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Please, he said, no sirens: He didn't want the neighbors to point and stare. But when the ambulance arrived, it was with a flash of lights and an ear-piecing blare. Neighbors peeked out through their windows. It took four or five people to get Zuniga's 831-pound body into the ambulance, carrying him on a giant sheet. At the hospital, doctors told him they could treat the immediate problem, a serious obesity-related infection, but his enormous weight was almost too much for his legs.
"It was very grim," recalled Zuniga. "I wish I could say the doctors were very inspiring, they gave me positive news, but nobody gave me anything to look forward to."
Five years later, as he tells his story in a downtown
"You put me in a gym with anybody, I don't care who," he said with a twinkle in his dark eyes. "On the bike, in the pool, I can go."
Weight losses as big as Zuniga's are extremely rare, according to
"It's extremely inspiring," Thomas said of Zuniga's weight loss. "It shows what can be achieved, via major lifestyle changes."
Zuniga, who has not had weight-loss surgery, according to his doctor, weighed 330 pounds when he graduated from high school; for much of his adult life, he was in the 400-to-500-pound range. He worked hard as a salesman, a public insurance adjuster and a real estate investor, he said, and he dealt with work stress by going out drinking with his friends about four nights a week. Drinking led to eating; he'd often finish a night with pizza or hamburgers.
His weight spiraled upward starting in 2005, and he basically stopped leaving his house in late 2009, though he was still able to work. His parents helped him and urged him to lose weight, he said, but he was like the drug addict who won't change until he hits rock bottom.
Rock bottom came when he was hospitalized in 2011. He remembers looking out the window on a bright summer day.
"I saw my life passing by me," he said. "There was always work, work, work. Drink, drink, drink to relieve the stress. Eat, eat, eat. That was my life. I said, 'To hell with that.' If my credit gets hurt, to hell with it. If I die, what am I going to do (with good credit)? I kind of let it go. I said, 'Whatever's going to happen is going to happen. I've got to take care of myself.'"
He applied for
The app gave him calorie counts for the foods he was eating - for him, a real game-changer. He was surprised to learn a latte, croissant and low-fat muffin came in at an eye-popping 800 calories. He was actually eating 3,000 calories a day. He joined Lose It! - available at the
He quickly began losing 30 to 40 pounds a month and was down to 627 pounds by
Today, Zuniga, who lives with his mother and his 14-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, is working again as a public insurance adjuster. Like many of the people who beat the weight-loss odds, he eats very carefully and exercises religiously. He's hard on himself, he says, because he has to be: For him, food is an addiction, and he can gain weight very easily. He stays away from alcohol, eats high-protein foods and a lot of steamed vegetables, and drinks about a gallon of water a day.
"I started traveling, and that's what keeps me in line. That's my prize," said Zuniga, who recently went to
There are everyday rewards too. He has gone from not being able to wear street clothes to shopping for regular sizes. Sometimes, he said, he is caught off guard by his own image, glimpsed in a store mirror.
"Wow!" he will say to himself. "That's me."
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