PHILIPPINES - Looking at him now, people would be hard-pressed to imagine that this guy on Facebook in form-fitting, abs-revealing sportswear, with a bevy of beauty queens hanging on to his sinewy arms, was once a miserable blob.
At 5'8 264 lbs, John Jay Cuay used to be rotund, awkward and an easy target for bullies.
"I accepted the bullying like it was part of my life," he said, recalling how, as early as age 5, he had been the subject of cruel name-calling for being obese.
"I was really big for my age and everyone called me 'Bab,' short for baboy (pig)," recounted Cuay, now a fitness trainer for beauty queens and part of the group Aces & Queens. For close to 12 years now, he has also been the Inquirer's resident fitness trainer who handles the Pilates-core, Zumba and kickbox sessions of the company's workout group.
In school, kids would throw food at him, Cuay said. The meaner ones would often trip him and laugh uproariously when he couldn't get up right away. It was so embarrassing that he couldn't even tell his parents.
After his family moved to the US when he was 8, things only got worse. "I couldn't blend in," he recalled. "I was dark, short and fat."
The high school dating scene saw him settling for girls who, like him, lay unclaimed on the shelf. "My dates were usually the extremes: girls who were either too thin or too fat." Normal-sized girls were simply out of his league.
Later, as an athletic trainer for the lacrosse team at Princeton University, he thought the worst was over. After all, he was a US-certified physical therapist. Surely, his credentials would merit respect?
He was wrong. His weight slowed him down and he couldn't keep up. The Ivy League team taunted him: "You're fat and unfit; why should we listen to you?"
Today, Cuay looks back at those humiliating years as a reminder of how hard work, discipline and personal resolve can melt the odds-and incidentally, the fats.
Occasionally, he'd post throwback photos of himself as a blimp looking glumly at the camera, as if to measure once more how far he has come. The self-congratulation is evident but understandable: who'd want to go back to that dark place when food was the enemy, when looking at the mirror was an ordeal, and when people judged you based on your waistline?
It all started when, as an only child, he was overprotected and overfed, Cuay said.
"It took my parents five years to have me, so Papa wanted to make sure I would survive. He made sure I had plenty of food and that the doctor would always pump me with vitamins," he added.
With the bulk came the bullying, but his parents-his dad was an accountant and his mom, an OB-gyn-were too busy to notice.
The family's move to the US only made overeating inevitable.