I am interviewing Michael or Mike Epstein today, one of the latest people to appear on Extreme Weight Loss (ABC) on August 13, 2013. He was one of the fortunate few to get chosen by the co-host of the series, Chris Powell, to take part in his year-long journey to lose at least half of his body weight so he could then qualify for skin removal surgery.
Douglas Cobb: Mike, it’s nice to be able to talk to you and interview you! Thanks for allowing me to ask you a few questions, and perhaps also to answer the few remaining questions viewers of the episode which featured you on Tuesday, August 13, might have had.
First, Mike, when I watched the episode and I heard Chris say you had your own business, and he went there to surprise you, I was wondering what business it was that you owned. Chris may have said, but if he did, I was busy typing and didn’t hear what he said.
I know that Brian Epstein was the one-time manager of The Beatles –I don’t know if you’re related to him, though.
Mike Epstein: I think somewhere down the line the Epsteins are all related. My wife just wanted my name so when she wrote a letter to one of the kid’s teacher’s, she could sign it “Epstein’s Mom” !! Don’t know if you remember Welcome Back Kotter or not.
Douglas Cobb: What’s the name of your company and could you explain a little about it to our readers, Mike?
Mike Epstein: The name of my company is Conversion Technologies International, Inc. We are located in Mt. Laurel, NJ. We are a document scanning company. We basically eliminate paper by scanning it into the computer. We do a lot of work in the healthcare space with Hospitals and doctors offices. We scan the medical records and then capture the data so that it can be put into an electronic medical record system. This allows doctors the time to see their patients instead of losing productivity by putting the information into the system themselves. They can continue to see their patients without interruption.
Douglas Cobb: Chris mentioned that you’re a “fighter” and that you were an athlete in high school and college.What sports did you participate in? Did you ever box before the year you spent losing weight, or was that more of a figure of speech Chris used?
Mike Epstein: I played football in high school and college. I went to Cherry Hill West High School in Cherry Hill, NJ and went to college at Albright College in Reading, PA. I had never boxed before in my life. I think Chris referred to me as being a fighter because even after I failed my initial medical exam, I could have just gone home and given up. Instead, I looked at the next test and an opportunity to get back on the show and I fought as hard as I could to make sure it was a success. I basically told them to throw anything they wanted at me if it meant I had a chance to be on the show. It was a very scary moment not knowing whether I could continue or not.
Douglas Cobb: What was it like when you first met Chris Powell and you found out you’d been accepted to take part in the show? Is he as nice of a person as he seems to be on TV?
Mike Epstein: Chris is even nicer in person than he is on TV, if you can believe that. And he truly cares. He and his wife Heidi have dedicated their lives to helping people. It’s honest and sincere. They will be friends of mine for life. To give you an example of the type of person Chris is, when we were in California for what they call “finalists week” and they don’t pick everyone for the show, Chris could have waited to see who was selected. Instead, when I first shook his hand (and got a big Chris Powell hug) he knew my name. That was huge to me. It made me feel like he truly cared. Just by knowing my name. He and his wife are truly special people.
Douglas Cobb: What did you feel like when you were told by the show’s doctor that you had calcified arteries leading to your heart, and that you might not be able to participate in the show? Had you ever though before that you might be that close to having a heart attack?
Mike Epstein: When I was told by the show’s doctor that I had calcified arteries leading to my heart and that I might not be able to participate on the show, I was devastated. I had worked so hard to get picked for the show and I was so excited. It was like winning the lottery. I had discussions with my family about what the next year was going to be like, everybody was onboard and excited. This was really going to happen. I wasn’t going to be the boy who cried wolf anymore. The devastating news took it’s toll on my kids. If there was one thing I never wanted to do was be a burden on my family. I knew if I came back home the way it was, my kids would be scared about me for the rest of their lives. I had to find a way to get back in. And I did. When they told me I could take a test and they would re-evaluate the results and my status, I knew what I had to do. I had to fight and more positive than I had ever been in my life. I never saw myself as a sick person or having a heart attack and I wasn’t going to let that define who I was for the rest of my life. I find that when people are told they are sick they believe it. It’s the whole mind transformation thing again. I wasn’t going to let that define me forever and that’s why I fought back. Mind over matter. And look where I am today !!!
Douglas Cobb: During Phase One of the year, what would you say were the most difficult parts of it?
Mike Epstein: As high as the goal was for Phase One, I found it to be the easiest phase of all with regards to losing weight. I had a lot of weight to lose, so cutting back on my calories was easier than adding more and more hours of exercise to the existing exercise routine. And it worked. I was able to pull big numbers every week. But I had to make sure I was focusing on losing fat and not lean body mass. The other phases became more difficult because there was less weight to lose. I would say the most difficult part of this entire journey was having to say “No” to my family. I wasn’t used to that. It was easy to drop everything and take the kids to wherever they needed to go. I was a good cheerleader. And it was just another reason not to exercise. Once the show began, I had to say “No” to their requests until I hit my commitment for the day. It was the most difficult thing I had to do because I knew my kids wanted to spend time with me and my wife was stuck with picking up the slack. I appreciate my wife more and more every day for her sacrifices and for staying with me and loving me even as a morbidly obese person. She had a full time job and had to do all the “other” things. They never really showed that on my episode.
Douglas Cobb: Chris has mentioned many times on episodes that most people have a difficult time meeting their Phase 2 Weight Loss Goals. And yet, you did met your goal — congratulations on that, and on losing the weight you needed to to qualify for your skin removal surgery!
For you, would you say that meeting this goal was more or less difficult than meeting your Phase 1 goal? Also, where was it that Chris sent you and your wife on the cruise to, and was if hard to not eat all of the delicious food you saw around you aboard the ship?
MIke Epstein: Thank you. Skin surgery was always on my radar from day one. I knew that it was going to get ugly after I lost all of the weight and I was determined to hit my goals and get the surgery. Phase Two was the toughest phase of all because I couldn’t look back to the beginning and I couldn’t look forward to the end. I was just hanging in the middle and I knew it wasn’t a time for restng. I knew there was a weight loss goal and just treated it as if it was just my daily work. I knew how many pounds I had to lose a week on average to stay the course and hit my goal. I had failed so many times in the past shooting for goals that I made my transformation year the year to hit all my goals and believe in myself. That’s why it was so important to me to hit all of the goals, knowing fully well that it wasn’t a feat that was accomplished very often and I wanted to see just how far I could push my mind and my body.
My wife and I went on a cruise on Royal Caribbean Cruises to Jamaica, Haiti and Cozumel, Mexico. There were food temptations everywhere, but I was honoring my commitment. Integrity was my word of the day every day. At the end of the day and the cameras are turned off, the only person left is yourself. It would have been so easy to just cheat and eat food I wasn’t supposed to. I woke up every day with a Purpose, Intention and Passion. That was my family. No food would taste as good as extending my life in a healthy way feels.
Douglas Cobb: When you ran up the Rocky stairs in Philadelphia, Mike, and the three miles that lead up to it, did you think that you could make it when you started out? Chris said that the heat and humidity were high that day, and he had a little trouble, himself.
Mike Epstein: Unlike the boxing, where I trained knowing that there was a challenge ahead, I had no idea that we would be doing the Rocky Run. I had a little idea what we might be doing when we shot a scene where Chris and I drank raw eggs for breakfast. I had concerns about not being able to make it all the way through since I wasn’t running as part of my workouts. But part of this experience was pushing yourself to your limit and not breaking. When Chris told me that my family was waiting at the other end to do the weigh in, I just knew what had to be done. I didn’t care if I had to crawl up those steps, I wasn’t going to let my family down. Even with heat over 100 degrees and high humidity, something in my mind took over and I was going to succeed. I always wanted to be an example for my kids on how to do things right and I did.
Douglas Cobb: What was meeting and working out with Evander “the Real Deal” Holyfield like? Seeing him on TV, he seemed to be a very nice person — at least, outside of the ring.
Mike Epstein: Evander was the nicest guy in the world. Outside of the ring. He was genuine and cared about me doing well. I think he was a little concerned about turning the event into a joke and giving a bad name to boxing. Once we had a chance to train together, he felt more comfortable. I felt a lot more comfortable too. Even more when the fight was over.
Douglas Cobb: I have have a few more questions for you, Mike! Great answers so far; thanks!
Were you surprised that you qualified by the end of Phase 3 for your skin removal surgery? Is it an outpatient procedure, and does it leave many if any scars behind?
Mike Epstein: In order to qualify for skin removal surgery, you need to have lost between 40-50%+ of your bodyweight. Even then it’s at the discretion of the doctor whether you are approved or not. My goal was to make sure there wasn’t a shadow of a doubt that I would be approved. I wanted as much fat out of my body as possible. When they did my body composition test, even I was surprised that I was at 10% bodyfat. That was bodybuilder territory. Once I heard 10%, I was pretty confident I would be approved. It’s a complex procedure, one that took about 5 hours. It was done in a surgery center and I spent a few days in a hospital environment. Overall, there were approximately 1,000 stitches involved. Obviously there are scars, but Dr. Stoker is truly an artist. He placed the scars in places that would not be as revealing. The scars will always be there, but they are a lot better than the alternative. I will give you a picture of my transformation with my shirt off so you can get a feel for what I look like after surgery.
Douglas Cobb: What would you say it’s like to now be able to work out with your son, in martial arts, and do things with your wife that just months ago, you probably thought you’d never be able to do again?
Mike Epstein: When I used to watch my kids work out in martial arts, I always pictured myself doing it with them. I just knew I had to lose a lot of weight to be able to even make it through class. Now I can keep up with everybody and even got a special note from their instructor, Bobby Leach, who’s a 2 time Olympic team member, 5 time world champion, 8 time national champion and he told me how much I inspired him and how much I impressed him with my endurance and stamina. With regards to my wife, all I can say is we can dance a lot closer now !!
Douglas Cobb: Finally, Mike, what sort of advice would you have for other people who are overweight and need to lose excess weight?
Mike Epstein: The first thing I would say would be to look deep inside yourself and decide if you really WANT it or not. You can’t say “I NEED to do it or even I HAVE to do it” you have to WANT to do it. Regardless of the method for losing weight, choose to incorporate something that works with your mind. I would say to go to a therapist to get to the root of your problem. It was probably the biggest difference and why I think I will be successful at keeping the weight off. Do meditation, self hypnosis or hot yoga to calm your mind. It really works.
Douglas Cobb: Thanks, Mike, for agreeing to do this interview with me! It was both a pleasure and an honor, and I wish you a long life and lots of happiness for you, your wife, and family!
Written by: Douglas Cobb