To illustrate the physical tolls his illnesses took on his body and “to truly understand how absolutely sick [he] was,” the 36-year-old HGTV star posted a series of inspiring before-and-after photos to his Instagram page.
His first photo — taken at one of El Moussa’s lowest points and posted on Thursday — came with a caption describing just how rough he he was feeling.
“Look at this photo and look at my eyes,” he wrote. “I was a skeleton. This took a major toll on my physical and mental health…. This is from hurting my back after battling 2 cancers. I had a 60 pound weight swing from my illnesses.”
His “after” photo — posted Friday — shows the hard work he put in and the strength he feels now. “I think this picture represents winning the war against my illnesses,” he wrote in its caption.
While the times were tough, El Moussa says he is “proud” he never stopped fighting and never gave up hope.
“I know many of my fans have had similar struggles and can relate,” he wrote in the caption of his “before” picture. “The last 3 years were the hardest of my life. I look back and still wonder how I survived… I never quit although I wanted to thousands of times all day every day.”
“I’m proud to say I didn’t quit and I’m in the best shape of my life!!” he added. “For everyone struggling right now from any situation.. remember… keep your head up and don’t quit! There is light at the end of the tunnel, stay strong!”
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El Moussa has previously opened up to PEOPLE about his health problems — adding that they led to an emotional turmoil which took a toll on his 7-year marriage to his now-estranged wife and business partner Christina El Moussa.
“We used to be so energetic,” El Moussa said of his relationship with Christina, whom he separated from after a shocking incident involving a gun last May. “But with the businesses and the cameras and the cancers and the surgeries and my back, we started losing that energy. That’s what led us to where we are.”
Being diagnosed with both thyroid and testicular cancer was “devastating” for El Moussa, who thought that he was going to die. But the worst part was the “aftermath” that came post-surgery and post-iodine radiation treatment.
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“I became very emotional,” he said — adding his hormone levels were “all over the place” after treatment. “I was stressed and anxious and exhausted.”
The medication El Moussa was prescribed after his surgeries caused his heart to palpitate, so he began wearing a heart monitor because he feared he’d have a heart attack. His stress compounded when he threw out his back playing golf in 2014 — the same time Christina was enduring an intense round of IVF and doctor-ordered bed rest following a miscarriage.
“Those were the worst months of my life,” El Moussa said. He gained 40 lbs. because of his hormone imbalance post-surgery. While immobilized by his back injury, the 6-ft.-tall reality star then lost almost 70 lbs.
“I looked like death,” he says of the rapid weight loss. “I wasn’t the happy, outgoing guy I once was. I was so miserable. It was a struggle just to wake up in the morning.”
Luckily, El Moussa is feeling strong now. After working with his doctors to find a combination of hormone medications that would least impact his mood and energy, Tarek said “my meds are where they need to be.” He’s also working out regularly and is back to his “healthy” weight of 195 lbs.
And though had and Christina are split and living apart, to two are still on good terms — co-parenting their two kids, daughter Taylor, 6, and son Brayden, 18 months. The two even recently united for Taylor’s performance in a school production of Peter Pan.
“When you’re going through something like I did, you don’t realize how bad it is until you get out of it,” Tarek said. “But now I’m happy, healthy and dedicated to what makes me the happiest: being the best father possible. Everything’s perfect.”