August 2017

From Before to After: How I Shed Denial About My Health and Nearly 140 Pounds

By Ray Estolano

Attorney at Law

The following article was originally published in the July/August 2017 issue of San Diego Lawyer.

I always used to argue, in true defense attorney fashion, that I was a healthy fat man.
Yes, my weight had ballooned up to 360 pounds since college. But, it was an athletic 360 pounds. I still worked out like I did in college and could last for an hour on the elliptical machine, so clearly I was still in good shape. What did it matter that the buttons from my tight dress shirts occasionally went flying when I sat down?

My family was alarmed at my weight gain and would try to prod me to lose weight. My wife tried being patient, kind and understanding — suggesting a salad when I would prefer a hamburger. My big brother Carlos decided on ridicule as a better course of action. He used to say that my Tomlinson jersey of #21 should really be #42! I had a number of “serious” conversations about my weight with friends and family.

Nothing really swayed me from my irrational belief that I was a healthy fat man. I would work out occasionally, but mostly ignored my weight. I never joined an organized weight loss program. When two of my closest friends underwent weight loss surgery, it gave me pause, but I told myself I would never do something like that. It was desperation to go under the knife, right? Still, occasionally I would look at old pictures of college and wonder.

Finally, my body started to have the final word. I began to find that I was tired all the time and started to feel sleepy even while driving. People would report that I would stop breathing when I was sleeping. I’d already suspected that I had sleep apnea from what an earlier doctor told me, but I went to be tested.

In 2012, when I took my sleep study for sleep apnea, my results were so grave that I got a personal call from the physician telling me to buy a CPAP machine immediately. A CPAP machine is a mask that you wear when sleeping which is connected by piping to an airflow machine. It keeps your throat from closing while you are asleep. My wife likens it to a Darth Vader mask. But aside from wearing a mask at night, I told myself that I was still a healthy fat man. I finished a 50-mile bike ride from Rosarito to Ensenada later that year to prove it.

Then came a court hearing in Department 6 in South Bay. I was looking at the wall calendar for a date and the images were blurring. I looked down at my phone’s calendar and couldn’t read it. My blurry vision lasted all week. By the time I made it to the urgent care later that week, it turned out that my blood sugar was so high that I had to argue with the doctor to not be hospitalized.

A few months after this, I’d been able to stabilize my diabetes through pills and a strict low GI diet, but somehow I could no longer fool myself into thinking I was healthy. I finally went to see my doctor, Dr. Sharma, to ask her about “going under the knife.” I was ready.
Instead, Dr. Sharma looked at me patiently and smiled. Then she asked me if I’d participated in an organized weight loss program before. I had to admit that I never had. It seemed to never work for any of my friends, so ….

“We have this wonderful program called positive choice that has had great results with my patients,” she said. I didn’t know it at the time, but the program would change my life.
The program was administered through Kaiser and was a medically monitored weight loss program using shakes as a replacement for food. For close to six months, all I had to eat were these awful tasting shakes. A friend in the group described them as dust with artificial flavoring. Once a week, we would meet to talk about our weight loss issues in a guided discussion. Sometimes, I think the conversations were harder than sticking to the diet, but I persevered in both.

I ended up losing close to a 140 pounds through the program. It felt strange to look at the mirror and see the man that I’d been a decade earlier. I went from a size 54 long suit to a size 46 long. My feet actually shrunk from a size 12 wide to an 11.5 regular. More importantly, my health was transformed. I no longer require medicine for diabetes or a breathing device for my sleep apnea.

It hasn’t been a completely easy journey. I think I’ll always have to be careful with my weight. I could easily regain the weight without proper discipline. But, I feel a long ways from the man who had claimed to be a healthy fat man. Now, I’m just a man who strives to be healthy.