Victorian takes weight-loss challenge (video)

JR Ortega By JR Ortega

June 23, 2012 at 1:23 a.m.

Armed with a thick notebook on nutrition and the value of eating the right foods, Reuben Ybarra describes his normal shopping experience with H-E-B Health Wellness Coach Suzanne Parker, of San Antonio.

Armed with a thick notebook on nutrition and the value of eating the right foods, Reuben Ybarra describes his normal shopping experience with H-E-B Health Wellness Coach Suzanne Parker, of San Antonio.   Frank Tilley for The Victoria Advocate

This is the first installment in a series about one man's journey with weight loss. The Advocate will also follow his progress and provide a weekly update in Wednesday's Good Living section.

Reuben Ybarra calls himself a human yo-yo.

Since day one, he's been considered a "Butterball," an adorable infant with pinch-able cheeks and a pudgy physique - but the cutesy name has turned out to be a curse in disguise.

Later in life, he lost weight. Then gained weight, then lost weight and again, gained weight.

Ybarra is 343 pounds, the victim of a growing obese society troubled by sweets, fast foods, cultural upbringing and sedentary behavior that have been nothing but detrimental, albeit delicious.

But through the help of H-E-B's Slim Down Showdown, the licensed vocational nurse, who has spent his life teaching people the rights and wrongs of a healthy lifestyle, is ready for a change.

"It's time I practice what I preach," he said.


The 46-year-old grew up calling Victoria home.

He did what most young adults do, he left, finding adventures in Miami for the Miami Hurricanes' athletic department.

But now Ybarra is back home and runs in a rather large social circle of family and friends.

Flipping through one of Ybarra's yellowing-paged photo album, the weight gain is gradual, but evident.

A once chunky child blossomed into a stocky 8-year-old.

"Well, I was kinda cute," he said laughing.

Several page flips later, it is Ybarra as a 13-year-old - puberty was not kind.

"That's when the chin starting coming in," he said in a bit more hard-lined tone.

Looking at the photos isn't difficult for Ybarra, it's a fact of life. Home-cooked Mexican meals consisting of menudo, tortillas and fajitas did not help the cause.

Also, he has to consider his genetics; weight is a common threat in his family.

He spent some of his teens gaining weight and losing weight and eventually, when he was about 25 years old and living in Florida, he was close to 220 pounds, a weight he sees himself meeting sometime in the future.

His move back to Victoria in 1992 to go to nursing school is when the battle of the bulge was finally lost.

Food and social activity with family and friends sent his weight skyrocketing. By 2001, he was at his heaviest weight - 370 pounds.

Since then, he's lost some weight through healthier eating and light to moderate exercise, something his partner of three years, Jasper Pino, has helped promote.

Even then, he finds himself stuck on the sweets.

"I went down the baking aisle a lot," he said.

But that all changed last week when his designated dietitian cleaned out his pantry, handed over $200, took him to H-E-B and gave him the tools that in 16 weeks could change his life.


Ybarra first saw the commercial for the H-E-B Slim down Showdown in February.

An employee from somewhere in the state had met his weight loss goal. At the end of the commercial, he learned the 16-week challenge had been opened up to customers.

"It was time," he said.

Ybarra signed up, made it through several months of judging, and eventually was one of 25 in Texas selected. He's the only one in the Crossroads.

Ybarra spent four days at a fitness camp in San Antonio where he learned some important tools, such as reading labels, making healthier choices and exercise.

Working side-by-side with nutritionists and fitness instructors helped jump-start the journey, but it was coming back home that was the most difficult.

"That's what was scary," he said, "We were afraid to come home. Some people don't have the support at home. The process has been very emotional."

Days later, Suzanne Parker, a registered dietitian, walked through H-E-B Plus on North Navarro Street to remind and teach Ybarra what he should look for.

"Strawberries are great," Parker said as Ybarra rolled the cart down the produce section. "They are low in sugar."

By the time Ybarra was in the meat section, his shopping cart looked much different than from what it usually looked like.

The cart was loaded in greens, like spinach, natural sweets, like dried pomegranate and, of course, lean meats such as fresh fish.

Ybarra's partner watched from afar, a smile on his face at the changes already being made.

"It's time to walk the walk," he said as Ybarra wheeled his way around the aisles, dietitian by his side.

Pino is aware of the faces shot Ybarra's way when he's in "nurse" mode, promoting a healthy lifestyle.

What's more surprising than the looks people give is when they realize Ybarra has no health issues.

His cholesterol and blood sugar levels are normal. He's a non-diabetic.

"Luck is on his side," Pino said.

Even before Ybarra was accepted into the program, Pino helped introduce healthier eating habits into Ybarra's daily intake.

He even surprised him with two bikes, so the two could lose weight together. Ybarra will also be working out several times a week and checking in with a fitness instructor to ensure he's losing weight the right way.

While Ybarra is the only one up for a $10,000 prize and a chance to reclaim his figure; Pino said he too can stand to live a healthier lifestyle.

Pino added that several of their friends are ready to support him all the way by losing weight right along with him.

"Win or lose, he's already won," Pino said.


Already, Ybarra is surrounded by some of the temptations that led him down the road to gluttony.

His partner is a musician and plays often at 77901, where Ybarra enjoys having a couple of drinks.

"I'll drink water and eat pretzels ... maybe I'll have just 'one' drink," he said jokingly.

The reality for Ybarra is that he can't fail, that's because he's not alone.

He has friends in the community also struggling with weight who are looking toward him as a weigh-loss role model.

"If you fall, they are all going to fall," he said. "I have all the support."

One of his biggest supporters is his mother, Alicia Ybarra.

His 69-year-old mother began healthier eating five years ago and overall has lost 170 pounds.

She went from taking five pills for her diabetes, to one.

"I'm really proud of him," she said. "Health is the main thing. That's my concern."

Ybarra's mother said he's always known what he needed to do to lose weight, he just had to finally decide to do it.

Ybarra agreed.

"If my mother is in her 60s and she can do this, then I have no excuse," he said.



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