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'Eh' Vandenberg captain's weight loss victory

Royal Canadian Air Force Capt. Phil Desmarais, 533rd Training Squadron Student Operations flight chief, poses with his wife, Catherine, in July 2013. The Desmarais' changed their lifestyle and have lost a combined total of 101 pounds. (Courtesy photo)

Royal Canadian Air Force Capt. Phil Desmarais, 533rd Training Squadron Student Operations flight chief, poses with his wife, Catherine, in July 2013. The Desmarais' changed their lifestyle and have lost a combined total of 101 pounds. (Courtesy photo)

Royal Canadian Air Force Capt. Phil Desmarais, 533rd Training Squadron Student Operations flight chief, poses with his wife, Catherine, during a hoilday party in December 2012. The Desmarais' changed their lifestyle and have lost a combined total of 101 pounds. (Courtesy photo)

Royal Canadian Air Force Capt. Phil Desmarais, 533rd Training Squadron Student Operations flight chief, poses with his wife, Catherine, during a hoilday party in December 2012. The Desmarais' changed their lifestyle and have lost a combined total of 101 pounds. (Courtesy photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Dorothy Bryant, an American author and playwright, said, "Change happens very slowly and all of a sudden."

This is exactly how Royal Canadian Air Force Capt. Phil Desmarais, 533rd Training Squadron Student Operations flight chief, described the revelation he had before his recent weight loss journey.

"I weighed around 190 pounds when I joined the military," Desmarais said. "After university, going to technical training, getting married and having kids, the weight just slowly added up. I never had an exercise program or stuck with one. I also never had a sport to fall back on that would keep me active. I guess poor eating habits over the course of 13 years led to gradual weight gain."

After hovering around 260 pounds for approximately eight years of his 15-year RCAF career, Desmarais saw an opportunity for sudden change to combat the gradual weight gain.

"Around the holiday exodus in December, I was walking around the squadron and saying hello to people when I saw the squadron physical training leader working on a slide for the 'Centurion Biggest Loser Contest'," Desmarais said, "I told him, 'You know what? I'm going to do that and I'm going to win this weight loss challenge. Sign me up.'"

The Canadian captain quickly changed his entire lifestyle.

"The biggest contributing factor to my weight loss was that I changed everything at once," Desmarais said. "I went from really not doing anything at all, in terms of making smart and healthy choices, to changing what I eat and how I'm eating it and exercising everyday - it shocked my body."

He also began paying more attention to the fuel he put into his body.

"I also food log religiously," Desmarais said. "Being accountable for those calories that I take in is the reason I've lost this much weight. The exercise and everything obviously contributes to that and helps your health over-all, but people still lose weight that don't exercise because they eat healthy and are accountable for what they take in. So my whole approach to it was almost like a science experiment where I can control how much exercise I do and how much calories I take in, how much water I take in and I'm going to see how my body reacts. So by doing everything right, to the best of my ability, I just let me body react how it was going to react and its reacted positively ever since then and the weight just keeps coming off."

The 533rd TRS Centurion Biggest Loser contest lasted from Jan. 2 to March 2 and was calculated by the largest percentage of weight lost by an individual or flight.

Desmarais won the individual category and his flight won the group category, but he didn't stop there.

"I've lost 76 pounds since January," Desmarais said. "It's a snowball effect. Now that activity is easier, I keep challenging myself to see what I can do next. Activity is generally easier more fun with 70 plus pounds less to carry around, I'm more inclined to be active."

Not only has his extreme weight loss effected his physiology, but also has had a positive effect on his psychology.

"The mental health benefits have outweighed the physical benefits," Desmarais said. "The biggest psychological change is that I knew that I was overweight and I always felt like people were judgmental even if they didn't seem to be. I stood out anyway being one of two Canadian in the group. So, I felt like I stood out even more and for a not-good reason. In an environment where physical fitness is stressed even more than normal, I felt a lot of guilt all the time for being overweight and not doing anything about it. I was trapped in that cycle for a lot of years...where I knew I was overweight but didn't do anything about it. I would deal with that guilt in my head daily."

Not only is Desmarais a more confident person, but he feels it has increased his leadership potential as well.

"My weight loss has made me a better Airman because being in the best shape you can be allows you to lead by example and I feel strongly about that style of leadership," Desmarais said. "That was something that initially made me feel bad -- I was still in standards but I wasn't the best I could be. Now that I've sorted out my physical appearance and overall health I feel like a more legitimate leader."

Desmarais contributes the continuation of this successful lifestyle change to his wife.

"Without my wife's, Catherine, support, I would have never been able to make it this far," Desmarais, said. "Her support on the home-side was clutch. She always tried to make healthy meals for me, put up with me logging my food at the supper table and all that."

Desmarais didn't just become an inspiration for other Airman, he was able to inspire at a grass roots level too.

His wife has begun her own weight loss journey and has already lost 25 pounds.

"Seeing my husband lose 76 pounds has definitely inspired me," Catherine Desmarais said. "At first I was eating healthy for him, but seeing his transformation made me believe that I could do this too. He has inspired me to run my first half marathon in January and is now supporting and coaching me along the way."

Part of the RCAF vision is to have an agile and integrated air force. Desmarais is not only committed to upholding the RCAF's expectations but ensuring the example is set for all Airmen, Canadian and American alike.

"What I've gone through in the past three months require accountability on my part and commitment," Desmarais said. "Nobody was going to lose the weight for me, it had to be only my commitment to uphold. Hopefully that level of commitment is apparent to those who have witnessed it and hopefully it could inspire other people to have that level of commitment with something too. Even if its not weight loss -- just to work towards and achieve something."