After hitting 431 lbs. and getting diagnosed with hypertention and type 2 diabetes, Eric Gonzales had joined Weight Watchers and was finally taking control of his health in 2016. But just a year later it looked like it would all fall apart again as he dealt with losing his grandmother and learning that his dad has brain cancer.
But thanks to the generosity of other Weight Watchers members he had never met — and only knew online — Gonzales was able to continue to pay for the program and keep his weight loss going, in honor of his family.
The Los Alamitos, Calif. resident reached his highest weight after years of going without exercise and relying on fast food for his meals.
“I purposely didn’t own a scale the time because I was in denial about it all,” Gonzales, 34, tells PEOPLE. “I didn’t want to face reality. I think I knew subconsciously that I didn’t like what I saw, but I just did everything I could to avoid it.”
But Gonzales couldn’t deny his weight gain after a trip to the doctor, who advised him to join weight loss classes or consider surgery to get his health back on track.
“That was when my stubbornness kicked in and I used it to my advantage,” he says. “I didn’t want to do any weight loss classes or surgeries. I decided if I did this to myself I was going to reverse it myself. I walked into Weight Watchers after that and the rest is history.”
With the right mindset, Gonzales’ weight loss was going well, and he kept it up after his grandmother died a year later, with the support of the people in his Weight Watchers meetings. But when his dad was diagnosed in July 2017, Gonzales immediately quit his job to be by his side, and was suddenly without an income.
“I had just started this brand new job it was my second day of training and that’s when I found out about his diagnosis,” Gonzales says. “I knew that there was no way I could sit there and train for this new job while he’s sitting in the hospital so I had to resign immediately. I knew it was a decision that I wouldn’t regret and that holds true today.”
He planned to quit Weight Watchers because he couldn’t afford the membership, but that’s when a few people from the program’s Connect community stepped in.
“I mentioned that I was going to have to say bye for a while because I quit my job, and a group of these people decided to take it upon themselves to pull some money together to cover my membership costs for about six months. And these are people that I’ve never met, not to this day,” Gonzales says. “The fact that they would do something so kind, for someone that they had never met, blows my mind.”
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Because of their generosity, “I was able to sit by his bedside every day,” he says. “At the time I thought I was going to have many months with him left, maybe even a year, and it ended up being less than a month from diagnosis.”
And after his father passed away, Gonzales kept going, with inspiration from his donors.
“It ended up being more motivation for myself, because not only was I doing it for myself and my dad, I was doing it for these members that came forward to help me,” he says. “I absolutely had to make them proud, too. So it was just motivation on top of motivation for me.”
Gonzales is now down 152 lbs., is off his hypertension medication and is no longer diabetic.
“My life has dramatically changed and it’s wonderful,” he says. “I had no self-pride and no self-worth two and a half years ago. That’s completely done a 180. I love my life; I’m happy and I’m healthy. I’m actually living now and I’m not just existing, and that’s a huge thing for me.”
And he knows that his grandmother and father would be incredibly proud of his success.
“I know for a fact that there would just be an outpouring of love and support from both of them,” he says. “My dad was always my biggest supporter, and because of that I still need to hear from him even after he’s been gone, so I got his message tattooed on my wrist facing me, with it saying, ‘I believe in you, love Dad.’ He wrote it on a card and I took it to a tattoo shop and have them do it for me in his handwriting. It’s on my left wrist because that was the hand I used to hold him when he died, and I told him that I would make him proud.”
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