“I was always overweight,” Hernandez, 32, tells PEOPLE. “Out of eight children, I was the fat one with the massive appetite.” But life at home was hard. Raised by a single mother in the projects of Tempe, Hernandez, Arizona and his family didn’t have a lot of money. “My food options weren’t the best — we would have cheap fast foods, donation boxes of meals,” he says. “Playing outside wasn’t much of an option due to the high crime rate in our endeavors.” They suffered bouts of homelessness.
He continued to struggle throughout his youth, losing his older brother when he was 16 years old and going through a painful breakup a few years later. He became severely depressed. Friends intervened when they saw him struggling|When they saw him struggling Friends intervened|When they saw him fighting, Friends intervened. “They reminded me of a promise I made to my late brother to correct myself,” says Hernandez, who weighed 325 lbs. at his heaviest. “I knew I had been damaged inside and out and had to make a change.”
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