LIVING TO EAT
When Rodney graduated from college he weighed about 440 lbs. Ten years later he tipped the scales at 525 lbs. He was 31 years old. Two things happened that made him come to grips with his weight problem. First, he was hospitalized with a variety of physical problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and blood sugar, plus blood clots in his legs. All these difficulties were directly attributed to his weight. Second, his mother experienced medical problems and had to be hospitalized.
His mother’s illness proved to be quite a shock to Rodney. He suddenly realized his weight could hurt her if he was unable to help her get through her sickness. He was so incapacitated by his excessive weight that he could not support her in her time of need. He couldn’t even tie his own shoelaces! “That did it,” he said to himself. “I’ve got to lose weight.”
Rodney’s motivation to change his eating behavior was concern for his mom. “I was basically comfortable with who I was. Sure I was fat, but I was enjoying my life and I had a good circle of friends. But suddenly it hit me – I can’t take care of mom in this condition. How can I take care of her if I’m sick, or if I can’t do some basic physical things?”
It was also clear to him that his life expectancy was not exactly promising. How could he care for mom if he died? He came to see his weight as a symbol of selfish indulgence that was a threat to his mother’s health. He decided to place her well-being first and foremost in his mind, and that proved to be a tremendous source of motivation for him.
Within three years Rodney shed 305 lbs. He now maintains a healthy weight and regular exercise regimen, is at the low end of the scale for cholesterol and triglycerides, has a resting heart rate of 55 (it was nearly 100 when he weighed 525), and is training to run in the NYC Marathon. His mother is now deceased, but he has three new motivators to keep himself healthy – a wife and two boys.
What did Rodney do to completely change his life and lose all that weight? First of all he had to determine his options and then develop a plan of action. Initially he thought his only option was stomach surgery. Many people experience success with this surgery, and the physicians he consulted tried to convince him that he would never be able to lose sufficient weight on his own.
“Three physicians and some other medical people told me I needed gastric bypass surgery. I’m not sure why,” Rodney says, “but I didn’t want to do the surgery. I just couldn’t relate to it. Maybe I saw that option as depending too much on the surgeons. I had spent most of my life just drifting from one meal to the next; I wanted more control over myself. So I kept looking for ways to lose weight on my own.”
He educated himself about nutrition, basic body biology, and exercise by going on various web sites. He slowly designed a diet for himself that was healthy, but limited in calories. He also designed exercise routines, each one corresponding to movements he could make within the limits imposed by his size.
Rodney empowered himself, exercised control, and acquired ownership of his diet and exercise plans. He knew his plans would be difficult to endure and carry out. He knew he would be hungry much of the time and tempted to cheat on his diet and exercise program, and that a lot of frustration lay ahead. He knew he could not control these consequences, so he reconciled himself to them. He accepted the things he could not control while taking control of those he could.
Rodney stopped making excuses for his weight problem. He would not blame genetics, even though his mother was severely overweight; he would not blame McDonalds for supersizing his order of fries and loading them with fats. He simply focused his thoughts around one unavoidable truth: His choices, not genetics and not McDonalds, were making him fat.
It took some time but Rodney’s plan was successful. Over a three year period he completely changed his lifestyle. As noted earlier, he lost 305 lbs, his blood and other medical readings reached the normal range, and he slowly began to enjoy an active and productive family life.
“Forgive the pun,” he told us, “but the whole process began to feed on itself. As those pounds began to melt away and as I could do more and more things physically, I was like a runaway train. I used to look forward to a pizza; now I was looking forward to weighing myself and knowing I would be rewarded. It was just awesome. I had never gotten such positive results from things I was doing myself. The feeling of self-control was incredible.”
Note the features of Rodney’s case that we believe are essential to successful coping:
He took control of his thoughts and actions. He did not automatically listen to people who told him to do things their way. He considered advice but ultimately made his own decisions. He armed himself with knowledge, found the methods for change that fit his personality, and put those methods to work for him in a specific plan of action. He was intensely motivated to change. He took personal responsibility for his pitiful state and poor diet and refused to say he was “addicted” to food, or had “bad genes.” When you play the addiction card or the genetic card as reasons for your problems, you are avoiding them, and they will persist and worsen.
Rodney’s weight stabilized around 190lbs. He was six feet tall so this weight was just right for him. In addition to his day job, he became a motivational speaker, spending a couple of evenings a week talking to various businesses, civic groups, weight-control programs, and health professionals. When he spoke he delighted in having a pair of pants with him, the pants he wore when he had topped out at 525lbs. He laughed as he showed how his entire torso fit into one of the legs.