CHICAGO — Loyal WGN News viewers have watched Chief Meteorologist Tom Skilling’s weight loss for months. However, few know the struggles off the air that culminated in his transformation.
In March, Skilling underwent gastric bypass surgery, but the procedure was just the beginning. In February, the meteorologist shared the news about his procedure with his thousands of followers on Facebook.
“As anyone who’s struggled to get weight off and KEEP it off, you realize at some point there are some people who need help beyond merely dieting,” he said in his post.
Few knew the man with the big laugh and the wonderful appetite for life, struggled.
“I used to be embarrassed at the promotional ads they would run on TV because I was so overweight,” Skilling said. “And I thought, ‘You look awful. That’s an embarrassment not only to yourself but to your station.’”
Chasing tornadoes was an incredible experience, but Skilling said he couldn’t bare to look at the video. He said WGN viewers took notice and said they would write to him and say they were concerned about him and said he was overweight.
“You at first are embarrassed that somebody is saying that to you, but really, they are absolutely right,” he said.
And the scientist who calculates and crunches numbers every day identified some concerning numbers of his own — weight, blood pressure, insulin and cholesterol were all rising. It was a developing health storm reminiscent of his father.
“Watching what my father went through, “ was on a path that was paralleling what my dad had been on,” he said. “He was overweight. He was diabetic, had high blood pressure.”
He said his father had a massive stroke and was comatose for a year. He said he never walked again or left his bed.
“That was terrible,” Skilling said. “And it was heart wrenching to watch someone you love go through that. But I thought, ‘You know Skilling, you’re on the same path. You are going to be in the same situation.”
But he suffered in silence.
“I didn’t realize how badly I felt,” Skilling said. “I would come up with every excuse in the book not to walk because I felt so bad. I would wake up in the morning short of breath. I ended up getting on CPAP.”
But now, Skilling said he is down eight suit sizes — three inches on the collar and 12 to 14 inches on the waist. He said the numbers are unimaginable numbers.
He said it’s all thanks to a team of surgeons, primary care doctors, nurses, nutritionists and loyal supporters.
“Talk to a psychologist, because your life is going to forever change after you go through this,” Skilling said.
Dr. Eric Hungness, a general surgeon at Northwestern Medicine, said the gastric bypass surgery really restricted how much he could eat which is what really drives the weight loss.
For the surgery, doctors shrink the stomach and then connect the smaller pouch directly to the intestines.
“Before surgery your stomach was about the size of a football,” Holly Herrington, Northwestern Medicine registered dietician, said. “And it can stretch. And now we’ve gone down to a stomach that’s about [the size of a tiny cup].”
Hungness said if people get into the habit of overeating overtime, your stomach can stretch out, meaning you’ll be able to eat more and more food which is what causes weight regain over time.
Skilling’s commitment to a new way of eating was key.
“I never ever, ever want to get into the situation I was in,” he said. “I love having clothes that fit me. I love getting into clothes that I couldn’t get into at one point.”
And as his portion sizes went down, so did Skilling’s clothing size. His jacket sizes shrunk and waist circumference dropped dramatically. And the number on the scale that used to stare back at Skilling menacingly, went down. Skilling said at his peak, he was at 292 pounds. On the day of the interview for this story, he was down to 181. The CPAP machine for sleep apnea was no longer necessary, and the blood pressure machine that typically reads higher when someone is in the doctor’s office, came back with normal results.
“He was on a medication called Metformin but now he’s no longer on that, we’ve been tracking his blood sugars and they’ve been in the normal range,” Hungness said.
There is one number going up — the steps Skilling can take with ease. The surgery opened the door for him to spend more time outdoors enjoying the weather — especially with his dog Maddie.
“I kind of amazed myself in just the last couple of months I go out and walk a little dog and I feel great,” he said. “I used to come in from those walks and I would feel wasted.”
Now, he said he comes in refreshed, with fresh, portion controlled meals awaiting.
Chef Pat Butkus is part of the team helping Skilling thrive post-surgery. The protein and calorie combination that he needed was a bit daunting at first.
“In order to lose weight, hit your goal weight, and keep your weight off ideally for the rest of your life it’s a lot of work,” Herrington said.
Skilling said at first, he was eating two or three ounce meals and supplemented that with protein shakes and vitamins.
“It’s not a quick fix. It’s not a fad type of diet. There really are a lot of diet and lifestyle changes to come with bariatric surgery,” Herrington said.
Meals are smaller but plentiful and packed with flavor.
“I used a little bit of fat free feta and this is ground pork with chickpeas so we have a nice protein load on that and the vegetables are roasted butternut squash fennel a little bit of onions one olive that’s been slivered for a little bit of taste and some grape cherry tomatoes on top,” Butkus said.
Dessert is now fruit — and no creamer in his coffee.
The tricks of the trade helped Skilling trade in his old clothes and his fears.
“I’m a different person, psychologically and otherwise to be able to walk and not feel like your life is coming to an end or you’re sick. The high you get out of getting into clothes that are in sizes that you remember as a college student or a teenager is stunning,” Skilling said. “I’m a different human being.”
An Skilling’s forecast for the future: He says now he may need to stick around a little longer as a result of these new changes.
To date, Skilling has lost 110 pounds. He is eight pounds away from his goal.
For more information on the weight loss program at Northwestern Memorial, visit their website.