It took a number of years for Chaz Bono to beat his addiction to painkillers, but he finally kicked the habit in 2004. It took several more years for the only child of legendary musical duo Sonny and Cher to sober up and walk away from his addiction to cigarettes, but he did just that a few years ago.
Now the former Dancing With the Stars contestant says he’s closer than ever to conquering yet another obstacle in his life: his weight. Bono has lost more than 50 pounds in the last five months, weight he says was the lasting effect of long-term drug use and withdrawal as well as a hormonal imbalance. Bono, who began his transition in 2009, says his weight had ballooned to more than 250 pounds at its highest last year.
“I think for me the weight was the last thing I was holding on to after letting of go of drugs, drinking, and smoking,” says Bono. “That was a lot to let go of. Eating and dinner became this big event in my life because those other things were gone, and food became the only thing of pleasure I still had in my mind. And I’m Italian.”
Growing up the child of Hollywood celebrities left the now 44-year-old with both good and bad memories of years gone by. Interestingly enough, Bono says he now also realizes he had a very distorted view of own his body all through childhood. “When I was younger I actually thought I looked better than I did and thought I was slimmer than I was,” says Bono, who says he was aware that his parents were quite slim. “Oh, I had my insecurities while growing up, but I was in denial as to how big I actually was. I was put on diets while I was a kid, but I never had conversations with my mother about body image. That never happened. I was put on diets but it wasn’t talked about.”
The aspiring actor believes that as a transgender person, he often disconnected from his body and what it actually looked liked in ways more typically male. “I remember seeing this cartoon that showed a woman looking in a mirror and seeing herself as big and fat when she wasn’t in reality,” recalls Bono. “On the reverse the man saw a body builder in the mirror, when he looked nothing like that in reality. He was totally out of shape. That always stuck with me as to how I thought.”
Bono continued to struggle with his weight even after his breast reconstruction and reduction surgery for his transition. At the time, he was suffering from a host of life-threatening diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol as a result of the 250 pounds on his 5-foot-5 frame.
“As a man it’s actually easy to lose weight because of muscle mass and testosterone,” says Bono. “So I did lose a little easier,” but not a significant amount. “I knew I had to change my mindset if I wanted to lose the amount of weight I needed to this time around. I’d have to really commit to whatever it took to get it off and keep it off because of the toll it was taking on my health.”
Adding to the problem, he was also experiencing intense pain whenever he attempted any of the physical exercise he needed to do to lose the pounds.
“I get flat feet from my dad’s side of the family, so whenever I would work out my feet would hurt and burn for like 30 minutes during the exercise, and I’d be miserable,” says Bono. “Now that pain is gone after losing more than 50 pounds. I feel so much better in so many different ways.”
Historically, Bono’s arsenal of weight-loss tools had included diet drinks, low-calorie menus, exercise plans, and gyms. To succeed, he knew he’d need medical supervision to truly get rid of the pounds and the long list of medications he was taking to ward off weight-related diseases.
Bono turned to Dr. Eva Cwynar, a well-known Beverly Hills endocrinologist and hormone specialist who focuses on weight loss and fatigue. “We definitely evaluated everything in Chaz’s world and environment and that included hormones,” she says. “There was an imbalance and we balanced them.”
“I reached out to a team of experts like Dr. Cwynar, who looked at everything in me and came up with a plan to reach my goal,” says Bono. “They looked at my hormones and everything else in an effort to find the right tools to help me lose the right way this time. I know that was key to get me where I am now and key to helping me stay here.”
Dr. Cwynar, who is also author The Fatigue Solution, pointed to Bono’s longtime addiction to opiates as an additional reason for his heavy weight and inability to lose the extra pounds. Bono has admitted to an addiction to the painkillers Vicodin and Percodan over the years.
“Those drugs wreak havoc on the pituitary gland, and that upsets the body’s hormonal harmony, which impacts your weight,” says Dr. Cwynar. “Those are the issues we had to go in and fix with Chaz.”
Bono also used a recently FDA-approved weight loss drug called Qsymia that makes the body feel full, according to Dr. Cwynar, as well as several food delivery services to help. Today he cooks most meals for himself.
“It used to be a big production for me with dinner,” remembers Bono, who continues to be an advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. “But now it’s just chicken breast and whatever I put together. It’s not so important anymore to me. Those delivery meals began to all taste alike too, so I stopped that.”
As the pounds continue to drop off—he wants to lose 20 more—Bono says he will continue to focus on his acting career and his love of ballroom dancing and martial arts.
“I’m taking acting classes to get me where I want be in the business someday, and I have the support of friends and family who were really worried about my health for a while,” says Bono. “I’m now off most of the medicine I was on and I’m really happy. I was happy before, but now I’m happy because I don’t have to worry so much about the way I feel, healthwise. That was a concern I didn’t want to have anymore.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the date of Bono's gender transition and his age—he turned 44 on March 21.