This Music Teacher Lost 128 Lbs. and Became 'the Happiest and Healthiest Version of Myself'
Joseph Marro has struggled with his weight since childhood. "I was always heavy — middle school, high school, my whole life," says the 35-year-old from Patchogue, New York. "Although I was very sociable, I always felt that people looked at me differently because I was overweight."
It took a toll on his self-esteem. "I was insecure," he tells PEOPLE. "I didn't have confidence. I thought it was just genetics and that I would be big forever."
But he refused to let his weight get in the way of his professional life. He cultivated a rewarding career in music education and loved inspiring his students. Being so busy with different artistic projects, though, often meant "eating on the go."
"I thought that eating a salad at a restaurant was healthy," he explains. "And it can be — but not when you put on the dressing and the extras and have a basket of bread with it," he says.
By 2017, the music teacher's weight had reached 295 lbs. He was only 32 years old, but his doctor said he was at risk of becoming pre-diabetic and had the metabolism of a 60-year-old. He also had low vitamin levels and thyroid issues.
"In my head, I was thinking, am I going to be alive by the time I am 45 years old? How am I going to make an impact on students if I am on a respirator because I am having problems breathing?" Marro says.
It was a wake-up call for him.
"I realized I was very committed to work and everything I do at my school — I love making a difference in a child's life through music — but I was not committed to being healthy."
After his doctor's visit, he had a heart-to-heart with his close friends. He told them he wanted to make a change. "I remember my friends telling me, 'You can do it!' I was like, 'Are you sure? Do you really think I can lose weight? Because I honestly don't feel like I can,' " he recalls. "And they were like, 'Yes. Just put your mind into it, put your heart into it. You'll do it!' "
He started by learning how to cook in his own kitchen. When he was with friends, they always made sure to have healthy options for him on hand. He also started counting calories, but "I was just winging it," he says.
In the meantime, he got a gym membership and found exercise that he enjoyed — first cardio sessions on the elliptical and then group fitness classes like kickboxing. "I was really having a good time," he says. " I was sweating and I was happy to be exercising and building my endurance." The group trainers were encouraging and complimentary, which he found motivating. He kept coming back.
He lost about 55 lbs. in one year. When he plateaued, he intensified his workouts, adding strength training through Orange Theory and other bootcamp classes.
And while that helped him lose a few more pounds, his weight was generally going up and down. By 2019, he couldn't get the scale to budge. "I felt stuck, like I was destined to be 230 pounds," he says.
He vowed to make 2020 the healthiest year of his life. In January, he started following an online trainer's workout regimen; in March he ditched eating out entirely in favor of his trainer's meal plan. That, he says, was "the key to my success." Suddenly he noticed he was consistently losing a pound or two a week. He lost more than 70 lbs. by September.
He says the "extra time on my hands" brought on by the pandemic actually helped him get to 167 lbs., his lowest weight in decades.
When gyms closed, he used a pair of resistance bands at home alongside YouTube videos and virtual classes. He ordering dumb bells online, scouring retailer websites for availability. "I had goals and mental willpower — I was not letting COVID get in the way," says Marro.
Over time, he learned to read nutrition labels and count macronutrients. Before long he was creating his own meal plans and workout routines. "Once I understood the process and the method behind it all, I just took charge of it. More than anything else, I stopped looking at myself as a number on the scale. Being healthy became a lifestyle for me."
Now, he says, it makes up his daily routine. "I look forward to my workouts, I look forward to eating healthy. It takes a while to adjust and get used to it. But once you're happy and find food you like to eat and exercise you like to do, it's all you need."
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After Marro posted his story on Instagram, people started asking him for advice. That motivated him to get his certifications in nutrition, personal training and group fitness training.
His advice to other people starting their weight loss and fitness journeys? "First, if you want to lose the weight, you can. Second, you will have your ups and downs but you will persevere. Third, it's very important to have a good support system, and to be open minded about lifestyle changes."
Every last change has been worth it for Marro.
"I never thought I would be where I am today," he says. "I am the happiest and healthiest version of myself."
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