Online support group helps Los Alamitos man lose 161 pounds

by in News

In just over two years, Eric Gonzales has lost 161 pounds.

It took a lot of determination, fortitude and willpower. And, it took a village.

When a family crisis threw his life into disarray last summer, the Los Alamitos resident could no longer afford his Weight Watchers membership. He shared his situation on Connect, the company’s virtual support group, intending to sign off.

Eric Gonzales, 34, at his home in in Los Alamitos on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018 has lost 161-lbs and is even being featured in Weight Watchers advertisements. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

“I didn’t expect the reaction I would get – hundreds of replies,” Gonzales, 34, recalled. “A small group said, ‘We aren’t going to let you quit,’ and covered my membership for six months.”

His father had just been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Gonzales took a leave from his job to stay by his dad’s side at the hospital.

“It’s the best decision I ever made,” Gonzales said. “I knew I would regret not spending that time with him.”

Gonzales has struggled with his weight since he was a student at Los Alamitos High. He went on Weight Watchers at 16, quit, and tried again several years later.

“I lost 50 pounds but, over the course of 10 years, put it all back on plus another 100,” Gonzales said. “I was in a general depression about my weight, so would eat more and gain more. It snowballed.”

Six feet tall, Gonzales reached 431 pounds before he experienced what he calls “an awakening.”

In the spring of 2016, his doctor recommended gastric bypass surgery in a last-ditch effort to reverse his type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

“I told him, ‘I am not going down that path. I did this to myself, and I’m going to undo it to myself,’” Gonzales said. “Two days later, I walked into a Weight Watchers, and that was the start of my journey.”

This time, he stuck with it – losing 110 pounds in 15 months.

Then he started noticing changes in his 61-year-old dad, Bryan. “He couldn’t remember how to log on to his laptop or use the TV remote,” Gonzales said.

A CAT scan revealed a massive brain tumor. That same day, the elder Gonzales checked into the hospital. He never returned home, dying a month later.

Keeping up with the $45-per-month Weight Watchers fee minus a steady paycheck would be a stretch. Besides, Gonzales felt too busy and preoccupied to give much thought to his weight-loss mission.

So he decided to drop out – temporarily, he hoped, although he understood the possibility of backsliding.

Thanks to the kindness of strangers, however, Gonzales did not take that gamble.

Tara Downie of Hamilton, Ohio, was one of his guardian angels.

“Eric had already done so well, but it’s easy to get off track,” said Downie, 46, an ultrasound technician.  “I wanted him to keep the momentum going. If you can’t do something nice for someone, what’s the point?”

Inspired by his father’s caregivers, Gonzales returned to school to become a nursing assistant and now works as a residential nurse. “When I leave this world, I want to have done something good,” he said.

In their final days together, Gonzales promised his dad that he would “continue leading a happy, healthy life,” he said.

Eric and Bryan Gonzales of Los Alamitos enjoy an evening out together in early 2016. Later that year, the elder Gonzales died of brain cancer. His son managed to keep up with his weight-loss mission with help from an online support group. (Photo courtesy of Eric Gonzales)

Now 269 pounds – and aiming for 220 – Gonzales overcame his hypertension and diabetes. “I got a clean bill of health,” he said.

Not only does he feel an obligation to keep his word to his father, he also wants to do well by the Weight Watchers community that provided him both emotional and financial sustenance.

“It blows my mind that people would spend their hard-earned money to help someone they don’t know,” Gonzales said. “It’s not only a kind gesture, it’s motivation.

“I’m doing this for myself, I’m doing it t for my dad, and I’m doing it for everyone who was there for me when I needed a little help.”