Matthew Stone didn’t need to look any further than the faces of his two children for motivation to lose weight and live healthier.

“You want to see these little people grow up and you start thinking about, ‘What’s going to happen to me?’” Stone said. “I realized that I cannot expect someone else to take care of me, I need to start taking care of myself.”

With the support of his wife, Kristin, and his two children—Henry, 6, and Evelyn, 3—Stone started making big changes.

In July 2016, at the age of 33 and pushing 400 pounds, Stone had gastric sleeve surgery to start his weight-loss journey.

He has since lost more than 150 pounds, weighing in at 232 pounds. He eats well and exercises six days a week, including lifting weights, running and cycling.

“I always say that it’s not that I didn’t have a good life before, but now I am living a better life,” Stone said.

Last year, when he laced up his running shoes for the Spectrum Health Danish Dash in Greenville, Michigan, it had been his first time competing in an official organized run. By the time he competes in the race again this year, on Aug. 18, he’ll have some other 5K races under his belt.

Making changes

Stone said he had always been a big but active kid. Growing up in Midland, he remembers shoveling his dirt driveway in the winter so he could play basketball.

He also played high school sports. As a sophomore, he was a 6-foot-1, 300-pound athlete.

But the weight kept creeping up.

“It doesn’t seem like much each year, but then you look back and you’re up 50 pounds,” he said.

Over time it became more difficult to ignore the signs that something needed to change.

He married in 2007 and it soon became a growing challenge to keep up with his two young children. He couldn’t buy life insurance to protect his family—his weight made it cost-prohibitive. He had to take medication for high blood pressure.

He then experienced a liver issue, which turned out to be the start of fatty liver disease. His weight, meanwhile, restricted what he could accomplish in the weight room.

“At age 33 I was OK, but it was only a matter of time before I would end up on a bunch of meds,” Stone said. “My body was showing signs it couldn’t keep up.”

He tried to diet but success proved elusive. He’d get discouraged when he didn’t see results.

“I realized that you can’t out-exercise a bad diet,” Stone said. “I can do a lot more damage with my mouth than I can out-do with my body.”

Feeling like he was “chasing his tail,” he signed up for a consultation with a bariatric surgeon.

In July 2016 he had gastric sleeve surgery at Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital.

“I really felt like the surgery was the first step, because when you’re pushing 400 pounds, I knew I was limited, but I didn’t fully understand how limited I was by the weight,” Stone said.

He started off easy, first by walking and then going to the gym and jogging on the treadmill.

“From there, it has taken off,” Stone said.

His current routine is six days of exercise, including four to five days of 60 to 90 minutes of weight lifting at Fresh Start Fitness in Greenville. He also gets in one or two runs per week—each about 3 to 5 miles—and about 30 minutes of cycling on the Flat River Trail or the stair stepper at the gym.

He follows a low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet. He recently eliminated all sugars, getting all his carbs from vegetables.

Transformation

Stone’s body has indeed changed. He went from a size 56 pants and XXXL shirts to a size 38 and large. He actually enjoys shopping now.

At the beginning, he would catch his reflection in a mirror and not recognize himself.

But has he really changed? It’s one question he reflects on frequently. He looks to his wife to help him process it.

“I know that divorce rates are high for people who have big weight loss after surgery,” Stone said. “I ask my wife, ‘Have I changed? Let me know if you think I’m changing.’”

As an optimistic, outgoing person, Stone feels more comfortable in his skin now.

“I feel like my body matches my personality now, that it matches who I really am,” Stone said.

He works as a football coach at Greenville High School and as an associate pastor at Greenville First Church of God.

He said his faith and the strong support system from his family and community have helped him in this journey.

“I see this as part of being a better steward of who I am and what I have,” Stone said.

He also hopes he’s providing a good example for his children and his football players.

“For too many years, I just didn’t want to deal with it and make the commitment,” he said. “It’s good for everyone around me and good for me to see this is how we live better. Not that I didn’t live good before, but this is better.”