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The Lean Plate Club: Sally Squires

His Big Fat Greek Life Change

By Sally Squires
Tuesday, September 28, 2004; Page HE01

Like many physicians, Nick Yphantides regularly advises his patients to eat healthfully and get plenty of physical activity. Yphantides used to add: "Do what I say, not what I do."

That's because in 2001, this then 35-year-old doctor weighed -- hold onto your belt -- 467 pounds.

Physician Nick Yphantides, shown at the beginning of his weight-loss odyssey (467 pounds) and one year later, when he weighed 220 pounds. (Photos Courtesy Of Nelson Books)

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_____Sally Squires_____
Past Lean Plate Club Columns
Lean Plate Club Discussion Transcripts

Not anymore.

Dr. Nick, as his patients call him, has whittled himself down to 220 pounds, a much healthier weight for his 6-2 frame. Better, he's achieved that weight loss without surgery, although he is the first to underscore that his unusual regimen -- a combination of attending baseball games and using liquid protein diets during a one-year sabbatical from his professional life -- is not appropriate for most. (More on that below.)

Yphantides planned his weight loss odyssey to last a year, beginning April 1, 2001. "I didn't lose the significance of April Fool's Day," he said. "I was a fool for getting to where I was and would have been a fool not to do something about it. But I would have been a monumental fool to put my career and my finances on the line. So failure was really never an option for me."

Like many, Yphantides watched the weight creep on through the years. "The San Diego media used to call me the big man with the huge heart," said Yphantides, a physician to the medically uninsured and former executive director of the Escondido Community Health Center in Southern California. "I even incorporated this idea into my political slogan: Big problems need big solutions."

But all that extra weight was taking a toll. Yphantides, a testicular cancer survivor, found himself at age 35 with borderline-high blood cholesterol and blood pressure. He teetered on the brink of diabetes. He experienced sleep apnea -- brief periods of stopping breathing during the night -- and the beginnings of pulmonary hypertension, a chronic and potentially fatal condition. Plus, his knees and ankles were so arthritic that they could barely support his weight, making it difficult to get out of bed in the morning.

So after a huge "last meal" at Ruth's Chris Steak House with his father and two brothers -- who were overweight but not obese -- Yphantides put himself on an 800-calorie-per-day liquid diet. He notes that this kind of regimen is only for very severely obese people who are under close medical supervision.

To distract himself from the diet and deprivation, Yphantides then set off on a year-long trip in a converted van, dubbed the U.S.S. Spirit of Reduction, to watch every Major League Baseball team play and to visit all 50 states. Baseball and travel distracted him from hunger pangs -- and provided rewards for his new habits. Along the way, he also had regular physical exams, including blood tests to monitor his progress. A friend gave him a one-year membership to the YMCA that could be used at any facility in the country.

By the spring of 2002, Yphantides had watched 109 Major League Baseball games and was half the man he was the year before, weighing in at 210 pounds. After reaching his goal, he gradually reintroduced food over four weeks, beginning first with soft vegetables.

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