[Author's note: Sorry this post comes a few days late. I was preparing for a performance of a "Fat Fuck" excerpt at the Off-Hours Reading Series in Seattle on Thursday. If you want to know, I absolutely killed it!)
Fifteen minutes into the second episode of “Heavy” I was convinced it wouldn’t be a success like the first one. The two clients, Rickywayne, a 35-year-old single man weighing in at 555 lbs., and Jessica, a 28-year-old married mother of two weighing in at 289 lbs., weren’t exactly cooperating.
Upon arriving at the facility and beginning the one month of training, Jessica seemed typecast as my least favorite “reality TV” caricature: the complainer, like Sammi “Sweetheart” without all the make-up and spray tan. Before Jessica even finished her first work-out, she was crying, screaming, saying she couldn’t stomach the salads they were being served for dinner. She reminded me of Jodi from the first episode, but much less determined.
And then there was Rickywayne, whose leg was so swollen with lymph fluid that a small wound had opened up on his calf. Because he couldn’t get into the pool until his leg had healed, which really bothered Rickywayne, a serious water-lover, he had to hit the weights instead, but he did it with a vengeance, like he had a purpose. Even David the trainer noticed Ricky’s will, saying, “He tries. He has the tiger eyes.”
However, that tiger eye quickly became a tornado eye of emotion after Ricky’s first counseling session where he confessed that he believed he caused his mother’s death (She’d passed away while under Rickywayne’s care.), telling the therapist “I was the last one to see her alive and the first one to see her dead.” He had been carrying that guilt with him and the weight gain that came with it as he drowned his sorrows in frozen foods, everything from the middle aisles of the grocery store, which he’d later learn from the nutritionist were the aisles he wanted to avoid. When you’re addicted to food–or anything, for that matter, there’s always a cause. For me, it was my father. He left my mother while she was pregnant with me, and I never met him, so I filled the void with Haagen-Dazs, Cheetos, soda by the two-liter. Much like Ricky, I didn’t care. I believed I had nothing. I had given up on life before I even had the opportunity to truly live it.
Shortly after the therapy session, David the trainer told Ricky it was time to work-out, but he wasn’t having it, his anger boiling over and spilling into one of the most intense stand-offs in A&E docu-drama history. Ricky screamed in David’s face, “I don’t care. Leave me alone!” over and over again. Somehow David maintained his cool though. I imagine clients have lost their shit on him before, and despite the anger, he didn’t buckle or back down, telling Ricky, “If you want to dig your own grave, then dig it.” But, in the end, it was Brittany who smoothed everything over and told Ricky that if he wouldn’t work out, he, at least, needed to walk around, move, for the team, for Jessica’s sake. After he cooled down, Jessica spoke with Ricky, too, emphasizing how important it was for them to stick together. “After you do that work out, we’ll go cry together,” promised Jessica.
It reminded me how important it is to have a support system when trying to lose weight, to have someone there to hold you accountable. When I was deepest into my work-out craze, weighing in at 201 lbs., about 40 less than I weigh now and 139 less than I was at my heaviest, it was because one of my best friends from high school, Jay, who was staying with me for a few months, was my work-out buddy. Jay didn’t have problems with his weight, but knew me when I was extremely heavy and understood how important it was for me to lose it. I remember one day I wanted to quit, but Jay called me on it–“Come on, bro, you’re not a fucking quitter.” Sometimes that’s all it takes.
Once Ricky calmed down, he was back on the regimen and the weight came pouring off. Jessica wasn’t so lucky. Her weight loss started slowly in two, three and eight pound increments while at the facility, but Jessica knew she worked hard. As she said after finally completing the pool work-out, “I’m proud of myself.” Ricky and Jessica were starting to turn the corner. After the month was up, they were on their own.
And I was still skeptical that they’d be able to stay on it.
Ricky began having a hard time almost immediately after leaving “the facility.” While he knew how to work out, he still didn’t know how to eat, a common problem facing many fat people. I, like Rickywayne, was raised eating crap, too (Well, not literally.), and even when I started losing weight, I didn’t know what I should eat either, so I completely streamlined my diet: protein bars, protein shakes, chicken, meat, vegetables and lots of water, which seems healthy enough, but was totally unsustainable. My guilt wouldn’t even allow me to eat cheese, and if there’s anything in life you need, it’s cheese (Sorry, vegans!)–just maybe not everyday. Rickywayne and I had the same problems: we were completely ignorant to what healthy and nourishing food was, but whereas I had to piece it together on my own, Ricky had the luxury of returning to “the facility.” Which is exactly what he did.
Back at “the facility,” Rickywayne prospered. He was working out with David and Brittany everyday and cannonballing into the pool whenever he had the chance. He was even doing yoga. The difference was clear: his face looked smaller, less puffy, and his confidence was growing.
The same goes for Jessica. After leaving “the facility” where she laid the building blocks for her new life and addressed the causes of her addiction, which included being molested by an old boyfriend of her mother’s, she thrived, too. Working with a personal trainer in her hometown, the pounds began coming off for Jessica almost as quickly as they did for Ricky. Not long after arriving home, the doctor (Who’s still on my shit list!) approved her for surgery to remove the excess skin around her midriff, something I looked into, as well, when I was at my lowest weight, after unsuccessfully following the advice of a women’s health web site, which recommended Preparation-H to both tighten the skin and remove those unsightly stretch marks. Jessica’s personality was changing; with the weight loss, she gained confidence and became fearless when she stepped into the gym, knowing, no matter what her weight was, that she was changing her life.
After all that work, it was time to return to “the facility” for the weigh-in. Jessica strolled in, looking, well, hot for a mother of two who’d just dropped a tremendous amount of weight. “Sexy,” she said was how she felt, something she hadn’t thought about herself in years, and when she heard her final weight, 217 lbs., she nearly exploded with happiness, losing a total of 72 lbs. over six months. Jessica put it best when she said she was “letting my body know it’s alive.”
Rickywayne, like Jessica, looked remarkably thinner and bear strong. When he walked into “the facility,” he grabbed Jodi and David, picking them up together like a professional wrestler, a complete turnaround from where he was about six months before, vowing he was so angry he wanted to stab himself in the eye when David pushed him to exercise after his therapy session. Rickywayne was genuinely happy. His face had color. His legs weren’t nearly as red and bloated as they were when he arrived. And when he weighed in, he was 427 lbs., losing a total of 128 lbs., about the entire body weight of Alyssa Milano on “Charmed” when tabloids began calling her “fat” had come off of Rickywayne’s body.
I was wrong about Ricky and Jessica. I didn’t think they had the fight, but they developed the weapons to change their lives, to give themselves a second chance. Even though I don’t even know them, I’m proud.
Brian McGuigan is a writer, performer and arts get-shit-done-er working on a one-man show about his own struggles with weight loss entitled “Fat Fuck.” He’ll be blogging weekly about A&E’s new docu-drama “Heavy” on his blog brianwithani.com.