Triple-digit weight loss opens new world for traveler

Story highlights

At 358 pounds, John McGraw realized he was missing out on life

After gastric bypass surgery and exercise, he lost 140 pounds

He visited Glacier National Park as his first hiking trip

CNN  — 

Looking down at a vivid lake and miles of deep-green forests from atop a glacier, John McGraw realized he had achieved his dream.

The 41-year-old from Michigan loved to travel and dreamed of going to places like Glacier National Park in Montana, but he knew there were things his body just couldn’t do when he weighed 358 pounds.

Less than two years since losing 140 pounds, he reveled in making the once-unthinkable 8-mile hike up the glacier this month.

“It was as beautiful as I thought it would be,” McGraw said. “Some locations you go up there and it doesn’t live up to the hype. When I got up there, it was beyond it.”

The McGraws at the top of Grinnell Glacier

The avid travel photographer and CNN iReporter captured all the sights he yearned to see, including the Highline Trail, the Grinnell Glacier and even a bighorn sheep.

“This has really opened up a new world – I can go beyond the places that I used to go,” McGraw said.

Travel instilled bad habits

The travel involved with his day job didn’t help McGraw’s waistline.

He spent a lot of time in his car, picking up quick bites to eat. A fast-food diet of pizza, burgers and lots of carbs became the habit while on the road.

A recovering alcoholic for six years, McGraw also found a distraction in food.

“With dealing with alcoholism, you learn a lot about yourself and how to deal with yourself,” he said. “Food was an escape but it was something to do.”

He got to know new cities by visiting different restaurants, a practice that became a ritual.

While travel helped instill bad habits, it was also what inspired him to make a positive change in his life.

A wake-up call on vacation

During a 2014 trip to Key West with his wife, his 358-pound frame ached after a day of walking. His ankles were swollen and his back hurt.

“I would try to do things with my friends and family. I would push myself but I would pay the toll later when I got home,” he said.

Returning home from the trip, McGraw realized he wanted to make a change.

His weight problem started in high school, when he weighed 220 pounds. Each year he gained 10 to 15 pounds. He spent his 30s dieting, exercising and yo-yoing between 318 and 410 pounds.

A lifetime of diets and exercise weren’t working, so he researched gastric bypass surgery.

Under the supervision of doctors, he lost 40 pounds to qualify for surgery and had the procedure in March 2015.

A combination of exercise and changing his diet – eating seven to eight small, protein-packed meals a day – helped him lose another 100 pounds since surgery. He’s down to 220 pounds, almost half of his peak weight.

Seeing places he’s never seen

Before his weight loss, planning a trip involved a lot of time spent scouting out photo opportunities from the road and finding places to see that weren’t too far to walk.

McGraw admits he missed out at times because of his size.

He always had to say “no” to horseback riding because there was a 250-pound weight limit. Another time, he planned a helicopter ride over Chicago only to find out he was too heavy for the aircraft.

But the trip to Glacier National Park in August provided a lot of firsts for McGraw and his wife, Diane. It was their first hiking trip, and they finally tried horseback riding.

Diane has seen several changes in her husband since his triple-digit weight loss.

“I told him on the first date we went on that he needs to stop living behind the camera and start experiencing life,” she told CNN.

“He has started to experience life a lot more. He really has discovered himself.”

McGraw in his element as a travel photographer

She’s also seen more confidence in the way he shoots and edits photos. His travel photography reflects the difference.

But taking photos means more to McGraw than getting the perfect shot. It’s been a key part of his weight-loss journey.

“The photography has really helped motivate me. It’s helped with the weight loss as well,” he said. “Not only did I want to get to the top of Grinnell Glacier, but I wanted to capture images along the way.”

The feedback he receives on his photos on social media serves as another push to keep going.

“I love not only capturing it, but when other people see the beauty of where I’ve been and they make comments, that helps motivate me as well.”