by Bob Grawey
Going from 276 pounds to 168 pounds in 1.5 years is a feat many people admire. It also got the attention of the American Heart Association when it named Otsego resident Eric Illies as one of five semi-finalists for the organization’s Lifestyle Change Award in Minnesota.
Though Illies did not win the award, he was among five people honored Saturday, June 4 at Target Field for their hard work to lose weight and to accomplish major lifestyle changes.
The trimmed down 5-foot, 10-inch man wore size 44 jeans a little more than a year ago. Now he sports a 34 waist. His shirt size went from 2XL to a medium and Illies says his life has changed as well.
But one might ask how he got so heavy to begin with and how did he ever lose that much weight? What is his secret?
All his life, Illies says he remembers being overweight. His friends were all quite athletic and he had a hard time keeping up with them.
As an adult, the weight problem continued. After walking a flight of stairs, Illies says he had to stop to catch his breath. Even putting on his shoes was enough to make him feel winded.
Bouncing from job to job, the Otsego man never had health insurance until he landed his present job. That was the beginning of change for the young man.
“I decided to get a physical since I now had health insurance,” Illies says. “I thought I weight about 250, and I was sadly OK with that. Then I stepped on the scale and it said 276 (pounds). I was surprised, to say the least.”
During that same time, his dad was diagnosed with diabetes. Illies’ doctor told him he was at a high risk for the disease, too.
A 10-year class reunion was also approaching, giving Illies yet another reason to think about doing something about his weight.
Illies says realizing he was and coming to grips with being obese was the first step he had to take.
He then asked his doctor to prescribe an elliptical machine so he could exercise at home.
For 30 minutes every day, Illies faithfully worked out on the machine.
He also cut his meal portions down by using an 8-inch plate instead of the normal 12-inch plate he was used to using at meal time.
“I’ve become the Rain Man of calories,” Illies laughs.
Watching his calorie intake, Illies says he cut out bad foods by substituting healthier choices. Instead of drinking sodas, he turned to SoBe water. For the spread on his sandwiches, Illies used mustard in place of the much higher fat mayo.
“My biggest Kryptonite was ice cream,” Illies admits. “I did enjoy my ice cream. I would eat it four days a week.”
Skinny Cow, a low-fat ice cream, replaced the regular brands he had been eating.
Never being one to prescribe to the various fad diets, Illies says he joined Snap Fitness in St. Michael to become more active. He froze his membership during the summer months, though, as he was afraid of building muscle which is heavier than fat. Illies thought he might get discouraged from continuing his attempt to lose weight. So during summer months he concentrated on cardio exercises.
Goals were a big part of Illies’ path to losing weight. When he reached each goal he rewarded himself.
Admitting to being rather introverted, the Otsego man set goals in increments of 10 pounds. Whenever he lost another 10 pounds, he posted it on his Facebook page. People’s comments and encouragement were his reward.
His elliptical machine at home kept breaking and after the third time, when he was told the part would take a couple of months to get in, Illies grew frustrated. He was also scared.
“I didn’t want to lose my momentum. I didn’t want to go backwards and I was afraid I would if I had to wait that long to exercise at home,” Illies explains. “So I started jogging for a half hour every morning and I walked at night.”
He also began doing crunches, push-ups and some other home exercises.
Illies says since he lost 107 pounds he can tell a major difference in his health.
He no longer gets winded going up stairs or when he puts on a pair of shoes. Still buddies with his high school friends, Illies can keep up with them now, and they are a major source of encouragement to him.
The change has been so radical in Illies since losing the weight, family members who have not seen him since before he began his weight reduction have not recognized him.
The change has been so complete, this spring Illies’ parents told him about something the American Heart Association was promoting and that he should check it out.
Illies did and that is when he discovered the Lifestyle Change Award to honor those who had achieved a major lifestyle change.
An American Heart Association media release states:
“The Lifestyle Change Award recognizes individuals who have made positive changes to improve their quality of life and health over the past year, such as losing weight, becoming active, eating healthier and/or managing a chronic disease such as diabetes or cholesterol.”
Submitting his story garnered Illies a semi-finalist mention, but it also gave him confidence he never had. Now he has advice for others who might be facing an uphill battle with their weight.
“Don’t get discouraged. Don’t be overwhelmed,” Illies advises. “I would say three things: Substitute when you can. Watch your portions. Don’t look at the big picture. Break it down to goals in easy increments.”
For more tips on living a healthier lifestyle, go to www.americanheart.org.