A young literary scholar on Facebook who wanted to provide me with what I will assume was intended to be constructive criticism recently approached me. The message said, “I find it ironic and condescending to fat people that you would offer advice to anyone about how to change their life when your (sic) still a fatty. I don’t mean no disrespect, but you should shut your mouth until you don’t look so fate!” (I assume he meant “fat” not “fate.”) Grammatical errors aside, this young Shakespeare brings up an interesting point about someone who is “so fate” offering advice to someone about their macros, their goals, and helping them to find success. Seeing as how this brings up an interesting point, I wanted to tell you more about who I am, and why I do what I do.
I am a man. I am a husband. I am a father. I am a loyal friend. I am a thinker. I am a reader. I have fears. I have dreams. I have hopes. I have aspirations. I have doubts. I am also still technically obese. Why do I say “technically” obese…because after having lost 220 pounds over the past 8.5 years, I am also a man who looks vaguely like Jabba the Hutt when naked, and is in dire need of a plastic surgeon. When I began my weight loss journey, I weighed in at 505 lbs. It’s easy to look for a single cause – to point out my lifetime struggle with depression, a hypercritical inner monologue, the loss of several close friends much too early, but the truth is that for me (and anyone who has grown to that sort of size) the television approach of boiling it down to one moment, one cause, or one challenge doesn’t fit. The reality is that no one balloons to over a quarter of a US ton because they love cookies. Much like everything with life, there are a number of factors that affected my weight loss…many of them too deep and too personal and hurtful to dive into here.
To begin this piece, I want to share with you a bit about losing 200+ pounds, and the mentality of the person who is able to succeed in doing so. When people see my before/current photos (I don’t dare call them “after” photos), people love to share their stories. And, truth be told, I LOVE hearing about people’s successes…I draw inspiration from it! However, in a recent discussion with a colleague, he said to me, “Yeah, I know how tough it can be to lose weight…I had to really work hard to get rid of the 15 pounds I gained after I graduated college.” Admittedly every fiber of my being wanted to respond with, “Yes, I’ve lost more than you weigh, and you had to get rid of the Freshman 15…those two experiences are COMPLETELY the same.” I held my tongue, however, and after trying to put myself in the other person’s shoes, came to realize that people who have never undergone such drastic life change are largely incapable of understanding the life challenges, the commitment, and the hardships that someone who weighs 400, 500, or 600 pounds must endure. That’s not their fault, necessarily. I’m glad to hear that they have been able to avoid obesity to this point in their lives. But permit me to paint for you the picture of a single day in the life of your humble author.
It started like any other day, except today was the day that I had decided that I was going to purchase a new vehicle. A Ford F-150 Crew Cab: black on black, sunroof, 4×4…it was my dream! After all, I was a big man, and I need a big man’s vehicle. So the paperwork was signed after a short test drive…I knew the vehicle I wanted, it wasn’t up for discussion. I left the parking lot of the dealership, and put on the seatbelt for the first time, only to realize that the seatbelt didn’t reach. That’s right…the big man vehicle wasn’t quite big enough for Tyler. So, after dropping off a friend who went with me to pick up the vehicle, I drove back to the dealership, and had to ask the 22 year-old rail-skinny parts girl, “I need to purchase two seat belt extenders please.” (Having to then explain what they were, the part number, and what they were for) I left, already feeling defeated, and decided to retreat to a place where I felt welcome; the Mexican restaurant down the road, near my house. My size prevented me from sitting in a booth, but I occupied the table where my wife and I normally sat, and as I shifted my weight back, I felt something under me shift. Just as the food arrived and I pivoted slightly to thank my waitress for the food, and what had shifted below me gave way, and I fell backwards, having successfully broken the seat, spilling hot food on my leg in the process. After standing up, paying for my food and leaving without having eaten a bite out of sheer embarrassment, I decided to go for a drive. Why not? Brand new truck…might as well. I drove to a spot near a small spillway dam near my house where kids often go swimming, and parked and watched them. I watched their parents. I began to cry – realizing that what I had become afforded none of those same opportunities.
I was not a father – that was impossible at the time. I was a mediocre husband. Standing for more than 5 minutes caused me to pour sweat. I struggled to clean myself in the shower or after a visit to the restroom. I didn’t fit in any seat in town. Going to the movies, out to dinner, or even staying awake for any length of time was about all my body could tolerate – physically or mentally. I had no idea if the next breath I took was going to be my last. I just had to ask for seat belt extenders, and I broke a chair…my leg still burned from the rice that had scalded me. Every aspect of my life began to swirl inside of my head, and I began to wonder things that no not-yet-thirty-year-old should wonder. Am I too fat to fit into a casket? If I die, would anyone truly be sad…or would they whisper in the back of the funeral home, “It’s hard to feel bad for him…he did it to himself!” They would have been right.
And then we flash forward over 8 years to a few weeks ago…to the “drive by” Facebook message. That person might as well have been shooting real bullets at me. His comment opened up wounds that I didn’t realize still existed. Not because I don’t realize that I’m still a work in progress, but because of the superficiality of his assessment of me. The merits of my argument, the depth of my knowledge, my heart for seeing people change and reach their goals, none of that mattered…what was important in that moment was not the insight that years of experience had forged in me, it was “you…look fat” so nothing else matters. I want to share some insight with you about the mentality that it’s taken to make the changes in my life happen which have happened, and to encourage those who are contemplating change, hoping for something different, and desperately seeking to know that someone out there has been there, understands, and that there is hope.
I began this journey over 8 years ago. When I passed 30 pounds I looked in the mirror and yes…still fat. I passed 50 pounds…still fat. 100…still fat. 200…still fat. There is a special kind of dedication and commitment to change that is required for a massive weight loss and body recomposition. Those stories like the day I described above – yeah, they don’t disappear along with the weight. When you have broken a chair in a restaurant, you sit down a bit more gently, even after you don’t have to. When you have had to explain to a cutesy 20 year old that you need a longer seat belt because you’re too fat, your soul dies every time you remember it. When you can’t give your wife the on thing she wants more than anything in the world…those moments are like small weights which hang on your shoulders like a layers of guilt and shame. Layers one on top of another until whole years and special moments of your life are swallowed up in a sort of liar’s apathy. You say to yourself, “I don’t really want to go,” or, “I don’t like that.” What you really mean is, “I’m afraid of another embarrassing moment, I’m to broken to see the real me. I’m too unhappy to experience happiness. I don’t deserve it. What I learned, and I’m sure many others have as well, is when the goal is fat loss, yes we can change our eating habits and choices. Yes we can change our activity levels…but until we can change the psychology…until we can break free from the fear of, “What if I try and fail” and be motivated by the fear of, “what if I don’t try at all,” that eat less/move more is an empty cliché poured into a broken vessel.
What I wanted to say to anyone who is contemplating jumping in…both feet in to the water of lasting life change is this. Making the choice to break free from the things that lead you to the place you are now isn’t easy, nor should it be undertaken without serious thought. If it were easy, there would be no dysfunction and there would be no obesity. The idea of knowing that your journey may be 5, 7, 10+ years long, and that even at the end the outcome is not guaranteed. There’s no promise of an Adonis body waiting for us. At best, the promise may be simply fewer stares and fewer hurtful comments. Staring down a decision and knowing that during every step of that journey, when you look in the mirror you will see, “still not where I want to be.” That takes bravery and hope. Two things that, as a person who was near death’s door I understand are in short supply in the morbidly obese. I know the highs of success, and then the lows of failure. I know the insults that you have received, and I have the same scars. I have walked the same ground as you. I have prayed the same prayers, hoped the same hopes, and dreamed the same dreams. And if you take nothing away from my candid article, I want you to take this away.
There is hope. There are people who have been there. Am I across the finish line? I may never get there. But what I can tell you is that every step I have taken has been so worth it.