At 26 years old, Jesse Shand was homebound, had dropped out of college after a year, and was channeling his depression into negative comments on an Internet forum. Now, two years later, he’s working his first job and has a thriving social network of supportive friends. What changed? About 400 pounds of body weight.
In May 2013, Shand weighed 653 pounds. The Novi, Michigan, native couldn’t stand for more than 25 seconds at a time, and his mother had become his full-time caretaker. Shand was active on Bodybuilding.com’s community forums, specifically the miscellaneous section, which he likened to Reddit or 4chan, and one day the forum moderator asked him to add a photo of himself as his avatar.
Shand obliged, posting photos that revealed his weight. To his surprise, the community members rallied around him, offering advice and guiding him to the weight he’s achieved today— 260 pounds on his 6-foot-1-inch frame.
“I get a lot of credit for losing weight, but even now I don’t think I’m worthy,” Shand, 28, told FoxNews.com. “It wasn’t just me. It was an effort by so many people who helped me out.”
Now, he’s fundraising for surgery to remove the 40 pounds of excess skin left from his heavier days. He hopes to get his weight down to between 220 and 180 pounds.
“To me, it was like doing a 5K”
Bodybuilding.com, which includes bodybuilding articles, workouts and a supplement store, has over 9.5 million members and has included many transformation stories, but a representative for the site said Shand’s is unique.
“Millions of people go to our forum to discuss all aspects of training, but this is the first time we’ve ever seen our community reach out and lift someone up both online and offline like they have with Jesse,” Keith Sivera, Bodybuilding.com’s director of offline marketing, told FoxNews.com via email.
One of the first suggestions Shand took from the online community was to just flail around to burn calories. At his weight, any kind of movement would help, the forum member said. Shand turned on his computer camera and shook his upper body around, working up a sweat and becoming breathless.
From that first day of just moving what he could, Shand began making what he called “sit-down dance videos,” moved on to being able to stand up for longer amounts of time, and then worked on walking laps between his kitchen and living room.
“I made a commemorative video when I was able to do 50 [laps],” Shand said. “To me, it was like doing a 5K.”
Eventually he was able to begin walking outside, doing body weight squats and swimming. When he lost 150 pounds, he was able to fit on and purchase a bicycle. Then, the community banded together and purchased him a gym membership. At that point he weighed about 450 pounds.
“When I first started, I was limited to what I could do because my balance was not good and I couldn’t fit on the exercise equipment,” Shand said.
He started slow with the gym machines he was able to fit on and slowly built up, working on his own. When he had questions on his form, he posted a video and the community gave him feedback.
Making regular videos was important to Shand to document his efforts for the supportive online community. That community grew, becoming one of the most popular threads on Bodybuilding.com, gaining over 3.4 million views.
As well as adding physical activity, Shand changed his eating habits, which he said was an easier transition. On the first night of his weight loss, he planned to have seven chicken quesadillas and an order of cheesy broccoli rice. Instead, he had one less quesadilla and continued reducing calories from there. He read nutrition books and taught himself how to read nutrition labels to lower his calorie intake and eat more whole foods, protein and fiber.
“My idea of eating healthy was eating prepackaged things labeled ‘healthy,’” Shand said. “I definitely had some ignorance there, but at the same time I knew what I was eating wasn’t correct but tried a couple times and I’d fail. The big difference now was the fact that I had a lot of support and people I had to report to.”
Shand’s limited financial means inadvertently led him to losing weight naturally— surgery was too costly and once he started making progress, would be like cheating, he said— and weight loss supplements were costly, so he stuck with eating whole foods with high satiety.
Now, Shand works on keeping his nutrition and fitness balanced. If he has an unhealthy meal, he’ll try to keep his other calories low and do more physical activity.
Shand’s excess weight led to lymphedema in his right leg. After he started losing weight, he went to a physical therapist, who used massage therapy and wrap therapy to reduce the swelling, which she told him was one of the worst cases she’d seen.
“One of the things that was insane was that I went to the doctor for the first time in many years, and other than the leg, I had a clean bill of health,” Shand said. “I’m really lucky in that regard and it was certainly not going to be long before I started having major problems.”
Shand’s age was likely an advantage to avoiding the high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes that come with obesity, said Bobby Hold, PA-C, of the weight management program at New York University Langone Medical Center. Over 10 years ago, Hold, who did not work with Shand, lost 110 pounds from his original weight of 300 pounds.
“More often than not, obesity will lead to some kind of complication later down the road,” Hold, 37, told FoxNews.com. “The longer you have the weight on, the longer other issues will have to manifest.”
Shand was active as a child, playing T-ball in elementary school, but as he began making his own eating decisions, his habits got worse. After graduating high school, he became more homebound, playing online video games for hours and becoming more reluctant to go out with his friends.
Living at home also enabled Shand’s weight gain. His mother, Coreen Rosenogle, was worried her only child would die in his sleep, but she constantly tended to his every need, even while working full time.
“[Her] unconditional love never made it so I had to change myself,” Shand said.
The feelings of self-consciousness that worsened with his weight gain are still a struggle for Shand, but he’s becoming more confident.
“Coming to terms with my new self has been more difficult than it has been to shed the weight,” Shand said.
He now sees a therapist to address the issues that could potentially leave him vulnerable.
“I see people lose a lot and gain it back, and I refuse to be one of them,” he said “I have to be sure I’m staying ahead of it.”
“It’s still surreal for me”
As more people hear his story, Shand has received emails from individuals who are experiencing difficulty and said he’s honored he can help them.
“I never imagined any of this happening,” he said. “It’s still surreal for me.”
Shand is now working what he calls his first “real” job as an IT contractor in computer support. He goes to the gym at 4:30 a.m. five days a week and plays racquetball at night with friends.
“A lot of people have seen me losing weight since I started going to the gym. [They] don’t know my story and are encouraging me for just what they’ve seen,” Shand said.
That the forum and fellow gym-goers were so involved and supportive doesn’t surprise Hold.
“The people at the gym, who have either always been fit or made some kind of progress, they’re ready and open to embrace somebody trying to achieve that same goal,” Hold said.
Shand’s last hurdle is the excess skin, which holds him back from being as physically active as he’d like. Because of the folds in the skin, Shand runs the risk of fungal infections, ulcerations and even of getting caught in something and being pulled or torn.
“The human body isn’t meant to have that kind of extra skin hanging off,” Hold said, adding that the skin needs blood supply that the body has to maintain, which is taxing.
Shand started a GoFundMe page to raise the $20,000 he’ll need for three skin removal surgeries. After the procedures, he’ll be about 20 pounds from his goal. While weight doesn’t come off as easily as it initially did, Shand is confident that he’ll continue to lose— and move forward— with his life.
“I wouldn’t allow myself to think of a future when I was that heavy. I was certain I’d be dead by 30 and was so depressed that I was OK with that,” he said. “Now, my future is so open.”