At his heaviest, he couldn’t fit through a doorway without turning sideways. At work he had to enter the building through the double doors meant for wheelchair users and everywhere he went he had to carry along his own special chair to support his weight.
For years, Rudolph Wolker was deeply ashamed of his body and at his heftiest he tipped the scales at a whopping 320kg.
Yet over the course of 18 months, he lost a staggering 220kg.
By eating healthily and getting moderate exercise, Rudolph
managed to sustain his weight for a year. But then the hard lockdown hit in
March last year and he gained more than 60kg in a matter of months.
“Just like before, I was disgusted with the image in the mirror – and I was furious with myself,” Rudolph (41) tells YOU.
By late last year he recommitted himself to losing the lockdown love handles, shed 20kg and now weighs just over 140kg.
The prison guard from Potchefstroom has come a long way from the man who used to consume up to 20 two-litre bottles of fizzy cooldrink a week.
Three years ago, doctors predicted he wouldn’t make it to 40. He had heart problems, his blood pressure was perilously high and he was on chronic pain medication just to be able to walk on his swollen legs.
His 10XL shirts and size 60 pants had to be custom-made for him – and the taunts and stares from strangers were mortifying. “I knew I was killing myself with food,” Rudolph says.
“But every time I was down, I’d simply reach for food again.”
Things came to a head when he and his wife, Jessica Wolker (29), got engaged in April 2017. Rudolph promised himself he wouldn’t walk down the aisle before he’d lost at least 100kg.
With Jessica’s support, he started a no-sugar, low-carb diet and managed to lose 80kg within five months. After being on the diet for 18 months he weighed 92kg – a whopping 220kg less than before.
When he walked down the aisle in February 2019, Rudolph was half the man he used to be. “I’d never felt so light, physically and emotionally,” he says.
But, he adds, he’s fallen back into bad habits and is telling his story as a warning to others that the battle of the bulge is a life-long war.
He's struggled with his weight all his life, Rudolph tells us. “I’ve never heard of anyone who could eat as much as I do,” he says. “I’m not bragging about it – I’m deeply ashamed.”
After he started working as a prison guard his weight really skyrocketed. He recalls leaving a takeaway joint once when a motorist yelled, “Save the whale!”
“That humiliation broke me, but once I got home I gave myself over to gluttony again,” Rudolph says.
On a “good” night he’d eat two pizzas, five pieces of chicken with chips and a hamburger. “In many ways, my wife and I were emotional eaters. The smallest thing could make us reach for food. But it was more than just that. We’re foodies, we enjoy food.”
His eating habits took a toll on his body, however, and doctors were deeply worried about his health. “I was in pain every day, to the point where I sometimes couldn’t stand up.”
After proposing to Jessica, Rudolph took stock of his life. He knew he needed to lose weight if he hoped to have children and see them grow up, so he and Jessica embarked on an eating plan that cuts out most carbohydrates and sugars and relies on portion control.
Rudolph went from scoffing pizzas and burgers to eating sugar-free breakfast cereal with low-fat milk, chicken and veggies for lunch and a bowl of soup and one slice of toast with cheese for dinner. And he had to measure his portions.
“I felt really sorry for myself those first few weeks,” he recalls, chuckling. “Don’t tell my wife but I stole a bite here and there just to ward off the worst hunger pangs.”
He also started going to gym where he did cardio and weight training and the fat started melting away. “Because I’d been carrying so much excess weight, I burnt it off quickly and that kept motivating me,” he says.
When he started his weight-loss journey Rudolph was so overweight he had to weigh himself at a local scrapyard with industrial-strength scales. But six months in, he could use a regular bathroom scale again for the first time in his adult life.
“I worked hard because I didn’t want to feel ashamed when I walked down the aisle.”
By the time the newlyweds went to Thailand on honeymoon, Rudolph weighed nearly 220kg less than when he started his regime. “I was a new person in every way,” he says.
He no longer had a heart problem, the danger of developing diabetes was over and his blood pressure was normal. “I’d never realised how beautiful life could be until I woke up one morning and realised I wasn’t in pain.”
Rudolph maintained his goal weight for a year – then the pandemic struck and life as the world knew it ground to a halt. Rudolph, like the rest of the country, was stuck at home.
“Suddenly, you’re caged up like an animal. It causes frustration and depression –then it’s hard to fight the food monster,” he admits.
Unable to go to the gym, he increasingly found comfort in snacking and the needle on the scale crept up and up and up. By October last year he weighed an unhealthy 160kg.
“Man, I couldn’t believe what I’d done to myself,” he says. “How could I have forgotten that for years I couldn’t buy clothes from a shop? That I couldn’t go anywhere?”
He knew he needed to pull himself together. “I gave
myself a stern talking-to and got my head in the right space again.”
Now, four months later, he’s lost 20kg simply cutting down on carbs and sugar again. Though Rudolph still follows the eating plan, he’s less strict with himself – opting to make healthier, sustainable food choices instead. “This time I don’t want to be so very skinny and I don’t want to lose the weight too fast,” he says.
“But I’ll make sure the old Rudolph stays in his grave.”
By the end of the year he aims to weigh 105kg. He’s also saving up to have his excess skin removed. Having shed so much weight, Rudolph is carrying around 12kg of excess skin. “I still don’t love my body. When Jessica touches me, I ask if I disgust her but I’m not disgusting to her,” he says.
“The excess skin is the symbol of how far I’ve come. One day when it’s gone, I’ll look at myself in the mirror and know I did my best.”