This is the story of my weight. A few years ago, my friend Richard Simmons asked me to contribute my story to his website. I jumped at the chance, and was the featured “Salute to Success” story for the month of August 2010. Here’s what I wrote:
I don’t remember a time that I wasn’t obese. I grew up outside Detroit, watching family members struggle with weight. My parents first started talking to me about losing weight in elementary school, when I was trading my healthy lunches for junk, and sneaking snacks every day. When I was in middle school, I started dreaming about getting my driver’s license, so I could hit a drive-thru, and get 2 orders of nuggets and 4 large fries – delicious! Sure enough, when I turned 16, I did it.
I was an active kid – growing up, I played soccer for 4 years, water polo for 2, and swam competitively for 10. I never excelled at any of them, often hated going to practice, and was embarrassed to be the fattest kid on every team, but it kept me moving. Of course, exercise doesn’t lead to weight loss when you eat poorly!
There are lots of wonderful memories from my high school years, but they were also extraordinarily difficult. I fell in love in performing, and did the plays and musicals, eventually getting leading parts. I had wonderful friends, and we’re still close friends now. But I also started developing major self-esteem issues, and grew to feel quite alone and confused. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, or how to change it. I knew my self-esteem was linked to my size, and started destructive habits to lose weight, like binging and purging, and taking ridiculous amounts of laxatives. I only felt worse. I internalized everything, including feeling worthless and hopeless, so nobody else had any idea. It felt like I was in a pit, and no matter how hard I tried to dig my way out, it would only get deeper. Eventually, I gave up digging.
When I was 16, I tried to kill myself, twice. The second attempt was nearly successful, and landed me in the ER, then 3 days in intensive care, then almost a month in a psych ward, which was an eye-opening experience. I learned about depression, that it was treatable, and that it was common. I wasn’t alone. I learned to recognize my symptoms and worked with a psychiatrist for the first time.
I started feeling the love around me that I used to think didn’t exist, continued to learn about myself, and over the next few years, things vastly improved. I took my experiences and transformed them into a play, which I performed to a full house at my school – one of my proudest accomplishments. My weight problem persisted, though, so I began different healthier diets, but couldn’t keep weight off. In college, my mother and I both started a liquid-diet-based program at a hospital. I lost over 50 pounds, but the hour-long commute to the weekly meetings grew tough when my classes changed, and so I gave it up. The weight came back.
I moved to LA after college in 2002, to work in television. After some entry-level positions I landed a great gig on a talk show. It was stressful and long hours, and after a year, I decided to start exercising again. I started walking after work for 45 minutes, 5 times a week. It cleared my mind after tough days, and I listened to music and news on my iPod. After 3 years, I joined a gym, and did some workouts there. A year after that, I worked with a trainer and learned toning exercises that I also incorporated. I was disciplined, making up workouts that I missed, and eventually went over 5 years without ever missing a workout.
Sometimes during those 5 years I coupled the exercise with better eating. When I first started, I lost 70 pounds before losing motivation, and the weight crept back, despite the exercise. I tried going vegetarian as an attempt to make healthier choices, and it worked for a while, until I started indulging in loopholes like fried foods and desserts that were certainly meat-free but definitely unhealthy.
I resumed eating meat, and continued eating poorly. Junk food, fast food… I could easily pack away a whole pizza or bag of Oreos. Then, an injury derailed my 5-times-weekly exercising, but after healing, I couldn’t get back on track.
It was in December 2009 that Richard was booked to come on the talk show that I worked on, and I was assigned to produce his appearance. I got an advance copy of “Sweatin’ to the Oldies 5″ so I could get familiar with it over my Christmas break. I planned to work out with the video once, but ended up doing it 6 times. I had never seen any of Richard’s videos before, and I thought it was fun! It got me sweating, and I loved that the people in the video were of all sizes.
My first conversation with Richard was on the phone, and I met him the day of the taping. I quickly learned that everything he’s known for – his enthusiasm, sense of humor, compassion – was completely genuine. He asked me about myself, and then said, ‘I can help you, if you want it.’ I don’t remember my response, but I dodged the issue, because I was stunned and frightened. It’s unusual for anyone to offer help to someone they just met, and plus, it forced me to confront if I was ready to make a change and work at it. I thought about it for a couple weeks, and came to my first Slimmons class with some friends, and had a blast – great music, great workout, great people! Finally, I knew it was time. Richard and I met again, and he suggested I start writing down everything I ate. The day I started my food log, I weighed myself for the first time in months and saw the biggest number ever: 402 pounds.
Logging my food has really worked for me. With Richard’s encouragement, I slowly made changes – I cut out diet soda; scaled back processed foods; reduced meat and increased lean proteins like beans, fish, and yogurt; and increased fruits and veggies. I can’t eat junk food and forget about it – I’m holding myself accountable. Because my office had junk food everywhere, I brought my own food every day. I didn’t fight every craving – if I really wanted candy, I would have a piece and walk away. And after a while, I stopped craving it. I also kept going to Slimmons, bought a membership there, and now exercise there and at my other gym.
I also decided to not tell anyone I was dieting, because I just wanted to see if I could find a way that worked, and not have to explain or defend every decision to others. It felt great when I started getting compliments a few months later, but even then I’d only smile and thank them. Eventually, my friends starting asking how much I’d lost. The answer, at the time, was 40 pounds. I even kept my weight loss from my parents, so I could surprise them this summer when I visited. They barely had words when they saw me more than 90 pounds lighter!
Another big breakthrough is that I’ve figured out how to combat my biggest weakness: my attitude. Every prior diet derailed after making poor food choices, because I would think, ‘There goes my diet today, so I should eat whatever I want, and get back on track tomorrow.’ And then I’d stretch ‘tomorrow’ to ‘next week’ to ‘next month’ to ‘next year.’ So now I eliminate temptation wherever I can. I keep lots of healthy options at home, so I never feel stuck eating the same thing. Each morning, I think about every meal that day, and I end up getting excited for what I’ve planned. And while I could keep chips or ice cream around as an occasional treat, it’s so hard to limit myself to one serving size, so I just don’t buy it.
It’s been 6 months, and I’ve lost 104 pounds total, and I feel great! I sleep better, have better energy, and feel way better about myself. It’s fun to get compliments and buy smaller clothes, but I actually enjoy the smaller moments more: I don’t have to worry about seat belts not fitting, or holding my breath to squeeze into restaurant booths.
I just reached my first goal (100 pounds), and my reward will be going to Magic Mountain to ride roller coasters, which I haven’t been able to ride my entire adult life. My new goal is 52 more pounds, which would put me at 250. I want to find a healthy and maintainable weight, so when I reach 250, I’ll reassess again.
People have started asking what my secret is, and I’ve thought a great deal about how to answer. What I’ll say now is this: It hasn’t been easy, but I finally figured out that I already have, within me, all the tools necessary to make the changes I need and want in my life, and I have learned how to use those tools to achieve success.
= = = = = = = = = =
A lot has happened since I wrote this two years ago, and that’s why I started this blog. In total, I’ve lost over 160 pounds now, and have kept it off for 2 years. I still struggle with food, and finding time and energy to work out, and I’ll continue to share those struggles – and the successes – right here on this website.
Keep it up, David!