Worth the Weight
John Frey’s life-changing experience
State Rep. John Frey, in front of the Ridgefield Library, some 200 pounds lighter than he was five years ago.
Photo Kristen Jensen
John Frey has spent most of his life in Ridgefield—and wants to continue living here even longer. When he was eight, his dad died, so John and his two sisters were raised by their mom, but the town became a second parent. “I could walk around Main Street and people looked after me. They knew me.”
Frey moved here from Greenwich when he was three, attending the public schools, then WestConn. He eventually became a successful realtor, getting involved in Republican town politics. Twenty years ago he was elected to the state house of representatives. He is up for his tenth term in November.
But as Frey’s successes mounted, so did his weight. By his 30s Frey was seriously obese—over 400 pounds, his waist at 60 inches. “I was heavy my entire life and plateaued in my early 30s. I’d come home from Hartford at 11 at night and eat an entire pizza and go to bed,” he explains. High cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other maladies that come with obesity plagued him. “I always knew it was bad, but no matter what I did, I could not shed the weight.”
Then two things happened. His sister’s children were in Sandy Hook elementary when a gunman killed 20 kids in 2012 (they survived). At the time, Frey was a few weeks from his 50th birthday. “The combination of my dad’s early death, myself turning 50, and what happened at Sandy Hook made me look at death as something real. Overweight people don’t live very long.”
Shortly after, at a political function, Frey talked weight loss with political pal Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.
“John’s a tremendous guy,” Gov. Christie told me. “He’s always smiling and backslapping.” In November 2013, just days after his re-election in New Jersey and his appointment as head of the Republican Governors Association, Christie invited Frey to his Trenton office. “For two hours one Sunday, we talked about weight loss and the lap-band procedure I underwent. Former Jets coach Rex Ryan had encouraged me to do it, and I encouraged John.”
Christie then got Rep. Frey an appointment with NYU Langone Medical Center’s Dr. George Fielding, himself a lap-band procedure patient who has performed some 7,000 of them to date.
“It’s a very minor procedure,” says the Australian MD. He creates a few small holes in the patient’s belly and inserts a band that he ties around the esophagus where it attaches to the stomach. “I can tighten and loosen it as needed.” The idea is to slow the ingestion of food.
“Now I don’t eat breakfast or lunch,” says Frey. “My first meal of the day is dinner. I eat easily digestible foods, like chicken salad, meatloaf, or crab cakes.” He’s trained himself to eat the proteins first, vegetables second, and carbs last. “I have learned to chew well and to eat slowly. If I eat too quickly, my nose begins to run. That’s sign,” he explains about the effect of the constricting lap band. “I don’t feel hungry during the day and find that I have plenty of energy.”
It’s been more than four years since Frey underwent the lap-band procedure and the results have been staggering for the 55-year-old state representative, who has been reluctant to talk about it until now. “I was over 400 pounds, and I have lost about 200,” he says in disbelief. “My waist line went from over 60 inches to 42. And I’m still losing weight.” At a time after the surgery, he was losing 15 to 20 pounds a month. “My numbers are great: good cholesterol ratio, no more diabetes, no more high blood pressure. I added 15 or 20 years of my life.”
He says many people don’t recognize him when he’s walking down the street. “Those who do, do a double-take.”
“I’ve gone through four wardrobe changes. At one point, I had one blue blazer and stretchy pair of gray slacks, because I could not keep up,” explains Frey, who has kept one blazer he wore at his peak weight. “It’s like a different person.”
But deep down, he’s the same person—at eight, overweight, or in his new incarnation. “In many ways, Ridgefield’s the same as when I was young. I still love it here. I see Bob Tulipani, who taught me in fourth grade. I see Beth Yanity, who taught me health. I’m never leaving.”