By Monika Tarkowska-Carter, CPT, LWMC, HLC 2
I had the honor of meeting Steve Nicander at the recent IDEA World Fitness Convention in Los Angeles. It took me only a split second to decide to do an interview with him. I wanted to know, how someone so close to death, could find in him the inner strength to get up and fight. How someone sentenced to living in a chair or in bed, could find the motivation to “exercise”. How do you even do it when you weigh over 600 lbs?
I hear excuses from people, some of my clients not excluded, that they really don’t have time to exercise, they have this condition or that, the gym is too far away, it is too cold or too hot, they are too busy, too tired, too everything. How does a person like Steve, manage to lose close to 400 lbs, without being able to really “move”? If anyone could have had excuses, HE should have been the first person to have them, yet once he had made up his mind, he never gave up. I wanted to know more about his journey; what led to his morbid obesity; what was his life like; what made him finally decide to lose the weight for good. I wanted to know more about the impact Dr. Daniel Amen’s book had on him since I met Dr. Amen personally at the IDEA fitness convention.
Here’s Steve’s amazing story:
Contrary to what most people might think, Steve was not a child of obese parents. According to him, they would probably be considered just slightly overweight by today’s standards. Both his mother and grandmother were Old World cooks who relied on simple whole foods for nourishment. Junk food was nonexistent in the house and convenience foods, like sodas and the like, were not allowed. However, the external environment, school being one of the main places, provided enough temptation for the young boy to give into and then hide the facts from his family. As a result, at age 11, Steve was already overweight. From that point on, it only got worse. As it turned out quite recently, part of the initial reason for his weight gain were incorrect hormone levels which were most likely out of balance his entire life. To make matters worse, he was a musician at the time, which made unhealthy lifestyle choices, like drinking and smoking, even more accessible. A combination of low thyroid, as well as low testosterone, created a double whammy, but it was not until depression set in during his teens, that the situation went completely out of control. He turned to alcohol for solace putting in hundreds of empty calories on a daily basis. It was a deadly combination. As hard as it is to believe, at his worst, Steve would consume an entire 0.75L of 100 proof vodka and a half gallon of orange juice every day. He reached his highest weight at age 38, tipping the scales at 638 lbs.
I asked him what factors, in his opinion, led to such morbid obesity: nutritional, physical, psychological, all the above or maybe other. According to him, all three played a significant role, and created a vicious cycle. Asked what inside him allowed this to happen, he responded that depression was the key factor which progressed, along with the weight gain, until he became suicidal and simply stopped caring. He wanted his pain and suffering to cease and was hoping his demise would come quick. He contemplated suicide, but as ludicrous as it might sound, his gun was stored upstairs and he couldn’t get to it, as he was unable to walk up the stairs. When I heard that, I was curious what his life was like during all those years, as it’s easy to imagine that someone with obesity of that level would be hugely limited to just a few basic activities. In Steve’s words, ‘he was barely living at all’. He described his existence as dull and sedentary, with his only links to the outside world being TV, music and computer. One expression in particular, moved me with its incredible sense of reality and tragic: “It was like being trapped within myself and my own internal prison, my personal hell’.
You probably wonder what went through his mind; what feelings stirred inside him; did he hate himself. As you might imagine, there were not many positive feelings: self-loathing, hatred, anxiety, and anger towards himself, society and the whole world. He could not stand getting his picture taken or seeing himself in the mirror for years on end. He didn’t care what other people, including his friends and family, said or thought. Numbness was the overwhelming emotion and the desire for his torturous life of misery to end as soon as possible.
I asked him if he attempted any diets at that time, and if so, were any of them successful. Did he have a plan, if any, for solving the problem? Did he ever ask for help?
Steve, like most people trying to lose weight, tried every single diet he could get his hands on, every Over-The-Counter drug and prescription diet and weight loss pill, as well as cookbooks and various programs. The results were very slight at best – ten pounds here and there, but nothing more. He didn’t have a plan, nor did he care to even think of one. He tried to get some help through information he could find on the computer or in books, but never really reached out to people, except his personal physicians. Those, however, knowing how touchy the subject must have been for him, didn’t even broach it more than a couple times. Steve didn’t really want help, until he was ready to actually do something.
From my own experience with clients, it is never a lack of resources or willingness of others to help, but a lack of willingness on the part of the person in question to accept it. In my opinion, it is useless, in most cases, to try to help someone who is not ready, and Steve was no exception. When I asked him what brought on the final decision to lose weight for good, it turned out it was pain. His neuropathy became so severe that he knew unless he changed his life AND his lifestyle, his health would never improve. At that time, he also suffered from insomnia, and after a 3 week long bout of not sleeping, he finally decided to end the 25 year alcohol addiction, which was a huge contributor to the problem. It was the first step on the path to well-being.
How did he go about the whole process? At the time, he was staying at a physical rehabilitation center following one of many hospital stays. There he bought a laptop computer and started researching the most natural ways of reversing and curing his numerous conditions: morbid obesity itself, as well as all the chronic diseases it brought on. These included COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), arthritis, type 2 diabetes and neuropathy. A couple of months into his journey, his sister Sabrina, who had been his rock through the whole process, bought him a book by Dr. Daniel Amen, entitled “Change Your Brain, Change Your Body”. In it Dr. Amen explains that by giving the brain the right nutrients, as well as some important natural supplements, plenty of water and exercise, the body will actually heal itself, solving the weight issues and reversing disease. The book played a key role in introducing Steve to the concept of whole foods and nutrients they bring. He also used information he learned from Dr. Mehmet Oz, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. David Kessler among others. These are all doctors who use the same approach.
I wanted to know what the first changes he made were, and which made the biggest difference on his road to recovery. The answer didn’t surprise me, and confirmed the one thing I have always advocated to all of my clients – WHOLE, ORGANIC FOODS. Steve completely eliminated processed foods and any “white” foods from his diet, and reduced his sugar intake, bad fats and sodium, THE BIG 3, as he calls them. Since reversal of disease was essential for him, he learned from his research that he had to rely on organic whole foods in order to make the biggest impact on his health and bring on the quickest results. These turned out to be almost immediate – he lost 156 lbs in 4 months and managed to cure his diabetes.
Steve, before the weight loss, with his sister Sabrina
As a Holistic Lifestyle and Nutrition Coach, I deal with the challenges people come across on a daily basis, exercise being one of them. Most are a lot less difficult to overcome than people imagine them to be. This was the first time, however, that I truly saw the magnitude of the challenge, and how much inner strength and determination it must have taken to overcome it. Imagine a body weighing nearly 650 lbs. How can one exercise if one can barely walk? Nearly impossible! Well, Steve turned out to be quite ingenious; he started to improvise by “dancing” in his recliner with wrist and ankle weights and dumbbells, in an effort to raise his heart rate and start sweating in order to burn some fat.
We take so many things for granted. Many people still think that taking a walk outside, or doing a short workout on the treadmill, is torture. Well, sometimes it’s good to see things from a slightly different perspective.
I wondered what Steve’s biggest motivation was then, what it is now and whether it changed at all through the whole process. It turns out, at the beginning it was the weight itself disappearing as quickly as it did, and the 4-month weigh-in that showed a 156 lbs loss. It changed everything for him, because he quickly realized he had basically saved his life. He also saw the potential to help other people, going through the same issues, help themselves. To do that, he started his own Facebook group, Steve’s Massive Weight Loss Fan Page, posting information, articles and various tips on weight loss. By now, it has turned into a life passion he is pursuing by trying to reach as many people across the country and the world as possible.
No matter how successful one might be in as daunting an endeavor as an attempt to lose 450-some pounds, something has to keep them going, since the road is not always easy. Many roadblocks occur on the way, and only the most patient, resilient and committed remain until the end of the race. So what, you might wonder, kept Steve going this whole time? It was the knowledge that other people in need were using his information with great success. Presently, Steve is working on his own reality TV series that he hopes to pitch in the coming months, called Big Dreams. The show will focus on teaching viewers about healthy lifestyle habits that lead to successful weight loss and general wellness. This project has given his life a real purpose. In his own words: "Every time (…) I tell my story, I know I touch people and their lives….his is a huge reason to keep doing what I am now doing!"
One of my questions to Steve was about the dramatic change in his daily life. How different was his life now? What was he actually eating these days? How has his relationship to food changed? The difference between his life now and then is enormous. From bed-ridden, depressed, suicidal alcoholic he transformed himself into a real health activist, safe foods advocate, motivational speaker, moderator, writer and producer of a potential TV show. His life will never be the same mundane existence as years before. Now, every day is a new challenge and a new adventure. And although he was close to death on many occasions, he thinks he was allowed to survive for a reason, and he takes his mission very seriously.
His relationship to food also changed dramatically for the better. Food has become fuel, as it’s intended to be, as well as “medication”. He wholeheartedly believes, as much as I do, in the words of Hippocrates, the Father of Nutritional Healing and Modern Medicine, that state: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. Presently, Steve consumes large amounts of vegetables, and moderate amounts of fruit, seeds, and anything Mother Nature produces. What a change! From a malnourished alcoholic to a veggie munching happy camper. J
I am always curious what people learn from their life journeys. What do they learn about themselves? The whole process becomes an important life lesson and, more often than not, it’s a total transformation. Steve’s was no exception. He learned one of the most valuable lessons one can ever learn: that he was a lot stronger and more resilient than he ever gave himself credit for. He quotes one of his favorite sayings: “You never realize the strength of a Man until you see him at his weakest moment”. In the last year he has finally accepted himself and begun to love himself again. Now, he is trying to pay forward that love to others, to make them realize that by making necessary changes, they too, can transform and save their lives. He learned something that I have believed for many years now - that the solution to chronic disease and illness is a lot simpler than medical science is trying to make it out to be; that by removing chemicals from our bodies (which include medications and alcohol), and relying on NATURAL MEANS, like food, water and specific supplements, we can get a handle on the obesity epidemic in America. However, this will only happen when we can finally understand that we have full control of our health. The choices we make have a direct impact on what quality of health we are going to have. Human body was created to exist and thrive in a state of wellness, and when given proper nutrients and much needed movement, it is amazingly brilliant at healing itself. It is what we DO and DON’T DO that leads to disease and ill health.
I asked Steve what advice he would give to people who struggle with morbid obesity or any weight problems in general. Here’s what he had to say: “Realize that each and every one of you has the capability within yourself to make the necessary changes (…) to reverse pain, depression, anxiety, illness, weight gain and disease….” The way to achieve this is to start relying on Whole Food Nutrition, exercise and lots of good quality water. When it comes to exercise, especially in case of people who do not have the capacity to participate in more serious fitness activities, ANY type of consistent movement that allows the metabolism to be boosted will be meaningful. It will help to transform the body, if regular schedule is maintained. FITNESS is essential for optimum health and wellness.
Steve weighs 260 pounds at the moment. It has taken him over 2 years to get there. At the time of the interview (beginning of September), he was 22 pounds away from losing 400 LBS. He still can’t quite believe it. To date, he has done over 400 hours of nutritional research, mostly on his own, and has used the information given to him by experts in the field as well as many extraordinary people he has met during his amazing journey back to health.
Steve’s dream is to see the transformation happen all over America, see the real change in a country that is struggling with an epidemic of not only obesity, but also chronic disease. Ways to address these problems are simpler than many of us realize, or want to admit.
After having been in the health and fitness field for over 20 years, it is my belief, that although people have a free will, our current healthcare and medical system is partially to blame, along with insurance companies, Big Pharma, food industry, agricultural corporations, and advertising industry, just to name a few. This formidable force perpetuates greed to its very core. Greed is an extremely strong driving force for many and very difficult to stop. We have done so much damage already. If something does not change soon, it may be too late. Humans were designed to fight and resist disease, but this country is helping them to fail at every step of the way. Disease is spoon-fed to us from every angle. Instead of promoting disease-causing Franken-foods and chemically laden poison, we should be promoting farmers markets that sell organic food, community supported agriculture and co-ops. We need to promote healthy natural foods in schools all over the country, teach sustainable gardening and farming wherever possible, and rely on Nature to feed us, rather than technology and artificial, processed foods. We should be promoting health by means of prevention, through exercise and fitness in schools, instead of taking them out of the system. We need to fight for the safety of our food supply, and realize that things like pesticides, hormones, unnatural animal feeds and GMOs (genetically modified foods) should be banned before they get out of control and we are left with no natural foods on this planet. There is obviously a reason why so many countries have banned them already. All this is taking a huge toll on our youth, and childhood obesity, along with diabetes, are reaching epidemic proportions. When we create disease so early on in the young, what will this country look like when they become adults? The perspective is scary and the future looks bleak. Now, more than ever, we need all the knowledgeable, empowered people to stand up united and fight back to claim our health. It is not enough to think and talk about it. We have to act upon it and each and every one of us has to take responsibility for our own health.
HEALTH IS NOT A STATE OF MIND; IT’S A STATE OF BEING!I know Steve agrees with me.
Steve after losing 378 lbs, at the IDEA World Fitness Convention
If you would like to contact Steve, please visit one of his websites or Facebook pages, or call him directly. You can also watch a trailer on his You Tube channel. Here’s all the information:
Health Activist/ Safe Food Advocate/ Motivational Speaker www.healthfulhope.comRealBigDreamsLLC
Mobile Phone: (704) 928-7055
LINK TO THE TRAILER ON HIS YOU TUBE CHANNEL: