BLUE ISLAND, Ill. -- In 2011, Rafael Zuniga weighed over 800 pounds. His weight was a lifelong battle that spiraled out of control.
Over the past six years, he has lost 500 pounds. In theory, he did it by himself. But he'll tell you he wasn't alone. It was an app that got him on the path to living again.
Zuniga, 45, was once confined to his Chicago-area home after drinking and eating away his life.
Stress from work as a real estate adjuster and a bad break up left him at an all-time high of 831 pounds. Alcohol and fast food were his best friends.
"I’m always thinking I’ve got to lose a couple hundred pounds and I’ll be back in the mix," he says. “But it wasn't a couple hundred pounds. My weight doubled. I was in shock. As stupid as it sounds, I was in shock."
"When I was unable to keep cleaning myself, I guess that was my rock bottom," he says.
In July of 2011, he was taken to the hospital and labeled morbidly obese. He was fighting lymphdema, hypertension, and cellulitis among other things.
It was a turning point for Zuniga.
"It was a beautiful day out and I had seen everybody. Life was passing me by," he said.
That is when Zuniga decided to change his path of physical and financial ruin to one of wellness. After researching weight loss, he discovered the app "LoseIt!"
Zuniga's goal was to weigh 250 pounds and travel the world.
"The image of me just being by an ocean, man, that helped me out tremendously,” he says.
How the weight loss app changed his life
Zuniga uses the app to count his calories, track his meals, and seek support from other users trying to lose weight. The app teaches him to eat smarter, he says.
But he has also been exercising. At first, it meant the smallest of movements.
"I was sitting at the edge of my bed doing sit ups. I refused to believe that I was disabled,” he says.
Zuniga does cardio five times a week and lifts weights two to four times a week. He eats a high-protein diet, cuts out the carbs, and counts every calorie he eats.
And he has not had any surgical procedure to lose the weight. There is no more alcohol and he does take a prescribed appetite suppressant.
The real motivator? A vacation
In 2014, Zuniga's dream came true. Labeling himself as "skinny for him," he was down to 400 pounds, -- so his father booked him a business class seat to the Dominican Republic.
Over the past three years, Zuniga has shed another 100 pounds bringing his overall weight loss in excess of 500 pounds.
Right now, he'd like to lose another 50 and get his doctors more comfortable with the idea of double knee replacements for his severe osteoarthritis. Removing his excess skin might get him close, but insurance doesn't cover the procedure.
Zuniga is just the beginning of the rest of his life. Clean living with the help of an app is opening a whole new world for him.