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Wake-up call leads lawyer to drop pounds, gain life

Christopher DiOrio shows the 5 XL shirt that fit snugly when his weight was at its peak. Christopher DiOrio shows the 5 XL shirt that fit snugly when his weight was at its peak. (Donald Rockhead for The Boston Globe)
By Terry Byrne
Globe Correspondent / May 27, 2010

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QUINCY — At first glance, Christopher DiOrio looks like an average guy. The 6-foot tall, 201-pound lawyer greets a visitor to his Quincy office with a warm handshake and a gentle smile. It’s only when he holds up the 5XL shirt he used to wear, and shows a photo of himself when it fit snugly around him, that it’s clear he is anything but ordinary.

“I hit 432 pounds in 2007,’’ he said quietly. “I was physically failing at age 40.’’

DiOrio was a partner in a small law practice, and was active in community theater, even though he suffered from Type 2 diabetes and had dangerously high blood pressure and cholesterol. But on June 7, 2007, his world came crashing down in what he calls a “perfect storm’’ of events.

“My wife asked for a divorce because she said she couldn’t stand waiting for the phone call to hear I was dead,’’ he said. “I have two kids, but I was rejected for life insurance four times because I was too high a risk. Then my doctor told me she could no longer manage my diabetes with medication, and that if I didn’t do something, I’d be dead in a matter of months.’’

It took DiOrio more than two years to shed 240 pounds. He admits he’s put on a few since he hit his all-time low of 193, but it’s only now, as he comes up on the third anniversary of his wake-up call, that he feels confident he can maintain his weight right around 200.

“I remember the date things changed the way an alcoholic remembers his last drink,’’ he said. “I have to pay attention every day, because I’m just one pizza slice from being over 300 pounds again.’’

Looking through photos of him when he was more than 400 pounds, even DiOrio is surprised. “I was huge,’’ he said, shaking his head, “but I lied to myself about how much it affected me, my work, and my family.’’

Michael Maniscalco, who has shared a law practice with DiOrio since 2006 and has known him for nearly 10 years, said DiOrio was always big.

“It wasn’t an issue for me,’’ he said. “But the truth is, no matter how politically correct we are, appearances matter. Before you stand in front of a jury, you think carefully about what tie to wear and make sure your shoes are shined.’’

But DiOrio’s appearance, even at his heaviest, didn’t keep him from performing, whether in front of a jury or on local community theater stages. “I like to sing, and I was always cast as the comic foil or the clown,’’ he said.

Still, adjustments had to be made because of his girth. In a production of “Guys and Dolls,’’ the costume designer had to custom-make a suit for him. “When she went to measure my waist, she had to use an industrial tape measure to get around my 62-inch chest and 62-inch waist,’’ he said. When he performed in “The Music Man,’’ the stage crew had oxygen ready for him the moment he stepped into the wings after a production number.

DiOrio often thought about losing weight. He periodically went on diets, but always gained the weight back. He was rejected for a spot on “The Biggest Loser’’ because they didn’t think he had the determination to lose weight; was evaluated for gastric bypass surgery, but said he was rejected there, too, because he was off the charts. Normal body mass index is 25; to qualify for the surgery, a patient needs to be 40 or above. DiOrio’s BMI was 58.6.

“I wasn’t disappointed when I was rejected for the surgery, because I felt like it was cheating,’’ he said. “For me, the surgery was only a cosmetic solution. I had to take care of the whole package.’’

When DiOrio finally hit bottom and was ready to make a change three years ago, his doctor put him on a nutrition plan.

“It’s not a diet, because diets don’t work,’’ he said. “It’s an approach to eating.’’

DiOrio’s plan avoids sugar and flour, focuses on three meals a day, and requires him to weigh everything he eats. The total amount of food adds up to four pounds, but it’s only about 1,600 to 1,800 calories, a far cry from the 5,000 calories or more he used to consume every day.

His doctor, Lisa Bowie, says his commitment was inspiring. “I’ve never had a patient who lost so much weight without surgery,’’ she said. “But Chris understood his overeating had to be addressed on a psychological, as well as physical, level.’’

Like an alcoholic, DiOrio approached weight loss one day at a time. “I couldn’t think too far ahead,’’ he said. “That was too hard.’’

When he started his nutrition plan, DiOrio focused on food alone because the weight on his joints was too much for athletic activity.

“I couldn’t do anything physical until I got down below 300 pounds,’’ he said. “I used to roll out of bed, and I mean literally roll, and my knees, ankles, and hips would all pop.’’

When he did get down below 300, he began to run a bit, and do sit-ups and push-ups with his children. “I do it during the commercials while we watch TV,’’ he said. “They keep count, and sometimes my 55-pound son gets on my back while I do pushups. By the end of an hour, I’ve done 150 pushups and 345 situps.’’

Many people who knew him at his peak walk right by him now. Others are surprised that he doesn’t look like “a deflated balloon,’’ he said. “But I lost the weight slowly. It took two years to lose 200 pounds.’’

Bowie said DiOrio’s face “looks so different now. But the best part of it is to see how happy he is.’’

Maniscalco says it was amazing to watch DiOrio shrink.

“The weight loss has improved not his ability to prepare a case but people’s willingness to trust him,’’ he said. “He was so inspiring, when he hit 200 pounds I began following the plan because I didn’t want to be the fat guy in the office. I went from about 260 to 200 pounds myself.’’

As a result of DiOrio’s efforts, not only has he lost weight but his blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar are also all back to normal. “And,’’ he said, “for the first time, I can buy a suit off the rack.’’

DiOrio said he has spoken to overeaters groups but always cautions people by saying that his approach is simple but not easy.

“I got a second chance,’’ he said. “I got a second life as a new man. I’ll get to walk my daughter down the aisle. That’s something I can honestly look forward to.’’

Terry Byrne can be reached at trbyrne@aol.com.