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Wakefield man is dubbed ‘king’ of weight loss

Tom Carano with potatoes representing the 230 pounds he lost; below, a “before’’ picture. Tom Carano with potatoes representing the 230 pounds he lost; below, a “before’’ picture. (George Rizer/For The Boston Globe)
By Wendy Killeen
Globe Correspondent / October 2, 2011

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Twenty-two people filed into the room, each carrying 10 pounds of potatoes, followed by two others carrying 5 pounds.

That’s 230 pounds, the amount of weight lost by Tom Carano of Wakefield in two years after he neared 500 pounds in 2008.

“I was watching the potatoes building up, building up, and building up, and, I was thinking ‘that’s a dead man there,’ ’’ said Carano, 47, who is married and the father of three. “It symbolized 230 pounds of fat, unhealthiness, and dead weight - not life.’’

The event was a workshop being held in Bridgewater by Take Off Pounds Sensibly, the nonprofit support group that helped Carano lose weight. (The potatoes were later donated to a food pantry.)

Recently named the support group’s International King for reaching his goal weight of 227 pounds, Carano has been sharing his story with some of the group’s chapters, which number more than 10,000 in the United States, Canada, and abroad. There are 97 chapters in Massachusetts.

“The only way I can thank the people of TOPS enough is to be available to tell people I did it, I’ve seen other people do it, and you can do it, too,’’ said Carano.

Having had a lanky build when he was younger, the 6-foot-2-inch Carano said he started gaining weight after getting married in 1983 and starting a family with his wife, Lisa.

He was working long hours at a job that kept him seated at a computer. And he ate a lot of junk food.

“I was in the rut of work, home, couch, work, home, couch,’’ he said.

He gained 50 pounds and then another 50 over a few years.

“It was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m heavy, but it’s not a big deal,’ ’’ he said. “But then in my early 40s, I gained another 100 pounds or so.’’

By 2008, Carano was obese, unhappy, and impatient with people. His mother suggested he get his blood pressure checked. He went to a doctor - which he hadn’t done in several years - and was told his blood pressure was “astronomically high,’’ his cholesterol was “through the roof,’’ and he was borderline diabetic.

The doctor gave him several prescriptions, but also, Carano recalled, said “here’s a pill [now] because I am worried about you having a stroke on the way home.’’ She also gave him the card of a gastric bypass surgeon.

“I felt relieved,’’ he said. “I didn’t think it was possible to lose weight myself. There was no other hope. The only choice was to get the surgery.’’

Carano made a consultation appointment and was told to visit a website about gastric bypass. He learned there were prerequisites for the surgery: patients had to show they could maintain a diet and become physically active.

“I thought, ’Gee, why don’t I just do that [myself],’ ’’ he said.

Carano began walking on his street and eventually joined a Y, walking on a treadmill and in a pool. Over time, he went from being able to exercise just five minutes to 40 minutes. He also began eating more healthfully. The weight began to drop off.

In the Y locker room, he met a man who had lost 60 pounds with Take Off Pounds Sensibly. He attended his first TOPS meeting in Reading and met someone who had lost 130 pounds.

“That blew my mind,’’ Carano said. “I was hearing all the successes and everyone was so happy. I felt comfortable right away.’’

When he joined TOPS in 2008, he weighed 457. He reached his goal weight of 227 in 2010.

“It’s total group support week by week,’’ said Lee Allen, the area captain for TOPS in Essex County. “Tom became our motivation with his weight loss weekly, which was very sensible.’’

Allen said that each week the “best loser’’ gets $1 in an envelope. By the time Carano reached his goal weight, he had received 60 envelopes.

“It’s about people who care about each other,’’ said Rosemary Smith, Massachusetts state coordinator for TOPS, who lost more than 100 pounds. “It’s not just going to a weekly meeting. You might get a card from someone, or an e-mail, or a phone call.

“Whether you are doing really well or struggling, someone is thinking of you.’’

Lisa Carano said she never complained about her husband’s weight because she “didn’t want to put him down.’’ But, she added, “It did bother me.

“In the beginning I encouraged him, and then he didn’t need me anymore,’’ she said. “He just kept going and going.’’

Now, she said, “He’s more active;I can’t keep up with him. And he feels a lot better about himself.’’

As for being named TOPS International King, Carano said, “It wasn’t my goal, but once you have the chance to be king, why not?’’

TOPS membership costs $26 a year. For more information, visit www.tops.org.