The last episode of “Heavy” is a heavy one. Both heavies, Chad, a 509 lb. 27 year-old man in a committed relationship, and Sallie, 443.4 lb. 29 year-old single mother of one, have used food as a coping mechanism for so long that their lives have been severely complicated by their weight issues. However, Chad and Sallie, unlike several previous heavies, understand how far gone they are and know before they even arrive at “the facility” that they need to make drastic changes to their lifestyles for themselves and for someone else–in Chad’s case, his girlfriend, and in Sallie’s, her son.
Sallie has been fat for as long as she can remember. She was 150 lbs. in middle school, 250 in high school and now, as an adult, she’s almost 450 lbs. Sallie is so fat her weight is seriously impeding her life. She can no longer buckle her seat belt because of the width of her stomach, which is so large it presses into the steering wheel, making it difficult for her to make turns while driving. Outside of the car, her weight has become even more of a problem, constantly causing her pain in her knees, back, ankles and chest. Sallie’s son Sam, a 150 lb. 8-year-old, is learning from his mom’s bad habits, too, eating man-sized portions. “I’m the biggest person in my whole class,” he says. Sallie has become even more hopeless about her weight after her father’s suicide five years ago, which she didn’t see coming. She didn’t want to cry. She and her mother never talked about it. Sallie just internalized the grief, questioning if she loved him more would that have saved his life. Without the coping skills to manage her grief, Sallie ate to soothe the pain she felt. She says, “If I feel sad about it, I go eat me something and feel better.” And then: “I’m going to eat myself to death and end up killing myself in a different way.” Sallie knows she needs to make a change–not just for herself but for her son Sam, too.
Chad began using food as a coping mechanism at an early age. His father was an alcoholic and a drug addict who was physically abusive towards Chad and his mother, and the marriage ultimately ended when his father threatened to burn his mother alive in their house. Chad grew up without a father figure, but yearned for one so deeply, to have someone to “define who [he] was as a man.” Without one, Chad began coping with his problems the way his mother did: by eating. This is very close to my own fat story, which I’ve written about in pieces over the last few months that I’ve blogged about “Heavy.” (And even more so in “Fat Fuck.”) Basically, my father left my mother before I was born. Around when I began going to school, I realized something was different. While everyone in my school had a mom and dad, I just had a mom. Once I understood my father was gone, I wanted a father figure, but never really had one, so, just like Chad, food became my father figure because it was always there for me. Now, as an adult, Chad’s coping mechanism has turned into a lifestyle he can no longer sustain. His girlfriend Laina, who Chad wants to marry, isn’t willing to stand by him while he eats so much, and their relationship has reached a breaking point after she sent him a long email explaining how she feels. Laina writes, “I can’t continue loving someone who’s killing himself, and if you continue like you are doing, you will die. I can’t get myself into something that I know will end in tragedy. You have to do something now about your weight if you want to keep me.” Wow. And that’s not even the whole email. Chad has to do something about his weight if he wants to keep Laina, “the love of [his] life.” He says, “I just don’t want [to be fat] anymore, and I’m willing to fight… to just have a different life.”
At “the facility,” Chad and Sally experience a reality check at the weigh-in, which Chad describes as “looking the monster in the eye.” He’s scared when he finds out that he’s over 500 lbs. and sets a goal of losing 150 lbs. over his six months at “the facility.” Sallie has the same experience. When she weighs in at 443, she utters one word: “Whoa.” She thought she was 380-390 lbs. and seems almost defeated before she even begins, confessing, “Had I seen that at home I probably would’ve went and ate something.” But Adam (Who, I’ll admit, is growing on me–and Adam, if, by chance, you are reading this, I’m sorry I called you a porn store clerk several posts ago.) puts it into perspective when he says, “That’s the highest it’s ever going to be because we’re going down from this point on.”
Usually, I write about the experiences at “the facility” separately for each of the heavies, but since Chad and Sallie worked so well together, I’m going to recap their experiences collectively. When they first begin the cardio-boxing sessions, dreaded by previous heavies, and weight training, Chad and Sallie are clearly out of shape and unable to keep up (best exemplified by Sallie eating it–twice!–while doing push-ups on a yoga ball); however, despite their physical limitations, both Chad and Sallie fight hard during their first week, losing 22.4 and 8.8 lbs. respectively. Their initial challenge doesn’t come from the exercise–as hard as it is they are both going at it–but from the food, which they are not used to eating. Before leaving for “the facility,” Chad and Sallie lived on fast food (Chad says he regularly eats 7500 calories in a sitting, which you can do if you’re Tim Lincecum, but unfortunately, Chad cannot throw a fastball comparable to “the Freak.”), so reducing their caloric intake to 1200-1500 calories per day is a difficult adjustment. But Robert Moore, the president of Hilton Head Health, gives Chad and Sallie some straight talk, saying, “Everything you look at you’re going to be judging based on how much does it take to get this off.” This is exactly what I think whenever I walk down the ice cream aisle at the grocery store, pining for some Haagen-Dazs.
But losing the weight isn’t only about changing bad habits, it’s about getting at the emotional issues that cause them to rely so heavily on food. Sallie is ready to deal with her own father issues; however, Chad isn’t. When I first began losing weight, I was a lot like Chad–I wasn’t ready to deal with the issues around my father either. I was just scared I was going to die and knew I needed to make a change. It wasn’t until I had lost about 100 lbs. and still felt depressed that I understood there were underlying issues I needed to address, which is when I first opened up and started the process of letting-go of the anger I had for my father, a man I never met, a face I’ve never even seen. Chad is where I was about ten years ago: in denial, and with the help of Sallie, he begins to see that he, too, has some letting-go to do. There’s a great scene where Chad and Sallie are doing cardio together, and Beverly is pressing them to open up about their fathers. Chad pushes back and says he doesn’t want to talk about his and doesn’t think he’s missing anything. But Sallie calls him on it, saying, “You really should re-think that… because you gotta forgive… and once they’re gone, they’re gone.”
At the halfway mark, Chad and Sallie have lost 79.6 lbs. and 80 lbs respectively and are amazed by what they are physically capable of, like biking, running and kayaking, activities they hadn’t ever been able to do. Then their families arrive, and Chad and Sallie are reminded why they are working so hard at “the facility.” After some family time (Sallie and her adorable son Sam play mini-golf and bike together, and Chad, Laina and his mother look through family albums, spurring Chad to consider reaching out to his father.), Chad and Sallie are even more committed and begin training for the annual beach bum triathlon, a 500-meter swim, a 6-mile bike ride and a 5K run, like, all at once. For the next month, Chad and Sallie train together, swimming, biking, running and building strength through weight training, and by the morning of the race, they’re both noticeably slimmer–and nervous, but their goal is simple: finish. Chad starts off strong swimming through a school of jellyfish before making it to the 6-mile bike ride. Sallie paces herself, and when she hits the 5K, the final part of the race, she catches Chad and passes him, finishing in one hour and 58 minutes with Chad four minutes behind her. After the race, they’re exhausted, yet happy. Chad and Sallie accomplished something they both never believed they could, and Chad summed up the feat best, saying, “How many over 400 lb. people can say they are a triathlete? I’m one of them.” Then Chad did something else he never believed he would do six months ago: he called his father, starting the process of repairing their relationship.
At the final weigh-in, Chad is 368.4, a total of 140.6 lbs. lost, and Sallie is 306.8, a total of 136.6 lbs. The funny thing is: you can see Sallie wants more. She’s proud, but not completely happy. Before she even leaves Hilton Head Health, I know she’s going to stay beastly when she gets home.
And Sallie does. At the follow-up four months later (I’m still not writing about “the big reveals,” but I’ll compromise: if A&E brings back David Richardson, I’ll start writing about them next season. This commenter is with me. What about you?), Sallie has lost another 40 lbs., and her son Sam has lost 10. They completed a 5K together, too. And in the four months since the episode was filmed, Chad has lost 22.4 lbs., and he and Laina had their dream wedding. He’s still working on the relationship with his father.
In the new format, Chad and Sallie are the most successful heavies. I’m looking forward to the follow-up episode next Monday on A&E. (A&E, I’m already shilling for you, and I’m not even on the payroll. Holler. At. Me.)
Like Sallie says, “I’m not stopping here.”