How one man lost 222 pounds

Weight-Loss Win is an original Yahoo series that shares the inspiring stories of people who have shed pounds healthfully.

Stephen Ringo is 39, 5 feet 7, and currently weighs 190 pounds. In 2016, after undergoing a major life change, he decided to embark on a healthier path of self-discovery. This is the story of his weight-loss journey.

I have struggled with weight my entire life. When I was a child, I was extremely underweight (I started middle school at 4 feet 11 and 97 pounds). I was bullied regularly. I began lifting weights at 11, in an attempt to gain some muscle mass in the hopes of protecting myself.

Lifting became an obsession. The strength I gained was its own source of motivation. I developed poor eating habits in an effort to gain as much weight as I could as quickly as possible, and while this worked for my immediate need, it was ultimately counterproductive later on in my life.

When I was just out of college and had given up my powerlifting, I started getting “chubby.” It took me months to realize that my lack of exercise coupled with my eating habits was the direct cause of the weight gain. I never made the time to get back to the gym, but I kept eating as if I was. From then on, my weight began to balloon, and over 15 years of recklessness, I packed on more than 200 pounds and hit a maximum weight of 412 pounds.

I don’t know that I can honestly describe my turning point as a single moment. I did experience a moment when I knew what I had to do, but what I experienced came as a culmination of months of meditation and self-discovery. I had come out of a 14-year relationship with my ex-wife and moved to a new state to start a job. With my old life gone and my new life beginning, I struggled for eight months to figure out who I was and what I wanted out of this new opportunity.

My epiphany happened when I realized I needed a way to create extreme accountability in order to force me down the right path. I also felt it would be important to document the entire process, because what I had seen on the internet and social media tended to only show the positive sides of this type of journey. I wanted others to see that weight loss has its ups and downs and that it was possible to stay motivated through both.

I didn’t have a ton of money to start this, but I knew that a monetary investment in my future was going to be necessary, and it provided additional incentive to complete the process. I also knew that I hated breaking my promises, so I set out to create a YouTube Channel (Morbid Reality) and a weight-loss persona (MorbidandBack) where I could make the promises necessary and reach the audiences I needed in order to create accountability for myself and, hopefully, motivate and educate others on similar paths.

The time I spent to rediscover who I am and what I wanted from my life were what I identify as my beginnings of the process to lose weight. I firmly believe that 99 percent of weight loss is mental. The mechanics of weight loss (i.e., what you eat and what you do) are simply the tools we use to accomplish the task. As with anything in life, if your mind isn’t engaged, you will not succeed.

I began the physical process of losing weight by calculating my TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) using the app MyFitnessPal. My beginning TDEE was about 3,500 calories a day. I subtracted 1,000 calories from the TDEE and began consuming about 2,500 calories each day. I didn’t start off with any particular diet. I just started watching the portions I ate and made sure to stick to my daily calorie goals.

Over the two years it took to lose the weight, my diet slowly changed but ended up at a whole-foods based (nonprocessed), paleo-like diet (mostly lean meats and vegetables). I combined this with intermittent fasting and one 48-hour fast each month. I always like to point out that this extreme diet was something that morphed very slowly over a two-year period of time. Jumping headfirst into an extreme diet plan from the start will all but guarantee your failure, as the departure from your normal routine will likely prove unsustainable in the long run.

For the first two months I did not exercise. The calorie deficit alone was enough to drop a significant amount of weight. After the first two months, I began a simple exercise routine (mostly weightlifting, as it was something with which I was very familiar). The weightlifting helped me retain muscle mass as I continued to lose weight, and helped to keep me focused on the daily routine.

The changes at first were tough. I became aware that I was very addicted to food. I know others will identify with this, but there was a real fear that giving up the foods I loved was going to lead me into a depression I might not be able to recover from. I knew that regardless of this possibility, I had to make the changes or face an early grave.

One of the things I remember as being odd was the snowball effect that weight loss can have. As I lost weight, I found that things got easier, movement became less tiring, and eating less became a game. With more movement and exercise, more weight came off, and this in turn led to me doing more activities. It really became an enjoyable experience. It was its own source of motivation, but of course motivation is not something you can count on.

My main source of motivation was all of the promises I had made and the videos/subscribers that enjoyed my content. When motivation went missing, I had to rely on determination to get me through. There were, and are, many days that I wake up “not feeling it.” I try to force myself to look at this process as a job I must do.

“I try to force myself to look at this process as a job I must do.” (Photo: Courtesy of Stephen Ringo)

The After

After the initial 222-pound weight loss, I physically felt great! Two years ago, I would have never thought that I would be hiking up mountains on my weekends and running each morning. I used to dream about waking up and being fit again, and now each morning, I try to remind myself of that fact and take a moment to thank past me for the efforts I put in.

Emotionally, my entire being has been changed by this journey. I have gone from a very sheltered, defense-based emotional state, where I was just looking to survive each day, to the type of person that wants to reach out and help every person that I see. I used to shy away from social interaction. I now approach each person I meet with the goal of leaving them in a better state than when I found them.

The Maintenance

Right now I am focused on maintenance and body recomposition. I try to eat the same types of foods that I did during weight loss (lean meats and vegetables), but I eat a higher calorie count. I have worked healthy carbs back into my diet and try to load my macros with heavy protein/carb splits and lower fats. The intent is to replace the remaining fat with muscle while maintaining the scale weight.

My workouts have shifted from low weight/high rep to heavy weight/low rep in an effort to build strength. As with the initial weight loss, my recomposition routine will evolve over time in order to maximize the efforts I am putting in. I am hoping to be able to sustain a 15 to 17 percent body fat and a scale weight of around 190 pounds.

My daily routine is almost exactly the same as my weight-loss routine. I try to maintain a four-hour eating window each day (5 -9 p.m.) and I fast the rest of the time. I wake up every morning around 4 a.m. I am in the gym by 4:30 a.m., and I usually leave the gym around 6 a.m. I am at work from 6:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. On several days of the week, I spend my evenings planning out the videos and/or posts to make, which helps keep me mentally engaged.

My eating typically consists of 8-10 ounces of ground turkey, with a ½-cup of rice. I add one pound of green beans for vegetables. I usually have a cup or two of popped popcorn with light olive oil and salt as a snack. My guilty pleasure each night is a pint of Halo Top ice cream (usually peanut butter cup or cinnamon bun).

My subscribers are the main source of my motivation and inspiration. Knowing that there are people watching my journey and the interactions I have with the commenters is amazing. Making the videos and posts keeps me engaged, and I hope that my efforts can help others along their journeys. Sometimes just watching someone else go through the same things you are going through is enough to keep yourself on track.

“A huge struggle for me is trigger foods.” (Photo: Courtesy of Stephen Ringo)

The Struggles

A huge struggle for me is trigger foods. I am still very much addicted to food, and each time I encounter my trigger foods (pizza, beer, doughnuts, and anything fried), I find myself struggling not to binge.

I have been extremely diligent — and probably lucky — to have made it through my weight loss without binge eating. However, each time I allow myself to have a cheat meal with any of my trigger foods, I find it necessary to pre-plan, and exercise extreme control while eating in order to avoid any temptation to overindulge.

Peer pressure and external influences are also a constant struggle. Others don’t always understand what it takes to undergo this type of transformation or the weight-loss journey itself. While I haven’t encountered anyone willfully trying to sabotage me, most people that have not had to struggle with weight don’t realize that I can’t just have one cheat lunch with them, or just have one piece of cake. Friends don’t always understand why I can’t go out with them during the week or why I go to bed so early.

Not being able to participate in many social events can take its toll on you, but sacrifices have to be made in order to reach the fitness goals we set for ourselves. Before this, I was sacrificing my health and my life for momentary pleasure, and now I have the ability to live a much more fulfilling life that I can look forward to enjoying for many more years.

“Before this, I was sacrificing my health and my life for momentary pleasure.” (Photo: Courtesy of Stephen Ringo)

Advice

Weight loss is 99 percent mental, so if your mind is in the game, you will succeed. The remaining 1 percent is what you eat and what you do — 90 percent of which is diet. Weight is lost in the kitchen, not the gym. Exercise is important for overall health and fitness ability, but not strictly for weight loss. Early on you should focus your efforts on your mental game and on diet planning.

Allow yourself to cheat every now and then. This journey is a long one, and you will need a cheat meal every now and then to preserve your sanity. Keep in mind that a cheat meal is one meal and not an entire day.

Pre-plan your meals for each week, and set up your grocery shopping list before you go. This helped me to avoid impulse buys or the temptation to buy “bad“ items. I found meal prepping to be extra beneficial throughout the week. By preparing all of my meals in one day, I could avoid the hassle of cooking night-to-night and thus the temptation to eat out.

Don’t allow yourself to give in to impatience. You did not get overweight overnight (though it can definitely seem that way), and you also won’t get fit overnight. Trying to rush the process is what leads to eating disorders. The journey is long and can be frustrating when the scale is not working with you. You have to find a way to trust the process and allow it to take the time it needs in order to realize the results you want. I still struggle with patience myself, but over the last two years I have gotten better about this, and hopefully you will as well.

There is nothing magical or mystical about weight loss, or any of us who have succeeded in losing the weight. You are just as capable of this as the rest of us, and many of us are willing to help you on your path. That is the reason why I took the effort to document my journey and started my YouTube channel. I hope that my videos can help to act as a continual source of motivation and inspiration for anyone embarking on this journey.

Remember, success in weight loss and in life is not about perfection; it’s about winning more days than you lose.

Follow Stephen’s journey on YouTube.

Need more inspiration? Read about our other weight-loss winners!

Weight-Loss Win is authored by Andie Mitchell, who underwent a transformative, 135-pound weight loss of her own.

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