Hometown: Boca Raton, Fla.
Weight Before: 400 lbs
Weight After: 195 lbs
Height: 5' 10"
Even at a nearly immobile 400 pounds, Joey Ricca didn't consider himself fat. "I was always proud of my size," he says. "I thought I was just a big guy. A bouncer type. I used to wear 5X shirts with the sleeves cut off. I didn't think of myself as fat or unhealthy, even when I'd hurt my back getting out of bed and end up lying on the floor for two days."
Despite his denials, Ricca had a major problem, primarily his unhealthy relationship with food. By the time he was 10, he already had high cholesterol. Any attempts his family made to curtail his eating met with churlish resentment—like hiding cupcakes and other foods under his bed. "Even my mother, who's an amazing cook, tried to put me on a diet," Ricca says.
Yet even at his heaviest, Ricca was still a fairly active guy. He played softball and worked long hours as a restaurant manager. But soon his poor habits caught up with him: After a case of food poisoning, his body simply shut down. "I went into anaphylactic shock for nine days," he remembers. "My body just couldn't take all the things I was putting it through. So I decided to undergo gastric bypass surgery."
As expected, the surgery helped the Florida native control his eating, but he knew it was merely a tool for losing weight, not a guarantee that he would become fit for life. "I also had to learn a different way of thinking about food," he says. "After the surgery, my stomach became a pouch about the size of an egg, so I also had to make sure everything I ate was 'pouch worthy.' At first, I just did little things like eating with a baby fork and spoon so I wouldn't fill up too fast. I no longer eat foods that don't produce the effects I want: looking good and feeling good about myself."
Now 32, Ricca has also made a serious commitment to exercise. After initially setting modest goals like walking or riding a bike a few times a week, he soon began lifting weights and became friends with several personal trainers. Their passion for fitness rubbed off and he, too, decided to make fitness and nutritional counseling a career. He earned a personal trainer certification and created a Web site ( qualitynotquantity.org) aimed at helping other overweight men and women turn their lives around.
Today, Ricca is a svelte and toned 195 pounds. Not surprisingly, his health has improved dramatically—so have his relationships with others and his attitude about himself. "The biggest change in my life has been that I'm proud of myself," he says. "I have great moments all the time now. I was in my restaurant the other day, and I went up to this table and they said, 'Hey, does your fat brother still work here?' I actually had to break out my before-and-after pictures to prove that I was the same guy."
Joey's Tip: Switch Things Up.
"When you're trying to remake yourself, you have to embrace change. Get new gym clothes. Paint a room. Buy a new toothbrush. Whatever it takes."