Hunter Croteau is still getting used to his new body. After all, the 20-year-old recently went through one of the most stunning physical and mental changes humanly possible: In just eight months, he’s dropped an astonishing 170 pounds with the help of weight loss surgery.
Croteau grew up in a duplex with his parents on one side and his grandmother and step-grandfather, Joseph, on the other. Because his parents worked several jobs to support the family, Croteau spent a great deal of time with his grandparents.
“They took me to the doctor as a kid,” Croteau said of his time with his grandparents. “My doctor said I was a little bit underweight, and said they needed to start putting rice in my bottle once a day. They didn’t hear the ‘once a day’ part, so they were giving me rice all the time, and ended up having me gain a ton of weight.”
While his parents were working, Croteau explained that his relationship with Joseph blossomed, and he became like “a second dad.” But spending time with his grandmother and Joseph, who were both overweight, meant that Croteau would spend most of his free time eating, too.
“[Joseph] was very depressed, as I later found out. So that kind of fed into his problem,” Croteau said. Those mental health challenges compounded for Joseph, who died from suicide when Croteau was a freshman in high school. For Croteau, that was the beginning of the steep descent into his own downward spiral with food.
“It got to the point where I was eating 6,000 calories a night,” He said. “Binge eating, ordering out $30 worth of takeout, eating it all myself.”
By the time he graduated, he tipped the scale at 360 pounds.
After he graduated, Croteau decided it was his year to get healthy. At first, he attempted to do it all on his own — but as anyone who’s ever attempted to lose weight will tell you, it’s not always that easy. Croteau gave up time and time again, until fate stepped in.
More precisely, an old woman rolled up in the grocery store checkout line, where Croteau was working on bagging duty.
“She said her daughter had this surgery. So that kind of like planted the seed in my brain.”
“I had this customer come through on an electric cart, buying a ton of diet drinks. I ended up talking to her a little bit and helped her out to her car,” he said. They got to talking, and the woman explained that her husband was obese, and that her daughter once was, as well.
“Before she left, she was like, ‘Listen, I wouldn’t say this to anybody else, but I can tell your weight really bothers you,’” Croteau recalled. “She said her daughter had this surgery. So that kind of like planted the seed in my brain.”
Getting weight loss surgery
At just 19 years old, Croteau got himself to a doctor, walked through the different options he had, and made the life-changing decision to get a sleeve gastrectomy. The surgery typically removed about 80 percent of the stomach, which prohibits a person from overeating, and can trigger hormonal changes to further aid in weight loss, according to the Mayo Clinic.
In total, 228,000 people in the U.S. received bariatric surgery in 2017, with nearly 60 percent of recipients choosing the sleeve. As for who makes a good candidate for the surgery, it could be a good option for those with a body mass index of 40 or higher, or those who suffer from a serious weight-related health problem “such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or severe sleep apnea,” the Mayo Clinic says.
On average, patients maintain a 55% weight loss after five years.
“We’ve found that three weeks after the procedure, there is already a profound change in the way the brain responds to food and appetite,” Dr. Erik Dutson, an associate professor and bariatric surgeon at UCLA Medical Center, previously told MensHealth.com. (To read more about the pros and cons of the sleeve gastrectomy procedure — as well as other weight loss surgeries — click here.)
Before he went under the knife, Croteau — as with most patients who get any form of bariatric surgery — underwent both physical and psychiatric care. For Croteau, that meant visiting a therapist and figuring out where his food issues came from in the first place, along with a nutritionist to learn about how he could eat more healthfully in the future. “Doing that entire process really helps you as well,” Croteau said. “It really readied me for the surgery.”
After six months of work leading up to the surgery, Croteau underwent his sleeve operation. But his journey didn’t end at the scalpel: Instead, he downloaded the MyFitnessPal app, took the new lessons from his nutritionist, and changed every aspect of his day-to-day life.
Now, rather than eat takeout for every meal, he cooks things like homemade steel cut oats with pure canned pumpkin, cinnamon, walnuts, and Splenda for breakfast, followed by high-protein lunches and dinners each day — ensuring he remains in a calorie deficit to keep losing weight.
So far, he’s dropped from 360 to 190 pounds.
Croteau also began hitting the gym five days a week with a buddy who’s there rain or shine to keep him on track.
“One of the luckiest thing that’s happened to me is one of my best friends was very thin,” he said. “Well, he’s not anymore, because we started going to the gym together in January, a month after my surgery. Since then, we’ve gone five days a week every single week.”
At the gym, the duo rotates between chest and triceps, back and biceps, and legs and shoulders.
“We’re making pretty decent progress now,” he said. “I love going to the gym now so much. I feel like I’d be lost without it.” (If you need a little help getting into a routine, read our 3-week beginner’s guide to getting in shape.)
As for what he’d tell someone in a similar position to where he started?
“You’re going to make mistakes in your diet,” he said. “You’re going to read labels wrong. You’re going to be eating more calories than you think you are. Some days you have to just start, learn from your mistakes and keep going, and if you don’t it’s never going to happen.”
Croteau, who comes off wise well beyond his 20 years, also stressed that you shouldn’t just focus on the changes happening to your outside.
“You have to be able to be honest with yourself: Find out what your problems are, and what hurts you the most about yourself,” he said. “If you want to fix it, you have to just do it. Take the steps — even if they’re baby steps.”
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