les lost 40 pounds (18.2 kg) and then further stepped up his efforts by reducing carbohydrates and eliminating starches from his diet. With this change, he lost 15 pounds on Thanksgiving week.
He also imposed a “water first” rule on himself. Before he allowed himself to drink soda on any given day, Les had to drink eight glasses of water or green tea.
Les began eating more, and smaller, meals spread throughout the day. He also began introducing healthy snacks like almonds and berries. The weight “kept dropping off.”
Over the winter, when most people are gaining weight, Les dropped 65 pounds. His determination only grew stronger when anyone cast doubt on his progress or ability to continue losing weight.
Les opens up about the self-consciousness he felt out in public where “everyone is judging you” and how he put off joining a gym at first because of how he thought he’d be perceived by others there.
When Les finally signed up with a gym, he committed to a full membership so that he’d be even further obligated to follow through.
He also worked with a trainer to properly determine his current fitness level and capability.
What Les Learned About Food, Exercise, and Himself
Walking has been a significant tool for Les. He takes advantage of beautiful scenery for his walks outside, and has discovered that he doesn’t feel as relaxed on days when he doesn’t take walks.
“On days when I can’t get outside and take a walk, my head is not as clear… It really does not just help your heart, but it can help clear your head and make you feel energized.”
Les has found that he learns a lot about his own habits and patterns by tracking what he eats with MyFitnessPal. He also cooks most of his own meals from scratch, and sticks to a rule of, “If it’s not whole grain, it’s no grain.“
He’s been able to discontinue taking a blood thinner medication as well!
Les shares that he still occasionally struggles. He has bad days like everyone else, but when he’s tempted by foods he knows are bad for him, he makes sure to look at the calorie content and really consider what it will do to his body and health.
Les’ Advice For Your Journey
- Learn about what’s really in your food. It’s important to realize what the things you eat are doing to your body.
- Exercise your must critical muscle – your heart.
- Believe in yourself.
“You only have one life. Make the most of it and smile.”
Resources Discussed In This Podcast
- More info on Deep Vein Thrombosis
- MyFitnessPal – online food tracking and support community
- Fitocracy – online exercise tracking and support community
(* Fitocracy also did a featured story on Les here.)
On Les’s Workout Playlist
Only a week prior to the release of this interview, Les celebrated the four-year anniversary of his release from the hospital after the pulmonary embolism. He’s definitely made the most of his second chance at life.
When Les isn’t working, exercising, video editing, or writing, he enjoys spending time with family.
Les also shared this video he made for Fitocracy some time back: