Greg's excess skin removal surgery fund
Organized by: Greg Cohen
The Power of Social Media!!!
March 09, 2016
Howdy y'all! My name is Greg. I recently just turned 28 years old ( February 29th - leap day baby!). For most of my entire life I was fat and in the past 10 years I could be defined as OBESE. I weighed 380 lbs standing only 5'8''. On February 7th, 2014 I woke up and said enough is enough. The weight I carried around not only was a burden on me physically, but also mentally and emotionally. What transpired from February 7th 2014 until today was something I was sure I would never be able to do. I lost 187 lbs. No surgeries, no pills, supplements, fad dieting, no bullshit. A clean and healthy diet and lots of time in the gym. If you have ever seen any of the television shows about dramatic weight loss, you are aware that when you lose that much weight, your skin has no place to go. It retracts back to your body after being stretched for years upon years, and the end result is loose low hanging skin. With clothes on you would look an average person, but once your clothes come off - an entire different story. I was embarrassed to take my shirt off when I was 380 lbs, now I am strangely still embarrassed. When you are obese, everyone can see it - clothes on or off. Now, when I take my shirt of, my skin hangs and gets in the way of wearing proper fitting clothes. ( clothes that I worked hard to fit into).
Insurance will not pay for this surgery as they deem it "cosmetic". This $8,000 I'm trying to raise only covers skin removal surgery of my lower stomach. While I could use it on my thighs, arms, and butt. My stomach is in the biggest need of this procedure.
***Here is my story- it is a long read and it's cut from a longer essay I have been writing, but hopefully will give you a glimpse of who I use to be and who I am trying to become. For the purpose of this writing, I’m going to begin at middle/high school. I probably had it way better than most kids who grew up fat. I didn’t get made fun of, I never felt secluded, and I was deemed “cool” and ran with “popular” crowd. I was the fat funny kid; class clown if you will. People love that kid and tend to gravitate towards him for whatever reason. Life was pretty similar compared to my skinny friends, with the exception of me arguing with every P.E. teacher ever about how could you grade me based on how fast I can run a mile? WTF!? Of course we couldn’t share clothes, I would get picked close to last in team sports (Fact: if I was picked last, we probably won. I was a sleeper). In those days, my weight bothered me, but I didn’t obsess about it and it didn’t consume my thoughts and actions -- something that would later develop down the road. Most people are familiar with the phrase “freshman 15”; well I had the high school senior 60. The first 2 years of college were pretty standard, just going through the motions, enjoying being on my own, partying, meeting tons of new people blah, blah, blah. I do recall during my pledge semester we would occasionally have a brother led, team building, physical training session…okay, it was hazing, but it was fine. And I remember them screaming at me to do pushups and sprints and I couldn’t, not because I was taking a stand for anything, but because I physically could not do it. I think it caught them off guard and they were like “F, well, now what do we do with him”. My junior year my dad passed away and that is really where I pinpoint my weight spiraling out of control, keep in mind, I was probably at or above 300 lbs. at that time, so spiraling out of control from that weight only meant bad things. This is when I transitioned from fat to obese in my mind. Suprisingly, the worst part of that transition was not the physical appearance -- it was my mental and emotional state. At that time, I pretty much just cut myself off from a lot of great people in my life; High school friends, old roommates, college friends, frat brothers, etc… So embarrassed by the way I looked, I didn’t want to go out, I didn’t want to meet new people, I didn’t even want to see friends of mine. Of course, the only way I dealt with this was to eat. I was an emotional eater. And I had a lot of emotions. So I did a lot of eating, and I was eating the worst types of food possible; highly caloric, highly processed, full of sugar and carbs. My last 2 years at UCF were pretty miserable. I was moody, irrational, crabby, angry, negative, and just fed up with everything, and by everything, I really mean myself. Ask my roommates, I was probably not a pleasure. I made a big deal about small things and generally just had a negative demeanor about myself. I was so fed up with my situation that I didn’t even bother attending my graduation, I had my diploma shipped to me and said peace to Orlando and UCF. I graduated college and moved back home. I actually took it upon myself to get in shape, I went at it for about 4 months or so, lost about 40 or 50 lbs., but eventually fell off and put it all back on, PLUS more. The same things transpired in South Florida, I would eat and eat. Continue to turn down invites from friends. Alienate myself from the world. I basically became an introvert. While I loved to eat at restaurants, I now started to just pick it up, because I didn’t want to run into people and have them see the shape I was in. When I was with friends, I would never let pictures be taken of me, because that’s when it got real. Obviously, I have mirrors in my house, but there is a big difference between looking in a mirror and seeing what you want to see, and what you actually look like in a picture. Allow me to paint a picture of what someone who is a couple Big Macs away from 400 lbs. has to deal with in normal everyday life. Think about it this way, the biggest guys in the NFL weighs 330-360 lbs. except they are usually 6’ 4” +, I am 5’ 8”. First, you wake up from a full night’s sleep (you probably snore so loud no one can sleep in the same area as you) and you are still tired. Your back and knees hurt from carrying around all the weight. You have no energy, no drive, and no motivation. You are no longer shopping at the mall; you are only at big and tall stores. You’re not fitting in booths at restaurants. You’re winded from walking a single flight of stairs. Any towel that is not a beach towel is not going to be close to wrapping around your waist. Movies and sporting events, good luck in those chairs. You are looked at by everyone in everyplace you go. Flying -this was actually the worst case scenario. The seatbelts wouldn’t fit around me. I would do my best to make it appear as if it was securely fastened, but I was usually busted. Those were some of my most embarrassing moments. Having the stewardess come over and bring you an extra seat belt. Everyone to your immediate left and right are aware what is going on and I usually just played it off with a joke, but inside, I was hurt. These are just some examples of what I dealt with. At this point, my weight robbed me on the inside of everything I use to be. I had no more confidence, no more charisma, charm, or moxie. I was a shell of my old self. Now, as I sit here and write this, I think to myself how could someone who has clearly felt so strongly about something for over a decade, had so many negative experiences, so many unnecessary obstacles, so many challenges, continue to carry on and not make a change? And to this day, I still do not know. I know that I was in a rut, a big, dark, deep, rut. It’s a real shitty place to be in when you want something so bad, it’s all you think about, dream about, and yet you can’t find the motivation or strength to do anything about it. I brainwashed myself. I would think things like “It’s not that bad, I can deal with it” (DUMB), “Maybe this is just what God has in store for me” (DUMBER), “It’s too much weight to lose, it’s impossible” (DUMBEST SHIT EVER). I would think about how I needed to move out of Florida, find new friends, get new hobbies, a new job, etc… But what I really needed -- was a new me. When you get to a place where you become so upset and angry with yourself, it’s real hard to find peace and happiness. I don’t care who you are, what you do, who is in your life, or how much money you make – if you do not love yourself, you will find it real hard to love anything or anyone else. And that’s where I was. I think it’s important that I do address that over the past decade I did have amazing moments, adventures, relationships, emotions, and happiness. I wasn’t just some somber depressed human being. I had many amazing, incredible, happy times, but there is difference between having moments and waking up and living a happy and positive life as I do today, because when those moments end, its back to reality. My weight was a burden on my life - both literally and physically, I carried it around with me everywhere I went. I know the type of person I am, the quality of life I envisioned for myself, the quality of life I deserved. And because of everything I have discussed, I knew someday, some point, it would click. The light would go on and I would make a change. I also know this, because I have saved every t- shirt I ever received from high school, homecomings, debate team. My fraternity shirts at college, and all my blue star staff shirts. Any time I got a shirt, I would save it, because they were never printed in my size, so essentially, I never wore any of them. I saved them because I knew I would have my day. Now, if you’re still reading, you’re probably interested in what steps I took both in the gym and with my diet to lose the weight. At the time, I weighed 380 lbs. I had a body fat percentage of 53% (The American Council on Exercise deems someone my height and my age obese at anything over 25%). The gym scale couldn’t even register my weight, and there is a good chance I exceeded that at some point in the prior months. I met with a team member at YouFit and I remember him introducing me to my trainer for my first consultation, he asked me to write down how much weight I wanted to lose. I wrote down 181 pounds - significant, because I wanted to weigh 199 pounds. I needed my weight to start with a 1, a weight I hadn’t been in probably 14 years. He looked at the paper and laughed, not to disrespect me, but because he said most people start with 30 or 50 lbs. I responded with “this isn’t about trying to get a bathing suit summer body, this is deeper -- This is my life. My health. My happiness”, he didn't say anything, he didn't have to. He just bit his lip and nodded his head. He saw the look in my eyes and the tone in my voice. And as the saying goes “the rest is history” The gym routine: I had a trainer for the first 4 months to teach me the basics, the fundamentals, how to use things, how to not get hurt. He wasn’t there to motivate and scream at me, I had all the motivation I needed already. I would go at least 5 days a week, but usually 6 and rest on Sunday. 2hr - 2hr30 min sessions, mainly based around weight training and plenty of floor work for stretching, abs, and core. I would never do more than 2 miles of any type of cardio (1 mile warm up, 1 mile cool down). There are a million articles online about how lifting is 10x more beneficial for fat loss than steady state cardio, plus you get cool muscles. I took no pre workout; all I had were my headphones, a lifetime supply of motivation, and Pandora, shout out to Chief Keef, Katy Perry, and Billy Joel stations. I morphed into a different person in there; singing, dancing, jumping around anything to get me pumped up. I think one of things that really helped me was starting at the bottom, I had no ego. I had no problem using lighter weights so I can maintain perfect form and get the full effect of the exercise. I remember my first day in the gym going to the free weights and being given 5 lb. dumbbells. I was embarrassed and scared. Massive guys around me lifting huge weights and then I show up with 5lb dumbbells in my hands. Jumping around with my fat bouncing everywhere, sweating profusely, breathing uncontrollably, stopping midway through the workout, I just remember thinking these guys are probably like “Look at this kid trying to make a change, we’ll see how long he lasts” About 5 months ago a woman who works the front desk came up to me and actually shared those thoughts with me. She remembered me starting and thinking “he’s got a long way to go, I hope he’s ready, how she kept seeing me in there busting my ass, months going by and still no change in my gym pattern, and she began to think, he’s going to do it!”. Food: In previous weight loss attempts I was successful with following the South Beach Diet, so I started following that again. Fundamentals; low carb, low sugar. Plenty of protein and vegetables with wheat bread and sweet potatoes. I went to LA in October to visit my good buddy Josh, he had been following basically a Paleo type diet, and not only seeing results in weight loss, but also still enjoying any and all meats; chicken, pork, and seafood. Having the ability to eat what I deemed as delicious, savory, rich, fatty foods was quiet appealing to me as I viewed eating burgers, steak, real bacon, and chicken wings as counterproductive to weight loss. On their dining room table was a book titled “Wheat Belly”, I picked it up and started reading, I found it very interesting, very technical and scientific, but was captivated by the theory and science the author (A cardiologist) was applying. I didn’t finish the book, but the day I got back in SFla, I went to the library and rented it. Finished the book and for whatever reason, every word he wrote I believed, which is very unlike me, as I am a huge skeptic. ** There a 1,000 doctors who will say something completely different about nutrition and diet, I’m not telling you this will 100% work for you, everyone’s body is different and responds differently. This is what worked for me, I believe in the science behind it. It’s slowly catching on, but it’s not about fat, calories or portions. The body is a machine and it needs to chemically align for the best results possible**. The basic principles and fundamentals of this program are simple. WHEAT IS THE WORST THING FOR YOU. Essentially, the wheat that is being produced today is not the wheat our great, great grandfathers ate, and wheat IS IN EVERYTHING. It went from a natural 6’ stalk to an 18” weed due to the agriculture business (They want to produce more, and produce it faster and cheaper). The same chemicals in wheat are found in opiates, this is what gives your body the cravings for carbs. The whole notion of wheat bread, whole grains, brown rice and pasta being good for you is bogus according to the author. I have heard it best described as this; Smoking a filtered cigarette vs. a non-filtered cigarette. While the filter may be better than the non-filter, it still doesn’t make it “good” for you. He applies the same principle to wheat. Yes, whole grains are better than white, but NO GRAINS are the best option. The bowl of oatmeal that everyone says to start your day with because it contains “good” and “healthy” grains is actually the worst possible way to start your day according to him. You want to keep your blood sugar level, ideally, on an even plateau throughout the day. The spikes in blood sugar are what causes cravings and tiredness. Eliminate spikes, eliminate cravings and snacking. The book can greater explain everything, I am pulling this all from memory (read it about 14 months ago). I encourage everyone to read it or at least read the executive summary of it, it has completely changed my views on food, the body, and how they interact with each other. A week of eating consists of chicken (breasts, wings, dark and white meat), pork (ribs, bacon, shoulder, chops, and belly), seafood (any fish, shrimp, scallops, crab, and lobster), and meat (ground meat, steaks, and burgers). Eggs. Avocado. Sausage, hot dogs, bacon, deli meat (must be nitrate free). All vegetables (no potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, beans, or anything starchy etc...). Fruit- this is where people get fooled, all fruit is not created equally. It contains lots of sugar. Yes, it’s natural sugar, but, your body doesn’t know the difference from 30 grams of sugar from a pineapple or a snickers bar. Two handfuls a day. (Low glycemic fruit – any berries, apples, cherries, citrus. Stay away from pineapple, watermelon, bananas, mango – yes, all the delicious ones). Nuts- any and all (Dry roasted with no salt). No dressings, marinades, condiments, sauces, or dips (all contains sugar, carbs, and wheat). I use fresh herbs, garlic, lemon, spices, and dry rubs. Olive oil, real butter, and coconut oil, use as much as you want. No dairy products. No alcohol. I have no portion limits; I eat when I’m hungry. Drink water (DRINK lots of it, it will flush you out and fill you up. A lot of times that hunger feeling you get in your stomach is actually you being dehydrated – I force myself to drink water), black coffee, green tea, almond milk. No artificial sweeteners. No proteins bars, drinks, or shakes (filled with wheat). No supplements or vitamins, I get all I need from fresh fruit and veggie intake. Different varieties of that list is how I have eaten for the past 24 months. I do not miss anything. I eat like a king. At the end of the day, everything I eat or buy is fresh, whole, single ingredient foods. Free of preservatives, antibiotics, and nitrates. Nothing boxed, canned, frozen, or pre-packaged. There are no labels for me to even read. Because I follow this guideline I have turned into a chef by necessity and it’s pretty freaking awesome, fun, and you will impress the ladies. In cooking I've learned you can manipulate anything to taste like something else. Also, with these guidelines meal prep is a huge part of my life. 21 meals in a week. I must make 18 of 21. Meals 19, 20, and 21 are not cheat meals, but I know if I go out to eat and order those types of foods they won’t be how I buy and prepare them. Meal prep is annoying, time consuming, and tedious, but is 100% the reason I have been so effective in my weight loss. I am now KING of Tupperware. Everywhere I go it comes with me. I pack lunch when I go to the beach with my friends or if we are just hanging out watching a game. I was the guy at Art Basel with a zip locks full of nuts and dried fruit in my pockets, because I wasn’t going to eat from food trucks. I’m that guy the TSA agents look at funny because my carry on has hard boiled eggs, chicken breasts, and nuts in it – I’m not eating the food in the terminal or the snacks on the plane. You must put yourself in position to succeed, do not be your own saboteur! Temptation exists everywhere you go, the only way to truly fight it is to be prepared. Cheat meals/days. In the beginning I needed it. It would only be an item, not even a meal. If you are obsessing over it – that is not healthy. Indulge, and move on. As time went on, my desire for them was very minimal, I was so locked in I didn’t need it. Now, I am at a point where I have one full day starting at lunch of mass indulgent behavior -- they are epic! And my friends weirdly want to take part in it. I think the biggest misconception in losing weight is that it’s a physical grind, and while that may exist, I felt the mental aspect of it was way more challenging. In the beginning, I would I have daily conversations in my head about making the right choices. “Should you be eating this? Is it worth it? Think about what you’re doing, go drink some water”. I have developed the notion that we are set up to fail. Everyone’s job probably has a day where they bring in bagels or donuts. Someone is dropping off snack bowls and dishes. Lunches are being ordered. The radio and TV are advertising some new fast food creation. Happy hours are being organized. Holidays, parties, and events are common place. Time restrictions, family affairs, and running late are normal. Having a social life, going out to eat, going to a bar. All these factors, plus more, go into choices you make, and it so easy to make the wrong the choice, especially if 3 or 4 of these happen on the same day. You must be focused, mentally tough, and have a game plan for the day (meal prep). In the beginning I would need to excuse myself from the table and take a lap around the parking lot to clear my mind when my friends were dominating wings and fries at the table, and there is nothing wrong with that. You must be mentally tough. If every person who wanted to lose weight was sent to an island with no distractions, no work schedules, no friends inviting them to stuff -- everyone would be successful. Finding the time to balance it all and make it work for you is crucial to success and your happiness. No one can make you lose weight. I have found it to actually be one of the only things in life that you have complete control over. You can bust your ass at work and not be recognized, you can charm and try to impress the girl of your dreams, but if she’s not into you, it’s not happening. Every time you pick up a piece of food you are making a conscious decision. It’s up to you how active you want to be -- you don’t need a gym membership. Its hard work, but you have control over every aspect of it, so if the results are not what you want, you have no one to blame but yourself. Hard work was something I have never really been familiar with. In a way, this journey was like a giant metaphor for my life. Since school I have always been looking for the shortcut or the easiest way to do something. You can’t cheat hard work and there are no shortcuts when it comes to losing weight. That’s the great thing about this – put in the work and you will see the results. For a long time I had family, friends, and doctors sit me down and have very real and very serious talks with me about the risk I was putting myself at for an early death. They were all right, but I never did anything about, I would just “yes” them to death and move on. Because of everything I mentioned (distractions/temptations), you need to be fully committed and fully invested or nothing will happen. Every cliché or saying you have ever heard about hard work, seeing results, persistence, blah blah, blah, is true. There is no secret committee who gathers to create false hope and clichés. At some time, someone accomplished something they never thought they would, and boom! Sayings were born. You get what you put in, and I put in everything I had for 24 months. No more excuses. Failing was not an option. The two most common questions I get asked are “how did you do it?” and “How were you able to be consistent for so long?” The first was answered above with my exercise and meal programs. The second stemmed from all those negative feelings and experiences, and in case I wasn’t clear about that, let me take this time to make it very clear; I have never wanted anything more in my life than what I was working for. No work schedule, vacation, party, holiday, time crunch, family reunion, or event function was going to stop me from finding the gym or making the right food choice. No bite, slice, scoop, sip, sliver, or morsel of anything was going to make me feel the way I feel about myself right now. It’s the reason I went to the gym at 545am when I have an 930am flight or at 7 am on a Saturday because my friends and I have beach plans at 10am. I have waited my entire life to be the person I am today. I am the greatest version of myself I have ever been. I do a lot of reading about other people’s weight loss and journey and one of the more interesting comments I read was from Jennifer Hudson, who has won a Grammy and an Academy award. She has earned the highest level of achievement in singing and acting, and yet, she claims her greatest accomplishment was her weight loss. While I will never win a Grammy or an Oscar, I do have many personal and professional goals to achieve, and I am hard-pressed to believe that no matter what I end up accomplishing, it will never give me the pride, satisfaction, happiness, and self-worth that this journey has given me. Another thing I noticed about losing weight is everyone you know and even those you don’t, will be there to support you. It is very relatable for almost every person, because at some point in everyone’s life they either tried to lose weight (fat) or gain weight (muscle), and no matter if they succeeded or failed, they succeeded or failed due to commitment, focus, and determination. As pictures began to surface on social media I would get messages from people I haven’t spoken to in years telling me how great I looked and how proud they were of me. There were actually a good amount of people who had nice and sweet things to say about me, but for whatever reason didn’t feel comfortable sharing it with me --don’t worry, my friend’s rock and I routinely get screen shots of complimentary messages (busted). I learned the power of words. Some of my greatest days were the people at work in other departments, the gym, and the butcher at whole foods who doesn't know me, or even my name, and they certainly don’t owe me anything, but they see me constantly and have literally seen me transform. They shared with me how amazed and incredible it was what I’m doing. Those interactions made my day and usually my week, and kept me pushing that much harder. I don’t blame anyone who didn’t think I was possible of seeing this journey out, I never showed anyone anything that would make someone think I was capable of this. 24 months ago - I didn’t think it was possible. Here I am today ready to take the next step in my journey. Thank you. Peace and Love.