PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Dean Mead struggled with his weight all his life, weighing 350 pounds in high school, but going away to West Texas A&M University sent him over the edge.
"I suddenly had free will. I stopped going to the gym, was eating out at restaurants and fast food chains consistently and suddenly I found myself at 515 pounds," Mead tells Action News. "I was just getting bigger and bigger."
Mead visits Philadelphia this week, promoting Nutrisystem, the eating plan which kick-started his weight loss. He hopes to inspire others to start their journey.
The 23-year-old says family members, especially his mother and grandmother, encouraged him to lose weight and get healthier for years, but like so many other people, he failed time and again. They all made it sound so easy, he'd think to himself.
Prepping meals took more time and patience than Mead could give, and he couldn't stick to diets. His weight dragged down even the simplest tasks.
"I came home from college and couldn't even put on my own shoes. I would ask my younger brothers to help me with my socks," Mead recalls. "I would lie and tell them my legs hurt, but in reality I couldn't bend over because my stomach was in the way."
He finally had to confront his weight, after being at a magic show while on a family vacation to Virginia.
"I suddenly felt short of breath, my mouth was swollen and I truly thought I was having a heart attack. The ambulance took me to the ER and they couldn't even find a vein to draw my blood," says Mead.
In the ER, his father put it bluntly, "We don't want to have to bury our child."
When he went back to college, Mead's mother signed him up for Nutrisystem, but he initially wasn't going to follow the plan. With his father's words echoing in his head, he decided to try it.
Although still too embarrassed to go to the gym for workouts, Mead did begin exercising in the extra space of the handicapped bathroom.
"After using the step stool in the bathroom for cardio, running in circles and shadowboxing in the mirror, I was down to 470 pounds within a month."
Eventually, he got into the gym, speeding up the weight loss and toning his body. And 227 pounds lighter, Mead has now shifted his focus to how he feels and how his clothes fit.
Programmed meal plans can help "kickstart" a major weight loss like Mead's, says Maryellen Carrigan, a nutrition coach at Life Time Athletic in Princeton, N.J.
And quick results can help build confidence that you can make this life change.
For some people, the little or no thinking and absence of calorie counting can be good, Carrigan says.
But she urges caution that programmed meal plans are usually "drastic programs" that don't fully address the poor food choices which get people into weight problems in the first place.
"They don't give you any of the tools you need to help you cook," she notes.
Carrigan also notes there's not enough fresh food and a high level of processed food in most plans.
"While it sounds good to have pizza, brownies, and other treats in the plans, that can send a bad message," warns Carrigan.
At some point, she says, people need the education to turn the weight loss into a permanent lifestyle change.
Nutrisystem helps its clients along with support tools, such as the NuMi app, and The Leaf, a blog with nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle tips.
Mead has now shifted his life onto a healthier track.
"I can't even remember how I used to look when I see myself in the mirror now,": he notes.
His big indulgence is paying it forward to help others struggling with their weight.
"If I see someone in the gym who is overweight, I make sure I go up to them and provide some words of encouragement," said Mead. "I didn't have anyone who did that for me in the gym and I honestly wish I did."
He wants everyone to know they can achieve their weight loss goals the same way he achieved his.