[Author’s note: Sorry this post comes way too late. I was preparing for a performance of a “Fat Fuck” excerpt at “Weird and Awesome with Emmett Montgomery” last Sunday. (By the way, I KILLED IT.) And then I was writing a grant to get some money to support the production of “Fat Fuck.” And then I had “Cheap Wine and Poetry” on Thursday. And then I had a vicious wine hangover on Friday. Yeah, it’s been a busy week.]
I admit–the new format of “Heavy” is growing on me. In episode 8, we get a lot of face time with my favorite trainer at “the ‘new’ facility,” Beverly (And let me tell you: you’ve never cardio-boxed until you’ve gone 12 rounds with that firecracker of a woman.); a better understanding of the clients’ motivations to lose weight; and, what I missed most about the previous format of the episodes, a deeper view into their family lives, though I still prefer the old regimen of one month at “the facility” and five months at home.
This week, our heavies are Bill, a 443 lb. 52 year-old divorced father of one, and Julia, a 254.4 lb. 25 year-old single woman. Both use food as their chief coping mechanism, though in Bill’s case, food isn’t his biggest addiction–it’s prescription pills, making his recovery a bit more layered than previous heavies.
Unlike many of the other “Heavy” clients, Bill’s weight gain didn’t begin until later in life. He was an athlete in high school and college and was part of two National Championship teams at the University of Alabama in 1978 and 1979 under famed football coach Bear Bryant. After college, Bill unsuccessfully tried to play professionally, but after injuries and other setbacks, he eventually retired. Watching his college teammates get drafted and make it in the NFL became tough for Bill to handle. He didn’t know anything except football, so he began drinking to cope with his own failure, which then led to prescription pain medication given to Bill by his doctor to manage his recovery from injuries. High on pills all the time, Bill began eating more and more, and without any exercise, he kept gaining weight. Now it’s to the point where he doesn’t remember the last time he was able to tuck in a shirt because his stomach is so large. By 2004, his wife had enough and filed for divorce. Bill’s drug abuse had spiraled out of control, prompting his son Woody to plead with his father to go to rehab, where Bill has since lived and worked for the last three and a half years. However, the damage has been done. After years of drug abuse, Bill has missed years of his son’s life, and because of his weight, he’s unable to keep up with Woody, now a high school football player. Fighting back tears, Bill regrets the mistakes he’s made raising his son and says, “It’s important for me to change my life.”
Like Bill, Julia’s most significant weight gain came later in life when her mother passed away in 2004 from cancer, and she began coping with the loss through grief-eating. Around this time, Julia’s best friend moved across the country, and after putting on so much weight, her long term boyfriend became distant and finally ended their relationship, telling Julia that he just wasn’t attracted to her anymore. Losing a large part of her support system over the the course of six months, Julia relied more and more on food to cope and manage her stress and loss, pushing her weight to the highest it’s ever been as an adult and beginning the vicious cycle of food addiction, where you eat to cope, hate yourself for the weight gain and then eat more to cope with that hate. Julia wants to lose the weight now because she’s preparing to attend law school in the fall where she fears people will assume she’s sloppy and lazy. She wants to be successful without being judged for her weight. (A sad but true reality: fat people are discriminated against in the workplace.) At her breaking point, Julia says, “I’m sick of it. I’m ready to live a life without restrictions.”
Upon arriving at “the facility,” Bill and Julia aren’t particularly surprised by their initial weigh-ins. Bill finds out his blood pressure is dangerously high, too, and after a blood test and a chat with Adam the fitness director, Julia confesses her family’s history of diabetes and her fear that she’ll be “buried under a pizza box behind a computer screen” in law school. Both Bill and Julia want to lose the weight, but first, they must address the emotional issues that make food a crutch for them–and, in Bill’s case, his problems with addiction overall–as well as their diets. They both learn quickly that they had been eating enough in one sitting for three or four people. Bill and Julia begin to understand portion-sizes, healthy eating habits and proper nutrition, which I can truly relate to being someone who still has trouble exercising portion control. Food can be so delicious, particularly those trigger foods, like pizza and ice cream, the ones I’ve come to rely on over the years to make me feel better–even if they actually make my body feel worse. Bill admits that he’ll starve himself all day and then eat everything in his path at night, something I was guilty of often in my teen years and early 20s when I first began losing weight. This is one of the worst things a person, especially a fat person, can do because it causes the body to break down muscle–instead of fat–during the day in order to have energy and slows down metabolism. By the time that big binge comes later in the evening, the body is nearing sleep-mode, meaning all that food becomes stored as fat because there’s no activity occurring to convert the food into energy. Starving oneself is almost as bad as constantly overeating because both shock the body, just in different ways. Implementing healthy eating habits is one of the first steps in Bill and Julia’s quest to change their lives.
From the beginning, Bill gets his ass kicked, by Beverly especially. After his first session of cardio boxing, Bill, breathing hard from a yoga mat on the floor, groans, “She’s a sick woman.” But his failure to keep up makes Bill realize how out of shape he is, though his knees begin bothering him immediately and he’s unable to push as hard as he’d like. So Bill sees the doctor and is prescribed painkillers because he doesn’t admit that he is in recovery for drug abuse, saying, “There are certain situations in life that call for pain medication.” Beverly confronts Bill about the pills, which he admits he’s taking up to four per day (The doctor said one a day!), and he looks her in the eye and lies, promising her that the pills are not a narcotic (They are!). Out of concern for Bill, Beverly asks his son Woody to visit in an effort to keep his father from relapsing. Bill and Woody pick up right where they left off and after spending sometime together, Beverly sits down with both of them to address the painkillers. Bill immediately confesses that he needs help. Fighting back tears, he says, “[Woody] has visited me in so many places where I wasn’t to proud of myself.” After a good talk together, Bill and Woody then workout together, doing a beach bootcamp designed for football players, and, of course, Woody absolutely kicks his father’s ass, giving them a chance to make up for some of the time lost due to Bill’s drug abuse. After Woody leaves, Bill tosses the painkillers and recommits to the regimen.
Julia, on the other hand, works hard from the beginning, winning over Beverly the first week when, after a hard session of cardio boxing, she says, “I like to hit stuff.” Julia also takes on her issues around grief-eating, confessing to the therapist that her “coping mechanism was barbecue or ice cream or cookies.” Julia is willing to do the work, talking about her mother and the issues around her faulty coping skills. Julia “hate[s] to cry, but [she] hate[s] being fat more.” After a month, she loses 10 percent of her body weight, and it’s clear that she’s entering–Yes! Yes! Yes!–BEAST-MODE. As part of the next step in her recovery, Julia begins riding her mother’s bicycle, which she brought along to “the facility” hoping she’d be able to finally get on it. This is the moment when Julia’s confidence soars, and she realizes that she is going to lose the weight. Taking it a step further, Julia asks Beverly to ride 350 miles from “the facility” back to Atlanta where Julia lives, a final step in her emotional transformation because she knows how proud her mother would be to see her on the bike. Beverly agrees, telling us, “If anyone can do this, Julia can.”
At the final weigh-in, Bill and Julia are noticeably slimmer. Julia steps on the scale as a completely different woman, weighing-in at 166 lbs, a total weight loss of 88.4 lbs. Bill’s final weigh-in is 301.6, a total of 141.4 lbs. However, in his last week, Bill gains 1.6 lbs., the first gain he’s had the entire time at “the facility,” leading to a speech I wish I could hear every time I step on the scale and the number goes up slightly because I’ve eaten too much the night before or didn’t give my all in that last workout. Bill stares into the camera, though it feels like he’s talking directly to me, and says, “It’s no different than life. Things come at you all the time and you can choose to complain and whine and moan about it or man up and push through it and stay a winner. I choose to stay a winner. ” As someone who has struggled all my life with my weight and, more recently, after gaining back 80 of the 140 lbs. I originally lost, hearing these words sticks to my ribs, like the pizza I ate all too much of last night.
As I’ve written in previous posts, I won’t be writing about “the big reveals” despite how sweet these two particular reveals were, but I will cover the follow-ups. Julia has maintained her weight loss. By BMI standards, Julia is still overweight, but she looks perfect. Bill has lost 10 more pounds in the three months since filming, making him the second heavy in the new format to continue his dedication to his weight loss.
Though I still prefer the old format, I won’t deny that this episode was one of the most inspirational this season. Seeing Bill overcome his addictions and taking the steps to repair his relationship with his son made me almost cry right along with him, and seeing Julia at the end of the episode look hot made me feel hopeful, not just for myself, but for everyone out there struggling with their own weight and body issues.
As the credits roll, Julia best summarizes what I learned from episode 8, “It’s easier than it seems as long as you take it one day at a time.”
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 blogs weekly about A&E’s new docu-drama “Heavy” at brianwithani.com.