Billy Gardell Says Bariatric Surgery Wasn't the Answer to Losing Over 150 Lbs.: 'Just the Beginning' (Exclusive)

“Even with the surgery, I was going to have to change my way of thinking,” the 54-year-old actor tells PEOPLE

getty  Billy Gardell before and after his weight loss
getty Billy Gardell before and after his weight loss

Billy Gardell had to put in a lot of work to lose over 150 lbs. in less than two years.

The Bob Hearts Abishola star, 54, recently spoke to PEOPLE about his incredible physical transformation and why having bariatric surgery was “just the beginning” of his weight loss journey.

“I chickened out from it a couple times, but at some point you get sick and tired of being sick and tired,” he tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “I was so big that I was at the point where it hurt to exercise. Then I developed type 2 diabetes, and I went on a drug for that for about a year and a half. And then I said, ‘Do I really want to be on a drug the rest of my life?’”

Gardell says he “tried everything” to lose weight on his own but was never successful.

“My cycle was lose 30 lbs., gain 35 lbs., lose 30 lbs., gain 35 lbs., which is a yo-yo I think for a lot of people, even on a smaller scale, that seems to be the thing,” he explains. “So I needed something drastic, but it wasn't going to come until I was ready to surrender that even with the surgery, I was going to have to change my way of thinking.”

Related: Billy Gardell 'Walking Around Pretty Healthy' After Losing 150 Pounds: 'It's Been a Real Gift'

<p>Sonja Flemming/CBS/Everett</p> Billy Gardell on 'Mike & Molly' with Melissa McCarthy

Sonja Flemming/CBS/Everett

Billy Gardell on 'Mike & Molly' with Melissa McCarthy

The Mike & Molly alum admits he only decided to “change everything” when the COVID pandemic started and he realized that he was more at risk because of his weight.

“The idea of not being here for my wife or my kid motivated my change, motivated me into I will commit to whatever it takes to get healthy,” he says. “Sometimes you need help and you have to be humble enough to ask for help in order for that to happen.”

Gardell says he finally made a consultation and underwent bariatric surgery in July 2022 with Dr. Philippe Quilici, who “changed and saved my life.” The actor emphasizes that he’s not suggesting anyone follow his path for weight loss, but that surgery was the “right decision” for him.

“But what I will say about this surgery is it's not the answer, it's just the beginning,” he stresses, noting that one in four people later regain the weight after surgery.

“So my suggestion to anybody who's considering this is to study and really immerse yourself in the commitment it takes after the surgery to maintain this and take care of yourself,” he continues. “If you're not willing to make that commitment, don't do the surgery. But if you are willing to make that commitment, then it's been an incredibly healthy change for my life.”

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<p>Bill Inoshita/CBS via Getty</p> Billy Gardell on 'Bob Hearts Abishola'

Bill Inoshita/CBS via Getty

Billy Gardell on 'Bob Hearts Abishola'

Gardell says he now has a regimen that he doesn’t deviate from, which has allowed him to lose 170 lbs. since his surgery. His routine includes a healthy diet of lean meats and vegetables, daily walks and workouts three times a week. He also allows himself a “cheat meal” once a week, but with smaller portions: “two slices of pizza as opposed to the entire pie.”

And with his weight averaging about 207 lbs., Gardell says, “I walked out of a prison sentence.” He admits that he’s just now getting used to his new body after his weight loss journey and the “little victories fuel the tank.”

“I've really learned that the thing is to not look in the mirror and be mean to yourself and go, ‘Oh, you got to change this. Come on, you lazy piece of crap. Keep going.’ None of that works,” he tells PEOPLE. “You got to look in the mirror and go, ‘All right, I love you and I'm going to take care of you today.’ And that's a hard thing to get to until you evolve emotionally. And I think that happened for me.”

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