Tom Parks is a fit, trim 32-year old trumpet player and an accomplished K-12 music teacher living in Monroe, Michigan. He is the image of health, but it hasn’t always been that way. In June 2014, Tom suffered from high blood pressure, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, and diabetes. He weighed 340 pounds. Life was looking pretty short and Tom decided to seek a surgical solution: gastric bypass surgery.
Tom was always the overweight kid. And he had a severe stutter, which still plagues him to this day. Both conditions were probably attributable to a combination of genetics (his brother also struggles with weight) and some childhood trauma related to being raised by drug-addicted parents.
By 5th grade, Tom’s parents did a couple of things that changed the trajectory of his life. They bought him a used trumpet, which would serve him very well, and their continual struggle with drugs landed Tom in foster care for a year. The separation from his family left some deep emotional scars that are still with him today.
After being returned to his family, the drug issues continued but his parents’ marriage did not. Tom spent time living with each parent, but mainly stayed with his dad. Despite having to call 911 many times when his dad overdosed, Tom and his dad became very close. Then in June 2001, Tom saw his dad using again. He’d had enough and told his dad he was leaving for good. His dad died from an overdose later that night. The guilt Tom felt for not being there was enormous and the sorrow overwhelming. Tom spent the last 2 years of high school living on his own, charting his own course in the world. Through talent and determination, he auditioned on his time-worn trumpet to win a full talent scholarship for Jazz Studies at Wayne State University.
“The university scholarship was my one-way ticket out of misfortune; it offered the glimmerings of a brighter future ahead.”
In June 2010, Tom graduated from Wayne State and began teaching. Things were looking up, including his weight. By 2013, he was at his heaviest at 340 pounds when he met his future wife, Chelsea. “The day she first said hello to me was the best day of my life,” he says. It was the inspiration he needed to start making some changes.
SEEKING A SURGICAL SOLUTION
While his parents were addicted to drugs, Tom had his own bad addictions: sugar and food. “Soda was my weakness. I could drink several 2-liter bottles and eat an entire large pizza in 1 sitting,” he says.
For years, Tom had attempted to lose weight by working out. But he couldn’t overcome his bad eating habits and sugar addictions. Finally after much research and a good deal of desperation, Tom decided to move forward with gastric bypass surgery. It was a drastic, life-altering measure and exactly what Tom needed.
Tom says he knew he would lose weight with the surgery alone, but he wanted more than that. He wanted to lose the weight, keep his skin as tight as possible, and learn about the nutrition needed to go along with the procedure to successfully achieve maximum results. He was ready to move forward.
PREPARING FOR A NEW LIFE
In June 2014, 2 months before his surgery, Tom decided to start working out smarter. He bought Chelsea and himself their 1st Polar sports watches to track their caloric expenditures at the gym.
“I fell in love with this device the 1st week I used it. I’d burn at least 1,000 or more calories every day by training. The responses I’d get from social media were great and encouraging. It became a rewarding habit to keep aiming for my target 1,000 calorie burn along with the a low calorie diet that I’d need to follow after my gastric bypass.”
A week after Tom’s surgery in August 2014, all of his obesity-related health issues disappeared. “I was off insulin. I was off all of my medications. I started dropping clothing sizes like crazy,” he says. Originally a size 4XL shirt and a 48-inch waist, Tom now wears a large and has a 34-inch waist.
The shrinking metrics are great, but the best reward has been feeling great. “I feel so alive and have inspired many of my students to also pay attention to their bodies and their nutrition,” he says. “I am happy to know people can come to me to help make positive changes in their lives.”
“Sure, I still cheat and take a bite of something I shouldn’t. But the gastric bypass quickly checks me, and it makes me really regret that bad decision.”
Gastric bypass forced Tom to relearn how to eat and make more healthful selections. He admits it was not an easy choice. He knew it was a radical step, requiring him to keep his portions small and look for sugar-free options to avoid feeling ill. “I don’t have the option to go back and reverse it. It is with me for life,” he says. “But I do not regret this decision at all. It has changed my life for the best.” After more than 2 years eating correctly, Tom says his sugar addiction is pretty much gone and the bypass has given him the tools he needs to remain healthy for the rest of his life.
Some days Tom says he looks in the mirror and still sees the 340-pound version of himself. Like Elizabeth Josephson, Tom agrees that weight loss can be as much a mental challenge as a physical one. “I have to keep before and after pictures on hand. I look at them daily to keep my head in the right place, to keep pushing hard to stay where I am. It is a roller coaster of ups and downs. Knowing I have the full support of my wife, my family, my students, the Polar community, and my gym (Go M.A.D. Fitness) helps me to stay on track.”
Tom says part of the trick is to not only build up a community that supports your new lifestyle but also to avoid people that don’t.
“You have to pretty much cut out those people who continue to make bad health choices because they can easily bring you back to your old bad habits”, Tom says.
One of Tom’s biggest supporters is Chelsea. At the start of Tom’s journey, Chelsea made a weight loss board in increments of 10 pounds. “Every 10 pounds I lost, I got to cross off a number and that felt so rewarding. In addition, we’re into fitness and health together. Since my wife and I both use Polar, we make it a daily competition to beat each other in calorie burns at the gym. We come pretty close, but as a good husband, I’ll just say that she wins all of the time,” he laughs.
REWARDS FOR GOOD BEHAVIOR
In addition, Tom gets positive feedback from his Facebook friends and Instagram followers. He says the kudos on his progress that he receives from social media sites keeps him pushing harder the next day. Currently he’s doing 90 minutes of cardio 6–7 times a week on the treadmill and has visions of running a 5K in his sights. Now that he uses the Polar M400 GPS running watch, it has encouraged him to take his workouts outdoors.
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In December 2015, Tom treated himself to a full abdominoplasty to remove the excess skin from his abdomen. He had the procedure done on his 31st birthday as a present to himself for losing the 141 pounds and keeping it off. His next goals are to do some outdoor challenges and also to begin weight lifting to build stronger muscles.
There were other rewards in 2016 for Tom. In April, he completed his Master’s in Educational Leadership K-12 Administration from Eastern Michigan University. A week later, he and Chelsea officially tied the knot. How’s that for a story with a happy ending!
TOM’S TRICKS FOR STAYING ON the weight-loss TRACK
- Whenever I experience a small weight increase, I use it as ammunition to push harder to get right back on track.
- Food cravings never fully go away, especially when the majority of my life has been spent with an addiction to food. Having healthy options on hand makes it easier for me to avoid the temptations of the vending machine.
- Some days I’m what Chelsea calls “hangry” … more hungry than angry. My support team understands my struggles, and they understand my goals even more. Chelsea is always there to remind me of those goals and how far I have come along.
- I consistently use heart rate to monitor which zone I am working out in. I try my best to stay in the middle heart rate zone (3) to keep my body in fat burning mode while still conditioning my heart.
- I keep photos of heavier me on hand to remind myself daily what I’ve achieved and how much better I feel. Temptations lose their strength in the face of hard-won achievements.