For most of his life, Curtis Stream’s weight followed a familiar pattern: Hefty as a kid, he thinned out in high school, then gained some weight during his first year of college. Things yo-yo’d for a while after that until, years later, he settled into a relationship.
“My weight started to get out of control because I made bad choices with food and never exercised,” he says. “Honestly, I used food to cope—my relationship and living situation was very stressful, and not healthy for me in retrospect.”
Stream, 28, who now works as a program manager for a marketing company in Georgia, says that a combination of factors led to stress eating—ranging from struggling with finances to having incompatible work schedules with his partner. As his weight climbed, he also started to develop problems with his self-image.
“I absolutely hated the way I looked when I got big, but with how generally unhappy I was with everything else in my life, I couldn’t imagine punishing myself in the gym on top of what I was already feeling,” he says. “So, I turned to food. I just wanted to relax and eat. But the more I did, the worse I felt about myself. Overall, I would use food to feel good and to mask my depression.”
His turning point arrived during a routine checkup at the doctor’s office for a sore throat. Stepping onto the scale, he was shocked to realize that he weighed 278 pounds—the heaviest he’d ever been. His doctors also warned him that his blood pressure was through the roof: “Apparently, it was so high the nurse called it ‘stroke level’ and gave me a pill that she said I had to take or they couldn’t let me leave,” he says.
It was enough of a scare to inspire Stream to take stock of his eating habits, and for the next few months, the scale moved in the right direction—dropping down to 240 pounds. But it didn’t last. “Once I felt like I had accomplished some success, I fell back into my poor diet, coping with food, making excuses, and ended up gaining the weight back,” he says. As if that wasn’t enough of a setback, his personal life also took a turn for the worst: His girlfriend of five years decided to leave him.
“The world I knew I had come to an end. I was alone. No more having someone I cared about to come home to, no more being a stepfather and helping provide for a family or feeling a purpose. It was my ultimate low,” he says. After a few weeks of sleeping on the couch and slowly packing his things, he moved back into his parents’ home. “I knew I needed to make a change,” he says.
The first step: Cut out all soda, beer, and alcohol. Fast food, too, with the exception of the occasional grilled market salad from Chick-Fil-A. He also started going for long walks on his lunch breaks, and kept his dinner light—often a couple of eggs and toast. Even his cheat meals were fairly modest—mostly just chips ‘n salsa, queso, some shrimp tacos. He started eating slower, too, really trying to savor the food he was having. Eventually, it got to the point where he craved protein from lean meat more than fried foods.
He also joined a gym—at first, he’d go late at night, around 10 pm. “I was embarrassed by my body and intimidated the bodies of those who attended regularly,” he says. He started slow, jogging and walking, and gradually added lifting routines using free weights and dumbbells. After working his way up to four or five days a week at the gym, he was suddenly losing so much weight that he could feel himself getting weak. “That’s when I realized I needed to start eating again, so I could have fuel for exercise,” he says.
Over the span of about four months from September 2017 to January 2018, Stream lost roughly 70 pounds—enough to qualify as a dramatic transformation, but he wasn’t finished. By the following February, he was down to 180. And by July 2018, he hit 15o. Now hovering around 155, he’s working on building strength and adding muscle to improve his definition. More importantly, however, his mental health has improved dramatically in the wake of his physical transformation.
“Exercising was therapeutic,” he says. “I felt like I’d thawed away the depression that I was frozen in. I’m so much more energetic, confident, and positive.” That said, like everyone, Stream still has his off days. When he’s feeling less than motivated, he goes in search of a note that he wrote to himself during his lowest point back in 2017.
“Whenever I feel too tired to get dressed and go to the gym, I read my note, remember everything I’ve gone through, and remind myself of where I want to be and how I need to get there,” he says. The note reads:
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