The reggaeton star opens up to PEOPLE about his nearly lifelong struggle with his weight, mental health and sobriety
Nicky Jam is opening up about his transformational health journey.
After years of struggling with his weight, the singer and reggaeton star decided six months ago to undergo gastric bypass surgery — a bariatric procedure in which the size of the stomach is reduced and then re-connected directly to the small intestine, per Mayo Clinic.
“The reality is I've been fighting with my weight my whole life because this is an industry where you have to be in shape, you have to do movies, you have to do videos,” says Jam, 42, adding that a friend’s successful results from bypass surgery was what ultimately convinced him to do the procedure.
“I mean, you’re always going to be nervous before you do surgery, so I was nervous. I ain't going to lie,” he says. “But it's something that I really wanted.”
Jam says he has lost 110 pounds following his surgery six months ago, and that number is still climbing. The "El Perdón” singer is an avid lover of basketball, which helps him stay active.
"Basketball, that's what helped me. I play basketball every single day. I'm a big fan of basketball, and that's what I do with my buddies, everywhere I travel. We have an indoor court here. We play every day, and every time we play basketball, I think I lose two pounds!" Jam quips.
To help maintain his new lean weight, Jam has also completely overhauled his diet.
“I wake up and I'm the same guy, but I don't wake up and think about food right away,” he says, noting a major difference post-operation. “I used to wake up and I just wanted to eat. Now I take my time and I eat whenever I want. I feel better. I feel happy. I feel healthy. Two days ago, I did blood work, and I came out better than ever.”
He continues of the new dietary rules: “I've been eating really good for the last two months, and I'm enjoying it because I was literally on four or five months without eating. I was just drinking liquids and stuff like that, and I was going crazy. I ain't going to lie. First few days I cried.”
According to Mayo, diet recommendations after surgery depend on the person, but nearly all follow a staged approach that eases the individual back into eating solid foods anywhere from six to eight weeks post-op.
“You have to prepare yourself mentally for what's coming, and it's not easy. People say this is the easy way — they're wrong,” Jam says of choosing bypass. “Here, you're obligated to not eat. You can't even drink liquids and eat at the same time. Because your stomach is so small, you'll get full [so quickly]. So it's like you got to learn how to eat, wait 20 minutes, and then you drink some liquid.”
Jam also has to be mindful of his alcohol intake with his new “small” stomach, as even “drinking a little bit of wine” is enough to make him tipsy, he adds.
But it’s a tradeoff he’ll happily take these days: Jam previously struggled with drug abuse, including Percocet, which he says from his experience “will make you eat more.”
“Percs don't make you skinny. It's totally the opposite. I was fat and a drug addict. So I was taking the pills, and I was so big,” he recalls.
“The respect that this country gave me, they made me feel loved when I most needed the love. They made me believe I deserve more. And I didn't feel like that back home. And it's not Puerto Rico's fault. I mean, I get it. I wasn't loving myself enough for other people to love me,” explains Jam.
“I stopped drugs. I cleaned myself. I lost weight in those years, I lost weight, and people looked at me like, ‘Yo, you look brand new. You look like a different human being,'" he continues. "And the way you love yourself and take care of yourself makes it easier for the world to love you and back you up. It's just the way it is."
These days, Jam is committed to keeping his health on track — and he's looking forward to working on a new album and continuing to tour.
The Dominican-Puerto Rican star has come a long way, and he's more inspired than ever to keep improving himself.
“I was lacking for a mom. I didn't have my mom. I didn't have a dad. I was alone in the streets doing stuff that people do in the streets. So obviously, of course, there's moments of me not even loving myself, like when I was fat and huge or when I was doing drugs," adds Jam, who has said his parents also struggled with addiction when he was young.
"But that's the magic of being a human being. Getting better, getting better, getting better — loving yourself more and more and more.”
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