Michael Searls vividly recalls the time he knew his weight had gotten out of hand. He was in the store buying pants—he knew he’d put on a few pounds, and figured he was now too big for his usual 32 or 34 waist size. After he tried sliding on a pair of 38’s, however, he realized they were still nowhere close to fitting. “I panicked that day. I ended up putting on a size 46, and I remember being in the fitting room just looking at myself with tears in my eyes, not believing I was that size,” he says.
Searls, 30, who works as an overnight manager for Wal-Mart in Sioux City, Iowa, says his weight peaked at nearly 380 pounds. He’d gained most of it due in part to struggling with depression and inactivity following an auto accident in his early twenties, which left him immobile and unable to eat solid foods. His diet, likewise, gravitated towards soft, unhealthy foods like mashed potatoes and pudding.
But while Searls says he felt awful that day in that changing room, that moment wasn’t his true turning point. Even more frustrating, he says, was when he stepped on the scale a few months later, after trying in earnest to diet and exercise more frequently, to check his progress. “At the time I thought I was doing really good with my weight, but when I stepped on the scale it read 335 pounds—and the scale only went up to 350,” he says. “I just stood there and thought, ‘I really need to do something different.'”
Searls says he started by taking a more honest assessment of his diet. Following the recommendation of a colleague, he looked into the keto diet—spending days researching its pros and cons. “I would read papers and listen to podcasts and YouTube videos all day until I felt that I had sufficient information,” he says. “I was about to go against all of the information I’d been given my whole life, which was ‘fat makes you fat,’ but I decided the worst thing that could happen is I would gain weight again. And if I did, then I would just stop the diet.”
To Searls’ suprise, however, the diet worked—in the first month, he lost about 10 pounds. After adding weight training and light cardio, the weight continued to fall off. Month after month, he’d see his weight trending downwards. (He now says he lifts almost exclusively, and has cut down on the amount of cardio he does.) In the first two to three years, Searls estimates he lost about 80 pounds, and he’s lost more than 20 pounds since then. His old pants started to fit fit again, too—he dropped from a size 40 to a size 30. “I feel great. My confidence is at an all-time high, and so is my energy. I’d be lying if I said I still don’t see myself as a fat guy or a big guy, but that’s a mental block I’m working on,” he says.
Now, Searls says, he’s working on keeping the fat off while building more muscle, and is considering getting into bodybuilding. “Now that I’m slimmer, I’m noticing that I have a pretty good frame for the sport, and it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do.” For people just getting started, Searls says the key to his success was doing his homework ahead of time. There’s no solution that works for everyone, and it’s crucial to figure out what’s best for you. “If you stay consistent and do the research, you’ll find what works for you, and it’ll make all the difference.”