I’d been obese for nearly 20 years. I was always a skinny child but got chubby in high school and exploded into obesity in college. My car was always filled with empty fast-food containers that had been stuffed under the seat after late-night eating binges or on my way home from work. Sometimes, I’d order enough food from my local pizza shop to feed a family of four and just binge the evening away. I was slovenly, wearing what I could find from the poor selections at discount shops or the big-and-tall catalogs. Women never took me seriously as a masculine creature; I was always the brother type.
One morning I went to work and grabbed a cup of coffee from the cart on my way to my desk. A few minutes later, I felt like I was having a heart attack. I worked at AOL at the time, and they were big enough to actually have an in-house infirmary. The doctors checked me over and said I was okay, but I decided to go see my doctor to be sure.
A week later, I was sitting in my doctor’s exam room and he walks in, nose down in my chart. I explained what had happened, and he suggested that the coffee may have been spoiled or that I may have a sensitivity to caffeine. Waving my follow-up questions away, he said he wanted to talk about something much more important: my weight. I weighed 293 pounds; I’m six feet tall. “Your weight is in a critical stage,” he said.
I told him that I was working on slimming down, but he didn’t want to hear it.
“I’m prescribing something to help you manage it,” he said, starting to scribble on his pad.
I’m not a fan of prescription drugs, and told my doctor I could do without them. He was having none of it.
“I’ve been a doctor for 30 years,” he said. “If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard that, I’d have retired ten years ago.”
I was adamant. I told him that I’d lose 100 pounds in a year. He didn’t believe me. He told me I’d be back in his office in six months weighing 20 pounds more. “I’m sick of people promising things they can’t deliver,” he said.
I managed to get out of there without the drugs. I went back to my office and started researching weight-loss strategies. No fads, no name-brand diets—I wanted the facts.
In the middle of this, I had a strange dream that my niece, who was 18 months old at the time, grew up never knowing me because I’d died of a heart attack. I woke up in a pool of sweat, vowing that would never happen.
The first week was tough. I started getting up at 5:30 to do my hour-and-a-half commute to get to the company fitness center. When I got there, I didn’t know what to do, so I just hit the treadmill—hard. I logged 70 minutes every day. I told no one I was doing this. I took no pictures of myself beforehand. In retrospect, I think I just wasn’t expecting to succeed.
But it was like the weight just wanted to come off. In the first two weeks, I lost seven pounds. I used that small victory to propel me through the first month. With every 10 pounds came a new milestone:
• Minus 20 pounds. The first people to notice are the trainers at the gym. One of them suggests I buy smaller gym clothes as a motivation. The idea is to make me see the progress as I work out.
• Minus 30. Friends start to notice—not so much the weight loss, but the fact that I’m constantly pulling up my pants. There’s a little sidewalk intervention as a friend demands I get pants that stay up.
• Minus 40. I’m a cheapskate. Still wearing the same pants, just drilling new holes in all my belts as I go.
I develop a painful case of bursitis in my hip. Refusing to stop, I visit a sports-therapy specialist, who encourages me to continue to exercise and puts me in physical therapy. My knee starts to bother me as well, so I modify my exercises: 30 minutes of cardio and more resistance work.
• Minus 50. My sister forces me to go on a shopping spree. Confident, I buy clothes that are a size too small and hang them on my closet door. I see them every morning on my way to the gym.
• Minus 60. A woman I once dated (unsuccessfully) sees me on the street. She asks me what’s going on. I tell her I lost some weight. She asks me if it was by choice. I feel weird; maybe people haven’t been saying anything to me because they think I have an illness. I put that thought aside, feeling victorious as this woman looks longingly at me the way I used to look at her.
• Minus 70. The gym rats name me their mascot. Inspired, others start to show up regularly. Another guy starts slimming down, too. A woman from a different department joins us. We work out every day, keeping each other going with encouraging words. I dub our little team “The Resistance.” She goes on to lose a total of 45 pounds. The man loses 60.
My hip pain returns. I go back into physical therapy and fight on.
• Minus 80. I buy my first pair of Levis 501s—those trendy slim-cut jeans you see on all the hipsters. I’ve always wanted a pair. I actually shed tears of joy in the dressing room at Macy’s. I tell this to my favorite trainer at the gym, and she says she sees me crying all the time on the treadmill. I never realized I was.
I call the big-and-tall shops and tell them not to send me any more catalogs because I’m skinny now. “It’s not you, it’s me,” I say to each of their reps. Every last one of them congratulates me and wishes me well.
• Minus 90. The trainers start telling me to do more weight-and-resistance training. They ask me to speak at a company fitness fair. I show up in leather pants. It’s AOL, so that’s okay, though my boss raises an eyebrow.
The 100-pond marker is a blur. So is 110.
At this point in the story, it hit me: I finally realized my obesity had put me into a depression. When my parents died, I was a sophomore in college. Life was supposed to be beautiful, but the loss of the only people who would ever love me unconditionally sent me into a spiral of loneliness and melancholy. I used food to fill the emptiness, instead of just trying to cope. The person I had become attracted people who, in their own ways, helped me feed my depression.
After I changed, some of my friendships no longer made sense. I was no longer the guy to call when you needed to go to the pizza place after the bar closed. Those calls stopped, and the friendships faded. I was no longer the friend who went along for half-price-burger happy hour, so no one asked me. I was no longer the go-to guy for a midday fast-food run, so I was left behind. I have friends who have never seen the new me because I haven’t seen them in person for four years.
Life must go on, though, and I’m happy about who I am now—even with fewer friends. I’m no longer depressed. When life bites me, I bite it back, and find a solution that doesn’t involve food. I’m writing a novel, finally. I even bought a motorcycle. I’d never go back to my former self.
I visited my doctor for a checkup in 2009. Again, he walked in with his nose in his charts, but this time he did a double-take. He actually had to read my name and weight in the file before he believed what he saw. It was awesome! He told me he’d never seen anything like it in his career, and said he had no doubt I’d keep it off.
I still go to the gym every morning. To be honest, I’m still struggling to maintain my weight: Some weeks I’m up, others I’m down. I understand now that it’s a never-ending fight. I think it’s this way for most people. And I’m okay with it.
I’m a clotheshorse now, too. And you know what? I’m gorgeous! Spending my former fast-food budget at Macy’s, I still cry in the dressing room sometimes.
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