story by Lynn Cook
photo by Brad Goda
America is in the midst of an obesity epidemic, and Hawai‘i is hardly immune. But with Super-Size Me at the video store and Shaquille O’Neal challenging obese kids on television, awareness is at least growing along with the national waistline. And people who’ve shed massive numbers of pounds—everyone from Kirstie Alley to the guy from Subway—are emerging to tell their stories and encourage others.
Hawai‘i now has a favorite son to add to that list. Sam Choy used to be the Islands’ biggest chef—literally. “Five meals before lunch!” he remembers eating. Pictures showed his 400-pound frame wrapped in an apron that read, “Never trust a skinny chef.” In his restaurants and as a guest chef on cruises, he was plied with food—food he was only too happy to eat. Then one day he had an epiphany. He was in the park with his granddaughter, watching her play since he was too heavy to actually play with her himself. “I suddenly realized,” he remembers, “that I might not live to see her grow up.”
Eric and Angela Yamashita strolled by. They were professional personal trainers, and Sam complimented them on being in great shape. Eric offered Sam his card. “I looked at Eric, and I knew it was time,” Sam remembers. Not long after, he called.
That was 130 pounds ago. “I could do one sit-up at first,” he says. “Now I do 100.” With Yamashita’s help, this man who has made a career of food has radically revised his eating patterns, switching from stuffing himself to savoring. Now it is a diet of fish, vegetables and salad, combined with “an hour of cardio workout every day.” Sam aims to lose 100 pounds more, but that’s not, he says, what his physical transformation is about: “I’ve learned to live a whole different life. I make healthy choices. I am rediscovering the joys of nutritious food—and having a ball doing it.” The last time he worked as a guest chef on a cruise, he recalls, he witnessed a change in his weight of 9 pounds—it went down 9 pounds. He laughs and shakes his head. “Unbelievable, yeah?”