When I was 23 I paid a plastic surgeon $7500 to liposuction my chest. My man-boobs were huge. I was starting to finally grow insecure with my obesity. Little did I realize that this surgery was one hell of an expensive Band-Aid.
As a child and in my youth I was active. I played every sport and always made time, even as a little guy, to ride my bike. I loved my bikes. My mom was an avid runner and my family was always on-the-go and healthy. Everything about how I was raised would lead you to assume I would never let go. Never become very fat.
I began to let go after high school. There was not a situation – a stressor – it was one bad choice that led to two, and three, and then suddenly a new lifestyle. A new series of habits. The weight piled on.
Yearning for the freedom that the bicycle gave me in my childhood I bought a new bike and thought I’d ride myself skinny and fit. Just like that. I figured now that my man-boobs were gone I would have just enough confidence to be seen exercising again.
When you are almost 300lbs there is nothing enjoyable about exercise. That bike ride lasted 10km and it did nothing but fill me with despair. My response to that bike ride was to let myself go even further. Let myself get even fatter. I was lost.
The year following that defining bike ride was the darkest year of my life. I hated who I had become.
When I was 25 I had had enough of me. It was at this time I came to terms with what I had known all along. It was my diet. But realizing I had to get a grip on my diet was not a defining moment. Accepting I was afraid and I needed help was.
I decided I needed help and in more ways than just a meal plan. I needed someone to go through this with me because I was scared. I knew I would have to eat less, and better. I knew I would lose weight, I knew that if I stuck to my guns I’d be a success story. The transactional part of losing weight was a simple proposition.
What I didn’t know then, and what I was afraid of but could not come to terms with, was what the transition would actually mean. What would this reinvention do to me, to my relationships, and my body, to my mind, and to my soul? What were the unintended consequences?
I didn’t know the answers to any of these questions but something inside me seemed to suggest that what was going to unravel would be profound. Maybe painful.
Extreme weight loss implies a dramatic reinvention of a person. Inside and out.
I found a nutritionist. I made appointments and canceled them. I rescheduled them. I would sit in my vehicle in her parking lot and look through her clinic window and cry. Then leave. I sat on that tipping point full of fear for quite some time.
One day I worked up the courage to sit down with her and make the commitment. I shook hands with the devil. I made a commitment to succeed during the transactional part of my weight loss but I sensed I was only getting half the story. I was so out of touch that I convinced myself that my stubbornness could outwit whatever I was not being told. Hardly.
I met with her every single week for 18 months. I lost weight every week with diet alone. I went from 300lbs to 151lbs. I was an exceptional dieter. Everything I put in my mouth was accounted for. It was an empty and lonely journey.
There is no doubt that the devil gave me the tools I needed to lose weight. But the devil also was setting me up to be a broken man.
At 151lbs I looked sick and when I realized I was going to be kicked to the curb to fend for myself I feared what I would do with this dietary freedom. I was scared again. The transactional part of my weight loss journey was drawing to a close and I was being forced to confront unknowns on almost every dimension of my life.
With no more weight to loose I did exactly what I feared I would do. I binged. I starved myself. I bought a bike and rode not for enjoyment or good sport, but to extremes as penance. I look back at the period after I had successfully lost the weight and I can tell you I developed an eating disorder. It was destructive. My life was nothing but extremes that I could not control. You think I felt bad about myself when I was fat? Nothing compares to the guilt the morning after gorging on a 10,000 calorie dinner.
My biggest fear then and still today is becoming obese again.
I knew how to eat like a fat person. I knew how to diet. I did not know how to be normal. I had success hiring a nutritionist to lose the weight. I thought maybe I would try to hire another one to bring normalcy to my life.
So, I tried. My first meeting with this individual was absurd. She talked about the Canada Food Guide. I got up and left. I needed someone who understood what I had just been through. Someone who cared more about how I felt about myself than what the Canada Food Guide said. I needed someone that saw that wound on my soul.
I struggled with this eating disorder for much longer than I care to admit. It was not until I met a lady at a wine and cheese party that things began to change for the better.
She was a holistic nutritionist. She changed my life. She saw my struggle in a very real way and worked with me to stabilize the extremes. Her human approach and willingness to not talk about only what I ate and how much I exercised assured me that she truly appreciated the emotional side of the weight loss journey.
Without her I would still have a debilitating eating disorder. I needed a counselor and she was it.
I have told you I had liposuction on my chest because my man-boobs disgusted me. I have told you I could not lose weight by myself. I have told you that I had an eating disorder as a skinny person that I needed help to control. But there is more.
Every relationship I had at the beginning of this story changed. I have different friends. I love different people. How I see my family and how they see me is not the same. I did not set out to create this sort of destruction, but it happened as a natural consequence of my reinvention. Some of this I am dealing with now. It’s hard. It’s very real.
You go to my house today and you will see nothing of who I was. No pictures. No old pairs of fat jeans. I can’t stand my wedding photos. I have deleted me from my own story. This tears my mom apart. It hurts her every time I say it. My mom is a wonderful woman but she and I were closer, and she knew me better, when I was obese.
Significant weight loss can ruin marriages and tear families a part. It’s like I did a bait and switch on my wife. My view is that who she fell in love with and married simply does not exist anymore. He should be as dead to her as he is to me.
But is it fair? The pace of my change and the magnitude of it put a tremendous amount of pressure on my wife to keep up and adapt. She did a heck of a job but what she ended up with is not what she signed up for.
Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if she wishes I was not who I have become.
When I was fat the guys I was friends with were not threatened by me. I was good company, confident, fun and easy to get along with. But, if we were just beasts and it was mating season, I would not be a threat. They knew it. I knew it. It was not discussed. And in no way did it underwrite bad friendships. It’s the nature of things.
That too has changed. Men treat me much differently now. Women, believe it or not, do too but to a much lesser extent. I have seen obese men roll their eyes at me. Give me very suggestive body language that demonstrates they are not necessarily jealous but not necessarily impressed by the confidence I have in my body.
If they only knew my story.
There were defining moments as I entered the working world and developed my career that are etched in my mind. For good and bad. One of my first jobs in my late teens was at a credit union. I was a teller. I was fat. I remember enjoying chocolate one day, it was tasty, maybe I indulged a bit…
To this day I will never know how he rationalized it but a senior manager at the bank pulled me into his office and told me I needed to do something about my man boobs, they were ‘distracting’ him. The biggest insecurity I have ever had was called out by a grown man - to a kid - in an office, during work hours.
Within a week I was fired. Coincidence? Who knows.
As I chipped away at university the job I held was at a warehouse. After working my ass off I was noticed, transferred to another location and promoted to management. I was thrilled.
But, my new boss repeatedly used my obesity against me. He would do it in such cunning ways that to this day make me think he is a man full of hate.
It was at this warehouse that I met my wife. We quickly became an item and people noticed. This manager openly questioned why my wife-to-be would fall for a fat guy like me.
Fast forward. Since being humiliated. Since being fired. Since having my obesity used against me in the workplace I am in a very healthy and successful place. I walk into a boardroom and people take notice. I lead a meeting and things get done. I have an idea and people mobilize. People want to know what I think.
I find today that I need to remind myself of how vulnerable I once was in the corporate world. It was not long ago I was a fat nobody. Now I am a fit somebody. The mechanics of that link I can’t define but I lived through the transition and I can tell you it is real.
It was not until nearly five years after I had lost the weight that I decided I trusted myself enough to invest in my new body. I looked fit with clothing on; I looked gross with my shirt off. I had skin sagging all over the place. I needed that fixed.
On December 3rd of 2013 I had a tummy tuck. It was $32,500.
I wanted it. I paid for it. But the agony of that recovery literally took me off my feet for weeks and weeks. I grossly underestimated the trauma of the surgery and how long it would take my body to recover. The bruising and swelling around my entire torso was so severe it drained to my legs and settled there for months.
On multiple occasions I had to have a large needle stuck into my abdomen to draw stale blood out. The volume of swelling was so significant my body simply could not keep up. The drains and internal bleeding were both relentless. I seeped and oozed constantly for months. I would stand in the shower barely able to wash myself as blood ran down my legs and soiled the water in the tub beneath me. And I would cry. I would brave being seen in public only to discover my pants and shirt were soaked with my body’s filthy fluids. And I would cry.
The agony of laughing, opening doors, sitting up, rolling over, even going to the washroom would bring me to tears on a daily basis. It was a bloody disgusting mess.
It was not until one year had passed that I looked in the mirror and could assure myself that the money, the pain, the suffering may have been worth it. For the year immediately following my surgery I had a gut wrenching feeling that this surgery, my second cosmetic surgery, was also a waste of money.
Now, as much as I wish my story ended with the 40-inches of scars I paid dearly for, it does not. It’s a conscious decision for me every day to maintain the new me. Out here – fantastic. In here – there is a disconnect. It hurts. It still does.
If I truly understood what losing all that weight meant, I don’t know if I’d do it again and that’s a humbling thought. But it’s one that needs to be shared so those with the resolve to reinvent themselves and lose the weight understand the end-game and don’t struggle as desperately as I did.
I am very proud of what I accomplished but I don’t want to kid anyone. Losing the weight and becoming fit is the easy part. Healing your heart, and mind, and soul takes a lot of work.
Today I eat properly because it feels good to. I ride my bike because the moment I turn those cranks I feel like a little kid again. I treasure my health and fitness more than most because I have felt what it’s like to have neither. I brought my body and my mind to hell and back and I never want to do that again.
The contemporary discussion on weight loss is broken. We would rather talk about fruits and veggies than a mom who barely knows her own son. We would rather talk about lean proteins than the cost and trauma of cosmetic surgery. We would rather talk about good carbs than eating disorders. We would rather talk about nutrients than a jeopardized marriage.
It’s no wonder we are getting fatter. We have it all backwards.
There is a dark side to weight loss and until we confront what is real, until we quit suppressing what is uncomfortable and might hurt to talk about, we are not facing the issue.
There is way too much talk of exercise and fruit and vegetables and not nearly enough talk about people.
I believe the extreme weight loss journey unfolds in two parts.
The first is the transactional part; it’s easy. I don’t care how fat or unhealthy you are, at a primal level you know exactly what you need to do to improve your health. Eat right, use your body. Don’t smoke. Lay off the beer. It does not need to be more complicated.
The second part, the emotional part, of the weight loss journey and this is where the rubber meets the road. I have 42 inches of scars from hip to hip and under each pec.
But the scar I have as a result of my extreme weight loss that was slowest to heal is the one I have inside.