Stephen Vysocky, 34, gained a lot of attention recently when he tweeted two photos of himself, taken three years apart, depicting his dramatic weight loss journey. The tweet quickly blew up, with thousands of likes, retweets and comments from people expressing how impressed and inspired they were by his transformation. Here, he describes the physical and mental challenges that he overcame in order to change his life, and create a new future for himself.
"I started gaining my weight when I was in middle school," he tells Men's Health. "I would get picked on a lot for various reasons and I didn’t really have any friends. So, I turned to food for comfort. Little did I know that I was ballooning. Middle school was rough, but high school was even rougher. Kids got meaner and my bad habits of eating fast food and over eating for comfort had consumed my life. I’m not sure what my weight was in high school , but in clothing sizes I was pushing an 3XL. I went through most of my adult life trying to break my bad habits but was consistently failing. I became very depressed and continuously turned to poor food choices for comfort."
Despite attempting continually to lose weight through diet and exercise, Stephen describes the cycle of starting to work out, seeing some changes, and then falling back into his old, established habits. In 2018, after a breakup, Stephen started gaining weight again. His heaviest recorded weight was 505 pounds (229kg), although he admits that he could have been even heavier, as he couldn't find scales which could accurately measure his weight.
Eventually, his best friend Daniel dragged him kicking and screaming—"literally!"—to a Planet Fitness, and told him that the only person who could change his life was him. "It was hard," he says. "There were definitely days I didn't want to do it, but I always pushed myself to go to the gym. I would stumble and fall, but then I'd get back up, and tell myself it's just one bad day, and not to let it consume the goal I had set for myself. One bad day is not a bad week or month."
"I started out with light impact cardio like the elliptical machine," he explains. "I remember the first day at the gym I could barely do five mins without huffing and puffing and feeling like I was going to die. But as time went on I worked myself up to being able to do a full session on the elliptical, and then began some very light weight training. After I started a good rhythm at the gym, I really focused on my diet. I cut soda out of my life completely. I also eliminated all fast food. If I was going to commit, I had to commit 100 percent or this was never going to work."
What's more, he did it all without a trainer, instead programming his own self-taught workouts using advice and insights he gleaned from YouTube and fitness figures like The Rock.
"After making the commitment and dietary changes, I really noticed a big drop in my weight; I had lost 100 lbs by the end of 2019. I was super stoked and set my next goal for myself. I knew that if I could commit to a year and see these results, I could give myself another year. Soon after that goal, the pandemic hit and all the gyms closed. At that point, without access to my regular workout equipment, I began jogging at my local park, and adopted a keto-based, low-carb diet in order to continue achieving my weight loss goals."
Over a period of three years, and with a "a lot of strength and determination," Stephen lost a total of 240 pounds (108kg). He currently weighs 265 pounds (120kg), almost half of what he weighed at his heaviest, and says he has never felt better. "My body no longer aches, and I'm able to walk pain-free," he says. "My everyday stresses, I'm able to work them out in my gym sessions. I no longer have that dependence on food. I have never been so happy."
The physical transformation was accompanied by an emotional one, and Stephen has found that the changes he made helped him better deal with his feelings of depression and build the kind of life he had always envisioned for himself.
"I've gained a lot more confidence in myself and who I am as a person," he says. "Tackling this obstacle has also helped me with my mental health. I use the gym kind of as a therapy session. My weight training is my stress relief. With that confidence, I was able to put myself out there and be more open and willing to experience new situations. As a result, I met a new partner, who is as motivated as I am and only wants to grow and build a legacy with me. She’s really amazing and supportive of every goal and obstacle that is thrown my way."
He's far from done. In addition to fulfilling his goal of riding rollercoasters at every major theme park (something his weight previously prevented him from doing), Stephen is now progressing his weight training and building upper body, as well as consulting with a surgeon about getting his excess skin removed. And he wants other people to know that if he can make such a huge change in his life, they can too.
"Half the battle is getting started," he says. "I will tell you I used to be one of the laziest people you would meet—but once you set a goal for yourself and you get started, you will be unstoppable. I challenge myself to be one of the hardest workers in the room. I might not be the best, but I will be the hardest worker there."
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