John Burton is a Ph.D. student living in Belfast, Ireland, and over the past three years, he’s lost nearly 300 pounds. While this is a phenomenal achievement, he’ll be the first to tell you that it wasn’t easy, and that it took several years for a reason.
Growing up, John was always a bit on the heavier side, but it was a never severe issue until his teenage years.
“It was when I got to university and I didn’t have anyone looking at what I ate. It was all up to me,” he said. “I ate what I wanted whenever I wanted. And I never ate fruits and vegetables. I always had pizza and burgers and rubbish like that.”
John’s weight developed into obesity when he was 18 or 19. At that time, he’d drink a big bottle of coke or a pile of chocolate without even thinking about. John blames these bad eating habits on his tendency to be a picky eater as a child.
When John moved 2.5 hours away from home for college, he says that was the first time he was away from family and friends and had any responsibility when it came to his diet. This new environment led him to become more indulgent than ever and he began eating whatever foods he wanted.
In April 2008, John reached his peak weight of 420 pounds and was growing increasingly aware of his size. While seeing his doctor for an unrelated issue, John decided to seek out help.
“I really didn’t want to end up with serious health problems, which is what I would’ve done had I continued to gain weight,” he said. “So when I went to see the doctor and he asked if there was anything else he could help me with, I said, ‘Actually I’d like to talk about becoming healthier and losing weight.'”
John’s doctor suggested two things: Keeping a food diary to document everything he ate, and meeting with a nurse on a regular basis to discuss his diet. At this recommendation, John began seeing a nurse once every two weeks, where he also got weighed. This was a big turning point as it gave him accountability to someone who was consistently monitoring his health.
Another important step? Joining the online weight loss community Reddit Loseit. “One of the biggest things that helped me was going to the Reddit website,” said John. “I was getting a lot of support and feedback from people, and it’s really a fantastic system. I couldn’t have done it without their help.”
By chatting with friends on Reddit, John gained encouragement from people who were also struggling with their weight, as well as from people who’d been down that road and come out on the other side with insight to offer. His online friends were a second wave of support and one more form of accountability that ultimately helped solidify his newly-developing healthy habits.
“I started off by doing tiny little steps. I used to have a whole bag of chips. But instead of buying big bags, I started buying a multipack of smaller ones,” he said. “It was really a process of reducing the amount of food I ate. And then, I incorporated healthy foods.”
John recalls one of the first things he ate when he started changing his eating habits: A bowl of cereal, a banana and a pear. “It was a resolution of sorts to say ‘I’m going to eat this sort of stuff from now on.'”
Much to his surprise, John found eating healthier much easier than he thought, and he even began to appreciate how good healthy food could be.
To make his diet change more sustainable, John also commissioned the help of his housemates who helped him by cooking healthy meals that they would share together.
“They were really supportive,” John said. “We’d have healthy pasta and stir fries. I ate a lot of Asian food, like noodles and a lot of chicken. Plus, I tried to sub out red meat.”
Around this time John also began adding in small amounts of exercise. “I used to live quite near the university and I’d walk back at night. Every day I’d try and add a little bit more than I could do before, and I stuck with it.”
As he continued losing weight, John found it became easier to exercise with his smaller frame. This allowed him to start playing sports like soccer and rugby, as well as begin weight training at the gym.
By November 2011, John was down to 160 pounds. And for now, he’s extremely happy with where he’s at. This year, John is looking forward to finishing his Ph.D. in astronomy, at which point he’ll hopefully get a job as a researcher. And because this will likely be a desk-based job, he plans to make sure exercise remains a constant part of his routine.
As for health goals, John is setting his sights on a marathon. “I’d like to be able to take part in the London marathon someday,” he said. “A few of my friends did it a few years ago, and that’s a goal I’d like to accomplish within the next five years.”
John’s new, healthier way of life has allowed him to travel more. “Losing all the weight has really helped me discover my passion for traveling,” he said. “I could never do it before when I weighed so much, and now I can travel and go and visit people and play sports with friends – it’s fantastic.”
For those who may be struggling with their weight, John offers this piece of advice: Set aside days for indulgence, and seek out community for support. “The thing that kept me sane when I first started losing weight was having a day off now and again; days when you’re not worrying about calories and exercise.” To follow his own advice, John indulges in a full three-course meal from time to time to keep proper balance in his diet.
In addition, John believes seeking out support is key. “Anyone who is starting out losing weight, there’s always people to talk to, whether it be friends, colleagues, family – there’s always a support network,” he said. “That’s one of the greatest benefits – having someone to talk to.”
As a result of sharing his journey with the Reddit community, John’s weight loss story has become the site’s third highest rated post of all time – something he never imagined a few before and after pictures would achieve. Sharing true weight loss stories to inspire others toward health? Now that’s what we call real life inspiration.