Editor's note: This is the fourth in an occasional series on Dan Hawthorne, who after topping 600 pounds has been on a journey to lose weight through diet and exercise.
Not all gifts come in a brightly wrapped package neatly tied with a bow.
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Some are the product of hard work and determination.
Since last April, Dan Hawthorne has been on a journey to lose weight and lead a healthier lifestyle.
Working with Hagerstown Community College fitness trainer Thomas Burge for the past nine months, he has taken about 250 pounds off his once 600-pound frame.
It was an end of the year goal he had hoped to achieve.
And he did it.
"It was the best Christmas present I could have given myself and Thomas," Hawthorne said.
Weight loss comes one step at a time
One year ago, it would have been impossible for the Hagerstown man to imagine how his life would turn around.
"I really thought my life was over," he said. "I was a ton of different emotions. I was afraid of dying or having a heart attack. I was afraid of never being able to fully enjoy life again. And I was very mad. I was mad at God, work, friends, life in general. I was very mad with Dan and often looked in the mirror and apologized to the man looking back at me who had hurt and sadness in his eyes."
Physically, Hawthorne said: "I was a horrible mess. My ankle was terrible. I could barely walk from the house to my car without severe pain. Just simple things were a major struggle."
And he was embarrassed at what he had become.
"When I went to the grocery store, it was always late at night so people wouldn't see me," he said. "I didn't think I could ever escape this dark lonely place I had fallen into."
Today, Hawthorne calls himself "a totally different man. I love life, and I love sharing my story and helping people."
Since losing weight is one of the top New Year's resolutions, Hawthorne said his biggest advice to those wishing to shed some pounds would be to start by making simple changes.
"I think people often want that big, fast result, so they set unrealistic goals," he said. "When they don't reach them, they give up and end up gaining more weight. I always tell people not to use the D word — diet. Diets are quick fixes. All we have to do is make good, sensible choices and make little changes — which lead to bigger changes. It's not as hard as we might think. If you have the desire, you can do it."
Hawthorne said Burge started him out taking small steps — both in his eating habits and his workouts.
"Something Thomas did with me — and it worked very well — was reinforcing that small, simple changes work — like more water and less soda, whole wheat rather than white, cashews and almonds rather than M&M's and Snickers."
He also learned to incorporate physical activity on a daily basis, starting slow and building up his exercise routines."
"One year ago, I could never have dreamed I would be doing squats, kettle bell swings, step-ups, working with heavy ropes and lifting weights," he said. "If you had told me I would be doing these things, I would have thought you were ‘wackaloonie.' At that time, just taking a shower was a major and difficult task."
With hard work comes rewards
Hawthorne said he has stayed dedicated to changing his life and is proud of making it through the holidays without having an eating meltdown.
"The week before Thanksgiving, I put myself on an extra strict eating routine — no processed foods or dairy," he said. "I worked real hard in the gym, so after all of that, I could enjoy Thanksgiving dinner like everybody else. I had my stuffing and mashed potatoes with gravy and really enjoyed my piece of homemade pumpkin pie. But the next day, it was back to my salads, healthy fruit, nuts and veggies. Same with Christmas. I ate a normal traditional Christmas dinner, then back to the healthy stuff."
Hawthorne said it's important for people to know that "we can enjoy food and we need to have that reward once in a while. Eating healthy doesn't have to be like a prison or a job. It's about making the right choices."
And the right choices, he added, have made him a new man.
"I can breathe so much better. I have so much more energy. I sleep in bed now like a normal person. And I'm wearing clothes I haven't worn in 20 years," he said.
Mentally, Hawthorne said he has "found that happy man that I used to be 25 years ago. I love going out and being with friends. During my dark period, I hid from people and avoided going anywhere."
The new year, Hawthorne said, will be another year of challenging himself.
He wants to write a book, has several television appearances in the works and plans on continuing a daily show on FTNS fitness radio with Burge.
Hawthorne and Burge also plan on offering more healthy living seminars, similar to one the duo held in November.
"I want to do something with folks who are dealing with major obesity problems," Hawthorne said. "I am and was one of them and know what it's like to be there. As I continue to get my life back, I want to help others do the same."
"Life is crazy," Hawthorne said. "But I love it. It's all about giving back and helping and if nice things come with that, I consider it a plus."