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Bayar Bayarsaikhan, 31, has been overweight most of his life, weighing 500 pounds at his heaviest.
“People often ask: When you were weighing in your 300s, didn’t you want to stop? How did this happen? I just carried on with that lifestyle,” he told TODAY in a segment that aired on May 18. “You know how people say, ‘healthy body, healthy mind?’ Well once my body was unhealthy, my mind became unhealthy too. I stopped thinking about furthering goals because all I kept thinking about was battling my body; how to make pain go away in my back, my leg, my calves, my feet.”
The weight was taking a major toll on both his physical and mental health.
“I often felt so tired that I would have to sit down to do the dishes or tell my kids that I was too exhausted to play with them. At Disney World, I had to rent a wheelchair,” he added. “My wife encouraged me to start walking, but I lost interest in doing anything … I just didn’t want to go outside because my feet would hurt.”
By the time Bayarsaikhan hit 500 pounds, he wasn’t feeling well at all. “I was always tired. I had to take naps every day and naps would last for two hours in the middle of the day,” he said. That’s what prompted him to finally see a doctor.
An eye-opening doctors visit
In January 2021, a doctor’s visit opened his eyes to the reality of the state of his health. “I was diagnosed with severe high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes. And then he told me I was only expected to live until my forties,” he said.
Bayarsaikhan was also diagnosed with severe sleep apnea. “I learned that in a normal, healthy person, sleep apneas can occur maybe about 1-3 occurrences in one hour, but I was having 135 occurrences in one hour. So pretty much it would look like I was sleeping, but my body was never asleep. And that’s why I was exhausted all day. It was like I was never sleeping.”
After the appointment, he started using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine and was on 5-6 medications.
“I have two kids. I was still young. I was 29 at the time. And my doctor told me that my life expectancy was like mid-40s,” he said. “I thought, I don’t want to die in my 40s. I want to see my kids grow up. I want grandkids.”
That was the moment Bayarsaikhan decided he needed to make a serious lifestyle change. “My doctor asked me, ‘Can you really do this? It’s a long journey.’ And I said ‘I have to do this.’”
And he did. Today, he has lost nearly half his body weight, shedding 230 pounds in two years. Here’s how he did it.
Getting his sugar addiction under control
Bayarsaikhan knew he needed to change his diet. He ate fast food 2-3 times a week and lots of sugary treats like cookies.
“My biggest challenge was that I was addicted to sugar, usually consuming 200 grams of sugar a day,” he said. “I used to drink Coke every day or Red Bull … My sugar addiction was high. So I had to cut that out and went through sugar withdrawal. That was really hard and I had to train my mind.”
While Bayarsaikhan made changes to his eating habits, he doesn’t think of it as a diet.
“I don’t like the word diet. Doctors would tell me I need to go on a diet and I don’t like that. A diet is not sustainable in the long term,” he said. Instead of cutting out foods, he focused on portion control.
“Over time I learned how to control my portions, which slowly killed my cravings,” he said. “I still eat everything, but I learned to control it. It took me a year and half to learn how to control it. I still crave (soda), but I’ll only have it if I really, really want it. And when I do have it, I’ll take two sips and throw it away. Same with chips. I would eat a handful and not the whole bag. So, I’ve learned to kill cravings.”
Easing into fitness
For the first eight months, Bayarsaikhan focused on cardio. “I started exercising, but my heart is weak, so I didn’t do weightlifting right away,” he said. He found activities like walking and running boring, but stuck with it to improve his cardiovascular fitness.
“I wore a watch to track my heart rate and once it was at a good number, I started weightlifting,” he said. “I joined Life Time (gym) and have learned so much. It’s not about the lifting, but about the mobility, learning how to stretch to keep you healthy.”
Last summer, he completed his first triathlon. “I wanted to do something I’ve never done before and Googled triathlon. I found the Life Time Chicago Triathlon. It was a 9-miler,” he said. “It’s a super sprint triathlon, 400-meter swim, 6-mile bike, 1.5-mile run. I registered and trained and ended up finishing in a little over an hour.”
Just like with his diet, Bayarsaikhan said he focused on adding fitness to his routine in a way that he can maintain for the long run, not just for the short term.
On staying accountable
“My wife and kids are my accountability,” he said.
Being able to play with his kids — an active 5- and 9-year-old — keeps Bayarsaikhan motivated. “Some days I really don’t want to go to the gym or question why I’m torturing myself … but I do this for my kids. Both of my kids are active, they play soccer,” he said. “I see my wife and think about how she’s the person I committed my life to and I don’t want to leave her in my forties.”
The changes he has seen go beyond the physical
“I’ve never felt better,” said Bayarsaikhan. “I feel like I’ve changed into another person and the people around me have noticed, too.” Some of the changes he has felt from losing the weight include:
- Improved memory. “I feel like I can remember things like chores or remember what I was supposed to — I’d often forget what I was doing in the middle of it,” he said.
- Increased productivity at work.
- Being a better father. His healthy habits are rubbing off on his family. “It’s helped me with my kids,” he said. “They refused to eat McDonalds today which was not the case before.”
His health goals
Bayarsaikhan is currently 270 pounds and wants to hit his target weight of 250 pounds.
He is also training for another triathlon: “I want to push myself more, so now I signed up for the 32-miler. That will be in August, so I’m training now.”
Bayarsaikhan said he wants to focus on his mental transformation, too. He “wants to be a personal trainer in the future, but focus on mental health of people who lose weight,” he said. “It’s so mentally challenging to get into the head game of losing weight and taking that first step.”
His advice for others? “People who want to lose weight have to really want it,” he said. “I’ll ask someone, do you want to lose weight? And they’ll say yes, but I’ll give them seven days to really think about it and ask them how bad do they want it? I also ask if they have a support system.”