In 2010, Neil Burns weighed a whopping 680 pounds. Too tired to go about his daily life because of his size and with his eating habits spiraling out of control, the 44-year-old father from Richmond, Ky., said he felt as if he were in prison.
“I couldn’t walk or move,” Burns said. “It was just miserable.”
Starring down at the scales, he said he knew something had to change. “It was like a ton of bricks hit me,” he wrote on his website about the pivotal moment. “I started and haven’t looked back.”
Since then, the 6-foot-4 Burns has shed 370 pounds, almost half his body weight, and completely changed his life the old-fashioned way, through diet and exercise.
“Good Morning America” sent Chris Powell, our weight-loss correspondent and host of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition,” to visit Burns at his home to check on his progress and see his remarkable transformation.
From the photo albums to his closet, it’s easy to see how far Burns has come over the past 23 months. His old shorts, sizes 8-XL, are far too big now, and his watch swims around his wrist.
Burns’ first step was to get on a healthy eating plan. A former fast-food fanatic, he used to eat about 10,000 calories a day, subsising on value meals at places like McDonald’s and Dairy Queen. Plus, he said he’d drink a staggering 24 sodas each day. He traded all of that in for an 1,800 calorie a day diet of healthy staples, including turkey sandwiches, spinach salads with chicken and protein shakes.
Next he slowly introduced exercise into his life. Burns worked his way up to an intense exercise regimen — an hour and a half of weight-lifting in the morning and then cardio at the gym at night. His two-a-day workouts burn an average of 1,000 calories a day.
For cardio, Burns took up zumba, a Latin-inspired dance workout class, which he now swears by.
“Being a single guy in a room full of single women … I thought my odds are pretty good!” Burns said. (Since Burns’ weight-loss story aired on local TV and online, he has been proposed to seven times – and even received a few marriage proposals through Facebook.)
He loved zumba so much – and saw real results- that he kept it up, even becoming a certified instructor.
The last component is what Burns calls his “Jedi mind tricks” – what he does to keep himself mentally in the game. First, he, says, commit to a workout buddy.
“I have a friend, Tanya, and if I don’t show up at the gym, she is going to call me!” Burns said. He credits his support system of friends and family as one of the most important things that kept him going.
Second, his most important policy: Admit when you cheat.
“I yell at myself and say out loud, ‘I just ate an 18-inch pizza and a two liter of Mountain Dew.’ [I] yell … and get all of my anger out,” he said. “Getting it out in the open. It’s just the only way to go.”
To give himself even more incentive, Burns created his “Skinny List,” a list of 37 things he can do now that he has lost weight. (See full list below)
The motivational list ranges from simple tasks like vacuuming, which required too much movement for Burns before his weight loss, to brushing his teeth without losing his breath, being able to sit in a chair with arms, and buying clothes off the rack like everyone else. It also has activities that he has dreamed of doing for years but couldn’t, like hiking, going horseback riding and fitting into a sports car.
Burns and Powell took a trip over to the local Ford dealership to check that last item off of his “Skinny List.” Buckling his seat belt (without a problem) in a Mustang convertible, Burns drove over to his gym, the Richmond Athletic Club – a short ride, but a journey that has been two years and 350 lbs in the making.
Burns is now a motivational speaker and has set up a website, Burnsweightloss.com, to share his story and help others lose weight. Today, he weighs 310 pounds and he says he has approximately 40 more pounds until he reaches his goal weight of 270 lbs.
“There’s nothing you can’t do when you put your mind to it,” Burns said. “Your mind, body, heart and soul. There nothing you can’t do.”
NEIL BURNS’ SKINNY LIST
1. be able to sit in a chair with arms
2. fit into a airplane seat with no seat belt extension’s
3. walk up and down stairs like everyone else
4. pick something up off the car floor without having to get out of the car
5. lay down flat in bed and not feel like lungs aren’t going to collapse
6. fit through a turnstile
7. buy clothes off the rack
8. not being the big fat guy in a group on guys night out
9. not having to stretch out shirts so they will fit
10. knees – ankles – feet not hurting
11. Not hearing “wow” you’re big from little kids
12. have a watch that fits without extensions
13. fit into a sports car
14. fit into a booth at a restaurant
15. bending over to pick stuff off the ground
16. being able to see my feet
17. not breaking chairs
18. going to the pool and not wearing a shirt
19. quit being lapped by 80 year old mall walkers
20. being able to tie my shoes when there on my feet
21. doing spin class and not feeling like I got violated
22. go horseback riding
23. fitting into a public rest room
24. walking on the beach at sun set
25. being able to play sports with my son
26. brushing my teeth without losing my breath
27 walking into Walmart
28. walking to mail box
29. not being stared at
30. being able to look at myself in the mirror
31. feel worthy of love
32. using a vacuum cleaner
33. being able to do laundry standing up
34. being able to unload and load the dish washer standing
35. going hiking
36. not having strangers taking pictures of me
37. being able to walk thru a door way without going sideways