While most doctors encourage a healthy diet, this one was not practicing what he preached. It was not until he suffered a family tragedy that he decided to turn his life around. 30-year-old Dr. Kevin Gendreau, a primary care physician in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, spent his days diagnosing others, but his own weight was causing him health problems. Weighing a whopping 300 pounds, Kevin knew very well that he was in an unhealthy place and needed to do something about it.
Piling On The Pounds
Gendreau put on weight during his time at university, like most first-year college students. The lack of cooking knowledge and late night takeaways were enough to make him gradually put on the pounds. The term “Freshman 15,” frequently used to describe the amount of weight gained during a student’s first year at college, was not the only reason Kevin gained over 50 pounds in the year. He also began to binge eat as an outlet for his stress resulting from a trauma in the family.
When Gendrau moved to college at Boston University at the age of 17, his father was unfortunately diagnosed with a rare skin cancer, metastatic melanoma. In order to deal with his father’s worsening health, Kevin turned to food, especially processed carbohydrates. He would binge on chips, crackers, cookies, pasta, and bread. Sadly his father passed away, resulting in Kevin using these processed foods “as an anti-depressant.” Kevin’s studies took him to the Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, where he continued his habits.
Rather than the freshman 15, Gendreau suffered from the freshman 50. The German word ‘kummerspeck,’ which literally translates to ‘grief bacon,’ refers to the desire to overeat in response to difficult emotions. As Gendreau later reflected back on his weight gain, he said that he never dealt with any of the issues that led him to it. Rather than seeking professional help, he focused on food. “It was a pretty slow onset. I went on to medical school never solving the depression and eating problems that came from my father’s passing,” he said.
Eating To Survive
When you eat, your brain releases a chemical called dopamine, which makes you feel good. This reaction encourages us to keep eating, in order to survive. When eating foods high in fat or sugar, the brain releases more dopamine. As grief is one of the worst experiences you can go through, your brain will do anything to make you feel better, and a dopamine high is a quick fix. The act of eating can also provide a distraction from upsetting thoughts.
Kevin left medical school and became a doctor. However, by the time he was 28 years old, Gendreau had reached 300 pounds. Due to his obesity, Gendreau faced a downward spiral of many health issues. He suffered from diabetes, sleep apnea, and high blood pressure. In addition, he suffered from even more life-threatening illnesses such as high cholesterol and fatty liver disease. Things were not looking good for the doctor and something needed to be done. Gendreau needed the right motivation to kickstart his diet.
Finally, in 2016, the much-needed motivation arrived. However, it was not the kind that Gendreau hoped for. Another tragedy in the family struck as Gendreau’s 32-year-old sister Rachel – a mother of two – found out she had a fast-growing form of ovarian cancer. This was the push the doctor-to-be needed to realize the damage he was doing to his own health. “My poor sister, Rachel, she had no choice with her health,” Gendreau told TODAY, “I was choosing to be unhealthy.”
Obesity Is A Choice
Finding out about his sister’s illness almost immediately changed Gendreau’s outlook. He told People magazine, “When my sister was diagnosed, I decided to change my life. For me, being obese was a choice. How could I literally eat myself to death while my poor sister was fighting for her life?” Kevin knew the binge eating was just a coping mechanism and there was something he could do about his many self-inflicted health issues, unlike his sister.
Tired Of Being Obese
Just like the illness of his father, Kevin’s sister’s diagnosis was not a choice. However, Kevin realized that putting unhealthy food in his mouth every single day was a choice. He said he “grew tired of remaining obese and sedentary while millions of people struggled with incurable and unchangeable illnesses worldwide.” Once his perspective had changed, he was able to change his fate. Gendreau reported, ” I had no option but to become healthy; my sister’s children needed their uncle.”
Going Cold Turkey
Dr. Gendreau was ready to implement a change that would last a lifetime. Since becoming a doctor he had gained a total of 125 pounds of excess weight, and finally, he was able to concentrate on weight loss. “Once I made the black-and-white decision to stop being unhealthy, everything else just fell into place,” Gendreau said. He gave up processed carbohydrates cold turkey in order to improve his diet. “I’m a black-and-white kind of person,” he said. “It was like ripping off a Band-Aid.”
The Start Of The Health Journey
Kevin Gendreau’s health-centered journey started in August 2016. As well as removing processed carbohydrates from his diet, Gendreau began tracking everything he ate using MyFitnessPal, a weight-loss smart-phone app. The app allowed him to record how many calories he was intaking a day without investing in fad celebrity diets or new machines. Rather than the excessive amounts before, he was now eating about 1,700 calories a day. Kevin reported that the first 40 pounds just “melted off.”
As the first 30 to 40 pounds fell off him, the doctor felt encouraged. “When you have a history of binge eating and emotional eating you lose all faith in your ability to control your emotions and hunger,” he said, “I had no idea I was as mentally strong as I actually am.” In fact, Gendreau’s brother-in-law, Jacob, started a very similar weight-loss journey at the same time and together they motivated each other. However, as he improved his efforts, his sister’s condition deteriorated…
Needing An Uncle
“As my sister’s condition worsened, I became more motivated than ever to eat healthfully because I knew my niece [Sophia, now 7] and nephew [Henry, now 3] would need me to be at my best,” said Dr. Gendreau. Rachel underwent chemotherapy, radiation, stem cell transplants, and multiple surgeries, but every time the family received news, it was bad. Rather than turning to food as Kevin did upon hearing news about his father, this time he turned to healthy living, taking control of what he put in his body.
Unfortunately for the Gendreau family, Kevin’s sister, Rachel, did not win the battle with her ovarian cancer and passed away in June 2017. At the same time, Kevin made a change to his diet. The doctor re-evaluated his weight-loss efforts and began following a more stringent plan that centered on whole foods. The new regime centered around very specific foods including fruits, vegetables, nuts, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, non-fat Greek yogurt, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and non-caloric spices and seasoning.
Sticking To The list
“If it’s not on that list, I don’t eat it,” said Dr. Gendreau, “It’s astonishing to see how quickly and permanently you can lose weight with a whole food diet like this.” Gendreau eats an unlimited amount of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, raw nuts, nonfat Greek yogurt, olive oil, chicken, and turkey. He also eliminated all processed foods, breads, crackers, cookies, rice, pasta, refined sugars, vegetable oils, red meat, and beer. He did not introduce these foods back into his diet…
A Balanced Diet
Kevin feels that despite many people saying that humans need rice, bread, or pasta to survive, he is yet to find an article to convince him. He said, “I see these foods as the dietary equivalent of cigarettes, rather than a healthy part of a balanced diet. I attribute almost my entire weight loss to my new eating habits.” Given his profession as a primary care physician, Kevin is very busy and can only commit to exercising about once a week, therefore suggesting avoiding those foods is the reason he lost weight.
The Final Push
Despite the dramatic drop, Dr. Gendreau’s weight began to plateau at 225 pounds. So, Kevin made the final push in his routine and turned to intermittent fasting, also known as the 16:8 plan, after reading and learning more about it from The Obesity Code. For Gendreau, that meant only eating between noon and eight o’clock in the evening and eating nothing for the other 16 hours of the day. Therefore, he was intermittingly fasting between eight in the evening and noon the next day. But did it work?
Reccomending To Patients
Outside of his food-eating window, Kevin has allowed himself plenty of water, black coffee, and black tea. He says, “Intermittent fasting works because it helps naturally decrease your daily calorie consumption while improving your insulin sensitivity.” He even began recommending his routine to patients. “Intermittent fasting has been life-changing for many of my pre-diabetic and diabetic patients,” Dr. Gendreau said. But he cautioned, “Intermittent fasting is safe for most people, but not everyone. You should definitely talk to your own doctor before starting any diet or exercise plan.”
In around 8 months of intermittent fasting, Kevin shed his remaining 50 to 60 pounds, therefore achieving his stunning 125-pound weight-loss. He also incredibly no longer suffers from the health problems that plagued him previously and were detrimental to his life. Kevin reported, “I was also motivated when my blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol began to improve. After losing about 100 pounds, all of my vital signs and laboratory tests normalized!” He managed to go from a size XXXL to an M and happily donated dozens of bags of clothes.
Kevin’s own life story has helped with his career. Today, Dr. Gendreau tells his clients all the time that whenever you find the right motivation to take back your health and lose weight, it makes a world of difference and it becomes easy to commit. “Your reason just has to be profound,” he tells them, “For some, it’s being diagnosed with diabetes and facing daily injections of insulin for the rest of their lives. For others, it’s a family member with a health scare.”
Since February 2018, Gendreau has maintained his loss and is five pounds from his original goal, which would help him reach a healthy body mass index. “It is just about how I feel and how I look in the mirror and not a number on the scale,” he said, “I have an improved mood, endless amounts of energy, and an improved sex drive. My life has changed for the better; I can keep up with my new puppy, work more effectively and efficiently, and have more confidence in the dating world.”
Breakthrough For Diabetes
Dr. Gendreau uses a laboratory test called hemoglobin A1c as a way to track diabetes over time. He says that in the last three months he has had at least 20 patients fully normalize their HbA1c by committing to the whole foods diet, which he claims is a way to practically cure their diabetes themselves. Gendreau’s patients are not the only ones benefitting from the diet. His niece and nephew are able to not only have their uncle in good health, but their dad too!
Rachel’s husband, Jacob, was close behind Kevin, weighing 290 pounds. He was inspired by Kevin losing his first 30 pounds, and after receiving more bad news about his wife, he realized he needed to also do something about his weight. To honor his wife and be able to look after his kids as a single dad, he also joined the MyFitnessPal app and ate only 1,500 calories per day. He is now able to show his children that when life gets bad, instead of going in one direction, you can make it better.