By Linda Kissam
Sitting in front of me is Michel Demma a trim 31 year old Temecula man with a big smile, an amazing spirit, and an inspiring story. Looking at him now would never lead me to believe he was ever anything but slim, energetic, and a leader in his field. But two years ago it was a different story. Think 400 pounds, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, depression, heart issues, 8 pills a day, and a life being driven by food addiction.
I spoke with Michel about his two year long journey. Michel lost 200 pounds in year one; year two has been about maintenance and giving back. As amazing as this all sounds… if I told you that Michel is the Food & Beverage Manager for Thornton Winery, your eyes might roll a bit and your head might take a spin or two. How is it possible to lose all that weight then maintain it when surrounded by 5-star cuisine and premium wines?
I think the answer starts on the day Michel’s cardiologist told him he was going to die if he didn’t take control of his life. Up until that day Michel will tell you friends, co-workers and even his boss John Thornton reached out to help him control his spiraling weight. It wasn’t enough. It wasn’t until the death card was thrown down on the table that Michel had his own epiphany and decided to make wide sweeping changes. He finally admitted his work life was challenging. He powered daily through exhaustion, swollen legs, a painful back and shortness of breath. He did his job, but the toll was mounting hour by hour.
After doing exhaustive research Michel decided to have bariatric surgery. The original surgery was done at Cedar Sinai with Theodore M. Khalili, MD, FACS . Michel eventually followed Dr. Khalili to his new private practice at Khalili Center for Bariatric Care in Beverly Hills. From the day of his surgery, January 11, 2010, Michel has proven to be a model patient. He listened, learned, and lives the program. As Michel told me, “They gave me the tools and I used them. The surgery is not a free pass or a wonder drug. It takes hard work, focus and dedication to an alternative lifestyle.” He takes a breath, looks me it the eye and pronounces, “But it’s doable and as a result, my life has improved 100%.”
It was about 6 months into recovery and 60 pounds lighter when Michel really began to feel the results of his success. His back hurt less, his energy level soared, and work was a doable pleasure. He was still getting support from coworkers, but this time expressed in positive accolades.
I am curious to know how he “survives” being around all that great food and wine. The sights, sounds and smells have to be impacting his food intake decisions. “Nope” he says. “I follow the rules, I use the tools, I eat to live, not live to eat.” In addition he shared, “It’s easiest when I bring my own food and stock up my office frige for my work week. I find I have everything I need to be happy and content.” Now that’s interesting. Maybe in my next interview with him I’ll find out what’s in that refrigerator.
As he moves forward in his weight management journey he continues to immerse himself in a positive lifestyle that keeps him on track. “I was using food for all the wrong reasons. This addiction does not go away without continuing work” he explains. “When the doctor’s office asked me if I would do support classes for bariatric patients in the Temecula area I only had to think about it a minute, ‘yes!’” Michel says the group meets at Thornton Winery and includes all kinds of people such as a community relations expert, a psychologist, a manufacturer, and so forth. They’re all regular people who have food addictions. The sessions are free and open to anyone who needs support. “This effort puts me in the spotlight. I can’t fail, I need to stay successful.”
At the end of our conversation I asked Michel what he feels the keys to long term weight management success is. “First, find a weight loss program that works for you. I went through many before I found the right answer for me. Second, pick a doctor you can relate to and who can relate to you. Third, realize that surgery is a tool, not the ultimate answer. Fourth, follow the rules. And finally, attend a support group. You may not think you need one, but you do.”
Michel has a daily blog that I think you’ll find caring and supportive. He’s willing to talk to anyone who needs help. Visit with him at www.micheldemma.com.
Visit CityRoom Gourmet for Michel’s Favorite Recipe: Broiled Lemon & Herb Crusted Sea Bass with Sautéed Arugula, Tomatoes & Zucchini
by Chef Anthony Bartolotta of Thornton Winery.