If you’ve bumped into Rep. Marko Liias lately and concluded the state lawmaker is half the man he used to be, you’d be just about right.
Liias has lost weight, a lot of it, to the point where even the 32-year-old Democrat from south Everett is impressed by how visibly different he looks.
“It is incredibly dramatic,” he said. “I remember looking at pictures from high school and college and thinking this picture makes me look good. Now, I look at them and say ‘What was I thinking?’ I looked so bad.”
He’s shaved nearly 150 pounds from his 6-foot, 3-inch frame — and the total poundage may actually be more. When his weight reached 352 pounds in late 2008 — his freshman year in the Legislature — he stopped checking.
“When you weigh that much you don’t weigh yourself very much. It’s not helpful,” he said.
He said he tipped the scales at 206 pounds last Friday, which is less heft than he carried as a student at Kamiak High School in Mukilteo.
“Now I weigh myself every day,” he said.
How he did it can be summed up easily — adjustable gastric band surgery, diet and exercise — though it’s been anything but easy to reach this point.
It started midway through 2009 when Liias met with Gregory Lind, the medical professional he’s been getting check-ups from for two decades. Lind, a nurse practitioner at Lake Serene Clinic in Lynnwood*, suggested stomach surgery.
“Every year the doctor would point out that I needed to lose weight,” Liias said. “I tried Atkins (diet). I tried Weight Watchers. What I was doing wasn’t working and I needed some help.”
Lind told him obesity had ties to another problem Liias suffered, sleep apnea, and made the lawmaker susceptible to heart disease and diabetes.
“It finally got to the point where I said, ‘You have to do something now,’ ” Lind said.
In late 2009, Liias began learning about the surgery and it took several months before his health insurer agreed to cover the procedure. Liias said he did it soon after celebrating his 29th birthday on July 17, 2010.
He said he dropped about 30 pounds pretty quickly, then stalled.
Surgery, Lind noted, is only a tool to facilitate weight loss, and Liias still needed to change his lifestyle to realize greater results.
That happened in May 2012 when Liias said he significantly altered his diet by eating smaller portions of healthier foods. Salads were in and useless carbs were out. He began shedding pounds and in March of this year he felt fit enough to start running, biking or taking long walks at least three times a week.
“It’s not a diet any more. It is a lifestyle,” Liias said. “I’ve run 5K races and there’s no way I could ever do that before.”
Lind called the transformation “amazing. He’s blown me away with what he’s achieved.”
You know who else noticed? Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, who has sat next to Liias for four years and seen all the pounds disappear.
“I think there’s a bravado that he’s always carried around,” she said. “He’s more confident.”
Liias’ political aspirations may have provided a bit of motivation.
Being obese can turn off voters. It’s a subject nudged into the spotlight by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016. Some political pundits wonder if the governor’s weight could be a liability with the electorate. So when Christie said he had stomach surgery, it became a national news story.
Liias hopes his healthier lifestyle enables him to enjoy a longer life in public service. And there’s a practical payoff too: He’s in better shape in 2014 when he campaigns for a state Senate seat.
“A Republican is going to have to be in pretty good shape to battle me on the ground as we go door-to-door,” he said.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.