There was a time when Kurt Guillaumier found it hard to tie his shoelaces, walk up the stairs, or even get out of his chair - though he could probably wreck you in a game of Call of Duty any day. In two years, Kurt lost 85 kilos... and he's not looking back.
Carrying the weight of three men around with him, Kurt was morbidly obese. Unable to do so many things that most people take for granted, going out to restaurants with his wife became one of his sole joys - as long as he was able to ignore the looks people were giving him.
"When you are overweight, society treats you differently," Kurt said with a look. "A few years ago, I had applied for a part-time job, and the guy didn't give me a second look. Recently, I came across the same job and I applied again and was hired on the spot - he didn't even recognise me."
Having lost 85 kilos over the last two years, Kurt knows first hand just how cruel people can be when they don't know you and just see you as some fat, lazy person who can't control themselves
"People treat you differently," he continued. "You smile at someone when you are overweight, they look away - not just women, men as well. Even if you go to the gym, people look at you like you are a freak."
A moment of clarity
Reaching the size that Kurt reached - his t-shirt would double as a tablecloth - meant that his health began to be seriously affected.
"I had a lot of medical issues - high cholesterol, gout, high sugar level, and they were all weight-induced. One day my doctor asked how much I weighed, and I said I hadn't weighed myself in 10 years... so I got on the scales and it went BANG, and it went haywire," he laughed.
The doctor's scales were unable to measure his weight, so he was advised to find more 'heavy-duty scales', which he found at a government health department.
It was there that Kurt was advised to enter a special program being run in Mtarfa at a government-run residence called Dar Kenn Għal Saħħtek that specialises in treating overweight and anorexic people.
"It's a beautiful residence that you live at for eight weeks, and they've got all sorts of support systems, including physiotherapists and psychological assistance," he said.
Kurt decided to enter the eight-week program, to live there and undergo their daily routine. He was only allowed to access his mobile and laptop late in the evening, in an attempt to remove him from the daily stressors in his life - but first, he decided to wrestle back control of his life.
A turning point
"I consider myself a happy person; I take situations and make the best out of it. Overweight, I just couldn't do certain things, so I was doing other things, like going out to eat, things that were very inactive. I didn't like to look at myself in the mirror, or buy new clothes - it would remind me, it was a constant reminder..." he trailed off.
"There wasn't a particular moment when I decided to change my life - one day I just woke up, and I said, 'I love myself - but I want a better version of myself', and there were things I wanted to do that I just couldn't... I wanted to dive, to ski, even to go on a Segway tour," he said. Instead, he had become a Call of Duty pro following the long hours he spent sitting down and gaming.
He pointed at himself: "Imagine me as I am now, but walking in with seven packs of water strapped to my front and back - would you carry seven packs of water around with you? I wouldn't."
Starting the marathon
Looking back, Kurt has learnt a major lesson about losing weight.
"People tend to treat their diet like a sprint, when it should be a marathon. They adopt a diet plan that they cannot sustain, and then the body rebels," he said.
With his eight week in-house stint getting closer, Kurt wanted to start the change by himself.
"I lost about 18 kilos in the first weeks prior to the program - but the first 18 kilos are easy," he said. "One of the first things I started doing was I started eating slightly less."
Cutting down portion sizes gave Kurt a boost to his morale and started him on his path to recovery - but then the real training began at Dar Kenn Għal Saħħtek.
Blood, sweat and tears
"The first time I exercised, I did three minutes of cross training, eight minutes of treadmill at three kilometres per hour, and 12 minutes on a stationary bike - and I thought I was going to die, literally going to die," he said. "I went to my bed - and my body felt bad. My heart was pounding, I was aching everywhere, and I just lay in bed for half an hour."
The next day, he had to do the same thing, and he felt just as bad. After a few weeks, he began to get used to it, and now he doesn't skip a day.
"I do cardio every morning, such as swimming or boxing or weights. I can bench-press 120 kilos and can do 140 kilos back squats, when before I could barely get out of my chair," he said. "I train for an hour and a half in total everyday, and on Mondays and Wednesdays I train an extra hour or anaerobic in the evening."
He also tries to keep his training schedule varied, so his "body doesn't get used to it".
But the extra effort has clearly paid of: "Nowadays, I take almost no medication anymore; I used to take a whole handful, but now my cholesterol, blood pressure... everything's perfect according to the doctor."
In those eight weeks, Kurt had a chance to remove himself from his daily stressors and routine, from family and friends to his career, and this gave him a chance to really take stock of where his life was heading.
And it sure worked wonders
"I started dieting when I was 42 - well, I don't even call it a diet anymore, it's a lifestyle change, and it's also a change in attitude. People want short term results, and I want long term results, permanent results. My aim isn't to lose weight - it's to be healthy."
By the end of the program, he had lost another 11kg.
"The problem there is, you are in a safe, sheltered environment, and after eight weeks, you have to go back into the real world - and thats when it becomes difficult," he says. "I would stop whenever I saw a pastizzi shop, or when I was the mayor (Kurt is the former mayor of San Gwann), there's a Chinese place right outside..."
"There's temptations everywhere, but once you put your mind to it, it's all about how strong you are mentally," he said.
After leaving Mtarfa, Kurt began losing about eight kilos every month - but half of it was muscle mass
His doctor advised that he needed to be gaining muscle as well, so Kurt changed his routine to start focusing more on his muscle mass.
Just take this month: he’s actually gained weight, technically - he's lost fat, but gained muscle. And that's partly why his skin hasn't sagged - because he's lost weight at a gradual pace, building up his muscles as he shed his extra fat.
"If your lifestyle change includes changes of diet but no training, you'll lose muscle mass, and you'll feel tired and just won't feel good," he elaborated. "You can avoid skin sag if it's a long term plan, so you don't lose the fat all of a sudden alongside muscle mass - and having good genes also helps."
"The secret to weight loss is not food or training though - your attitude needs be that it's a marathon, and your lifestyle has to be sustainable."
Nowadays, he eats whatever he wants
"I eat everything, literally everything... just in smaller quantities," he said.
"Weight loss is what you consume minus what you burn every day - you can cut out pasta or potatoes for five or six months, but your body will eventually rebel," he said. "I have toast in the morning, one with salmon and one with ricotta, so I have a mix of carbs, fat and protein. I don't eat pastries, and I eat pasta once week, chicken once a week, fish once a week - the secret is to be varied and to control your portion."
"Also, drinking enough water is vital - most people would be thirsty and think they're hungry," he said.
That said, there are some foods he has chosen to avoid.
"I haven't eaten pizza in two and a half years - I can live without pizza or pastizzi," he laughs. I'm happy with my two pieces of toast in the morning, then a light lunch of rice and grilled vegetables."
"The other issue, though, is how to deal with stress and disappointments"
"We live with disappointments, and how are you going to manage that?" Kurt asks, knowing full well what the wrong strategy can lead to.
"All vices have the same cause. Smoking, alcoholism, gambling - they are all symptoms of the same thing, it's just how it manifests in your life. We feel like we are losing control of the surroundings and ourselves, and eating is a way of controlling something."
"It's just like drugs - it's immediate pleasure there and then, and then you feel sorry for yourself afterwards"
"So, you need to feel that you are in control in your surroundings and yourself. One of the best things you can do is not leave things pending, in all aspects: your relationships, in your work - take a decision, even if it is to stay as you are. If you are in a toxic relationship, if you want to stay or if you want to leave, take the decision - but don't leave it pending, because once it's pending, it haunts you night and day."
Another way of gaining control of your life according to Kurt is through literal martial art training.
"I train in self-defence, and once you can defend yourself, you begin to get a sense of being able to protect yourself," he said.
Oftentimes, the people around us could be causing us to put on more weight
After taking stock of his life, Kurt realised there were truly negative people among some of his closest relations.
"As well as getting enough sleep, the people you surround yourself with are essential," he said. "I believe there are two types of people. There are negative people who have an aura of negativity which will affect you. Bad things happen to these people, and when you interact with them, you feel yourself getting tired and fatigued. Then, there are the positive people who give out good energy, who give you a new sense of hope when you are with them, that the future is brighter now."
Kurt has figured out three key points to living a healthier life
- Make a sustainable lifestyle change - "I was gaining weight for 16 years, I'm not going to lose them in 16 weeks"
- Stay away from negative people
- Do not leave things pending
"At the age of nearly 45, I'm feeling the best I've ever felt," he beamed. "I'm in control of my life, I worry less, and it's not easy, but take things in perspective - you have to identify what's really important in your life, oftentimes, we set ourselves on fire to keep other people warmer."
"Love yourself - but also, always want a better version of yourself, always"
Kurt Guillaumier, the former mayor of San Ġwann, is currently reading for a Diploma in Personal Training, and is writing a book on his weight-loss experience, due to be published early 2020.