Tom Finigan, 58, loves his career as a high-school band director. But not long ago, he was afraid he would have to retire. The reason? At 410 pounds, he couldn’t keep up. “I had to ride in a golf cart when the kids were marching in a parade,” he said. “I felt guilty that they were walking and I wasn’t. I realized I had to be a better man, a better teacher, a better band director and a better role model.” As the father of two sons, he wanted to step up and be a better dad, too.
Six years ago, he lost more than 100 pounds, but when COVID-19 hit, his weight climbed back up to 372. “I was miserable, and it overflowed into my personal life and my teaching,” he said. And heart disease is in my family, and I had resigned myself to thinking I was going to have a stroke or heart attack. People kept telling me I would feel better if I lost weight and I guess I was in denial. I didn’t believe it.”
But with more time on his hands during the pandemic, he decided to make some changes. Between classes, he would walk around his Walterboro, South Carolina, neighborhood. And he changed his diet. “That was huge,” he said. Today, he is at 180 pounds — the lightest he’s been since middle school.
“Now I feel like I can teach for another five to 10 years. I love what I’m doing, and I love life now. It’s so much different. Being at 180, I’m not going back ever again. That roller coaster is over,” he said.
He’s seen these changes in his health and his life
Finigan lists the ways his life has changed for the better now that he is healthier:
Here’s how he overhauled his diet
“Before, I never really thought about what I ate. I just ate. Food was a comfort,” he said. He reached a point where he was eating two plates full of food, or a whole pack of Oreos and a gallon of milk, or a whole box of Entenmann’s donuts. “I was a big Bojangles fan, and I would eat a whole box of chicken. Now I use food a little bit differently. I’m really boring. I eat the same things because it works,” he said.
Here’s what he eats in a typical day:
He traded sweet tea for water, which he said was a tough swap to make as a Southerner. He eats a lot of fruit and vegetables and stays away from bread. “I don’t feel bad when I have a cheat day — I might decide to have chicken wings or an ice cream cone. But it’s always in the back of my mind that I lost that weight, and I don’t want to put it back on,” he said.
Finigan uses smaller plates to manage his portion sizes, and he tracks his calories with a Fitbit, aiming for 1,600 to 1,800 calories a day. He tried 1,200 calories at first, but found that was too low.
I approach it as a musician — as a trombone player and a band director, when you want to get better, you have to practice every day.