Rafael Zuniga had always been overweight, but he barely recognized himself in 2011. That’s the year he endured a harsh break-up that sent him spiraling to 831 pounds. It’s also the year that he had to call an ambulance to his home, the year it took five paramedics to carry him out of his front door and the year doctors told him he might not walk again if he didn’t lose weight. Moreover, that’s why 2011 was the year Rafael Zuniga decided to change his life, too.
The Chicagoan readily admits that he had always sought comfort in food. He consequently reached 330 pounds by the time he graduated from school. Moreover, his weight started spiraling out of control completely in 2005.
At the time, he lived with his parents, who begged him to take hold of his life. However, he didn’t listen and by 2009 he barely left his house. In fact, it wasn’t until 2011 that a chain of events led him to changing his life.
Zuniga’s job as a real estate adjuster caused him huge amounts of stress. He consequently used alcohol and fast food to try to dull the anxiety he felt. As a result, he weighed in at between 400 and 500 pounds. Furthermore, when that pre-existing stress combined with a harsh relationship break-up, he ballooned to 831 pounds.
One day in 2011, Zuniga started to feel the symptoms of an oncoming illness: fever and nausea. However, on top of that, he also felt shooting pains in his right leg, which was already extremely swollen.
As a result, he had no choice but to call an ambulance. Zuniga also knew that, at 831 pounds, it would be a challenge to get him out of his home. He consequently begged the 911 dispatcher to have the ambulance turn off its lights and sirens before arriving on his street.
However, he instead heard the emergency vehicle approach, sirens blazing. Blue flashing lights also attracted his neighbors’ attention. He doesn’t know how many people watched as four or five paramedics carried his morbidly obese body from his home.
However, Zuniga does know that this was when he realized it was time for a change. Indeed, he took the decision in the very hospital that the ambulance had taken him to. His doctors gave him both good and bad news. They could treat the obesity-related infection, but his weight was taking a terrible toll on his legs.
In fact, they told him that he may never even be able to walk again, as his weight was simply too much for his legs to carry. He subsequently laid in his bed and looked out of the window to see a beautiful day. A beautiful day that he couldn’t get up and enjoy himself.
“I saw my life passing by me,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “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. Whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. I’ve got to take care of myself.’”
In that moment, Zuniga decided to take charge of his life. He subsequently quit his job to focus entirely on his own health. As he tried to lose weight, he kept himself afloat financially by applying for Social Security Disability Insurance for his lymphedema, which was the condition that had caused his hospitalization.
In many morbidly obese weight-loss success stories, you’ll hear how the protagonist underwent bariatric surgery or another procedure in order to hasten the weight-loss process. However, according to his doctors Zuniga refused any type of surgery. Instead, he did it all on his own.
“I was sitting at the edge of my bed doing sit ups. I refused to believe that I was disabled,” he told KRON4 News. His determination didn’t lead to as much progress as he hoped he’d see, though.
Indeed, he only lost 47 pounds during the first year of his weight-loss efforts. This may seem like a lot, but with a starting weight of 831 pounds Zuniga needed better results if he wanted to regain control of his life.
So, he did some more research. Zuniga started looking into the merits of calorie counting and tracking. He realized that some of his usual meals — a latte, croissant and low-fat muffin were a go-to breakfast, for example — racked up big-time calorie counts.
His entire lifestyle changed when he downloaded an app called LoseIt! to his phone. It provided calorie counts plus tracking for all of the workouts he did. Zuniga subsequently started losing 30 to 40 pounds each month. Moreover, thanks to his disability benefits, he began receiving therapy for his swollen legs in 2013, further improving his physical condition.
It has been six years since the day Zuniga peered out of that hospital room window and saw a world he could hardly experience. He is a sliver of the man he was then, having lost 500 pounds and completely revolutionized his life.
His success is no small feat, either, according to J. Graham Thomas of the National Weight Control Registry. Firstly, it’s extraordinary for someone to be 831 pounds to start with. In addition, most people simply cannot achieve the weight loss Zuniga has through healthy lifestyle choices alone. “It’s extremely inspiring,” Thomas told the Chicago Tribune. “It shows what can be achieved via major lifestyle changes.”
Zuniga still eats cleanly and exercises almost daily. He now weighs 302 pounds. That includes the near 30 pounds of excess skin he carries around with him, a reminder of who he once was — and who he’ll never be again.
Still, there’s also the question of whether Zuniga has recovered mentally from the stresses that led to his ballooning weight. Well, he seems to be doing well in that respect as well. For instance, he has gone back to work in insurance. In addition, he also has a new girlfriend – and a completely new lease on life.