Two years ago, when he was in the middle of a bad divorce after 20 years of marriage, Greg Ellis walked into a weight-loss clinic. He weighed 456 pounds.
“I knew there was a possibility that I could be single for the rest of my life,” he says. “I needed to figure out how to take care of myself.”
At the clinic, the staff took his measurements and asked about his diet. “It was terrible,” Ellis says. “I’m from the South. Everything’s fried.”
The clinic staff outlined the plan: Take weight-loss pills, drink 64 ounces of water daily, do cardio three times a week and download MyFitnessPal to stay below a maximum of 90 grams of carbs per day.
“I took the pills, but didn’t like the way they made me feel,” he says. “So I did the rest on my own.”
Ellis set a goal weight of 250 pounds and educated himself on his new lifestyle between 12-hour shifts at a steel factory in northeastern Arkansas. For the first time in his 46 years, he learned about protein, calories, workouts and how to plan and prep meals. “I just kept plugging away,” he says. “I learned everything I could from social media, Pinterest and Under Armour blogs.”
When the weight started to come off, he was thrilled. “It taught me how to be confident and that I could set a goal and achieve it,” he says. “On the other end of the spectrum, it made me very upset with myself because I’d let myself get so obese.”
Another part of what kept him going was the fear of falling back into his old ways. “I’ve been overweight my whole life,” Ellis says. “I don’t ever want to go back. There’s so many things I’ve missed and so many new things I’ve experienced. I went to Six Flags last summer in St. Louis and, for the first time in my adult life, I could ride the rides.”
He credits one choice at a time — and being willing to go against the grain. “Sometimes it makes my family uncomfortable because my diet is so different, especially during the holidays,” he says. “My father kept offering me pies during Thanksgiving. I had some roasted turkey and salad. He got used to it.”
The combination of smart eating, exercise and education saw Ellis through to his target weight. Today, he stays comfortably between 238 and 240 pounds and just passed 700 consecutive days of logging in MyFitnessPal.
Mornings that used to begin with buttermilk biscuits now start with a protein shake, four egg whites and one whole egg. Lunch looks like a skinless chicken breast with steamed broccoli and a sweet potato. He has Greek yogurt for a snack, baked fish and cabbage for dinner and logs everything religiously into MyFitnessPal.
“MFP clicks with me because I’m a creature of habit,” he says. “I don’t eat for taste anymore as much as getting my macros. About once a week, I’ll have sushi for a cheat meal. I crave it, but don’t go overboard.”
And if he had his way, he’d be in the gym daily. “My girlfriend calls it ‘the other woman,’” he laughs. He focuses on a rotation of arms, legs, back and core during four visits a week and uses his FitBit to stay in a calorie deficit.
“My doctor told me one time, for every pound you lose, it’s 10 pounds of pressure off your knees,” he says. Do the math; he’s relieved more than 2,100 pounds since beginning his weight-loss journey.
For Ellis, being overweight affected everything from how he went to the restroom to how he walked down halls. “At 456 pounds, you wobble,” he says. “And you don’t dare take the stairs unless you absolutely have to. You’re looking for that elevator. It’s so hard to pick the weight up and put it down.”
Even after his massive weight loss, Ellis is hesitant to call himself a success story. “I still see the obese person I was, even though everyone tells me different,” he says. “There are times I feel guilty because my stomach has shrunk so much, and it takes less food to make me feel full.”
Besides maintaining his target weight, Ellis’ new goal is to remove the loose skin he’s learned to hide. “It may be a pipe dream,” he says. “I don’t want to become vain, but it’s not what I want to see in the mirror.”
So what does he want to see? “I just want to be healthy and strong,” he says. “I haven’t accomplished anything that comes close to this weight-loss journey.”