"I got tired of just surviving," Sal Paradiso told POPSUGAR. At the end of 2013 — at nearly 700 pounds — he knew that if he didn't make a drastic change, he "would be dead sooner than later."
It has taken Sal three and a half years, but he's managed to lose over 420 pounds and change his life drastically with a variety of methods (the first 250 pounds were lost without surgery). No matter what kind of journey you're on, you can pick up tons of amazing tips from Sal's "odyssey" (Use a Fitbit! Eat lean proteins and veggies! Try swimming! Make a great playlist!), but we think the best part of the story is Sal's heartwarming motivation to get healthy and reclaim his life.
POPSUGAR: What made you decide to start your weight-loss journey?
Sal Paradiso: The moment that made me start thinking about my weight came near the end of 2013. While my weight was unknown at the time, I had just gotten tired of the daily struggle with being severely obese. I was 32 years old and knew that if I didn't make drastic changes in my life, I wasn't going to see 40. I had estimated my weight at over 700 pounds, but was unable to get weighed to verify that. My father died of a heart attack at 42; he was relatively healthy at the time of his passing. I knew that he would be my motivation for fighting obesity head on and doing my best to succeed. Everyday was a struggle, and I got tired of it. I wanted to live rather than just survive, so I knew I had to fight back and retake my life back.
I was always the chunky kid in middle school and high school. Most of my weight came on after the passing of my father in the late '90s. I was still a teenager, and it was a hard thing to deal with at the time. Dealing with that [compounded with] a lousy work schedule that led to poor eating habits and choices, and the weight just piled on. Many family and friends tried to get me to change, but much like alcoholics or drug addicts, you have to want to change.
PS: How did you choose your weight-loss method?
SP: So at the end of 2013, I had sought out a weight-loss surgeon and his dietitian. I was under their care for 15 months or so and was losing weight, but still had not had surgery. During this time, I was on a low-carb, high-protein diet. I went and sought out a second opinion, as I didn't think that surgeon and I were on the same page. The other surgeon I met with didn't see any issues with performing surgery, as I had already lost close to 200 pounds. So in November 2015, I underwent a vertical sleeve gastrectomy surgery, but sadly that had to be aborted. It was a devastating blow, because I had worked so hard to get to that moment in time.
"Much like alcoholics or drug addicts, you have to want to change."
So I went home from the hospital and got back on the low-carb, high-protein diet and charged ahead with my weight loss. Come early 2016, my weight loss stalled badly, so I retook up the search for a different weight-loss surgeon and found one who performed a successful vertical sleeve gastrectomy surgery in July 2016. Going into surgery day, I had lost 254 pounds on my own. Some people ask me why after losing 200-plus pounds would I still consider surgery, and my answer has been I always felt surgery gave me the best chance for long-term success. During this time from 2014 to present, I continue to add exercise to my daily routine. Early on I swam because it was easy on my joints. At almost 700 pounds, doing exercise on land was difficult, so the pool was a great help.
PS: What's your favorite way to work out?
SP: Honestly, the pool is still one of my favorite workouts. Living in Florida, I take full advantage of the nice weather and warm pool. I also like biking as well. I've also added free-weight exercises into my routine. I'm still in the process of rebuilding my body from scratch and repairing the damage of my previous lifestyle. I've had to build myself up from the ground brick by brick, and I continue to build today.
PS: What's your weekly exercise schedule?
SP: I exercise four to five days a week at various times.
PS: How do you keep workouts exciting?
SP: Music helps greatly! Find music that motivates you further while you exercise. There have been times where I've felt fatigued and that right song comes on, and you get kicked up another level to complete your workout. Ninety-nine percent of the time I work out by myself, so my motivation for my workouts comes from my father and the promise I made him to not give up this time. Also the last several months I've had an additional dose of motivation in the form of my almost 5-month-old nephew.
PS: How much weight have you lost?
SP: To date I've lost 422 pounds, of which 254 were prior to surgery. It's taken me 41 months to get to this point, still with work to do.
Sal: Before Surgery
"Doing things we take for granted such as showering, getting dressed, and cooking were all becoming easier to do."
PS: What was the first big difference, other than the number on the scale, that really made you feel proud and excited?
SP: Early on, I started to notice my clothes were falling off of me — literally. I was walking (and this will sound funny) across the house and my shorts completely fell off; luckily no one was home! I started to notice things were getting a little easier. Doing things we take for granted such as showering, getting dressed, and cooking were all becoming easier to do. My attitude became even more positive and outgoing than it already had been.
PS: How do you track your weight loss?
SP: In the age of apps, I use the good old pen and paper method. For myself, I only track calories, protein, and carbohydrates. I have a good food scale and weigh out what I am eating. I also use my Fitbit One dashboard to log my scale's weight weekly.
PS: What's a typical day of meals and snacks?
SP: Breakfast can be as simple as some turkey bacon or sausage, or a couple of scrambled eggs. Lunch can consist of a low-carb pita with turkey, or just homemade chicken salad. Dinner usually consists of a lean protein — steak, chicken, or pork — with a side or two of vegetables or a salad. Snackwise, I've come to really enjoy chicken or turkey jerky, or a good-tasting protein bar. I also incorporate low-calorie string cheese as well.
PS: Do you count calories? What's the range of calories you eat per day?
SP: I do count calories. For me, I find counting them keeps me on track and prevents me from overeating on calories. Our food today has so many hidden calories and stuff that I find it important on my weight-loss odyssey to keep track. Keeping track also allows me to go back after a week or so and see where I came in at and make additional improvements or changes. I try to stay around 1,200-1,300 calories daily. That for me is a good number to reach for every day.
Sal: After Surgery
PS: What are the healthy staples that are always in your fridge?
SP: Things I always have on hand are chicken or turkey jerky, as well as low-calorie or reduced-fat cheese. Fruits and vegetables are readily available as well.
PS: How do you strategize for meals out?
SP: I don't really eat out anymore, but in situations where I do, I try to choose the healthiest options for me. Those choices could be as simple as a steak and salad or some kind of chicken and a vegetable.
" My dad was the reason I started this. I hope from heaven he is proud of the work I've done in getting healthy and taking back my life."
PS: Do you use a fitness tracker?
SP: When I first started out, I didn't have a fitness tracker, but after eight months or so, I wanted a way to visually see if I was indeed making improvements physically other than just on the scale and looking different. So I purchased a Fitbit One. I definitely feel my fitness tracker has helped me strive to be better each day. It gives me a visual cue that I think is important, because you can actually see your results rather than guessing or assuming.
Sal: Before and After
PS: What was the most influential aspect of your weight loss?
SP: The most powerful person in my odyssey has to go to my dad. He was the reason I started this. I hope from heaven he is proud of the work I've done in getting healthy and taking back my life. He's not alone, though; my family, friends, and social media friends have all pushed me and supported me in times where I've needed that extra boost or motivation. There are a lot of great people and strangers who want to see me succeed, and that is both gratifying and humbling.
I'm truly grateful as well for my weight-loss surgeon, Clinton Hall out of Plant City, FL. With his help, he has continued to give me back a life I once thought was lost.
PS: What advice do you have for anyone starting out on a weight-loss journey?
SP: The most important thing I tell people is to surround yourself with great support, either face to face or in an online setting. There are many great, kind, open groups on Facebook that you can join. The first four to six weeks for me were the hardest and most difficult ever. Your body is fighting the changes, but if you can resist the urges, the rewards are endless. Something I want everyone to understand is that whether you lose your weight naturally or with the help of weight loss surgery — and I've done both — you have to earn every pound. They're not free! There's no free and easy ride with weight loss. You got to put the work in to see results.