Brandon man drops 200 pounds, hopes to lose 200 more
In a little more than a year, Stephen Pagano has gone from struggling to walk and breathe to potentially becoming one of Weight Watchers' biggest success stories.
Pagano weighed 601.4 pounds when he joined Weight Watchers – Brandon on Jan. 2, 2012. On Sunday, he weighed 401.4 pounds.
“You hear about a bunch of people losing 100 pounds, but I think 200 is a bigger deal,” said Pagano, who barely celebrated when he hit the 100-pound weight loss mark on Aug. 19. “I've done this without shots, without pills, no surgery and no fad diets, which are just temporary.”
Instead, Pagano, 25, has relied on support from his family as well as his comrades in the battle to lead a healthy life. He attends Weight Watchers meetings twice a week: weekly weigh-ins take place on Sunday, and Pagano stops by on Thursdays so he and his fellow attendees can support each other.
“It's about eating less, moving more, changing your habits, routines and, eventually, your life,” said Michelle Brodeur, a leader at Weight Watchers – Brandon. No food is off-limits to Weight Watchers participants, but Brodeur has helped Pagano integrate healthier dishes into his life.
Brodeur said Pagano's average weight loss per week is 2.89 pounds. The healthy rate of weight loss for Weight Watchers is .5 to 2 pounds per week, but Stephen's average is inflated because he started at a considerably higher number, she said.
Last year wasn't Pagano's first brush with Weight Watchers. He first attended a meeting when he was 13.
“He would come in, weigh himself, but he'd never stay,” Brodeur said.
According to Pagano's mother Gloria Madonna, Pagano struggled with his weight since he was in kindergarten.
“His father wasn't around, so food became an escape,” she said.
“It's about control,” Brodeur added. “Stephen didn't have control over other parts of his life, but he could control how much or how little he ate.”
The struggle continued while he attended Brandon High, where Pagano said he couldn't fit in a regular-sized desk and was mocked and bullied. He dropped out in the 10th grade.
His breaking point came after he passed the 600-pound mark and could no longer endure the persistent pain all over his body. He credits his aunt, Shirley Buchholz, with pushing him to attend Weight Watchers and accompanying him to meetings.
“Everything was bothering me,” Pagano said. “I had just started riding the electric cart at grocery stores, and I realized I could not continue existing this way.
“Eventually, I would become completely immobile.”
Pagano's has hit his share of bumps along the road to better health. During his first meeting, they had to use a special scale to weigh him.
“There were times in my weight loss journey where I let the negative take over, which did give me some (weight) gains,” Pagano said. He credits his improved physical and mental health during that time with helping him stay positive.
Brodeur also said Pagano wasn't always the easiest person to work with.
“He can be stubborn. Some of the other leaders didn't know what to say to him, but people there think of me as a bit of a maverick, so I took a different approach,” said Brodeur, who has been at Weight Watchers for 12 years. “I'm not afraid to talk to him, and I'm not afraid of making contact, like giving him hugs.”
Brodeur said she now considers Pagano an adopted son.
These days Pagano exercises four or five times a week at the YMCA or by walking around Busch Gardens. He recently rode more than seven miles on a recumbent bike. Instead of using an electric cart to make his way around a local grocery store, he can now make the half-mile walk to his neighborhood Publix, and the pain in his back and feet has decreased.
Pagano's ultimate goal is to get down to 180 pounds. Brodeur prefers to measure his progress in less rigid increments.
“The other day, I told him that he needs to switch to smaller shirts because the ones he has now look like tunics and need to be belted,” Brodeur said. Pagano has gone from a 9XL shirt size to 4XL. “Goodwill will become his best friend very soon.”
Pagano and Brodeur hope to find a sympathetic surgeon to help remove the increasing amount of excess skin as Pagano continues toward his goal.
In addition to Weight Watchers, Pagano has picked up admirers and supporters on the Facebook page of Chris Powell, trainer and transformation specialist on ABC's “Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition.” Pagano keeps them updated on his progress, including his most recent milestone. Pagano recently started his own Facebook page, www.facebook.com/spagano88, so supporters can follow his progress.
He has also earned his GED and is enrolled for the summer semester at Hillsborough Community College in Brandon, where he hopes to study business.
“I realize I have a long way to go, but I feel like I am on the right path to weight loss success,” Pagano said.