As Chris Christlieb sat in a ditch, surrounded by pieces of his shattered motorcycle, he could hear his wife yelling his name in an attempt to find him. Realizing he couldn’t feel much on his left side, he reached down to his knee, only to discover it simply wasn’t there anymore. The car that had struck him as he traveled to put his motorcycle in storage for the winter didn’t give him much of a chance to avoid the collision.
When his wife finally found him and saw the bad shape his leg was in, she quickly removed her belt and fastened it around his upper thigh to stop the bleeding. About seven minutes later, the local sheriff arrived and put on a second tourniquet while the medical helicopter landed nearby.
After three days in a medically induced coma and having his left leg amputated above the knee, Christlieb, now 48 years old, awoke to a new chapter of his life. While he knew the road to recovery would be long and difficult, he was grateful to be alive, especially because he owed his life to a 113-pound weight loss just a couple years prior to the October 2015 accident.
“The doctor told me that if I’d still been my original weight of 313 pounds, the amount of soft tissue in my thigh would have made it impossible for my wife’s belt to work,” he says. “I would have bled out in five minutes and would have been gone by the time the sheriff got there.”
Luckily, Christlieb’s decision to transform his body would be the best one he’d ever make — and it started with his liver.
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On the morning of his wedding anniversary, October 9, 2013, he shuffled to the bathroom of his Stanchfield, Minnesota, home and noticed how badly his hands were shaking. A fairly heavy drinker, he’d resolved to have a nice day of eating and drinking with his wife, so he skipped having any drinks the night before. Looking at himself in the mirror and seeing how heavy he’d gotten — and how aggressive the alcohol withdrawal symptoms were — he decided to quit drinking right then and there.
“I looked like hell, I felt like hell, and I knew if I didn’t change, I’d never feel or look good again,” he recalls. “My wife was still in bed, so I went back and kissed her, then said, ‘Happy anniversary, and I’m an alcoholic.’ That wasn’t the way we’d planned to start the day, but it was the beginning of a whole new me.”
Christlieb had been hiding the extent of his drinking problem for some time, but with that huge confession out of the way, he could focus on recovery — and that included getting his health back under control.
“When you quit booze, you tend to lose weight without really trying,” he says, noting that within just a few weeks, he was down 25 pounds. People started noticing and complimenting him on his progress. That fueled him to take it to the next level, focusing on more than just cutting out alcohol. His younger brother had used the MyFitnessPal app to lose about 100 pounds, so Christlieb gave it a try. It turned out to be a perfect fit for his goals.
He began to track his calories religiously and used Fitbit to monitor his walking activity. The combination led to steady results, and he was 70 pounds lighter by his 2014 wedding anniversary.
In June 2015, Christlieb met his weight goal of 195 pounds and had gone from a 44-inch waist to 32 inches. He remembers standing in his closet, holding an old pair of jeans in one hand and a new pair in the other. In that moment, he decided to donate all of his larger clothes as a commitment to himself to maintain the weight loss.
“When people ask me how to keep the weight off, I say: Buy clothes that actually fit you, don’t keep wearing your old ones that are too large,” he says. “For me, having baggy clothes puts me back in the mindset of being over 300 pounds. It sounds like such a small thing, but one of my happiest moments was realizing I had to buy medium-sized underwear instead of XXLs.”
Of course, the happiest moment of all was being able to wake up in the hospital after that motorcycle accident.
Today, two years after the accident, he’s still dedicated to his fitness journey. He says it helps that prosthetic limbs are chosen based on your activity level. Since Christlieb was getting 17,000 steps per day leading up to the accident, he received the highest-quality prosthetic available, which is assisting him in setting even bigger goals for weight loss and fitness gains.
“There were so many things that needed to go right for me to survive that night, not the least of which was my incredible weight loss using the MyFitnessPal app,” he says. “We also chose very early on to remain as positive as possible. It’s not always easy, but we do our best!”
Written by Elizabeth Millard, a freelance journalist specializing in health and fitness. She’s also an organic farmer, yoga teacher, obstacle course aficionado and 5K junkie. Her work has appeared in SELF, Men’s Health, CNN and other publications.