Bayar Baayarsaikhan was only 29 when his doctor gave him some sobering news.
“I was diagnosed with severe high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes. And then he told me I was only expected to live until my forties,” Baayarsaikhan told The Today Show Thursday.
At the time, Baayarsaikhan — who said he’s struggled with his weight his entire life — was the heaviest he’s ever been: 500 lbs.
The married father of two said that the doctor’s appointment was a much-needed wake-up call.
“I have two kids. I was still young. I was 29 at the time. And my doctor told me that my life expectancy was like mid-forties,” he said, of the January 2021 medical visit, which was originally prompted by severe, persistent exhaustion.
“I thought, I don’t want to die in my forties. I want to see my kids grow up. I want grandkids.”
“My doctor asked me, ‘Can you really do this? It’s a long journey.’ And I said ‘I have to do this.'”
The first step: Treating his newly diagnosed severe sleep apnea, which was contributing to his persistent exhaustion.
“I learned that in a normal, healthy person, sleep apneas can occur maybe about 1-3 occurrences in one hour, but I was having 135 occurrences in one hour. So pretty much it would look like I was sleeping, but my body was never asleep. And that’s why I was exhausted all day. It was like I was never sleeping,” he told The Today Show, adding that he had been taking two-hour naps every day.
After starting medication as well as using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to help him breathe at night, Baayarsaikhan tackled the next hurdle on his path to health: His sugar addiction.
“My biggest challenge was that I was addicted to sugar, usually consuming 200 grams of sugar a day,” said Baayarsaikhan, who admitted to eating fast food and snacking on cookies. “I used to drink Coke every day or Red Bull … My sugar addiction was high. So I had to cut that out and went through sugar withdrawal. That was really hard and I had to train my mind.”
Instead of going on a restrictive diet, which Baayarsaikhan says he believes “is not sustainable in the long term,” the Chicago man focused on portion control.
“Over time I learned how to control my portions, which slowly killed my cravings,” he said. “I still eat everything, but I learned to control it. It took me a year and a half to learn how to control it. I still crave [soda], but I’ll only have it if I really, really want it. And when I do have it, I’ll take two sips and throw it away. Same with chips. I would eat a handful and not the whole bag.”
He also had to ease into a fitness plan, as Baayarsaikhan admits his sleep apnea-induced exhaustion made him sedentary — something that contributed to the weight gain.
“I often felt so tired that I would have to sit down to do the dishes or tell my kids that I was too exhausted to play with them. At Disney World, I had to rent a wheelchair,” he added. “My wife encouraged me to start walking, but I lost interest in doing anything … I just didn’t want to go outside because my feet would hurt.”
He eased into fitness by walking and running, monitoring his heart rate because “my heart is weak.” And once Baayarsaikhan increased his stamina, he started weight-lifting.
A year and a half after he started his wellness journey, Baayarsaikhan completed the Chicago Triathlon — a combination of swimming, biking, and running, which he says he finished in just over an hour.
Next up? A 32-mile triathlon in August.
These days, when the cookies call out to him, Baayarsaikhan, now 31, says he has a failsafe system to maintain his discipline.
“My wife and kids are my accountability,” the dad of two boys, aged 5 and 9, tells The Today Show.
“I see my wife and think about how she’s the person I committed my life to and I don’t want to leave her in my forties.”
Although he’s still 20 lbs. away from hitting his target weight of 250 lbs. — exactly half of what he weighed at that first doctor’s visit in January 2021 — Baayarsaikhan says he’s happy with where he is physical.
“I’ve never felt better,” said Baayarsaikhan, who credits his wellness journey with increased memory and productivity at work. “I feel like I’ve changed into another person and the people around me have noticed, too.”
Best of all, he says he’s a better father these days. “It’s helped me with my kids,” he said. “They refused to eat McDonald’s today which was not the case before.”