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At the beginning of the pandemic, Paul Devlin was not in good shape. The 59-year-old accountant in Boston weighed over 420 pounds and he was sure that his next doctor’s visit would include a prescription for blood pressure medication.
“I would go for a walk and I would have difficulty breathing even walking up a small hill. My knees hurt. I had back issues. I could only walk a half a block before my back started spasming, Devlin tells TODAY.com.
When the world went into lockdown, Devlin’s life changed. “I was a really dedicated employee, a ‘put the job first’ type of employee,” he says. So when he found himself at home without work, he realized that he had a choice. “I just saw that I could either take this opportunity or I could, you know, fold and sit and watch Netflix all day.”
Devlin is adamant that he doesn’t see the pandemic as anything less than a terrible tragedy. “It wasn’t a positive thing in any way,” he says. It’s simply that having time at home with less to do than usual gave Devlin a chance to think about the choices he was making about his health.
He started his weight-loss journey by moving more
Early in the pandemic, Devlin visited the pool with his family. They were only letting people in four at a time and many people in his neighborhood weren’t using it because they were scared of COVID-19. But he decided to give swimming a try. It turned out to be a game changer.
“Being in the pool really helped help my back,” Devlin recounts. That tiny taste of relief was enough to motivate him. “I started doing laps. I started walking the dog longer. It became more comfortable and it kind of snowballed after that,” Devlin says.
He started walking. At first, it was just 1,500 steps. Gradually, his stamina increased and he started feeling changes in his body. “My back was the biggest thing. My knees were hurting less. I could go up that hill maybe a little faster than I did before without losing my breath,” says Devlin.
He had bariatric bypass surgery
Devlin wanted to continue to improve his health. He followed Al Roker’s health journey and experience with gastric bypass surgery and that is, in part, what Devlin says inspired him to keep moving forward. It wasn’t easy to get a doctor’s appointment during the pandemic, he says, but he was patient.
“I probably waited five months even to get an appointment. They put you on a waiting list to go on a waiting list. And in that time, I still continued to walk every day and to swim. I tried to stay as active as possible. I tried to eat well,” he says.
Finally, Devlin started working with the Weight Center at Massachusetts General Hospital. By the time he had bariatric bypass surgery in February of 2022, Devlin had already lost 70 pounds. But he was just getting started.
Devlin’s doctors taught him a lot about diet, nutrition and fitness. “There were a lot of tweaks to that once I started with the weight center,” he says. For example, he switched from having two packets of oatmeal for breakfast to having two eggs to make sure that he got the protein he needed.
His family was a support and an inspiration
Devlin says that his family was a crucial support system as he transformed his life — and they were also his primary motivation. His wife, Michele, and two children, Olivia and Owen, were all in from the start. Michele helped him make dietary changes, Olivia kept him up to date on how to use social media and Owen has helped him photograph and document his journey.
Devlin posts every day in the Start TODAY Facebook Group, but he says that there’s a lot he doesn’t post. “It’s more for my kids,” he says. “I want them to see me walking every single day. I’m showing them what it takes. It’s not just about the weight loss. It’s that you can do anything you set your mind to. That’s what the real lesson is,” he says.
In other words, part of what keeps Devlin motivated is knowing that his family is watching. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t enjoy his accomplishments, though. “Yes, the weight loss is important. Don’t get me wrong,” he laughs. Devlin has now lost over 210 pounds and walks an impressive nine miles per day.
Not only is he feeling great, his health transformation means that he has more energy to spend quality time with his family. “I feel incredible. It’s crazy. I was at a gaming convention over the weekend with my son and I never needed a break. I was like let’s go we can go go go go go,” he says excitedly.
“It’s one thing to say do this. It’s another thing to do it and show them that that you can do it,” Devlin told Stephanie Mansour, a fitness contributor at TODAY.com in a Facebook Live event for Start TODAY. “You don’t lead from behind — you lead from the front.”
He’s celebrating his non-scale victories
Devlin says that, while the 210 pounds he’s lost are important, the number on a scale is just a helpful tool for measuring his progress. But Devlin has other tools. “I had a beach towel that I would use to take a shower with every single day. It was a huge towel. I now use a regular towel, wraps right around,” he says.
Here are some of his other non-scale victories:
- He has tons of energy.
- His back feels a lot better.
- His knee feels better — although he will probably need knee replacement surgery someday.
- He sleeps a lot better. He’s not off of the CPAP machine, yet, but he hopes to be soon.
- He’s more alert.
- He’s more confident.
Here’s what he eats in a typical day:
- He starts the day by drinking 20 ounces of water.
- Breakfast: Protein shake before he begins his commute.
- Snack: Greek yogurt with berries as a snack.
- Lunch: Salad with grilled chicken or sliced cucumbers with Laughing Cow cheese.
- Dinner: A protein — sometimes sausage or chicken — and vegetables.
Devlin is committed to eating well, but he isn’t a fanatic about it. For the Red Sox opening day, for example, he was planning to have hot dogs — Fenway Franks. “In Boston, it really is a holiday.”
His fitness routine
In a given day, Devlin walks around nine miles. He does this by commuting part of the way to work and walking the rest of the way. During his lunch break, he will either walk around the building he works in or walk around Boston. In the evenings, he generally takes his dog, Elvis, out on an adventure. He also still swims regularly — although it can be hard to find a pool in the colder months.
The secret to his success
Devlin says that the secret to his success is his flexibility. “I’m very easygoing. You just have to roll with the flow sometimes. You know, it can’t be so serious. I’m going to eat healthy all day and then tonight, I know I’m going to enjoy a hot dog,” he says.
Devlin thinks that fitness and health should be fun and that the secret to consistency is finding things you enjoy. “You have to do what you like to do. I like to walk. I like to swim. I don’t really like going to the gym, but I do go to the gym if the weather is bad.”
Devlin says that, as an accountant, he has a tendency to be very numbers driven. And even though he does keep track of his journey, he doesn’t let a bad day get him down. “I didn’t hit my heart-rate zone numbers today and I’m good with that,” he says.
He found community in Start TODAY
Devlin posts every day in the Start TODAY Facebook Group. He and his dog, Elvis, are kind of Start TODAY celebrities. Devlin has been so open and candid about both his successes and his setbacks that he serves as inspiration to other members. But, he says, the group has helped him, too.
“They keep me accountable. Posting every single day really keeps me accountable. There’s all this camaraderie. We’re all in this together,” he says. “You really feel it in the energy; you really feel the energy through the internet!”
And, Devlin says, the Start TODAY group has given him a sense of fellowship with other men who are on their own health journeys. He says that folks reach out to him all the time and that the other men in the group are really supportive of one another.
“There’s quite a few guys there,” he says. “And we have our own thing going on. [Start TODAY] is definitely not just for women,” he says.