How Dr. Nick’s cancer diagnosis spurred a weight-loss movement

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MyBigFatGreekDietLast year, I met with Dr. Nick Yphantides in San Diego to discuss regional access to medical data, which led to a mention of the effectiveness of crowdsourcing his diet strategy. What emerged was this story of how he inadvertently created a flourishing social network by simply committing to a new approach to his own diet and life, and sharing it with others.

In 2001, Dr. Nick Yphantides was a 500-pound physician practicing what he calls board-certified medical hypocrisy“Here I was, constantly having to tell people do as I say not as I do,” he recalls.

Initially, being obese seemed almost an asset. He explains, “I don’t want to say I was obese on purpose, but I rationalized my obesity by having this jovial larger-than-life disposition. I was this jolly, generous-hearted, big, comfortable, 500-pound binky to my community." 

He admits making it part of his reputation and image, "When I ran for public office weighing nearly 500 pounds, my campaign slogan was ‘Big problems need big solutions. Vote for Dr. Nick the big man for the big job.’"

Now, 12 years later, Dr. Nick is known as a fit 200-pound physician, author and creator of an online social network for weight loss, Healthstewards.com.

But how did he get here?

It all started, suddenly and tragically, with a cancer diagnosis.

Dr. Nick reveals, “Everything came crashing down when, completely unrelated to my weight, I was diagnosed with cancer. It was cancer that finally connected the silos of my heart and my mind--because they were silos; you don’t need to tell me as a doctor, intellectually, that being so unfit was unhealthy for me."

He finally realized he was taking his health for granted by rationalizing his obesity, something he actually could control, as opposed to a cancer diagnosis, which he could not. This prompted him to change the things he was able to, and to commit to being personally responsible for his own health.

The first thing he did was visit baseball stadiums.

Most people would not equate visiting baseball stadiums with weight loss. Yet, Dr. Nick had always loved baseball and decided to make it part of his road trip back to health. He took his medically guided diet plan across the country, visiting all the major stadiums and shedding pounds along the way.  

Little did he know that he would bring legions of baseball fans with him on his personal quest. He says, “There were so many people that had an interest in my journey that I basically set up a website and started doing weekly updates and posting pictures.” Dr. Nick rapidly gained thousands of followers.

As the world watched, it made him even more committed to his goal. He continues, “I was responsible to the community, and what I received was support and encouragement that facilitated my transformation."

Then came the book. 

Dr. Nick published My Big Fat Greek Diet, and with that, his online community exploded into the bonafide social network Healthstewards.com

“That’s really how the whole thing started,” says Dr. Nick. “It wasn’t premeditated. I didn't say, ‘Oh, I want to start an online social network for weight loss.' It came as a result of people emailing me and asking for help and saying ‘Dr. Nick, how do I get support, encouragement and accountability in my life?’”

He brings these lessons to his medical practice and tells people, "When you come see Dr. Nick, you never get a finger waving in your face." He's not only being human but gracious because, according to him, he hasn't always been in the position to have a white-lab-coat superiority complex.

He concludes, "I personally wish that we in healthcare would be willing to be more genuine with our patients. I don’t want to be a healer as much as I want to be an activator.”

  1. Megan Blanchard

    Congrats to Dr. Nick for inspiring so many to live healthier lives!

  2. David

    There’s a sense that some people have that the community owes them something… that it’s all about exercising their rights.

    Then there’s the Doctor Nick’s of the world who seek meaning, and health, in his obligations to his community. And through accepting and addressing those obligations he has the right to be heard. And what he is saying on so many levels describes the path forward.

  3. Bruna Mori

    A nice parable for sharing, personal investment and commitment. This nails it: “I didn’t say, ‘Oh, I want to start an online social network for weight loss.’ It came as a result of people emailing me and . . . saying ‘Dr. Nick, how do I get support, encouragement and accountability in my life?’”

  4. Molly Cooper

    One hears about weight-loss stories all the time, but rarely from a doctor. It must have required serious compartmentalization for him to have grown so large before finally drawing that line in the sand and saying, “Enough already. This has to change.”

  5. Eden

    Dr. Nick is an inspiration.