In January 2017, Jacob Anselmo’s life changed forever. He had just learned his wife’s hard-fought battle with a rare and aggressive form of ovarian cancer would ultimately be a losing one.
Anselmo, who then weighed 290 pounds, remembers the doctor’s lack of hope as an absolute breaking point, and he began to see his own health in a new light.
“My wife was battling cancer and trying her best to stay alive for our children, while I was disrespecting my body and my health by making gluttonous food choices and not exercising,” he says. “My wife did not invite the cancer into her body, yet here I was, watching her die while I was continuing to contribute to my own poor health.”
After receiving the devastating news, Anselmo decided it was time to lose the extra weight that constantly made him feel tired, sore and lethargic. He wouldn’t just be making the change for himself, but for his two young children, Sophia and Henry.
“I knew that my children were going to lose their mother and that I would be left raising them without her,” says the Tiverton, Rhode Island, resident. “How could I be the absolute best that I can be for them when I am not in great physical health myself?”
Anselmo suspected his eating habits were most to blame and decided to start there. “I had zero discipline when it came to my food choices,” he remembers. “I ate whenever I wanted and whatever I wanted, with no regards to my health and well-being.”
He kicked off his new commitment to healthy living by making two simple changes: He stopped drinking soda and switched from a sugar-and-cream-laden coffee to black coffee. He never could have predicted what came next.
In just one month, Anselmo lost 20 pounds from these two changes alone. “It really opened my eyes to the fact that it is possible to get rid of this weight,” he says. “I told myself, ‘If I lost 20 pounds from only removing sugary drinks from my diet, what else could I accomplish by eating healthier?’”
Anselmo wanted to learn more about nutrition, so he started to comb through online resources to educate himself. He began using the MyFitnessPal app, where he entered his daily nutrition and logged his weight every Sunday.
“The app kept me accountable and gave me hard evidence to look at, which kept me motivated when times got tough,” he says. “It also helped me learn more about nutrients and macronutrients and actually gave me a visual of exactly what was going into my body on a daily basis.”
Anselmo admits he knew little about calories or how they worked — let alone how many he should be consuming — before he started his journey. Once he figured out his daily calorie allowance, he followed that number religiously. He says this, above anything else, made the biggest difference in reaching his goal.
About three months in, Anselmo joined a gym and started exercising regularly, which sped his progress considerably. By October 2017, he had shot past his ultimate goal of losing 100 pounds.
Anselmo is now 34 years old and weighs 174 pounds, 116 pounds lighter than his starting point. He advises others who want to lose weight to start as soon as possible and stop looking for a magic pill or easy way out; unfortunately, he says, there isn’t one.
“You are what you eat. If you are putting healthy, real foods into your body, counting calories and exercising, then you will get to where you want to be. But you have to do the work.”
Anselmo says he is especially proud of the example he’s set for his young children. He knows when they’re older, they’ll see the lesson in his experience.
“It’s about how you react to the bad hands that life deals you,” he says. “Looking back, they will know that despite a tragic loss to our family, I was able to make the best of a terrible situation and turn my life and health around.”