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Published: Monday, 5/11/2009

Success through self-discipline

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Matthew Kowalski credits gastric bypass surgery with inspiring him to lose weight.

Not that he s ever undergone the stomach-reducing procedure, or intends to.

For Mr. Kowalski of Oregon, who says he once weighed more than 450 pounds, motivation struck and stuck after a doctor told him he was too big for the laparoscopic version of the surgery.

There is just something about being denied fat surgery because you re too fat, said Mr. Kowalski, 28, the May participant of the month for Lucas County s Million Pound Challenge. The Blade is a sponsor of the county weight loss challenge, and those who enroll can track their weight through a private journal on the Blade s Web site, www.toledoblade.com

So without doctors, diet books, surgery, or personal trainers, Mr. Kowalski adopted the age-old strategy of self-discipline and lost nearly 200 pounds in the two years after he got turned down for gastric bypass.

He s plunged in waist size from 60 to 38, and keeps an old pair of suit pants the size of a parachute to prove it.

The only shortcut has been the line to his refrigerator. Mr. Kowalski, who is 6 feet, 2 inches tall, has cut his food intake to less than 2,000 calories a day (with plenty of cereal and soup) from what was well over 4,000 calories (plenty of double cheeseburgers).

And he says the funny thing is, he s less hungry now.

I used to tell people that I never felt full. Now, I feel full off of almost nothing, said Mr. Kowalski, whose ultimate goal is to lose another 40 pounds by year s end.

Although his dietary habits definitely changed, he avoided completely cutting out his favorite foods. He is just careful to exercise moderation.

I still go out to Burger King, but instead of getting like a double Whopper and a king size fries, I ll get a junior Whopper, Mr. Kowalski said. It s all in moderation and portion size. People are always worried about what we re eating; it s more about how much that s what I ve found.

Mr. Kowalski said that growing up he was always on the big side, but tipped into full obesity after he broke his wrist playing football his sophomore year at Clay High School.

Soon he picked up a habit of eating and eating without real awareness of what or how much. Liquid calories were a big dietary downfall.

If I was having some friends over and we were going to order a pizza, if it was just me and three buddies, I would order a couple large pizzas and I would at least drink a gallon of sweet tea or at least six or more cans of Coke, Mr. Kowalski said, It was just ridiculous.

He speculated that he reached his heaviest in late 2006 or early 2007. He decided to weigh himself to see just how heavy he was, but realized the scale at home couldn t register all of his pounds.

So he climbed on the scale at work, the BP oil refinery in Oregon.

I eventually got on a barrel scale and it said 452 and that was after I had calculated the clothes I was wearing, he said. You can t really get away from seeing 400s it s right there in your face.

While diet remains the cornerstone of Mr. Kowalski s weight-loss efforts, he also takes regular brisk walks on a treadmill and rides an exercise bike. Contenting himself with smaller portions was challenging at first, but that too has gotten easier.

The one food he has yet to fully conquer is pizza. He can manage self-control when eating ice-cream, onion rings, or hamburgers, but going cold turkey is his only option for pizza.

You can t even give me one slice, he said.

Due to his great success losing pounds, Mr. Kowalski now faces an altogether different challenge: the newly loose skin. He has started saving the $10,000 to $15,000 that he estimates is needed for skin reduction surgery.

Ironically, his health insurance plan will not pay for the skin removal procedure, but it would have paid for a gastric bypass, he said.

I told them that I lost weight on my own, that I did it all naturally without any surgery, and they said that it just won t be covered because they consider that more on the cosmetic side, he said.

Another lifestyle change: he no longer gorges while watching his favorite reality television show.

I used to watch The Biggest Loser [while] eating dessert. You re sitting there wondering, Why can t that be me? while you re shoving in 1,000 calories, Mr. Kowalski said. Now, 1,000 calories is half of what I eat all day.

Contact JC Reindl at:jreindl@theblade.comor 419-724-6065.



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