Growing up, Alan Christiansen would use food to reward himself for a job well done.
“I would accomplish something and want a special treat in return,” Christiansen, 33, tells PEOPLE.
But it was never just a small indulgence. He would pair Burger King Whoppers with Twix bars and order large meals from McDonald’s as a snack. “I gained the weight in the first place because of an addiction to food,” he says. “Food made things better.”
In seventh grade, Christiansen says he was “cute chubby,” but by the time he graduated high school, he weighed 310 lbs. He added another 40 lbs. in college thanks to yo-yo dieting.
By 31, Christiansen had hit 538.8 lbs. and his relationship with food was even worse. To satisfy his cravings he would go to three fast food restaurants for one lunch — Jack in the Box, McDonald’s and Dairy Queen — consuming more than 6,000 calories.
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The physical toll of being so heavy was a burden in itself. “I couldn’t stand up in a shower for ten minutes,” he says. “Even doing dishes and cooking required a chair.”
Christiansen also remembers chairs that could not hold his weight. One of his most embarrassing moments, he said, was when he was dining at a resort in Idaho. “I was sitting at a nice restaurant and fell to the floor, breaking through the chair,” he says. “I felt awful.”
Still, it took his weight affecting his then 3- and 5-year-old daughters to make him realize how dire the situation had become. “I gave everything to my job,” says the maintenance supervisor. “ coming home and having nothing left for my wife and kids, taking two-hour naps after work. My two little girls were watching themselves, they had no supervision. What a wake-up call.”
The Otis Orchards, Washington, native adds that he was basically a “non-existent dad” and a “lazy husband” because he was “limited in all physical activities.” Once, one of his daughters drew a family portrait and his body was just a “large circle taking up half the page.”
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In December 2016, he decided to make a change by eating six small, healthy meals a day. In less than a month, he dropped 20 lbs., and then signed up for Optavia, a coach-based wellness program that offers diet and exercise plans.
Christiansen started following a low-sugar, low-carb, high-protein diet with lots of water. As he continued to lose weight, he was able to introduce exercise into his wellness plan.
“At 500 lbs. I heavily relied on a golf cart to get things done on my 7-acre property at work,” he says. “I eliminated it and began walking everywhere. Walking is the key,” he says. He kept up the commitment after hours, too, walking around his neighborhood. “I did one loop at a time, then it was two, then three loops, and eventually a 5-mile nightly neighborhood walk. I pushed through the pain sitting on curbs when I had to.”
The weight fell off so quickly — he lost 291 lbs. in one year — that on Facebook he was known as the “Incredible Shrinking Man.” After 18 months, he had dropped a total of 317 lbs., and now currently maintains his weight of 221 lbs.
“I’m a better man, spouse, dad, employee, son, brother and friend to everyone around me,” he says. “I truly feel free from my chains that bound me for so many years — free to live the best life and take advantage of what life has to offer.”
Now Christiansen maintains his weight by eating vegetables like cherry tomatoes and cucumbers and lean proteins like fish, turkey and chicken. But he does allow himself the occasional dessert.
“I have replaced those awful bad eating habits with smart choices and an educated mind,” he says. “I control what fuels my body.”
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And although he feels healthier, Christiansen says the most rewarding part of his weight loss journey is being able to be present for his wife and children.
“My daughter saying ‘best dad ever,’ really hits my heart.”