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Sean Anderson lost 300 pounds by shifting from a diet mentality to a recovery mentality

After losing weight and then gaining more than half of it back, Sean Anderson recognized that he was addicted to refined sugar and now treats it like a drug.
by Stephanie Thurrott /
Image: Sean Anderson
Sean Anderson says "exchanging support with people ‘in the same lifeboat’ makes a monumental difference" when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off. Courtesy Sean Anderson
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Name: Sean Anderson

Age: 46

Residence: Ponca City, OK

Job: Radio personality

Marital status: Divorced, father of two adult daughters and grandfather of 4

Peak weight: 505 pounds

Current weight: 205 pounds

Sean Anderson remembers the day he decided he had to do something about his weight. He was 36 years old and, despite a lifetime of dieting, he weighed 505 pounds. His blood pressure was out of control, his legs were swollen and he had trouble breathing. His health problems were forcing him to miss work, even with a sedentary job.

“I went to the doctor in June 2008 and she described to me in graphic detail what my high blood pressure was doing to my internal organs. She told me, ‘If you leave this office and drop dead while walking across the parking lot to your vehicle, none of us would be the least bit surprised.”

If you leave this office and drop dead while walking across the parking lot to your vehicle, none of us would be the least bit surprised.

He called his wife, Irene, and said, “This is it. It changes right now.” When he returned home his wife and two daughters met him in the driveway, crying and hugging him. “It was like something straight out of a Hallmark movie,” he says.

His motivation lasted three days.

After a high-stress day at work, he bought a half gallon of ice cream on the way home. “I did what I had done my entire life. I turned to food. After that doctor’s visit and the emotional reunion declaring that it starts right now, three days later I was on the couch with the ice cream. Irene and the girls walked in and found me doing that and there were no words. They couldn’t believe it.”

Accountability is key

Anderson agonized for months and tried to figure out what he could do differently. He decided he needed a big measure of accountability and support. So, on September 15, 2008, he launched his blog, The Daily Diary of a Winning Loser. Every night, he shared his feelings and experiences in writing.

He set a daily budget of 1,500 calories and forbade “borrowing” from the next day (in hindsight he thinks he could have gone up to 1,900 calories and still have lost weight). Within that calorie limit, anything he wanted to eat was fair game. “In the beginning it was nothing for me to have Taco Bell or even McDonalds,” he says. “In fact, if I got to the end of the day with a few hundred calories left, just for the heck of it I would get a Snickers bar and then write in my blog, almost bragging, that I was losing weight and I had a Snickers bar.”

Despite starting with a “nothing-is-off-limits” approach, he soon realized that if he tweaked his food choices he could be more satisfied with better-quality food. He started cooking more and eating less fast food, still sticking to his calorie budget.

The first step is the hardest

Anderson also started exercising. His first walk lasted less than five minutes, but in less than a month he was walking a mile. Eventually he joined the Y and expanded his cardio routine to elliptical workouts, treadmill walking and jogging, and playing racquetball by himself, against the wall.

His plan worked. After a year and a half he reached his goal weight of 230 pounds. His blog gained momentum. He wrote a book, Transformation Road, that chronicled his weight-loss success. He spoke publicly about his weight loss on the radio and for local hospitals. He still ate some refined sugar, but he maintained his goal weight for a year and a half.

The weight returns

And yet, things were not perfect. “There’s another whole side to this. It’s something that goes much deeper. One of the things I thought was that when I hit 230 my life was going to be amazing in every way, shape and form. I thought my career would be better and my marriage would be better. I hit 230 and I still wasn’t happy. It was such a huge letdown,” he says.

His marriage ended around the time he hit his goal weight, and, later, a tough breakup with a girlfriend sent him reaching for food for comfort again. He regained 164 pounds. He stopped writing his blog. He hated leaving home, since his weight gain was so noticeable and so many people in his community recognized him.

Anderson weighs and measures everything. 'I can tell you every ounce and every gram,' he says. 'It sounds like a lot of work, but you get used to it.'

His weight does not define him

Anderson had what he calls his epiphany on May 15, 2014. A speeding ticket the previous day forced him to renew his expired driver’s license. His old license photo was taken when he weighed 230 pounds, and his weight had ballooned up to almost 400 pounds.

“I hated the picture. I was overwhelmed with negative emotions. Then thoughts started flooding in — why would I allow the shape of my face to determine my self-worth? I am a great person regardless of how big my face is or how much I weigh. I would never treat another human being the way I treated myself. All of the positive things that I love about myself are the same at 500 pounds or at a lighter weight. I decided I could not put my happiness on something that fluctuates.”

I had a new understanding and appreciation for who I was. I was no longer going to get my self-worth from my weight.

He made a list of things that stayed the same regardless of his weight — talents, likes and dislikes, hobbies, his love for people. “Focusing on those things was like watering a flower in the middle of the desert — it starts flourishing,” he says. “I had a new understanding and appreciation for who I was. I was no longer going to get my self-worth from my weight. It was a complete change in perspective,” he says.

Abstaining from addictive foods

He recognized that he was addicted to refined sugar. That recognition helped him shift from a diet mentality to a recovery mentality, and he gave up refined sugar completely — the same way an alcoholic would give up alcohol. He also restarted a calorie budget, this time allotting himself 1,700 calories a day.

He photographed everything he ate and logged it on MyFitnessPal. He tweeted the photos and listed the ingredients. “I upped my accountability to what many would consider extreme. I didn’t do that with my initial weight loss,” he says.

He shifted his diet to mostly one-ingredient foods — avocados, apples, chicken breasts — with exceptions for things like Ezekiel bread, which doesn’t contain refined sugar or flour. He doesn’t eat things he doesn’t like, though. Salad, broccoli and cauliflower-crust pizza just aren’t part of his plan. But he’s developed a taste for avocado, sweet potatoes and asparagus.

He recommitted to writing his blog every day. “I came clean with my readers. I said, ‘Look. I gained back 164 pounds and it stops right now.’”

He doubled down on building support connections. “None of us do this alone. Connecting directly and exchanging support with people ‘in the same lifeboat’ makes a monumental difference,” he says.

Sean's typical daily meals

  • Breakfast: a blend of whole eggs and egg whites topped with a slice of cheese, a half avocado on Ezekiel toast, and an apple on the side.
  • Lunch: A tostada made at work with crispy corn tostada shells, fat-free beans, salsa, and cheese, topped with lettuce, sour cream, and a half avocado.
  • Dinner: Steak, chicken drumsticks or grilled fish with red-skin mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes.
  • Key for him is weighing the ingredients — he keeps digital food scales at home and work.

He starts every day with meditation and prayer, two cups of water, 20 pushups and 20 squats, then he rewards himself with a cup of coffee.

Getting to goal weight and beyond

Anderson lost the weight he gained and then some, and now maintains 205 pounds on his six-foot, three-inch frame — a weight he had passed at age 10. He has maintained this weight for over two and a half years now, with a 2,300 daily calorie budget. “I don’t want for anything. I eat well — light years better than I did before.”

He starts every day with meditation and prayer, two cups of water, 20 pushups and 20 squats, then he rewards himself with a cup of coffee. He visualizes how he wants his day to go in relation to his food plan.

“In order for me to maintain a healthy body weight I have to have a plan in place each day,” he says. “This is something I have to do for the rest of my life. I know I’m very capable of going back to 500 pounds, and it takes daily practice to prevent that.”

MORE WEIGHT-LOSS SUCCESS STORIES (AND TIPS TO BORROW)

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