Perfect Losers

“You’re huge. You’re morbidly obese. Your heart can’t keep up with the rest of your body.”

Spoken so bluntly by a doctor who was also his friend, the words cut through the air of the tiny exam room and then reverberated in Craig Kolkin’s ears. Sitting on the doctor’s table with shoulders hunched, the managing partner in a real estate company thought about why he had worriedly called the doctor earlier that day: the tightness in his chest, the nausea and dizziness, his clammy-feeling hands. Then he thought about his beautiful wife of many years, his son, and his daughter. 

Craig Kolkin knew what he had to do.

To say that Kolkin was “scared into skinny” may be a stretch, but not a big stretch. For years, the then 44-year-old had eaten “whatever I wanted, whatever was closest,” he says. At 300 pounds, he knew he didn’t feel good and noticed the pain in his knees, ankles, and hips. He even felt the sting of a few sideways glances when he went out with his thin and pretty wife. He suspected what they were thinking: what’s she doing with him

“But it was the chest pain that finally got me,” says Kolkin, a Leawood resident, about his “Aha!” moment with his doctor back in August of 2008. That same August day he made an appointment with two other doctors, Monica Pierson, M.D. and Claudia Darnell, Ed.D., both of the Weight Management Medical Center. Now he credits Pierson, Darnell and their staff for the change in his life.

“They made me feel like we were all doing something together, as opposed to feeling like there was something wrong with me that they had to fix,” Kolkin says.

Together, Kolkin worked with his doctors to follow a low-calorie, low-fat, high-protein diet. He stuck to a maximum calorie count per day and devised his own tricks to avoid straying.

In addition to eating the right foods in the right portion size, Kolkin kicked his worst habit: eating when he felt stressed.

“When you want to eat because you’re stressed, allow yourself to just get up and walk away,” says Kolkin, who implemented the tactic many times at his office. “It’s okay to say, ‘I need a break.'”

But if the urge to eat did overwhelm him–or if there were no healthy foods immediately available–Kolkin was prepared. He fashioned for himself an emergency eat-right kit that he kept in his car.

“To this day I keep a backpack with me at all times,” he says. “It’s filled with an apple, an orange, bottled water and fat-free salad dressing. I even carry a pitcher and an immersion blender to make protein shakes, so I’m never stuck without a healthy option.”

As time passed, Kolkin stuck to his diet and found tips that worked: Keep steamer bags of veggies at work. Chew gum. Drink water with lemon. He told servers at restaurants what he was doing and asked them to prepare foods specifically and healthfully. “Not once did they not understand or not want to help,” he remembers.

He also began working out three to four times per week for 45 minutes at a stretch, first at the gym, then on a treadmill at home. It was cardio only at the beginning. “I didn’t want to add any bulk at first because, psychologically, I needed to see the number on the scale come straight down,” says Kolkin. Over time his confidence increased and Kolkin added weight training to his regiment.

And indeed months later, 14 to be exact, the bulk did come off–all 118 pounds of it. It’s a weight-loss he’s maintained for more than a year. Kolkin will be the first to tell you that losing weight is not easy, that it’s a challenge and a lifestyle change. He’ll also tell you it’s worth it.

“People ask me if I feel better,” he smiles. “The truth is that my life is better now on every single solitary level. But the real answer to that question?” He pauses. “I feel normal now.”

Feeling normal means Kolkin can do what he loves. He’s resumed going to concerts and flying on airplanes, things he gave up when he could no longer fit into seats. He’s proud now to accompany his wife out. But what he loves doing most is something he hadn’t realized he was missing: getting full-tilt hugs from both his kids.

“My kids couldn’t get their arms around me to give me a hug,” Kolkin says, his voice cracking with emotion. “Now they’re amazed when they hug me, plus they know their dad can do anything he puts his mind to.”

For those wanting to follow in his footsteps, Kolkin’s advice is simple. “Get help,” he says. “People want to see you succeed.”

words: Cisley Thummel

photos: Paul Versluis