Jonathan Dichter couldn’t believe his eyes when he stepped on the scale three years ago.
He weighed 405 pounds.
A criminal justice attorney, actor and comedian from Bothell, Dichter told his doctor he was afraid he wouldn’t live to be 40. His family had a history of obesity — his own father died in 2010 — and he was tormented by the thought of his 8-year-old daughter growing up without him.
Weight-loss surgery gave him a second chance in 2016. Since the operation, he has lost nearly 200 pounds, runs half-marathons, plays more with his daughter and has added decades back to his lifespan.
Dichter, 40, shares the details of his transformation in the book “SleeveLife: Losing Half of Myself and Finding the Rest,” which reached No. 1 on Amazon’s bestsellers list in the Bariatrics category.
He said he hopes that his book will help others learn from his trials and errors, and inspire them to make their own transformations.
When did obesity become a problem for you?
I was a kid who biked, climbed and ran around outside with friends. But, as I started growing, my size grew in many directions — including my waist. Add to that things like video games, extra desserts and an injury to my knee when playing junior high football, and I became a sedentary kid who just kept getting heavier. I was teased by merciless kids. They told me I was lazy, stupid, out of control, self-destructive and ugly.
What are the misconceptions about obesity?
It’s a disease, not a condition or a state of being. It’s a disease just like diabetes or measles. It’s something you have, not something you are or become. But as a disease, it’s also something you can treat, fight and conquer.
Was losing weight difficult?
Over the years I tried nearly everything — and many times with success. I lost weight doing Atkins. I lost weight doing a weight-training regime. I lost weight on the brown rice diet. I lost weight on Weight Watchers. Notice a pattern? I kept having to go back to the well. Not because I didn’t know how to do it, but because some of the underlying physical issues hadn’t ever fully resolved.
What should people understand about weight-loss surgery?
Let’s be clear — weight-loss surgery is not a cure-all. It doesn’t do the work for you. It’s a huge push in the right direction. It gives you the tools you need to really get the ball rolling in a way that you may not have been able to do so before. You still have to pick it up and run with it. The reality is that there are people who have the surgery and end up gaining the weight back. What the surgery does, though, is retrain your mind and body so you can move forward to achieve your goals.
Why did you decide to have weight-loss surgery?
My physician had suggested surgery for years. I was terrified. She suggested I go to a few seminars on weight-loss surgery and see what I found out. She told me I could do it “the old-fashioned way,” and knew I’d succeed, but it would take a long time. Or, I could see the surgery for what it truly is: a kick-start and giant push in the right direction.
Which kind of surgery did you have?
The surgery I chose — there are several options — is called gastric sleeve surgery. It’s the current go-to choice for weight-loss surgery and removes 85 percent of your stomach, essentially leaving you with a sleeve-like stomach. The risks and complications are lower than gastric bypass surgery, which bypasses part of the digestive track. The biggest risk is dying from the anesthesia. This is especially true of people who are overweight and have co-occurring issues like high blood pressure and sleep apnea. This was the thing that terrified me so much about it. I was thoroughly convinced at times I’d die on the operating table.
What is life like after surgery?
I lost 100 pounds in the first 100 days after surgery. I’ve been through four new wardrobes. I’ve taken running back up and have run a 10K, followed by a half marathon the next day. I’m doing a lot more acting and auditioning, and have even been cast in some local improv troupes. I also was cast in a local production of “Little Shop of Horrors.” These are things I had dreamed of, but assumed I couldn’t do.
What changes have you made to your eating habits?
I can’t eat as much, and I prioritize proteins. A typical night out at dinner for me is splitting an appetizer salad with a friend, followed by a nice cut of steak split 70/30 (with me getting the 30 percent). I rarely finish even that. I walk a lot more, I play with my daughter a lot more. I’m stronger, fitter, healthier and, most importantly, happier.
How much do you weigh now?
Around 240 pounds. I’d like to get down a bit further to 220, or even 200 — but that’ll take some more time and some serious weight training. Thankfully, I’ve just purchased a home gym and have a nice workout schedule set up. My doctors say that I’ve already extended my lifespan by decades as a result.
Do you ever worry about becoming obese again?
Yes — we all are still vulnerable to it. It’s not a fix. It’s a tool. You have to be vigilant. That’s my motivation and how I keep from worrying. I just remember every day that I just have to treat my sleeve with respect, and it’ll love me right back.
Why did you decide to write a book?
I started a journal not long after I chose a clinic for my surgery. Although I’m a lawyer, I have a background in performance and comedy, and have a knack for putting a fun spin on life. As I started writing things down, I realized that this transformative journey really mirrored a lot of others I’d been through (new business, new child, loss of a parent, divorce, etc.) and thought that maybe other people in transition might benefit from my story and my thought process. So I kept writing, and the book took shape over the course of about 21⁄2 years.
What do you hope people will learn from your story?
Change is inevitable and can, in fact, be good. Determination and belief will get you from here to there. You don’t have to be afraid of trying to be your best self. You just need to find the right tools, grab on and do your best. You’re not alone in doubting yourself or your abilities. You’re not alone in wanting something more or something better. If I can do this, so can you.
And if you need an ear to listen to your story — or celebrate your successes — or commiserate on your struggles — you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Evan Thompson: email@example.com, 360-544-2999. Twitter: @evanthompson_1.
“SleeveLife: Losing Half of Myself and Finding the Rest”
By Jonathan Dichter
SleeveLife, LLC. 184 pages. $14.95.