Weight-loss stories usually come with triumphant before-and-after photos, but Cole Prochaska says sharing his picture was one of the most difficult things he’s ever done.
He lost 360 pounds, but struggled with the excess skin left over from his transformation and was extremely self-conscious about the aftermath.
“But then I thought, I’ve got to show people where I’m at,” Prochaska, 39, tells TODAY.com.
“It’s really helped because it’s like, well, everyone in the world has seen it. So what’s the big deal?”
Indeed, millions of people saw Prochaska’s photos after his story was published on TODAY.com in June.
Afterwards, he says strangers recognized him and would come up to him to mention the article. “It’s pretty crazy,” Prochaska notes.
People from around the world follow him on social media, including many from Brazil, he’s noticed.
Trapped by loose skin
Prochaska once weighed so much that he reached the maximum number his scale could display: 585 pounds.
He’s sure he was even heavier than that in 2021 after years of overeating, so he can only estimate his incredible weight loss since then. Prochaska lost the 360 pounds without surgery or weight-loss drugs, he says. He’s never felt better, he adds.
But his health journey isn’t over yet as he struggles with the excess skin.
“I’m trapped,” says Prochaska, who is a store manager and lives in St. Matthews, South Carolina.
“I’ve lost all this weight and I have muscles, but if I take my shirt off, I’m still self-conscious about all the loose skin. I’ve got loose skin on my legs, so if I try to go running, it’s hard to run. … I have to wear a pant size bigger than I should because I’ve got my skin tucked into my pants from my stomach.”
As he turned to GoFundMe to raise money for surgery to remove the extra skin, Prochaska decided to post a shirtless photo of himself to show the extent of the problem.
“I needed to show everybody all the skin I have and how far I’ve come and just embrace it. And that’s what I did,” he recalls.
Weight gain: ‘I felt pretty bad’
Prochaska was always a big kid who just kept getting bigger as he became an adult.
He blames overeating and a sedentary lifestyle, recalling that he regularly went through bags of chips and could drink a 12-pack of soda cans in a day. At fast food restaurants, he would order five cheeseburgers in a sitting and could eat a whole pizza “easy.” He estimates he was eating 5,000 calories a day.
Exercise was impossible because Prochaska was too out of breath to do anything.
“I felt pretty bad,” Prochaska recalls.
“I would always put on a happy exterior because that’s what a lot of big people do. But I was a pretty lonely person. You don’t want to go to anything because you don’t want to have to worry about fitting in the chairs and worry about having to walk very far, what you’re going to wear.”
He had never walked on a beach or attended a pool party without a shirt on. Going to the water park made him cringe.
The breaking point came when a seven-year relationship was coming to an end.
“I knew she had lost respect for me because I was just a really big person and didn’t do anything, and I wasn’t going anywhere in life where I needed to go,” Prochaska says.
“I was trying to save the relationship. I didn’t save the relationship, but I saved myself.”
His first step was just to start walking — a couple of blocks at first, then a little farther every day.
He started to eat healthier. He cut out all sweets, snacks and chips; replaced the sugary drinks with water; started to count calories and began eating a high-protein diet.
It didn’t take long for Prochaska to start to feel better, so he decided to keep going. He joined a gym and started doing body weight exercises and then lifting heavy weights.
Prochaska says he walks at least 10,000 steps “every day, no matter what.”
When TODAY.com caught up with him in December, he was averaging about 15,000 steps a day and broke his record of 27,000 steps in one day.
He does it by walking around a lot in his job at a big box store, then walking on a treadmill for 20 to 30 minutes at the gym. Prochaska also walks down the road on his days off, usually a 5-mile round trip.
Look it’s cold and raining outside. Not a single person would know if I didn’t get at least my 10k steps in.
I didn’t lose 360+ lbs because someone else was holding me accountable.
I hold myself accountable! It’s the only way to take control of your life. pic.twitter.com/XkHoE8zZVk
— Cole Prochaska Weight loss & Health (@3to1fitnesspro) November 26, 2023
His exercise routine also includes lifting weights three times a week at the gym.
He eats a lot of lean beef, ground turkey, chicken and beans. He skips pasta, but still enjoys bread and other carbs in moderation. His goal is to eat 2,000 to 2,500 calories a day. He says he avoids chips and sweets because he’s still addicted to them.
“It was just me making up my mind that this is it, it’s going to be a life change,” he says. “I feel so great.”
Prochaska now weighs about 226 pounds and has been able to maintain that number.
Surgery for loose skin
But there’s still the matter of the extra skin. In the spring of 2023, Prochaska flew to California — his first flight ever — to meet a plastic surgeon he connected with online.
Skin removal surgery is a specialized subset of cosmetic surgery and involves a range of body contouring procedures, according to the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery.
It can help patients feel better and exercise with greater ease, though several weeks off may be required to recover and there may be visible scars, the organization notes.
The plan is to remove excess skin from Prochaska’s upper body first, including his chest and arms, then go from there — possibly three to five surgeries over two years, starting in 2024, Prochaska says.
He’s not sure yet how much the procedures will cost.
His weight-loss tips
Prochaska says he wanted to lose weight on his own rather than turning to weight-loss drugs like Ozempic or bariatric surgery.
Here’s his advice for others as New Year’s resolutions season arrives:
Just keep showing up: Go to the gym, take a walk, get your heart pumping. Creating a habit is key.
It’s all about you and holding yourself accountable: “It’s me versus me every day — I’m trying to get a little bit better every day,” he says.
Stay in a calorie deficit and keep moving: Just start by walking for a couple blocks and then back.
“I just want to keep helping inspire as many people as possible to overcome whatever it is that they’re battling, but definitely people who are trying to lose weight,” Prochaska notes.
“You’re never too far gone. It’s never too late. You can always come back.”
This article was originally published on TODAY.com