At the age of twenty-one I weighed 396 pounds. As per my daily routine I was sitting in my chair, in my room, watching television. I had been there for four hours. I was eating a King Size pack of Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. I had a package of Hostess Ho-Hos waiting on the floor beside me. I was washing down the peanut butter cups with a can of Pepsi, and I had a can of A&W Root Beer on the floor waiting. I don’t remember what I was watching, but it was inevitably either cartoons or a sitcom re-run. As per my routine I would have sat there for another four hours until I finally got bored enough to crawl into the bed that was two feet away. Vast portions of my life were spent in that same way, in that same room. The only times I left it were to go to the kitchen for food, the bathroom to make room for more food, or to the game club where I would spend hours in a chair escaping reality while eating more candy, pizza, and soda.
It was mid-January, 1991.
A voice came into my head. I knew with more assuredly than I had ever known before that the voice was not mine. The voice spoke one sentence.
“If you continue your life this way, without change, you will be dead by the time you are 30.”
With equal assuredness, I knew, beyond doubt, that the voice was right. I did not know that I would make a change, but I did know that the voice was telling the Truth (capital T), that if I did not make a change I would be dead within the decade.
I finished the Reeses, Ho-Hos, and soda and went to sleep shaken.
FIRST STEPS – Using the tools available.
Previous to this episode my Mother had tried in several ways to get me help with my growing weight. None had helped, but one thing had stuck. Five years earlier my Mother had taken me to a nutritionist to work on my health issues. We only worked together for a handful of sessions before I quit. One of the things she had me do was write down everything I wrote. Each week she would review the list and make recommendations. It was a humiliating experience, and as time wore on I tried to incorporate what she suggested, and I grew increasingly dishonest in reporting what I was actually eating. My weight had decreased on our third meeting, but then began to go back up, as it always did.
That practice came back to me the morning after the Voice had spoken to me, and I began to write down everything I ate. Because these reports were only being read by me I was able to be completely honest. I made no attempt to change my diet, but I became unable to deny to myself (even with my limited knowledge of healthy eating practices) how much damage I was doing to my body.
A typical day at that time looked something like –
- 1 Large bowl Frosted Corn Flakes with sugar and milk
- 2 Bologna and cheese sandwiches with mayonnaise and mustard
- 4 Reeses Peanut Butter Cups
- 4 cans root beer
- 2 hamburger patties with cream of mushroom sauce and rice
- 1 bowl vanilla ice cream with chocolate hard shell
- 7 crackers with peanut butter
I also began to put exercise into my daily routine. My cousin had given my Mother an instructional video tape and book on Tai Chi Chih, a beginner form of Tai Chi Chuan. She had then given it to me, and it had gathered quite a sheen of dust on my crowded shelves. I had always idealized martial arts and Bruce Lee was one of my heroes. Around the age of ten my Mother had paid for membership for my brother and I in a Judo dojo. I’d enjoyed it when I wasn’t too busy with being self-conscious about my shape, but I had only been able to sustain the discipline to attend for a year and change. So, the Voice still reverberating in my spirit, I began to learn and practice Tai Chi Chih daily. I also wrote down how many of each movement I did in the same journals daily.
Slowly my diet changed as I became more aware of the lack of mystery of why I was so morbidly obese. I also began to feel a sense of pride about practicing martial arts, and pushed myself to do more and more so I could write bigger numbers.
The weight began to come off. In large chunks at first, and then more slowly as my body adapted and changed. The Voice never came again, but I have never forgotten it, nor have I ever doubted its accuracy.
I am 47 now. I will never know, experientially if the Voice was right in its prediction. But, oddly, I think its prediction did come true. The person that I was back then did not survive my 30th birthday, and the person who writes this story now looking back is not the same.