By now you've probably heard the numbers: Roughly 78 million adults—that's 40 percent of the adult population—and 13 million children in the US are obese. Health problems associated with the epidemic add up to nearly $147 billion in medical costs every year. Being obese means you'll probably pay an average of $1,500 more per year in medical treatments than someone who is at a normal weight. You're also more susceptible to heart conditions, diabetes, depression, and other ailments.
But what gets lost in the litany of facts and statistics is the human side of the epidemic: People who are obese, generally, don't want to be obese. The condition doesn't just strike overnight; it's slow and insidious—which is part of what makes beating it so hard. One day, you look in the mirror and notice something needs to change. Or maybe, as one reader said, you feel "trapped in your own body." These are a few of the turning points that led people to find their way to a healthier life.
Pat, 31, Phoenix, AZ
Weight lost: 340 pounds
I was a bodyguard, so being big was acceptable. I was on tour for the NBA finals, and I had a bet that I'd have to do 50 pushups if my team lost. We did, and I couldn't do a single one. I went to the doctor. I was 605 pounds, pre-diabetic, and I had high cholesterol and blood pressure. I went home and emotionally ate, nonstop, for about two weeks. Then, one day, I looked in the mirror.
I threw everything away in my house. I couldn't fit on the gym machines, so I walked to get all my meals. I'd Google diets and took bits and pieces of different ones. I lost 90 pounds in two months, and then I started going to the gym. Once I'd lost the weight, I felt deformed; I almost regretted losing all that weight. The excess skin made me think I was still overweight. I got a body scan done, and I only had ten percent body fat. Last August, I got seven feet of excess skin surgically removed. I thought it'd be a quick recovery, but I got 3,500 stitches. I couldn't work out for almost three months. After three years of working out six days a week, I felt like I was gonna gain the weight back.
Now I'm ten weeks out of my first bodybuilding show. I'm engaged, and have a son who's about to turn two. I'm actually gonna be around for him! Aside from that, I'm kind of an influencer. Diet is key. Consistency is key. And, you know, we all mess up. But we just gotta get back on it.
Nick, 30, Houston, TX
Weight lost: 105 pounds
In my late teens, someone in the locker room pointed to the stretch marks on my stomach and asked if I was expecting. That was the straw that broke the camel's back. I lived a few blocks from a local track, so I'd drive there, then just put one foot in front of the other. I started with a lap or two, then it turned into a mile, then I would jog a bit. A lot of the process was just putting in work, regardless of what people would say. I also did a lot of little diet tweaks; I was kicking back four or five sodas a day before. The last 15 to 20 pounds took a lot longer, and because I was a young adult, it was hard to commit to sleeping enough and drinking enough water. And I tried to always be kind to myself, too.
The most obvious shift was that people would now look at me, whereas they wouldn't even look me in the eye before. And when I would get on planes, there used to be this energy of "Man, I hope this guy doesn't sit by me." But not anymore; there was a palpable shift.
Rochelle, 35, Washington, DC
Weight lost: 150 pounds
I knew I was big for a long time. I'd try little diets and fall off. One day, I just woke up and realized
I couldn't do anything for myself; I felt trapped in my body. In March 2016, I had a Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy (VSG). People often say it's "the easy way out," but it's not. They cut out 80 percent of your stomach and you have to take classes on how to take care of yourself because you can't eat solid food for about a month. I'd throw up if I ate too much.
Now I'm on a ketogenic diet; I stay below 20 to 25 grams of carbs per day. I also exercise: I like SoulCycle and Zumba. I still have about 50 to 60 more pounds I want to lose, and then I'll look into procedures to get my excess skin removed.
Charles D'Angelo, 31, Saint Louis, MO
Weight lost: 160 pounds
I hit 360 pounds by the time I was 17, and I knew it was time. I was tired of not having any friends because I thought so little of myself. And I knew I couldn't look to my family for help: my dad's side used food for emotional support, and my mom's used substances. I recognized that weight loss isn't just about food. It's about patterns. It was a paradigm shift: what did I want my future to look like, and what did I have to do to get it?
Now I help other people who are trying to lose weight. It all boils down to simple math and science. Stop distracting yourself. Be smart. Take control of your habits. The number on the scale isn't relevant: it's about being lean and making sure your body composition is as healthy as possible. If you don't know what to do, get close to someone who has achieved the things you want to; have a role model. Success leaves clues. And you gotta have a little faith.
John, 40, Fresno, CA
Weight lost: 225 pounds
I was 485 pounds by the time I was 36. I didn't think I was overweight because I was still playing basketball, but I would choke in my sleep due to sleep apnea. Eventually one of my friends, who was 450 pounds, came to visit. One night, he had a brain aneurysm. I couldn't get into the bathroom to save him, but luckily the ambulance came in time. I came home to his blood and vomit still on my bathroom floor. I lost it. I realized no one would've been able to save me if this happened to me. I decided to go for a walk and couldn't make it past the third house.
I lost 110 pounds in the first six months without the gym. Every day I went on a walk at 4:30 AM; that time worked because no one else was out. I set goals: the first one was the stop sign at the end of my block. Then there and back twice. After a while, I got a kettlebell and a medicine ball. Fad diets weren't financially feasible for someone as big as me, so I made a list of ten healthy foods I liked. If I went a full week eating them, I'd have my favorite food. Later I started hitting the gym.
If you're trying to lose weight, have a visual goal: For example, take a pair of pants and put them up on your wall. Lose weight until they fit. Set realistic goals, and take it one day at a time. Don't think about what it's like to get into a bikini, because you'll stop if you don't get there fast enough. You've got one body and you're stuck with it, so you may as well make yourself happy with it.
Michael, 36, Tampa Bay, FL
Weight Lost: 105 pounds
My turning point was when I got into a car accident. I fell asleep driving because I had sleep apnea. I also had high blood pressure and all kinds of other problems due to my weight. That moment was scary—I literally woke up. At first I made small, realistic goals for myself. I didn't want to get overwhelmed. For the first month, I stopped fast foods. Second month, no more soda. I adopted healthier habits as time went on. I've always been more of an outdoor person; my thing was more bike riding and outdoor activities like hiking. I did go to the gym when it would get really cold.
The most powerful thing—this applies to anything you want to accomplish—is to realize you didn't become overweight overnight. You have to have patience. We live in an instant-gratification society, but patience is our greatest virtue. We need to acknowledge our progress and keep moving forward despite any setbacks.
Tanisha, 32, Brooklyn, NY
Weight lost: 140+ pounds
One night in October 2012, I got on the scale. I didn't receive a number. I got two letters: OL. That meant I was over the scale's 350-pound maximum capacity. I knew I had to start changing my life, and start immediately.First, I cleaned all the unhealthy food out of my house. Then I started to eat healthier: more fruits and veggies, drinking more water. I did at-home workouts until I was comfortable going to the gym after I lost my first 30 pounds or so. My boyfriend at the time was a personal trainer, so he helped me out at the gym a lot.
I was a plus-sized diva so even when I was big had high self-esteem, but I did have to come to terms with the fact that having excess skin post-weight loss is part of the journey. The one thing I always tell people is that you have to love yourself at the weight you're currently at, and as you're losing the weight, you have to fall in love with yourself more.
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