When he was near his heaviest, Stacy Winters frequented fast-food restaurants almost daily.

He gobbled up his standard order: two Quarter Pounders with cheese, supersized fries and a supersized pop.

But as the numbers on the scale ticked closer and closer to 400, Winters decided it was time for a change.

Now, 17 years later and about 185 pounds lighter, the Omaha man rarely visits a fast-food restaurant. And while maintaining his weight loss, Winters has also become something of a foodie. He dines at locally owned restaurants on weekends and has lists of his favorite Omaha eateries.

“Fatty to foodie,” Winters, 43, says of his transformation. “It’s become my passion.”

Winters, who grew up in McCook, Nebraska, always struggled with his weight. By first grade, he weighed 100 pounds. Numbers on the scale grew: 225 pounds by fifth grade and more than 300 pounds by eighth grade.

By his junior year, the football coach said he had to lose weight or he wouldn’t start.

He dropped down to about 275 pounds to play defensive tackle. After his senior year of high school, Winters started packing on pounds again.

He drank at least a 2-liter of Dr Pepper a day.

For dinner he might eat an entire frozen pizza followed by ice cream or another type of sweet treat.

Winters didn’t let his weight keep him from doing things like going to ballgames or flying on a plane. But it wasn’t always easy.

“Flying and going to the movies and sitting in seats at a ballpark, that was always uncomfortable and embarrassing,” Winters said. “Nobody wants to be the person who has to sit next to the fat guy.”

By 26, Winters’ blood pressure was creeping up, and the scale was inching toward 400.

“My entire life I’d heard, ‘You should lose weight.’ But never was it a very stringent, ‘You need to do this now’ type of situation,” Winters said.

His first step: cut out the Dr Pepper. He stuck to water and iced tea. Within about five months, he dropped 60 pounds.

Next, he joined a gym. In another 10 months, Winters was down to about 300 pounds. When his son was born in 2004, Winters left the gym and took to his basement treadmill. A program at work taught him more about nutrition, and he took the tips to heart, like tracking the food he ate.

He hit a plateau at about 260 pounds. Winters ran his first 10K. He joined Farrell’s eXtreme Bodyshaping when he was down to about 215 pounds. There, he dropped below the 200 mark. He’s stayed between 195 and 200 pounds for the last eight years.

Dropping that much weight takes a lot of dedication, said Dr. Lewis Eirinberg, who’s treated Winters for about the last year. Losing that amount of weight takes a full lifestyle change, said Eirinberg, who works out of the CHI Health clinic near 161st Street and West Maple Road.

“He’s made a huge change for the positive in his life,” Eirinberg said. “He’s probably saved his own life by doing this.”

Eirinberg said losing weight is about what works best for each person. He advises not to set a pound goal and to change your lifestyle — exercise and diet. There are no easy, quick solutions, he said.

Winters eats about six small meals a day. They might include cottage cheese with pineapple, egg white scrambles and turkey burgers. He sticks to that diet and his workout routine during the week. On weekends, he visits locally owned restaurants.

“When you’re eating healthier ... and you’re going to allow yourself to splurge, you don’t want to waste those calories,” Winters said. “You see all these great places out there, and you seek them out.”

Winters has a long list of favorites for any type of cuisine. He once participated in a World- Herald Food Prowl to find the city’s best fried chicken. Winters can rattle off his favorites for pizza, gyros, Mexican and Italian cuisines.

Winters had already seen significant weight loss by the time he started at Farrell’s, but franchise owner Wayne Lewis was a little skeptical about Winters’ dedication.

“When I first met Stacy, he talked about how much of a foodie he was. I thought that would cause some issues,” Lewis said. “The minute I saw him go to work, he was all business.”

Winters stuck to small, attainable goals and learned how important nutrition is. Or that “you can’t outrun your fork,” as Lewis says.

Now, Winters is a role model. He works out at a different Omaha gym, but Lewis still calls on him for advice.

“He went from being one of my students to being one of my mentors,” Lewis said. “I’m lucky to have him in my corner.”

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