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Constant Cuts the Fat

The San Jose City Council has been seeing less of Pete Constant lately. Now there's less of him to see.

Something snapped in Pete Constant’s mind one morning last February. That’s when the District 1 councilman stepped onto his bathroom scale and realized he was 101 pounds heavier than he’d been as an active police officer.

“I clearly remember the day,” Constant says. “I remember getting on that scale, looking down and not being able to see the scale, and then leaning over to see the numbers.”

At 5 feet 9 inches and 46 years old, Constant weighed 286 pounds.

“It just kind of flipped a switch, and I got irritated,” he says. “So, I got off the scale and I told my wife, ‘Make me an appointment with my doctor. I’m going to get a physical and I’m going to find out if I’m killing myself.’”

Fourteen weeks ago, Constant embarked on a hard-core, medically supervised metabolic nutrition program. The difference in his physical appearance is stunning. The councilmember now weighs in at around 220. His goal is to lose 40 pounds more, which would bring his dropped poundage to 100 even.

“I’ve never been a skinny person, but I was never really a fat person either,” Constant says. “I was just a stocky guy. I liked to call myself well-built.”

After a spinal injury in 1997 that put him on permanent disability, Constant says, he really started packing on the pounds. He says he tried several diets since being elected to City Hall in 2006, including an all-juice regimen in his first term.

None of the diets ever seemed to stick. He says finding the time to eat healthy was, ahem, a “huge” challenge.

“I would often hit whatever drive-through I happened to be driving by,” Constant says.

“When I went to McDonald’s, I knew that getting a Big Mac wasn’t the best thing for me. But, it was an informed decision. I did what I wanted to do. I mean, when you go to a rib joint, you know that getting the chicken is probably better than getting the pork. But you still get the pork.”

After seeing the “286” staring back at him from the scale, Constant decided something had to change or he was going to have a heart attack.

“I was almost hoping that there would be some dire warning from my doctor, that ‘you’re going to die if you continue doing this,’” he says. “Unfortunately, they used words to the effect that I was the healthiest fat guy they’d ever seen.” But his Body Mass Index was off the charts, so his doctor ordered him on a rigorous all-liquid program.

Excused Absence

One of the first things Constant did after deciding to lose weight was apprise Mayor Chuck Reed of the situation. Since starting his diet, Constant says, he’s had to significantly change his City Hall schedule. He now has to slot time for the program’s mandatory weekly electrocardiogram and blood tests, as well as his new exercise regime.

The program also requires weekly group psychotherapy sessions. Those are only held on Tuesday nights, which means they often conflict with the evening sessions of the Council’s weekly meetings.

“I sat down with the mayor and I said, ‘Look, I gotta make this a priority,” Constant says. “I just explained myself, and Chuck has been very supportive.”

Constant says that in order to make his doctor appointments, he got the OK from Reed to pick and choose which City Council agenda items he wants to vote on.

“That’s the real reason I haven’t been around,” he says of his frequent City Hall absences, something that Metro’s Fly has given him a hard time about in the past.

From the way Constant makes it sound, however, he’d much rather be sitting in his cozy Council seat than attending the sessions with the shrink.

“I just have to go and sit with a bunch of fat people and listen to them talk about how much they cheat on their diet and how much they don’t do their exercise,” he says. “I mean, I cheated once. It was like the third day, and I walked by a bowl of cashews and grabbed a handful and put them my mouth. It was just like total reflex. Other than that, when I set my mind to something, I don’t cheat. And I always get my exercise in. So, I’m not a big fan of the psychotherapy portion of it.”

Constant says that also gone are the days of hitting up the Cheesesteak Shop or 4th Street Pizza Co. near City Hall for working lunches with his chief of staff, current Distinct 9 City Council candidate Jim Cogan.

Constant says he no longer eats, but he “consumes” five diet shakes or pre-made soups a day. Instead of fast-food runs, he now keeps a virtual bar of low-calorie, sugar-free syrups on hand at his City Hall office to add to his diet shakes.

“Fortunately, my staff is very good at keeping me exactly on time,” Constant says. “I think they know that I get cranky if I don’t have it, so it’s kind of self-preservation on their part.”

Cogan says that before he went on leave to run his campaign, he stopped having lunch at his desk on the 18th Floor in order to help Constant stay on track.

“Pete liked to joke about his weight,” Cogan says, “but he has an almost iron willpower when he wants to. It’s not easy to lose weight when you are completely healthy, and it’s even tougher when you have the kind of physical limitation that Pete does because of his injury from the police department. I just think it’s impressive.”

Reed has said he also takes care not to eat around Constant. He’s even quipped at council meetings that “Pete’s half the man he used to be.”

The Thin Man

Though he’s not quite slim (yet) the blue “Team Constant” polo shirt that he and his aides wear at City Hall is down from a size XXL to a XL. He’s also down from size 44 to size 36 jeans. He says people he hasn’t seen in months are shocked when they meet him now, and that his wife, Julie, has even joked about turning his old XXL blazers into double breasted jackets because he practically swims in them now.

She also told him that when they hook up, “she feels like she’s having an affair,” because he’s like a different man.

Though he has participated in city fitness walks in the past, he says he’s not sure yet if he’s going to bring his new health-centric personal agenda to the City Council.

Now that he’s back to a fighting weight, Constant hints that his two District 1 election opponents, business owner David Clancy and redevelopment liaison Tom Johnston, should watch out.

“I know people think I’m energetic and opinionated. Wait till you see me now,” he says.