BLUE ISLAND, Ill -- A suburban man, trapped in his home for years, turned his defeat into triumph. His story, while difficult, is an inspiration for people who want to truly live, not just survive another day.
In 2011, Rafael Zuniga weighed over 800 pounds. His weight was a lifelong battle that spiraled out of control.
Since then, 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, learned how to take every day just one step at a time. Because for years, he couldn't take a step at all, not even one.
Zuniga was confined to his home in Blue Island after drinking and eating away his life.
Stressers of work as a real estate adjuster among other things and later a bad break up left him at an all-time high of 831 pounds he says. Booze and fast food were his best friends and he hadn't left his house in years.
"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.
"It was a beautiful day out and I had seen everybody. Life was passing me by."
That is when Zuniga said he was going to change his path of physical and financial ruin to one of wellness. He wanted to start living again. So he scoured the web for help and discovered the app LoseIt!
His goal was to be 250 pounds and to travel the world.
"The image of me just being by an ocean, man, that helped me out tremendously,” he says.
Back then and even today, Zuniga uses the app to count his calories, track his meals and seek support from other users trying to lose weight. LoseIt! teaches him to eat smarter, he says.
But he has also been exercising. At first, teetering the scale at 700-800 pounds, 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.
And now, with the bench press, free weights, swimming and the bike, Zuniga is sweating his way back to life.
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. He drinks a lot of water.
And has had no surgical procedure to lose the weight.
There is no more alcohol and he does take a prescribed appetite suppressant, but the real motivator? A vacation.
Three years later in 2014, Zuniga's dream came true. Calling himself "skinny for him" he was down to 400 pounds, so his father booked him a business class seat to the Dominican Republic.
Since then, Zuniga has shed another 100 pounds totaling at least 500 lost in all. And he's travelled even more.
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.