Aaron Thompkins knew he'd have to face diabetes at some point in his life because everyone else in his family did. So when the doctors on The Biggest Loser called the season 10 contestant into their office last fall and told him the news on TV, his reaction surprised the show's producers.
"When they first told me, I think they thought I was going to break down and cry because it would make for good TV," says the 30-year-old Kent resident. "It was the opposite. I felt empowered and blessed that I found out while I was on the show because I was in a position to fix it."
As a result of the intense training and specialized diet advice Thompkins received, he learned how to control his condition without taking any medications. A major eye-opener was learning diet foods and artificial sweeteners do more harm than good.
"On top of kicking out the same amount of insulin, most of those sweeteners have zero calories so the body doesn't get enough energy," he says. "It makes you want to eat more to get it."
Being kicked off the show last November hasn't stopped Thompkins from furthering his cause. Jill Pupa, the executive director of the American Diabetes Association in Northeast Ohio, asked him to partner with the ADA. Thompkins started by participating in a June cycling event, the Tour de Cure. While he trained very diligently for the event, there was one major obstacle he had to overcome.
"When I got on the bike that day for the ride, it was my first time since I was a kid," Thompkins says. "There was a lot of swerving back and forth."
The Tour de Cure inspired him to give his online support group, Better Living 360, a new look. He started the site as a way to reach out to others but decided it would work better as a social network.
"People became friends and started their own workout groups in their area," he says. "It was more than I expected."
But the stresses of daily life were hindering Thompkins' ability to maintain the weight he'd lost on the show. In fact, he'd put more than 100 pounds back on, so he decided to start his own workout group at Capacity Fitness in Tallmadge. He posted a Facebook video asking for five people to join his team and work out with him twice a week. He got 482 responses and ultimately selected six.
"When it came to real-life situations and having to balance working out and eating right, I found myself going back to old habits," he says. "If it wasn't for the support of my workout groups, I probably would have gained all of that weight back."
Thompkins will continue to raise awareness with the ADA through the Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown Step Out walks this month. He's also partnering with an online marketing firm to continue the growth of his website and working toward his goal of getting down to 230 pounds.
"The hardest part of losing weight is starting," Thompkins says. "I'm trying to encourage people to get healthy, and a great way to start is just walking a 5k."