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NEWARK, New Jersey (AP) - Gov. Chris Christie, who once famously called himself "the healthiest fat guy you've ever seen," disclosed Tuesday he had secretly undergone weight-loss surgery, a major new step by the potential Republican presidential contender to address both his health and a political vulnerability.

The stakes are high for Christie, with medical professionals and campaign strategists alike suggesting there is no more serious barrier to his personal well-being and national ambitions than his weight.

It's not about politics, he said. It's about turning 50 and wanting to be around as his children grow up.

"This is a hell of a lot more important to me than running for president," Christie, a father of four, said at a news conference in Newark. "This is about my family's future."

Christie, who appeared thinner than he did earlier this year, said he decided around the time of his birthday in September to have the surgery and initially planned to have it done in November. But Superstorm Sandy's destruction in New Jersey pushed back the procedure until February. In the operation, a band was surgically placed around his stomach to restrict how much food he could eat.

Christie has not previously disclosed his weight, and he didn't on Tuesday. But it has been an issue throughout his political career. Comedians have often made fun of it, and in interviews with David Letterman, Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters and others, Christie has both joked about the issue and said solemnly that he was trying to shed pounds.

During a February television appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman," the governor pulled out a doughnut and said his girth was "fair game" for comedians.

Over the next few days, he was asked repeatedly about his weight. At one point, he said he had a plan. "Whether it's successful or not," he said, "you'll all be able to notice."

The next day, he responded angrily to comments from a former White House physician who said she hoped he would run for president but worried about him dying in office. The governor said the doctor should "shut up."

Ten days after that, on Feb. 16, Christie had the surgery. He said the operation lasted 40 minutes and he was home the same afternoon. He was back at work on Feb. 19 for a full day of events.

Christie, who is in the midst of a re-election campaign, said he has been eating less because he hasn't been as hungry. He also has been working out with a personal trainer.

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Peoples reported from Providence, Rhode Island, and Mulvihill from Haddonfield, New Jersey. AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard in Washington, AP Writers Katie Zezima in Newark and Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, and AP Sports Writer Dennis Waszak in New York contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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