I’m telling my story with pictures and words in hopes that it inspires someone else and “clears the fog” so to speak.
I’ve always been a big guy. As soon as puberty hit, which was probably a little bit later on the scale than I would have liked it to be, I was “husky.” All the men in my family were some form of tall or muscular, so I wasn’t surprised, and always told myself that I would just always kind of be “big boned” because of my heritage and body type.
All through high school I worked out regularly. I ran stadium stairs, lifted weights, even showed up to school at 6:00am 2-3 times a week to play basketball. I was raised by parents that understood the value of nutrition, as well as the value of exercise. I shudder to think what would have happened to me if they hadn’t instilled these values at an early age. Yet, despite what my parents told me, and despite the fact that 75% of what was available in my house would be considered health food, and the other 25% definitely wasn’t “junk food,” I still at as much garbage as I cold get my hands on when I was outside the house. Otis Spunkmier cookies and a 20oz Mt. Dew every day at lunch from the student store, candy burgers every chance I could sneak it… I distinctly remember being able to eat an entire large pizza by myself. But because I was so active, I still never really got much above “chubby.” Skinny is something I told myself I would never be (and that’s probably true due to bone structure and muscle mass), but I was definitely not what you would call “overweight.”
The lie I told myself was “my eating habits are not affecting my weight because I’m still able to compete at sports.”
When I moved out of my parents’ house in 1997, and in to the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at the UW, it was game on. None of my favorite foods were restricted, nobody forced me to eat fruits or vegetables, and because part of my rent payment covered food, I had 24/7 access to some of the most unhealthy, empty calories out there. I also started drinking, which of course added plenty of calories to my weekly diet.
The lie I told myself was “I’m young, I should enjoy myself and not worry about nutrition… it’s over rated.”
Subconsciously, I’d bought in to the ultra self-esteem boosting concept of “your weight doesn’t matter as long as you are happy, and don’t let anyone else tell you how your body should look.” After graduating High School at 190lb, I was over 200 within months of arriving at school. A severe ankle injury freshman year kept me off my feet until late spring, at which point I was fortunate to get a job as a bus boy at The Spaghetti factory. The constant running around kept my weight relatively manageable but the restaurant lifestyle didn’t help my overall situation. The Old Spaghetti Factory launched a 6 year career waiting tables, which brought the benefit of physical activity, but also came with fatty, high calorie foods and lots of late night drinking. I left school at 230lb, still telling myself that I was healthy because my genetics just made me big.
The lie I told myself was “I’ve finally grown in to my adult frame, and this is the weight I’m meant to be at.”
Then came the desk job.
When I started at HSBC, at the age of 24, I weighed 230lb. When I got promoted to branch manager 18 months later, I was 255. In mid 2006, after being a branch manager for 6 months, I peaked at 275lb and stayed there for almost a year.
I wasn’t sleeping well, I wasn’t doing anything athletic, and I pulled damn near every muscle in my body attempting to play church league softball. I decided to try jogging once, but almost passed out. I told myself it was a freak reaction and I was just sick or something, but then I avoided ever trying again because a 2nd failure would confirm my health issues.
The lie I told myself was “I’m normal.”
In 2007, I went to the doctor and had my blood drawn. Much to my surprise, my cholesterol was high and my blood sugar was in the danger zone to become pre-diabetic. While not an emergency, it was definitely a concern. This “scare,” made me start learning about nutrition, something friends and family had been trying to share with me my entire life. I never listened until a doctor told me it was a problem.
The lie I told myself was “I’m not in that bad of shape, I just need to drop a couple of pounds and watch my fat intake.”
And so I did just that. I no longer ate like a glutenous pig, I cut down on the beer, and started playing softball somewhat regularly which burned more calories than, well, doing nothing at all. But ultimately I wasn’t trying to get healthy, I was just trying to not die early. I managed to get in to the 250’s, and felt good about that, so stopped trying to progress.
The lie I told myself was “I’m not addicted to fat, sugar and salt, I just enjoy it… I’d have no problem cutting it out if I really had to. And the improvement I’ve made just goes to show that I’m in control.”
But I wasn’t. I’d look at pictures and know I was heavier than I wanted to look, I’d get out of breath walking up a flight of stairs, but thought that was ok because I knew people who were more out of shape than me. I wasn’t eating McDonalds every meal, I wasn’t eating a ton of red meat, I didn’t have doctors telling me to lose weight or else… therefor weight wasn’t my problem, it was society’s pre-disposition against people of a larger size. In fact, that’s why it was so hard for me to find clothes that fit right.
The lie I told myself was “you don’t look good in those clothes because the fashion industry is ignoring “the big man.”
That was 2008. For the next 5 years my weight fluctuated from the high 240’s to the low 260’s. Each fluctuation was met with some sort of trigger that either pushed me to start paying attention to my weight again, or relax a little bit and let the weight start to creep up. Maybe it was an unflattering picture, maybe it was clothes that didn’t fit, maybe it was a holiday season that let me slip back in to bad habits, consuming fat, sugar and salt at an unhealthy rate. I even dropped briefly in to the 230’s in 2009 before springing back up to 261 in late 2011.
The lie I told myself was “I’ve got this under control.”
In 2009, working at one at West Coast Careers (otherwise known as the most toxic work environment I’ve ever experienced), I was talked in to watching an episode of The Biggest Loser, as it was something rest of the office, a bunch of skinny people, enjoyed doing. I had avoided it because I thought it was just taking pleasure in the misery of others, specifically a group that I identified with. I was still telling myself that it was ok to be large, and that it was society’s problem, not mine. The rest of my co-workers judged and laughed at the “fatties” that struggled to get with the program on TBL, which only enraged me more. How dare they mock these people? They have no idea what lead them down this path? And before I knew it, I was hooked on The Biggest Loser, cheering on these people who had made the choice to face their fears and change their life for good. And I did it all while sitting on my couch with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. I watched Jillian Michaels telling these poor people that they had to stop making excuses and save their own lives. Deep down, I knew this also applied to me, but I kept telling myself the same old lies and pushing to the side what I knew, deep down, to be true. I can honestly say that the beginning of my understanding came from watching The Biggest Loser year after year, and having the message pounded home to me.
The lie I told myself was “These people PROVE that I’m healthy because I’m not as far gone as they are.”
Yet, I was inspired. I have a distinct, vivid memory of watching the following clip. I first saw it when Danny Cahill was being interviewed at the beginning of the show, and then again at the finale. He said something that has stuck with me for the last 3+ years…
“When I was 17, I was a Rock Star. I was lookin’ good and feelin’ good… I feel like somebody’s stolen my dream! It’s like something stole my life… and I want it back!”
And then he proceeded to go out and lose 239lbs. If he could do it, why couldn’t I?
As the years went by, little by little I learned about my own body. I made friends with people who were active and healthy, and others who were sedetary and overweight. I joined a gym but never went, I bought exercise machines but didn’t use them because even the $1000 elliptical at Sports Authority wasn’t really built for a 261lb man with strong legs. I’d go through fazes where I made some progress, which somehow proved to me that my unhealthy ways were just fine, as long as they were in moderation. I was starting to understand, but still didn’t want to admit the truth. Still watching The Biggest loser, some realities started to creep in. Some of the male contestants started to drop below my own weight during the show. Heavier people than me were doing things athletically that I couldn’t.
The lie I told myself was “They must be shorter than me, that’s why they weigh less and look like that,” or “I could run that 5k if I had a personal trainer.”
Then, something happened. Several months ago I left a job that had caused me more stress than any I’d ever had. While it paid extremely well, I was slowly but surely killing myself. While I’d successfully taken another “fluctuation ride” down to about 242, I was still telling myself lies like “what I’m doing to my body is fine,” and “I just have a big frame, so where I’m at right now is actually really healthy.” I started working at an internet startup where the environment designed around the concept that happy people are productive people. At the same time, 3 things happened. First, one of my best friends, who was obese, lost over 100lbs with nothing more than diet and exercise It was inspirational and made me realize that my health goals (which I’d somewhat come to terms with) were much more attainable than I’d ever realized. Second, I watched a 16 year old girl who was extremely overweight run a 10 minute mile (a distance I knew I couldn’t run without stopping, let alone in under 10 minutes), and third, a close family member had a major medical emergency in their mid-50’s. This family member appeared otherwise healthy. Normal weight, not sickly, but we found out later that the likely cause was years of a poor diet had caused this potentially devastating incident. This family member had no reason to think anything was wrong, but as you can see from the pictures above, I did, so what was my excuse for not making a change?
The lie that I told myself was… “I only need to tweak a few things.”
And so I did. But not just a few things, I tweaked almost everything. I joined a gym and actually started going. I set goals for myself and followed through. I essentially eliminated caffeine and soda from my diet, as well as chips and candy. Thanks to my amazing wife, I started eating better as a lifestyle, not something to try for a while to see if I can drop a few pounds. Without her insistence that we eat more whole foods, I’m not sure that I would have had my realization. We started cooking more and eating out less, and paying attention to where the foods we consumed came from, what was in them, and how they made us feel.
One evening, I had a revelation. It had been a long time since I’d felt GOOD. Not great, not amazing, but GOOD. And I’d been lying to myself for years about it.
I’m reminded of a story about a man whose town flooded.
As the waters rushed in, he stood on his front lawn and watched car after car drive by, evacuating to higher ground. One of the cars stopped and offered him a ride. “No thanks,” the man said, “God will save me.”
A short time later, with water creeping to the top of his front steps, the man sat on his porch with a smile on his face. A small boat pulled up to him and offered him a ride to safety. “No thanks,” said the man, “God will save me.”
Hours later, after the levees had broken and the entire town was flooded, the man stood on his roof. A helicopter hovered above and offered him a flight to safety. Once again, the man politely declined. “God will save me.”
Soon enough, the man was overtaken by the floods. When he arrived in heaven, he demanded an audience with God. “Why didn’t you save me?” the man asked. “I put my faith in you!”
God looked at him, absolutely stunned at the man’s question. “I sent a car, a boat, and even a helicopter and each time you turned my offer for help away. What exactly did you think was going to happen?”
When you are overweight and unhealthy, you often look for signs from friends and family members to tell you when you’ve crossed that line between “big boned,” “fat,” and “obese.” Unfortunately, people who love you will often spare your feelings. They’ll give you plenty of hints though, you just have to watch for them. “You were looking really good this spring. What were you doing to lose the weight?” Or, “you could lose a COUPLE of pounds, but you’re not THAT bad.” Or, “have you thought about adding more fish to your diet? It’s really healthy and I know that you’ve been trying to eat healthier.” But nobody will ever come out and say “dude, you’re fat, and if you make a lifestyle change you will feel so much better that you’ll wonder why you didn’t make the change sooner?” It’s not their fault, it’s mine. Had any of them been blunt with me, I probably would have brushed it off, and maybe been pissed at the “insult.”
I distinctly remember the night I walked in to the bedroom and said to my amazing wife, “Keri, I just realized that I haven’t felt good in a long time. Sometimes OK, always functional, but never GOOD. And then I realized that I’m a 34 year old overweight smoker… I’m not SUPPOSED to feel good.”
The lie I told myself was that I had JUST realized this… I’d known it for years. I just didn’t want to admit it.
For some reason, saying these words out loud to someone who loved me made them real. I was honest with MYSELF for the first time. The signs of these feelings had always been there. Just go back to the top of this page and read it again. Little things like not really fitting right in roller coaster seats. Back spasms on plane rides because the space was too small and I was jammed in to the seat. Pulling muscles regularly playing softball. Not being able to wear most styles of clothes. Regular indigestion, etc… I had just now been able to admit to myself that the concerns I’d silenced for years were in fact real.
That was 6 weeks and roughly 8-12lbs ago. Since that day, every time I see a bottle of mountain dew, a pack of Reese’s, ice cream, cookies, Top Pot doughnuts, even lunch items that look healthy but are filled with fat, I say to myself “That will kill me, make a different choice.” I work out in some way shape or form 5 days a week, and when I miss a day, I tell myself it’s not ok, and I need to do something to rectify the mistake. I believe that I was addicted to processed foods, fat and sugar. I believe that I still am, I’m just choosing to beat the addiction for the first time in my life.
No more lies.
The moment I was honest with myself, I realized that all the things I’d desperately wanted were within my grasp. I’d always told myself I could never look normal, I’d always be heavy. Why? Because that’s just the way I’d always been. Now the question is “what lies between you and a an athlete’s body?” And the answer is “Attitude, Effort, and Honesty.”
Today I tried on some size 36 shorts, and for the first time in well over a decade, not only did they fit, but they were a little on the lose side. The 40’s and 42’s I used to wear went to Goodwill weeks ago. Yesterday I ran a mile without stopping for the first time in 15 years. Every day I wake up a little bit more refreshed than the day before, and each day that passes I’m finding new ways to make myself feel not just better, but GOOD. Some days even GREAT. Each one of these little victories re-enforces to me that I was lying to myself, and could have done this years ago if I’d allowed myself to. If I’d wanted to. If I’d listened to the people who tried to help me.
Today I sit at 226lbs. My body fat is down from 31% to… well, to be honest I’m not sure but it’s a heck of a lot lower than 31%. I’ve lost 50lbs since 2008, 30lbs in the last 18 months, and 20lbs since before the holiday season. I feel good (in so many ways that I’m not even comfortable describing some of them here). I’m excited for the rest of my journey. My weekly goal is 2lbs, although even a small drop means I’m heading the right direction, as long as I’m doing the right things. The immediate goal is 225, my short term goal 220, and my long term goal is something affectionately referred to as “one-derland” on The Biggest Loser… 199. My dream? Something I’ve spent 20 years telling myself is not within my grasp due to my genetics… six pack abs. They won’t come quickly. In fact, it’s possible that they may never come. But for the first time in my life I realize that whether or not it ever happens is completely within my control. Not my genetics, not my work schedule, not the eating habits of those around me… just the decisions I make.
If anyone is reading this and wants to know exactly what I did to make this change, I’m happy to share. Just ask. It’s not easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.