No more 'Big Ben': City leader loses 145 pounds

Willie Grace | 8/5/2014, 7:33 p.m. | Updated on 8/5/2014, 7:33 p.m.
The table was set with an unhealthy serving of his favorite foods: fried chicken, baked beans and an extra-large helping ...
Ben Boukari lost 145 pounds with a strict low-carb diet. Refusing to "cheat" helps Boukari make his diet a lifestyle change. Boukari believes that consistency was his secret weapon. After a year and eight months of strict dieting and exercise, he had lost 145 pounds, going from a size 52-inch waist to a size 38.

The table was set with an unhealthy serving of his favorite foods: fried chicken, baked beans and an extra-large helping of macaroni and cheese. For some people, alcohol and cigarettes are unhealthy vices. For Ben Boukari Jr., food was his addiction.

"To me, food was like a best friend after a long day at work," Boukari wrote in his CNN iReport.

It was September 2010. At 6-foot-3-inches, Boukari weighed 379 pounds. His waist was 52 inches around and he was already outgrowing his 3XL shirts. He had always been overweight, a trait that earned him the nickname "Big Ben" from his friends in grade school.

He likes to say he had a "signifi-can't" weight problem.

"I would tell myself I'm going to enjoy eating this weekend, but come Monday, I will make my lifestyle change. I must have made myself this promise hundreds of times."

Just a few months earlier, at 26, Boukari had been the youngest official ever elected to the Alachua City Commission in Florida. He was serious about his promise to serve his community, but he somehow couldn't keep the promises he had made to himself.

That afternoon, while Boukari sat eating his usual oversized lunch at his older brother Bryan's office, his brother looked at him and served up some tough love.

"How can you take care of people's business if you can't take care of yourself?" Bryan remembers saying. He worried that his younger brother's political accomplishments would be overshadowed by his obesity.

His words made Boukari think about how others perceived him.

"No one wants to be overweight," Boukari said. "I didn't want the public to see me like that. ... That very moment has changed my life."

The commitment

Boukari decided he would keep his promises this time, and the next day began his journey toward a healthier future.

He started by dramatically changing his eating habits, switching to a diet low in carbohydrates and limiting himself to smaller portions. He cut out sugar and consumed just 20 carbs per day, primarily eating vegetables and meat. On a typical day, he had boiled eggs for breakfast, a grilled chicken salad for lunch, and a steak with vegetables for dinner.

Boukari also made it a point to avoid stepping on a scale. He knew his weight loss would be a slow journey and refused to be discouraged by a number.

"The first three months were the hardest," he said. "You've got to believe it's going to work."

That belief helped Boukari push past what he called the "wall." Before he knew it, sticking to the diet was natural. Despite having a sweet tooth, Boukari said he never "cheated" and he means never -- Boukari refused to eat his own birthday cake for two years.

"You will have friends that will say you deserve a cheat day. No you don't," he said. "You cheat when you have reached your absolute goal."

After nine months of hard work and extreme discipline, Boukari decided to step on the scale in June 2011. He had lost 90 pounds.