Like many kids who grew up in lower-income families, John David Glaude and his family ate what they could afford. Even if nutrition was a priority, healthy food wasn’t always economically feasible. As he grew up he kept gaining weight, going from a husky child to the biggest kid in his high school. “Gaining weight throughout the years, it starts to become pretty normal,” Glaude says. “You just accept that a new school year means wearing a bigger size shirt and pants. It all came to a head when I hit 20 years old and I was close to 400 pounds.” Being this heavy made Glaude cognizant of his own mortality and he knew that at this size, it wasn’t if his body would kill him but when.

Growing up, Glaude had many experiences where his body forced him to confront this reality, but his epiphany came through watching an episode of “Miami Ink.” Glaude saw a client who was getting a hamburger tattoo to commemorate his weight loss success and he realized that it was time to make a change and earn a celebratory tattoo of his own. “I was 20 years old and watching ‘Miami Ink,’ eating a double entree of orange chicken and drinking a large soda,” Glaude explains. “I realized that if this was something I wanted to change, I had to put in the work to make it happen. Before, I tried to lose weight for other people, but this time I wanted to do it for myself and that was the start.”

Glaude embarked on his weight loss journey knowing little about nutrition, instead establishing what he calls the common sense diet. He began by cutting out foods he knew were unhealthy—soda, fast food and junk food. Unlike the other times he’d tried to lose weight, his biggest priority was maintaining a positive mental attitude and keeping his spirits high by visualizing the new life ahead of him. Glaude’s positivity not only helped him make healthy choices, it kept him going as he waited to witness long-term results.

Photos by John David Glaude

Photos by John David Glaude

“I was so big that it took losing 50 pounds for it to be super noticeable,” Glaude shares. “That’s when clothes started to fit differently and it was this milestone I never thought I would get to.” Losing that first 50 pounds was the motivation Glaude needed to kick his journey into high gear. In the end, he wound up shedding 180 pounds, and the physical transformation was extreme. He went from being the biggest guy in school to one of the fittest guys in the gym, which gave him a new outlook on life and a sense of purpose. However, there was one major consequence to Glaude’s drastic weight loss, and that was his loose skin.

When you lose a considerable amount of weight, loose skin is inevitable. Glaude’s loose skin is noticeable when he takes off his shirt and for many years, it was his biggest insecurity. Instead of hiding his transformed body, however, he embraced the way he looked and created a viral YouTube video for the whole world to see. “When I posted the video, it completely changed my life,” Glaude says. “It made me realize that being vulnerable and real about insecurities is so much more helpful to people than trying to act perfect.”

The video led Glaude to discover a passion for aiding others as they undergo their own weight loss journeys. The more he posted on social media, the more often people reached out with questions of their own. “As things progressed, I realized I could help people who were in the position I was in when I started losing weight,” Glaude says. “I was the guy who truly didn’t think he could lose weight. But I was able to do it and, truly, I don’t think there’s anything special about me.”

In addition to building a personal brand around his success story, Glaude has been able to help motivate hundreds of people to lose weight. In a fitness industry where many of the influencers you see have been fit their entire lives, Glaude’s background makes him relatable. “It’s very natural to seek out advice from people who have been through the same thing,” Glaude explains. “That’s obviously something that’s been a big part of why people are interested in hearing my story.” Glaude now shares his experiences and opinions about how to lose weight safely and effectively with over a million combined fans on YouTube and Instagram. Another  profound way he’s shared his weight loss journey with the world is through his tattoo collection.

Prior to losing weight, Glaude admired many of the tattoos he’d seen on “Miami Ink,” but he thought he was too big to get a sleeve. Then, once he lost the weight, he wanted to reflect his transformation through a piece he could finally wear with pride. “My first tattoo after losing weight was a koi dragon on my shoulder,” Glaude says. “It’s a story of transformation where koi start at the bottom of the river. As they try to swim up the river, some of them die or get eaten, but the ones who make it to the pond at the top transform into dragons.” Despite the folklore behind Glaude’s tattoo including elements of fantasy, the message of transformation couldn’t be more grounded in reality. There’s no magic pill that can make you lose weight. Lasting results are created through perseverance, strength and positivity. And when you think about relenting to the current and giving up, just remember what you’re swimming toward.

Photos by John David Glaude

Photos by John David Glaude