I’ve always been fat. When I was a fat little baby, it was an endearing quality. Once one goes off to school, it becomes far less so. It doesn’t help when your name actually rhymes with the word fat, but you come to accept it as a part of who you are.
When I was in middle school and was feuding with two brothers who lived across the street from my family, they attacked by changing the word to We Are the World so they sang, “Pat is the world, he ate the children.”
In high school, I was part of a group of high school students in Santa Fe, NM raising money for a weeklong Close Up trip to Washington, DC. One day, I joined a few classmates and our teacher to ask a local bank president for a donation from his bank. After I spoke on the importance of citizenship and civic education, he turned to the teacher and said, “I guess we better make a donation so that you can afford to feed this one.” I just smiled because we needed the money.
I was always mindful of the Animal House line that “fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life,” so I largely focused my attentions on not being stupid. If I was fat, I was going to be a really smart fat guy. I was going to strive to be the smartest person in the room. I would be a professional success despite my weight, and it would all just balance itself out.
After years of putting in long hours and outperforming my peers at work, I recognized that I was indeed starting to become that professional success. I also knew I was incredibly lonely. I sought out a well-known dating service in DC. My written responses to all of their questions were great. But when I went in for the interview, I was told they could eventually find someone for me, but my size was going to make it difficult. I never bothered to write the check.
I learned to embrace who and what I was. I was a fat guy. I worked hard. I was respected professionally. I dressed well, trying to overcompensate for what was beneath. I accepted I may never find love. I even rationalized I was a healthy fat, and since my body had only known me as a fat guy, all my organs and systems had just adjusted.
After meeting and marrying the most incredible woman who loved me for me, I toyed with getting in shape. As my wife dieted before our wedding, I joined her in the low-fat pursuit. I lost some poundage before the wedding, and then gained it back. As we tried to get pregnant five years later and my wife was struggling with PCOS, I did Atkins as she did South Beach. A temporary success for me, and then it all came back.
I was comfortable with who I was. I largely ate what I wanted. I avoided exercise like the plague. I focused my energies on work first, and then on my wife. I was ok with it all. I owned being Pat, the fat guy.
That changed when our son was born. I sought out life insurance, and was denied because I had undiagnosed diabetes. So I crash dieted for a few months, took meds, and did what was necessary to get some sort of life insurance. Once the insurance medical appointment was over and my policy was approved, I went back to my own ways.
I struggled to keep up with my two kids. I was an emotional eater. I was a stress eater. I was a celebratory eater. I was just an eater. And a sedentary one at that.
For most of my adult life, I weighed in between 350 and 400 pounds. I can’t say specifically because I avoided scales. I didn’t want to know. I didn’t think I needed to know. I had a family. I was a professional success. Being the fat guy was now part of my charm.
Then five years ago, I was hit with a professional crisis that left me doubting to the very core who I actually was. For the first true time in my life, I decided to prioritize my health. It seemed like the one thing I could control, so I would.
For two years, I focused on my diet and trying to eat healthier. I spent time walking to clear my head. The weight was starting to come off. But I had seen that before. I saw it as temporary.
Then I began to add real exercise. Three years ago, I began kickboxing. I did so knowing that walking on a gym treadmill would just bore me. Now, I spend three or four nights a week on the mat, often sparring with men less than half my age. I’m not great t the sport, but I can hold my own. Sorta.
I supplement that with morning cardio, every morning. Every. And this year I’ve added weight training (though I try to stay away from the bros at the gym).
My eating looks nothing like what I enjoyed in the past. I now eat six or seven small meals a day (eating every two hours or so). Each meal only about 300 calories. Heavy on protein, good on fat, with little carbs (except for those cheat meals). And I can thank Tiger Schulmann’s MMA and Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson for reinforcing that eating approach.
This past week, I went in to my doctor for my annual checkup. My weight has now held steady for the past five years. My diabetes is completely gone. My blood pressure and cholesterol numbers are completely normal. I don’t take a single prescription medicine.
For the first time, the doctor explained things to me in a way that made sense. For my entire life, I was living with a disease. That disease (morbid obesity) was now in complete remission. At 45, I just now needed to keep it that way.
I don’t tell this story for cheers and attaboys. I tell it because it is a story often untold. For the most part, stories of obesity are told through the eyes of women. When we share tales of all-too-common fat shaming, it usually involves those of the female persuasion. Maybe that just shows that women are far stronger about calling it out, or that men are too embarrassed to talk about such body image issues.
Each day, though, I’m mindful that every time I look in the mirror I still see my 400-pound self. It doesn’t matter that I’ve lost about half my body weight I still see the fat guy. I still think I can’t sit in a middle airplane seat. I still wear my clothes, except for workout wear, too big and too baggy. I still feel like I am the largest person in the room.
It would be easy for me to say that I finally began because I woke up to the health risks. Let me assure you, as a fat guy, that I was always well aware of all the health issues. Those who have never truly been far may think it is just as issue of willpower and awareness and “being healthy.” For most of us fat people, we know all of that. We know more about macros and dieting options and every other thing you want to share with us. We’ve been educated, encouraged, and shamed. We’ve researched possibility after possibility. We’ve started and stopped and restarted efforts.
For me, it took recognizing it was about the journey, not the destination. If I could continue to set an ultimate goal, and then go back to old ways once I achieved it. Or I could commit to working hard at it each and every day, recognizing it was about improvement, not absolute accomplishment.
I was, am, and always be a fat man. It is just how I see myself, and likely always will. But each and every day I try to improve on that. If you had told me five years ago that I would have run three half marathons (knowing I was the guy always looking for the parking space closest to the door), I’d have said you were crazy. If you had told me I would be on multiple MMA tournaments, and would break two ribs in one bout and then be back on the mat training a week later, I’d have told you you were nuts. But it is truth.
I could say I do it to set a good example for my kids, particularly my son. I could tell you I’m doing it to live a long life and see my grandkids. I could say I’m doing it because I had a real health scare. I could say I was shamed into it. None of that is likely correct. To be honest, I don’t know why I do it. Not do I know why I didn’t do it sooner. All I know is it is part of who I am now, and it is a long-term journey I’m just beginning, even after five years.
My name is Pat, and I am a fat man. But I’m in remission.