Episode four, by far, is my least favorite “Heavy,” to date, for two reasons. 1) The show itself seemed to be missing something by skirting around the real issues of the clients, Lindy, a 285 lb. 37-year-old mother of two clearly suffering from a serious bout of depression after a divorce and lengthy custody battle, and Travis, a 432 lb. 34-year-old father of one (His wife gives birth to their second child 10 days into Travis’ stay at “the facility.), and 2) Both Lindy and Travis were most like me in terms of why they eat (depression, stress and reward), but least like me in terms of why they wanted to change their lifestyles. (They both claimed it was for their kids, but I don’t think either really had reasons.)
Before heading to “the facility,” Lindy knew she wasn’t happy. After seventeen years of marriage, she and her husband had divorced, and she promptly gained 175 lbs. Lindy’s children were embarrassed of her. She only saw them on weekends, and when she did see them, they wanted little to do with her. “Food is the only thing that loves me,” Lindy confessed, holding back the tears. Her mounting depression, which she described as “this whirlwind and [she] cannot find something to hold on to” (I’ve told my wife many times while struggling with my weight and depression caused by it that I’ve felt like a flag flapping in the wind. The images are so close it made me clam up.), is affecting her relationship with her fiance David, too, who’s getting calls while at work from Lindy almost weekly that caused him to be alarmed about her mental health. She would later admit to the therapist that she had contemplated suicide as her stress grew along with her waistline. Lindy could no longer manage; she was at her breaking point.
While Lindy’s weight came on in response to a traumatic event in her life, Travis has had a lifelong struggle with his weight. At the beginning of the episode, he spoke honestly about his plight as a fat person, saying, “We get depressed about how we feel and then we eat more to deal with that depression and then we get bigger, so we just get more depressed.” Thirty four years later, Travis tired easily due to his size, and as a father of one son with another on the way, he didn’t have the energy to keep up. His wife, nearly bursting with pregnancy, worried that she’d be a single mother if her husband didn’t change his life. She’s supportive but firm: Travis needed to lose weight now.
Upon arriving at “the facility,” neither Lindy nor Travis seemed like they really want to be there. Despite their reasons for wanting to get healthy before leaving home, they both had trouble accepting the regimen at “the facility.” During the first week, neither had the drive, complaining about the discomfort of the work outs and just not giving their all. About the only thing they were justified in complaining about was the food–not the quality, but the quantity; they were limited to 1200-2000 calories each day. I’ve always been against counting calories, so it’s hard for me to understand how a person could work out several hours each day and only eat 1200 calories. Considering Travis’ basal metabolic rate, or BMR, for short, which is basically the number of calories you burn if you stay in bed all day, he needed to eat almost 3500 calories just to maintain his weight. (You can check your own BMR here, by the way.) Cutting that down by two-thirds was extreme to me and somewhat explained why both he and Lindy were such complainers. But, as David the trainer, reminded us, “This is an addiction. They’re addicts, and going through withdrawals can get ugly.”
Lindy and Travis fed off of each other’s negativity, which both trainers continually called them on. At one point while working out, Travis joked that each day was one day closer to going home where he’d be able to eat ice cream again, a cringe-worthy moment for me because it showed that Travis didn’t really want to change his life. Again, David the trainer, whose body is a country of muscle, said it best, “If they don’t get rid of this negativity before they leave, they’re not going to be able to make a lifestyle change.”
The negativity continued at Lindy’s first therapy session. She had trouble talking openly about her life, calling therapy “bullshit conversation.” As someone who’s been in therapy on and off for most of my life, I can understand where she is coming from. It’s a challenge to open up either because the wounds are so deep or the trust isn’t there yet. But, despite her reluctance to talk, Lindy began working even harder in the gym, exercising to the point of nearly passing out. Like me, she traded her obsession with food for an obsession with exercising, but, as Britny the trainer pointed out, without addressing the cause. When I first moved to Seattle, I didn’t even have a job, but knew I needed a gym membership as badly as I needed the Haagen-Dazs I craved in my teen years. So I headed to 24-Hour Fitness and plopped down my credit card for the most expensive membership package available, more than $600. I was working out two hours each day and had given up nearly every food I genuinely enjoyed. I was muscular and getting fit, yet absolutely miserable. It wasn’t until I found a therapist here and began working through the real issues causing me to eat that I saw the light at the bottom of the ice cream tub. Whether I was fat or fit, in the end, what mattered most was that I was happy. Lindy was dropping the weight, but I doubted she could say the same about herself.
Once Lindy and Travis left “the facility,” they both initially struggled to maintain their commitment to weight loss, as David suggested they would. Lindy continued to work hard, but due to the stress of trying to plan a wedding, began eating as a method of reward and a coping mechanism again. She and her fiance celebrated their engagement with a glass of wine, which turned into three bottles, and, as part of the wedding planning, they did a tasting, rotating samples of deliciously unhealthy cake, plates of foods and dips and glasses of fine wine. For a skinny person with a stable relationship with food, this wouldn’t be a problem, but for someone with a food addiction, cheating here and there quickly snowballs. Watching Lindy consistently cheat made me think: Who makes a commitment to someone else when they can’t even make a commitment to themselves? But after gaining a pound and a visit from Megan the nutritionist, Lindy was back on track. The slight weight gain helped her realize the importance of maintaining her diet.
While Lindy soared after the visit from Megan, Travis was crumbling. He wasn’t keeping his food log. He wasn’t maintaining his diet. He wasn’t working out as hard as he could. (The trainer at his hometown gym finally called him on it, and Travis recoiled even further, using his family life as an excuse for his lack of commitment.) Travis had finally reached his breaking point, and it all came to a head when he argued with his wife, who questioned his dedication to the regimen. Unable to accept any personal responsibility, Travis walked out on her, crying, “I’m done.”
And then came a visit from Britny, which, at first, Travis blew off. “Not today,” he insisted as he packed boxes for the family’s big move, yet another stressful undertaking that made me question Travis’ commitment. But Britny has a knack for talking down the big guys on “Heavy” (Remember: she turned Rickywayne from crazy to baby with one hug.) and soon Travis pledged to pull himself together, start keeping his food log again and work harder at the gym.
For the next month, Lindy and Travis were both recommitted. Lindy married her fiance, reducing some of her pre-wedding stress and allowing her to refocus on herself, and Travis found a job working at an appliance store, establishing a routine and keeping him on his feet. They both seemed happy and dedicated to the regimen.
At the final weigh-in, Travis and Lindy looked completely different. They weren’t rife with negativity like when they first arrived at “the facility” six months ago. And when they each hopped on the scale, I was impressed. Lindy weighed-in at 220 lbs., a total of 65 lbs. lost, and Travis weighed-in at 337.8, and after stripping off his pants and shoes because he was determined to break the 100 lb. mark, his weight was 333.6, a total of 99 lbs.
As impressed as I was though, I couldn’t deny that I was also concerned. Neither Lindy or Travis really addressed their core issues around their struggles with weight. They may look different now, but, unlike Ashley and Sharon of episode three, I didn’t feel either would be able to maintain their new lifestyles over the long term. Losing weight is the easy part; keeping the weight off is the hard part.
Having gained back more than half of the 140 lbs. I lost, I saw more of myself in Lindy and Travis than I wanted, yet I hoped neither would yo-yo like I did.
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.