Dr. Joe Leonardi’s Low Carb Success Story: Fat Then, Fit Now Part 1

Dr Joe Leonardi, Fat Then Fit Now
Dr Joe Leonardi, Fat Then Fit Now
I am honored to be contributing to CarbSmart. Although I have twice been a guest of Jimmy Moore’s, once on The Livin La Vida Low Carb Show and once on Low Carb Conversations, many of you may not know me, so I would like to share with you how and why I came to write and speak motivationally about weight loss and fitness through low carb. I am the author of Fat Then Fit Now: A Life Beyond Weight Loss.

My Low Carb Success Story

To paraphrase a very famous author; August of 2005 was the best of times. My wife and I were overcoming what had been a rocky start to our marriage, my practice was doing quite well and I had recently announced my candidacy for congress.

During dinner, at a quaint Italian restaurant, a piece of food lodged in my throat. I panicked, ran out to the parking lot and after what seemed an eternity of forceful coughing; finally dislodged the chunk, and so began an ordeal that forever changed my life, ushering in the worst of times.

For several weeks, I continued to have difficulty swallowing. I went to doctor after doctor, getting one misdiagnosis after another. It was frustrating and frightening. Because any other food type simply would not go down my throat, I was subsisting solely on ice cream – which is not as great as it sounds. Exasperated, I took control of my situation and ordered an MRI. The image revealed a case of unilateral tonsillitis, which had progressed to the point that the opening in my throat was a mere seven millimeters. A tonsillectomy was soon scheduled and I was hoping that my medical nightmare was over.

After the surgery, I was still unable to eat. I continued to lose weight – not in a good way. I was emaciated and had generalized muscle atrophy. My health rapidly declined. What was supposed to be a few days out of my office soon became a few weeks. After two months a good friend diagnosed septicemia. He got me on the right medication and within a week I was finally eating solid food for the first time in seven months.

To say my practice suffered would be an understatement. Being in and out of my office for such a period of time left my business life in shambles. Trying to split my time between my office and the campaign trail left no time for exercise. That lack of exercise, combined with garbage eating habits, packed on gobs of unhealthy fat.

I lost the election, my business continued to decline, both my parents passed away and my marriage faltered and eventually failed.

I turned to the comforts of the demonic duo – food and alcohol.

I was on a diet – a diet of carbohydrate-crammed, over-processed, highly refined junk food. To get through my days I relied on the sugar high, and to sleep through the nights, I depended on the numbing effect of alcohol. Like most substances that artificially influence the brain, increasing amounts of both were required to continue attaining the desire effects.

I was subsisting on some form of sugar at every meal or snack, and I was downing a fifth of the hard stuff each night.

On Friday, October 19th 2007, I purchased three bottles of Tennessee whiskey to get through the weekend. Next day is one I will never forget. I woke up around noon, went into the living room and saw two completely empty bottles. I fell heavily into a chair, unable to believe I was still alive. I took the remaining bottle, poured it down the drain and set it atop my refrigerator – where it still is today. I can count on two hands the number of drinks I have had since that day.

Unfortunately, I did not have the same revelation about my weight – yet.

That day came four months later.

In March of 2008, after years of avoiding it, I hopped upon my dusty scale. I sucked in my gut just to see the dial. I couldn’t believe the number the pointer stopped on. Those numbers were 3-4-0. I weighed a ponderous, pachydermian three hundred and forty pounds. I was not simply overweight. I was morbidly obese.

It is funny how the human mind can choose to reject reality. Even with those numbers staring me in the face, I did not admit that I was that far out of shape. I went to my office and had my office manager snap two pictures, one from the front and one from the side. I downloaded them to my computer. That is when reality set in. I expected to see a large, powerlifting type physique in those photos – what I saw was a pin sized head atop a soft, rotund, pear shaped body. For that moment – it was too much. Filled with self-pity, I locked the door and sobbed.

After about an hour, I pulled myself together and decided enough was enough. My poor choices led to that state, my reaction to adversity put me there, and it was up to me to change.

How I Chose a Low-Carb Diet

Utilizing my education and experience:

I took out a sheet of paper and outlined a low carb eating plan. I decided on a low carb plan for many reasons:

  1. low carb works.
  2. low carb is easy to stick to.
  3. one can eat low carb almost anywhere
  4. perhaps most importantly, because my father and maternal grandmother were both type II diabetics, and with all of the processed, refined carbohydrates and sugars I was consuming, I knew that I was on my way to the same fate. I knew that by lowering my carbohydrates, I could not only hopefully prevent future reliance on exogenous insulin, but also reverse any damage that may have already occurred.

My low carb eating plan will be the subject of my column in November.

I took out another sheet of paper and designed a low carb friendly exercise program. I outlined an endurance workout – at the time it consisted of nothing more than walking – and a weight lifting program. I used the same approach that I use with a patient I put into physical rehabilitation: a slow, controlled and measured approach focusing on benefiting the body as a whole.

The importance of an exercise routine that incorporates both endurance and muscle development will be the subject of my column in December.

Finally, on one last sheet of paper, I jotted down eight strategies to stay focused on my low carb lifestyle. These tips honed in on ways to stay on track. Anyone can go on a diet, and yes I use the word diet, because a diet is what we eat; I own the word diet and I own control over myself.

It wasn’t always that way. The most difficult part, in the beginning, is sticking to my new low carb diet. We are all excited the first few days, but after several weeks the cravings can begin to influence and sabotage us; so we need to keep focused. I used the scale, pictures, goals, journaling, clothing, positive reinforcement and accountability to keep myself moving in the right direction.

Those goals will be the subject of an upcoming column in late December.

I had recently had a complete workup including a stress test, so even though I wasn’t in shape, I knew I was healthy enough to get in shape. That day I reactivated my long dormant gym membership and the next day I went to work on recapturing my fitness, health and wellness through the low carb lifestyle.

More by Dr. Joe Leonardi.

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  1. Thank you for sharing your story. I am looking forward to the other articles. It seems so reaffirming when a member of the medical profession has the same struggles I do and chooses the low-carb path.

  2. Hi Dr. Joe,
    What an honest and open account! As a medical professional, your candor is even more appreciated.

    I’m sorry you had to experience those struggles but I have no doubts that you are a richer person as a result having walked through the fire. I know your first hand experience probably sets you up to help even more people from an empathetic pov!

    Can’t wait to hear the rest of your story! Congrats on the huge success in turning your life around!

  3. Hello, I just read this note, I could not help and got very emotional, I just stepped on my scale and it read 358 LBS. I really do not know what happened, I used to be super active young man. I understand the issues with alcohol and your situation, I have walked those trails as well. Thank you for sharing your story and more importantly showing how human you are. Starting the low carb diet today. Thank you Sir.


  4. Interesting success. Hope to find more on this including what you ate and did to lose the weight. Also how long it took. The picture doesn’t really fit the amount of information provided here.

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