As far back as he could remember, Sean Mikhail was always the biggest kid in class, in both height and weight. Even though he towered over his classmates, he tried to shrink around them to avoid bullying. Unfortunately, it didn’t work.
“I was made fun of all the time. It was tough and really affected my self-esteem,” says the 26-year-old Las Vegas resident. “I honestly believed I would never be at a normal weight. Then, when I became a teenager, it got worse.”
Growing up in an Italian-American family, Mikhail wasn’t out of place. Many family members were overweight, thanks to pasta-heavy meals that were light on vegetables, he recalls. Regular exercise wasn’t on the menu either, and although he played soccer as a kid, practices were only a couple of times a week, and no one else in the family prioritized activity.
“It felt like we were all eating a normal amount, it just wasn’t always the healthiest food. And none of us were getting exercise,” he says. “Those choices start to pile up, and we all put on the pounds.”
As a teen, Mikhail’s weight gain accelerated, and his family tried dieting together. He managed to lose 30 pounds within a couple of months, but once the family drifted back to its regular habits, the weight came back.
It wasn’t until he was living alone and trying to build a career that a feeling of urgency kicked in. As a freelance videographer in his early 20s, Mikhail felt like potential clients only saw his weight, not his talent, when he would go to pitch meetings.
“Of course, I’d felt the judgment of other people all my life, but when I made this shift toward wanting to be seen as a professional, I began to notice how people looked at me and heard what they said,” he recalls. “It was little things, like a dirty look, or someone calling me ‘Big Man’ over and over. I wanted to be more than my weight. I wanted to be taken seriously.”
Health was a factor as well, he adds, since his doctor told him he was close to prediabetic. He knew that if he continued on the same path, diabetes would likely loom ahead. At that point, he was at his highest weight of 345 pounds, and even at 6-foot-1, it was uncomfortable for him.
Unsure of where to turn for advice, Mikhail began looking on Reddit and reading weight-loss success stories. By that point, he’d tried a range of strategies, including keto, Mediterranean and low-carb diets, plus frequent workouts. When he found a Reddit group that focused only on calorie counting, he realized it was the one simple tactic he hadn’t considered.
“Amazingly, it just never occurred to me before that point to track calories and have that be enough,” he says. “But once I downloaded MyFitnessPal and focused on keeping track of what I ate, the weight started coming off.”
Like many people, his weight loss wasn’t a linear progression. He remembers plenty of ups, downs and plateaus, but he faithfully tracked every calorie since his start date of January 1, 2019 with a starting weight of 323.
“I’d had so many false starts before then, but I made it my resolution that if I was going to succeed, I had to give it everything I’ve got,” he says. “I thought, if I can just do one entire year of tracking calories, I will be taking a big step toward my mission of being taken seriously as a professional.”
As the year continued, Mikhail began to build awareness about eating habits that worked best for him. For example, after realizing he wasn’t as hungry in the morning, he shifted his calories toward lunch and dinner, staying consistent with that strategy. It worked — the weight loss sped up soon afterward. When he compared a recent family photo to one taken months prior, he realized the difference was becoming visible, which fueled him even more.
By April 2020, Mikhail was only about 10 pounds away from his goal of 180, but he decided to stay right around 190. By that point, he’d lost 130 pounds and felt comfortable and strong. He felt that losing any more would make him feel depleted, so he focused on a new mission: helping his parents.
“They started using MyFitnessPal at the beginning of 2021, and I have them logging their food every day,” he says. “It feels good to be helping someone else and to get them started on this path for their health.”