How one man ate to lose 222 pounds: I used to sacrifice 'my life and health for momentary pleasure'

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 packed on more than 200 pounds and hit a maximum weight of 412 pounds.” (Photo: Courtesy of Stephen Ringo)

The Turning Point

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.

“If your mind isn’t engaged, you will not succeed.” (Photo: Courtesy of Stephen Ringo)

The Changes

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.