Update – I’ve come a long way since writing this post back in 2012. I have a lot more updates. After you read this page, go here to read what’s new.
My story begins well before I met Chris Powell. I was always overweight, the fat kid in school. Thankfully, most people liked me so I didn’t get picked on that much, but it did happen from time to time. As I got older, I settled into my role of obese. I remember being 17 years old and weighing 359 pounds. I remember this weight so vividly because a friend of mine remarked, “Hey Mike, one more pound and you’ll be a complete circle!”
I kept growing up, and out. By the time I was 27 I reached my highest weight of all time… 540 pounds. By the time I found Chris Powell and Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition I had actually lost about 50 pounds. But for me that was normal.
I had lost over 100 pounds at least 3 times. I would just do the Atkins diet and drop the weight. Then after a period of time, I’d stop the “diet”, eat whatever I want, and promptly gain back all the weight plus more. That’s how I got to be what is now called “Super Obese”.
Life As A 540 Pound Man
My life was terrible. I basically went out to eat 2-3 times a day. That was my only pleasure. That and work. Even though my weight problem was REALLY bad, I still managed to work for myself and make pretty good money. I only reported to the office once a week where I got updates on the business from department heads. The rest of the time I worked at home and ate and ate and ate.
I never went on dates. Until I met Meghan, I never felt like I had the confidence or looks to attract anybody. I mean, why would someone want to date me, let alone kiss me? I hated my body and my lack of self discipline. Everywhere I went I was constantly reminded how I had “failed” as a person.
Once, when I was sitting on a bench talking on my cell phone, and old man walked by and said, “Now don’t eat that too!” Funny.
Another time, I was walking on an old porch and the wood gave way. One leg fell through the floor and I scratched my leg pretty bad. Not funny.
I could go on with stories like this forever (broken chairs, indented couches, bad smells, crash diets, embarrassment, struggle, worry, sleep apnea etc) but suffice it to say I wasn’t living a life, I was killing myself.
Finally, I Meet An Angel
I remember seeing Chris Powell on TLC’s 650 pound virgin show about David Smith. I thought to myself, “There’s no way this guy is this nice. He has to be acting.” Then, when I applied for the Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition show (at that time I didn’t even know Chris was the host) I got to meet him for myself. And I was shocked. He truly was even more awesome, more caring, and more kind than I had ever thought possible.
Chris is one of those rare people who just have it all.. the looks, the charisma, and most importantly the heart of a champion. And he uses that heart to help others. I want to spend my time now helping other people and everyone I help is a direct result of Chris Powell and his wife Heidi. They changed me, from the inside out… it just took me a little bit of time to notice.
Ladies & Gentlemen, It’s Showtime
After writing my letter to Chris and him picking me to be on the show, my life became a whirlwind. I went through a year in what felt equally like 10 years and 10 minutes. I worked out 4-5 hours a day 6 days a week. I ate everything I was supposed to eat (and occasionally things I wasn’t). I did a triathlon at 500 pounds and another one (much longer distance) at 300 pounds. That was the St. Anthony’s Triathlon.
I lost enough weight to quality for skin removal surgery where I got to meet Dr. Stoker… truly one of the greatest Doctors I have ever met. He’s been an ongoing source of encouragement to me as I continue my journey to ultimate health.
After the surgery I was knocked out… and I mean it. Dr. Stoker removed 15.5 pounds of skin just off my stomach area. I remember he told me I had the (or one of the) largest pannus he had ever seen. My response? “Why thank you Dr.”
Even though I couldn’t exercise, I ate decently during this time and was able to hit some pretty astounding weight loss numbers. All told, I went from 493 pounds to 238 pounds in just 1 year. I lost a total of 255 pounds in 12 months. It was officially 51.8% of my body weight shed in one year.
My reveal night will always be one of my favorite days in life.
Then, something crazy happened. The show ended. Chris left. The cameras shut down. The producers weren’t calling me everyday. I quickly realized that…
The Show’s Over
I remember sitting at my computer when an email came in from Chris. It said, “Hey, I have some good news and some bad news. Good news is you lost the weight. Bad news is you’re still a food addict. Call me.”
I didn’t want to believe it at the time. I mean, hadn’t I just succeeded in pulling off the impossible? I felt like I had accomplished so much… and that had somehow made me invincible to the food addiction I had “once” had.
I brushed Chris off. I figured he was pretty busy anyway. (excuses!)
I was able to hold my own for a few months and actually flew to Hawaii and spoke at an event there. This was featured in my show on ABC. It was awesome. It was a dream come true. I spoke, inspired people, poured out my heart, but deep down I felt like a fraud. I was totally off my plan (tried to justify it by saying well, I’m on a “vacation”). And even though I wasn’t back to my old self, something didn’t feel right.
After speaking in Mauii, I went back home feeling confident. I knew my plan. I was going to go off and start speaking at events and sharing my story. Surely, that’s what people want to hear. Deep down though, I didn’t feel like I had much to share. Weight loss is science, that’s how I felt back then. Calories in, calories out. Game over.
How wrong I was.
Then Came The Fall
I can’t place the day exactly that it happened, but it was probably 4 or so months after my reveal. I had been slowly creeping up in weight when finally, one day I decided to weigh in. And to my surprise I was back up over 300. I think it was 302. I nearly cried. But instead of tightening up, I got even worse. I went out to eat more often, I stopped counting my calories and weighing my portions.
I couldn’t seem to control myself. I felt like an animal eating pretty much whatever I wanted. There was no convincing me to stop. I’d go to sleep every night praying and wondering what was wrong with me. I had a problem, I just didn’t know what it was. It was like I had become the old Mike again.. eating with reckless abandon… thinking somehow the law of the calorie didn’t apply to me any longer.
It wasn’t rational. It made no sense. That’s what made it so hard for me to understand. Why was I doing this? Why was I sabotaging myself? I had so much to look forward to and instead I was throwing it all away (again!) for a meal out on the town. It was making me sick and almost crazy!
Here’s a small sample from my journals so you can see just how “off the wagon” I was…
I feel like a failure in so many ways. I feel like I’ve let so many people down. My brother came out of his room this morning and I was eating a hot dog from the 7/11. He freaked out and told me how disappointed he was in me.
What he didn’t know was that hidden under the computer desk was another hot dog plus 2 apple fritters. Plus I had already eaten a buffalo bite. Right after leaving the doctor’s today I drove through Checkers.
I got a Big Buford combo large size plus 2 chicken sandwiches. I ate it all in the car, too afraid to come in and have my brother see me. And the sad part is, the food wasn’t even that good. Actually, it tasted terrible. But for some reason, I forced myself to eat it.
I Packed My Bags And Headed West
The year of 2012 was a blur to me. It was April before I knew it. My weight had skyrocketed to as high as 365 pounds way faster than I had lost it. I knew I had to get away from my environment because I thought that somehow being someplace else would solve my problem.
In Arizona I hooked up again with Chris (the dude’s a saint, seriously) and he practically opened his home to me and did everything he could to help me get on track. Within a few weeks I was down about 25 pounds. I was feeling good and confident so I decided to go out to eat with a business partner of mine who also lives in Arizona. I turned back into the “food” monster again, consuming just about everything I could get my hands on. I couldn’t believe how fast I could fall off the wagon.
Within a month I had put back on all the weight I had lost. I didn’t want to see Chris, I felt ashamed. I began to truly hate myself. I couldn’t stand to look at myself. I was a failure and I knew it. I knew that I had let everyone down. I knew that America would be watching my show soon and they would see this guy who had done something so incredible, so awesome… and yet…
It wouldn’t be real or true anymore. Because I wouldn’t look the same or weigh the same. And to me, that meant that I was no good. Worthless. I have to be honest and say that at this time the self-hatred was all consuming. I was a grumpy person to be around. I was shoveling food in my mouth as fast as I could. I didn’t know how to stop. I didn’t care how hard I had worked or all that I had overcome in the last year.
For me, it was all about my next fix of some greasy slop. My mind was in its own hell, and my body was headed back into the fat cell it had recently escaped. I felt like a prisoner who wasn’t ready for the outside, so he goes off and steals a car to get put back in. At least, that’s how I was acting.
Finally, I Admit The Truth
So, with only about a month before my show was set to air, I had reached rock bottom. I knew that I wouldn’t be asked to go on any talk shows at my current weight. This was very sad for me. Because I know opportunities like this don’t come that often and I had blown it. I don’t blame anyone but myself for that loss. I also knew my show would be airing and there would be people wondering what happened to me.
I didn’t know what to do anymore. I was quickly becoming a perverse reflection of my 540 pound self. I was afraid.
So, with nothing else to lose, I walked into an Overeater’s Anonymous meeting run by a church in Mesa, Arizona. I sat through the meeting thinking the whole time about what I was going to eat when the meeting was over. At the end of it, the lady running the meeting, Susan, asked me if I knew what some of my food triggers were.
I told her going out to eat was my biggest trigger. She then asked me what I was doing after the meeting. I laughed and said, “Probably going out to eat.” She asked me, “Do you need to eat? Do you need the fuel?”
My first thought was, I know all this stuff. But then it hit me. If I was so smart, why was it so hard for me to KEEP THE WEIGHT OFF? Why was being on a weight loss show turning into just another weight loss and regain story?
Susan gave me a book, the Alcoholics Anonymous book to be exact. She said, “Read it. Replace the word alcohol with the word food.” She then asked me to commit to not going out to eat that night. I promised her I would go straight home and even though I was still tempted, I didn’t eat anymore that night.
I instead tore into the book reading as much as I could that night. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Here, in this book, were people just like me. I understood them exactly. I saw that I was simply and irrevocably a food addict.
And that led me to the first step…
I admitted I was powerless over my food addiction—that my life had become unmanageable.
And that step was HUGE for me. Just admitting that there was nothing I could do on my own to overcome my malady made a big difference. My whole life I felt like my weight was a losing battle and here I finally found out… it is!
And in that thought came the first rays of hope, of freedom. I finally felt like there was something here for me apart from just a quick way to lose weight. Chris had (of course) been right all along and I could have saved myself a few pounds if I had figured it out earlier… but I’m glad I didn’t. I know I had to go through this experience to be the man I am now… so I can help other people and be authentic.
Giving my food addiction over to God (the next steps) was easy. I knew I couldn’t deal with it so it seems reasonable to me that I needed to let Him give it a go. I had failed every single time because the addiction is stronger than me. I used to think that losing weight was my issue, my struggle. I thought God had sent me to earth with this problem I had to fix on my own.
How wrong I was!
The truth is our weaknesses are given to us to make us strong. And by giving up my weakness to God I am now learning to find my strength in Him. And the bible has taken on a whole new meaning for me. It’s all about weak things being strong. That’s the paradox of God. That’s the paradox of my addiction. It’s like a Chinese Finger Trap. The harder you pull, the tighter the trap gets.
To escape, you have to relax, and not try so hard. And thankfully, in this case, you can also get some help from a much higher power than yourself.
And that’s what I did. I gave up. I let God take control and I turned my addiction to food over to Him.
I’m now working with a sponsor and working through my food plan and my steps. And I love life. All the anxiety, the stress, the worry, the self hatred, all of that stuff… it’s gone now. I don’t concern myself with what other people think anymore (well, I’m getting there!) and I am now actually happy.
Can It Be True?
Happy. That’s something I’ve never really been before. It’s elusive and hard to quantify. But I have it now. And I’m not letting go of it. I am thankful for the year on the show where I lost 255 pounds. But even more than that, I’m thankful for the months after the show where I gained almost 120 pounds back. It showed me something that I never wanted to see. My addiction. My struggle. My Chinese finger trap.
When I admitted I was an addict I weighed 373 pounds. Nowhere near the massive 540 pound man I once was. But for me, 373 was rock bottom. It was the worst. It was failure to the extreme. I needed it more than I ever knew.
As I write this it’s July 1st, 2012… the day my episode “Michael” is airing on ABC. This post goes live at 11pm EST. For many people in my life it’s a day of celebration as they look back and see the amazing transformation I went through on the show. I now realize that the transformation on the show was just the beginning.
Chris tried to help me on the show to truly transform, and in some ways I really thought I did. But it wasn’t until after the cameras turned off I realized what demons I had not yet faced. And I’m doing that now. And I’m glad I was able to find myself again and get back on the path I need to be.
When creating my plan (which I call being sober) I knew I had to (at least for now) cut out going out to eat. That was important. And I know it was because the moment I first said it out loud I was terrified. Weird how that works, huh? I honestly didn’t think I could do it.
But I am taking it one day at a time.
I learned something very important about why most people (85% I hear) fail at losing weight and keeping it off. I actually said this to my Mom and the moment it came out I knew I’d be sharing it with you today.
We’re treating a problem that’s not the problem. That’s the problem.
You see I was wrong. Weight loss isn’t science. As a matter of fact, it’s the complete opposite. It’s faith. And I think science proves that. If all the science in the world can’t solve the obesity epidemic in America… what can? I think it’s found by treating the root cause. People. Us. You. Me. We are hurting, we are addicted to food, we don’t know how to stop. Diets sell us on the dream of being fit and healthy.
Weight loss pills can be good, but too many of them claim to be the magic beans when really they’re only useful as long as you’re doing everything else right. The issue I see is that we are all caught up trying to lose weight. Your weight has nothing to do with it. It’s not about that, it never has been.
Your weight is a simple side effect of the greater issue you are dealing with. The stress of that issue (or the addiction for many of us) is what brings us to food in the first place. So, for most of us, diets won’t work. We have to make a spiritual change, a lasting change. And we need to give up worrying what the scale says and instead worry about what our heart says.
You are more infinitely powerful than you realize. You are a child of God and you can achieve anything you want if you are willing to make the sacrifices to get there. But, without admitting that you need help from a higher power, and giving your problem over to Him, I think it will be hard to achieve lasting success.
And I realize I’m not back to where I want to be just yet. But I know I am on my way. And this time, it’s different. Totally different. And I invite you to join me on my journey. Let’s walk together, hand in hand, down the path to health and fitness. I know we can do it, because God is our guide.
I know today should be thought of as the day my episode airs, but for me, today simply means 31 days sober. Funny.
Update – I’ve come a long way since writing this post back in 2012. I have a lot more updates. After you read this page, go here to read what’s new.