Obesity: Bedford man has been there; he can help
BEDFORD - When Jonathan LaMarine lost nearly half his body weight, it was as if he had a new lease on life. Now, through his new nonprofit, he hopes to help others achieve the same success and happiness he's achieved through his healthy lifestyle.
LaMarine, 33, is the founder and chief executive officer of the New England Obesity Network, or NEON.
LaMarine knows firsthand how isolating obesity can be and believes his experience and success losing weight have equipped him to help others who face the same challenges he did.
"People are more apt to talk to me than someone who has never struggled with it, because they know that I understand," he said.
LaMarine described himself as an active, healthy young person who loved to play soccer before his family moved from Bedford to Merrimack and he found himself missing the faces and places he grew up with. His depression deepened, he said, when his father died when LaMarine was 21.
He treated his depression with food - mostly fast food, he said, in large quantities and without exercise. By the time he was 32, he weighed 448 pounds.He also developed Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, anxiety and sleep apnea, among other ailments, as a result of his obesity.
Frustrated and unhappy with his situation, LaMarine began to take steps to improve his life. He moved back to Bedford, quit smoking and looked into bariatric weight-loss surgery.
"Everything I tried in the past failed," he said. "The fad diets, the pills, all that stuff - and nothing worked."
In March of last year, LaMarine's surgeon told him he had to lose 8 percent of his body weight - 36 pounds - in four months, on his own, before he could be a considered a candidate for bariatric surgery.
LaMarine more than doubled that prescribed weight loss, dropping 81 pounds "without any exercise whatsoever - just by changing my diet," he said.
"I put down the sodas. I put down the cheeseburgers, the french fries, the pizzas - all the unhealthy foods that I was eating every day - and I just turned to vegetables, to fruits, poultry, fish and even red meats."
LaMarine's doctors were blown away by his progress and told him he could go ahead with the surgery. But LaMarine opted to continue on the path he'd started.
"I'm, like, 'If I can lose 81 pounds in four months just by changing my diet and not even exercising, imagine what I could do with exercise,'?" he said.
Doctors cautioned LaMarine that he was at an 80 percent risk of regaining all the weight he'd lost by not going ahead with bariatric surgery. But he stuck with his new lifestyle, adding in exercise, and in a year he'd lost 210 pounds.
By losing the weight naturally, LaMarine not only changed his life for the better but did so without having to pay $65,000 for surgery. Now, he wants to help others to do the same, which is where NEON comes in.
LaMarine, who will soon complete a bachelor's degree in psychology, said that NEON's approach is all about "behavioral modification," which he says is the best way to achieve lasting weight loss success.
"You can throw exercise scientists at people. You can throw physiologists, dietitians at people all day long, and I've seen it happen time and time and time again, and nothing came of it, because that person was not mentally ready to change their life," he said. "We're all about lifestyle change.
No fad diets - nothing like that. No surgeries. We encourage people to (lose weight) healthy, organically and holistically, just making the smart choices."NEON's initial goal is to spread awareness about its cause and organization in the area, LaMarine said.
Once it raises some capital, he said, the group would like to focus on obesity prevention, especially for kids."We're really driven towards children right now with the prevention, because it all starts with your adolescence," he said.
Eventually, NEON would like to sponsor a Little League baseball team, LaMarine said.
LaMarine also would like to help connect clients with dietitians, doctors and trainers, all of whom can be expensive.
"Insurance only covers so much," he said. "What I wanted to do was make those (specialists)available at no cost to our future clients."
LaMarine said he's already used his experience to help people. One of his clients has lost 45 pounds in three months by implementing the same lifestyle changes LaMarine did. She's also been able to cut her diabetes medication dosage in half, he said.
LaMarine acknowledges that changing lifestyles and losing weight is difficult, especially for the obese, but says all the effort is worth it.
"The hardest part was just staying focused and motivated," he said of his own experience losing weight. "With those two things, it can be accomplished. I'm living proof."
To find out more about NEON, contact LaMarine at 438-2806 or email email@example.com.