Weight loss has always been a hot topic on The Oprah Show. "It's hard to throw me a curveball when it comes to this topic," she says. "But I have to say, in all my years, I've never heard a weight loss story as dramatic, traumatic and sad as this one."
During his lifetime, Michael Hebranko has gained and lost over 3,000 pounds. At 34, he reached his heaviest weight: 1,100 pounds. "I have eaten 24 pork chops, 2 pounds of bacon, three dozen eggs at one sitting," he says.
Michael says he reached rock bottom when he lost his will to live. "I put the gun in my mouth; I went to pull the trigger," he says. But Michael didn't go through with it—instead, he wrote a letter to weight loss personality Richard Simmons.
Richard quickly became Michael's biggest supporter, coaching him through a world record–setting weight loss of more than 700 pounds in 19 months. The extreme weight loss earned Michael a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as one of the world's greatest dieters, losing the most amount of weight in the least amount of time.
Michael's battle didn't end there. As soon as he hit 198 pounds, he says he went out to celebrate. His victory meal? Four hot dogs and french fries with melted cheese. Over the next six years, Michael's weight ballooned back to almost 1,000 pounds.
In need of medical attention, Michael went to rehab, but the only way to get him out of the house was with a forklift. Over the next year and a half, Michael got down to 600 pounds. But as soon as he left rehab, the story repeated itself. Michael was carried out of his house once again and was brought to rehab for a second time.
Despite his lifelong battle with weight, Michael says he's doing well. "I'm alive and just loving life every day," he says.
Michael says when he lost the weight the first time around, his approach to weight loss was flawed, which was why the pounds came back so quickly. "I was on a diet for 19 months, and I had hit my goal. I wanted to be less than 200 pounds," he says. "So like any person who had a goal...I won the gold medal, and the next day I didn't have to get up and train, so I relaxed. Going on a diet means someday you're going to go off a diet. You can't be on a diet your whole life. That's what I've learned."
These days, Michael says he looks at nutrition as a lifestyle change. His current weight is in the mid-350s, and he says the pounds are coming off at a slow, healthy pace. "It's not about the numbers anymore," he says. "Today I have the same battle as a person who has to lose 5 pounds. We all have to do the same thing. ... We have to eat healthy, we have to do whatever exercise we can do for our body and we have to make it through the day and do it in a positive way and take care of ourselves."
In order to lose more than 700 pounds in 19 months, Michael says he compromised his health. "A good portion of the time I was sick in the hospital. I was in a coma for about six weeks," he says.
Michael says daily exercise was the other thing that helped him shed pounds quickly. He did Richard Simmons' Sweatin' to the Oldies tapes, and at 450 pounds, he joined a gym where he would swim and do water aerobics. "I was 38 years old, and I was doing some serious dieting. It was the first time in my life doing serious exercising," he says.
Michael is married with a 32-year-old son and says his greatest regret is putting his family through hard times. "My battle is personal, and for what I've done, I don't blame anybody," he says. "The people I feel and hurt for the most are the people closest to me. Right on the top of that list is my wife, [and] my son has given up a lot."
Though doctors have told him he wouldn't live past 30, Michael is now 55 and says one of his greatest blessings is his grandson. "He's going to be 4 years old, and I live for him every day," he says. "God willing, in June I'm going to be a grandpa again. What else is there in life? God gives me the gift of life every day, and I have the strength to [fight] the battle."
In the past three years, Michael says he's been in and out of rehab. In the past two and a half years, he says he hasn't fallen off the wagon. "I had a bad day or two, but I have been on a steady downhill with the numbers, and I've lost close to 300 pounds in the last two and half years on a slow basis."
The more he loses, the more Michael is able to live, he says. For the past 18 months, he's been able to go to church, go to the park with his grandson and even go to Disneyworld. "As long as you hang on and believe, there's light at the end of the tunnel," he says.
Michael says many people don't understand how he got to the point where firefighters had to knock down his wall and lift him out of his home with a forklift. "I didn't just wake up one morning and say, 'Oh, I've got to go to the hospital.' I knew I was getting sick," he says. "But I knew that once I had to leave the house—that Michael Hebranko, the World's Greatest Dieter, was going to have to go the hospital—the press would [be there]."
The media jumped on Michael's story. "What I was feeling the most for was my son in college," he says. "He had to go to school that day, and there I was in every newspaper—not the way I wanted fame."
Though Michael says he considered gastric bypass surgery, it ultimately wasn't for him. When he first started focusing on weight loss, he says he was too heavy to be a candidate for the surgery. While he applauds anyone who has succeeded with gastric bypass, Michael says it wouldn't solve his illness. "Unless they're ready to do a bypass in my brain, it's not going to work," he says. "I'm never hungry in my stomach; I'm never full in my stomach. I need the bypass [in my head], where I have the disease. That's where I fight the battle every day."
This time around, Michael says he's learned not to have a specific weight loss goal. "My goal is to live," he says. "My goal is to do better every day, to be able to move a little bit more."