Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Chad Deal stands inside his size 48 inch waist jeans that he wore in May 2011. Deal who has lost a total of 136 pounds in just over a year went from a size 48 to 34 inch waist.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- A turning point for Chad Deal came nearly two years ago when one of his shoestrings caught on a chair, causing him to fall.
His 305-pound frame came crashing down, tearing his meniscus and damaging his knee bad enough to require a visit to an orthopedic doctor. After physical therapy for a couple of months, a doctor lamented that Deal hadn't made any progress. His weight was not only a hurdle, it prevented his knee from making any improvement.
That incident kick-started a dramatic lifestyle change that's turned into a 136-pound weight loss journey, the bulk of it coming during a 14-month stretch between the summers of 2011 and 2012.
A lover of cheeseburgers, pizza and Chick-fil-A, especially after moving from Las Vegas, Deal said he used to brag about how much food he could eat, like wolfing down a whole pizza by himself.
After Deal quit alcohol and cigarettes earlier in life, he said food wasn't thought of as an addiction like the other habits he beat. But his personal experience changed his mind.
"You don't think about food being an addiction, because you have to eat," said Deal, a band director at Central Gwinnett High School. "What was I was addicted to was overeating. Literally every day I felt miserable because I was uncomfortable."
Deal credits his wife, who started going to Weight Watchers shortly before he did, and has lost more than 50 pounds herself, with helping him start to lose weight.
Deal was recently named a winner of the company's annual Celebrate Success contest, and was one of 100 prize winners from across the country recognized for his motivational efforts and to develop a healthier lifestyle.
"It's something to where you have to have the mindset and mentality that this is the change you want to have for my life," said Renee Liverpool, a Weight Watchers leader who coaches people like Deal around metro Atlanta. "I want to make a change in my life that I'm now making choices."
Deal kicked alcohol, 26 years and counting, and smoking, nearly 10 years ago, doing both cold turkey. That abrupt change wasn't possible with food, he said.
Much of his success is attributed to better choices, and he pointed to a new program at Weight Watchers called 360, which is a lifestyle change. Because stopping something cold turkey typically leads to a low success rate, Deal said, the 360 program was a gradual shift.
"It allows me to gradually wean myself off of the unhealthy choices," he said. "They have the program set up where you can go do those things. You can do it, you just can't overdo it. Putting routines into place to help you make wise choices."
Before the weight loss, he would visit Chick-fil-A every day for breakfast, and two or three times per week for lunch. Being a teacher, Deal said he also enjoyed treats that clubs and organizations sold at school.
So he had an "immense amount of food before 7 a.m," but also ate plenty of fried foods and meals heavy in carbohydrates.
Deal said he still enjoys an occasional visit to a fast-food restaurant, but now he selects grilled foods or salads.
"I ate too much at one time of the bad things," he said. "What I eat now is less of everything, but I try to make sure I'm always eating proper nutrients, and things that are going to help my body be active and strong."
Part of that is to keep up with two active sons who are 6 and 4. Deal said the family recently put up a trampoline at home, which helps with cardio workouts.
Yet when he began losing weight, he focused on food first, and after losing 100 pounds, his plan was to become more active. But after losing 60-70 pounds, Deal said he had more energy than he imagined, and he needed to get out of the house. He started with two-mile walks, then graduated to bicycling and short distance runs, such as 5Ks.
For someone who said, "I didn't think I would ever see normal," Deal had a memorable moment around Thanksgiving when he visited his mother in Baltimore and she didn't recognize him at first.
Because Deal said he'd been heavy for about 20 years, that moment is one of his favorite things about the journey.
Deal's story has led him to be a part-time employee for Weight Watchers and the at-work leader for the Central Gwinnett cluster. He gives inspirational talks to groups, and leads a weekly meeting at school.
When Liverpool met Deal near the end of his journey, she said he was always an encouraged person who led discussions during their weekly Weight Watchers meetings.
"Really reinforcing of it not being a diet," Liverpool said. "It's not like a diet, there's nothing restricted, you just make different choices. You have the power to decide. He's always reiterated that it is a lifestyle and it's not a diet."
Deal's advice to people attempting to lose weight is to be honest with yourself and your body. Deal said he lied to himself about being overweight and big boned.
He also said to always look ahead.
"Every day is a new day," he said. "We all have setbacks. I didn't hit 320 pounds overnight. I didn't lose 130 pounds overnight. The next day is a new day."