When entrepreneur Darrin Cook decided he was tired of being obese, he used the same skills and determination to lose weight as he did to build a successful business. Today, at 225 pounds, Cook is 175 pounds lighter and well on his way to his target weight of 185 pounds.
"It felt like I was carrying another person," says Cook, whose weight climbed to nearly 400 pounds when he was a teenager. "I'd see my friends who were much smaller than me and ... here I was with all this weight. It really killed my self-esteem."
Now 21 years old, Cook had what he calls a "life-changing moment" during a family vacation five years ago.
"We went to swim with the dolphins, and I had this life vest that was about ... (size) 5X. Even though it was this large, it was still skintight. I was like, 'Darrin, this is enough. You know, no more lying to yourself,'" Cook says.
He was tired of being "just friends" with girls and feared for his future health.
"When I was that size, I was on the verge of having diabetes," Cook says. "I didn't want to have to deal with having diabetes, hypertension, dialysis and getting limbs amputated. You know, that was a nightmare for me and what encouraged me to keep going on."
A graduate of NOCCA and St. Augustine High School, Cook started his first Internet company at age 14 and owns a growing business, My Mogul Media (www.mymogulmedia.com), which offers consultations on logos, branding, websites, graphics and marketing to 65 clients nationwide. Cook channeled that same drive for success when he began searching the Web for nutritional help.
"I ... cut out the fast food, the fried foods, the soft drinks, the sweets, the cookies, the snowballs, everything," he says. "I was determined — no more wearing size 56-waist pants."
Cook says he had an addiction to food, which East Jefferson General Hospital fitness expert Mackie Shilstone believes is even harder to overcome than drugs and alcohol, because no one can live without food. "Would you run your health the same way you run your business?" Shilstone asks. "Could you afford to run your business like you are managing your health? If most people who own a business ran their business like they take care of their health, they'd be bankrupt."
"I did have the cravings and still do to this day," Cook says. "I basically had an addiction to food, and a food addiction is no different than someone who's addicted to alcohol or drugs. It's a constant, day-to-day battle."
Cook found support in his trainer, Joshua Casimier, who has become a friend and reminds Cook of his goal when he wants to skip a session. According to a 2005 study published in the Journal of American Academy of Physician Assistants, if you have an encouraging person around, you are more likely to value the workout and stick to the behavior change.
"A lot of people need motivation from an outside source, and there's nothing wrong with that," says Dr. Kim Edward LeBlanc, head of the Family Medicine Department at LSU Health Sciences Center. "It's just getting a consultation for something else you need."
When Cook started working with his trainer, he was determined to walk once around the block. Now he is able to run three miles, and he regularly lifts weights, boxes, runs, bicycles and does floor exercises.
Last spring, Cook received a degree in finance from Xavier University. He divides his time between Atlanta and New Orleans, where he recently bought his first rental property. He plans ahead to schedule exercise time during frequent business trips to New York and Los Angeles.
"I come up with small things to be creative and still get my workout in," says Cook, who will be featured on CNN.com's health section later this month. "I try to fit my running shoes in a suitcase and find a hotel with a gym. In the airports, I'll walk the terminal instead of riding a train."
Even with all his accomplishments, Cook says weight loss is the achievement people notice most. He has yet to drink a soft drink, and he now wears size 34 pants.
"I feel like I'm alive now," Cook says. "I really enjoy spreading the message to young people and letting them know they can do anything if they put their mind to it: You can lose 100, 200 pounds, start your own business. ... Go out there, take risks and don't be afraid to fail."
Look for Meg Farris' Medical Watch reports weeknights on WWL-TV Channel 4 and anytime on wwltv.com.
Darrin Cook lost 175 pounds by sticking to a healthy diet and exercise program.
Darrin Cook weighed 400 pounds at age 16 (left). He now weighs 225 pounds and runs a successful marketing business.