Weight-Loss Win is an original Yahoo series that shares the inspiring stories of people who have shed pounds healthfully.
Jeremy Rochford is 35 and weighs 195 pounds. In 1998, after a particularly embarrassing weight-related incident, he was motivated to lose 200 pounds. After gradually gaining the weight back, he reaffirmed his commitment to healthy living, motivated by his family and his faith. This is the story of his weight-loss journey.
The turning point
I was overweight my entire life. I even started “dieting” when I was 5 years old. By the time I got to middle school, I learned quickly that an image-driven society didn’t really favor the overweight. Couple that with getting braces and glasses the same year, and I became the triple-crown winner of social inadequacy. From there, I started a nonstop free fall into emotional eating. I truly lived in a cliché cycle where I ate because I was sad, and I was sad because of my constant eating.
The summer going into my senior year of high school, my family and I were on vacation in Wildwood, N.J., and I had waited months to ride their NASCAR-themed go-carts. When we finally arrived at the boardwalk, I could hardly contain my excitement. I quickly made my way over to claim my conduit of speed, and after a few awkward moments, I was able to get seated. Now, mind you, just because I fit into the ride didn’t really mean that I fit into the ride comfortably. I couldn’t get the seat belt around me. After several long minutes of unsuccessfully trying, the attendant asked the manager, who also tried to fasten the belt, and finally, he frustratedly threw down his side of the seatbelt, looked me in the eye and said:
“You know… every summer for the past 10 years, I’ve come to this boardwalk as a patron, as a ride operator, and now as the manager of this here ride. And in all of my years, I’ve never seen anyone turned away because they were too fat to ride. But now I have to do just that. We have tried everything, and this seatbelt isn’t even close to fitting you. I’m real sorry, man, but you’re simply going to have to leave. So, would you please step this way so as to not further hold up the line?”
But wait — really?
“Sir, I am really sorry, but you leave me no other choice. I have a line, and you simply do not fit in the car. I’m very sorry, but I am going to have to ask you to leave.”
What made this situation even more embarrassing for me was the fact that the exit was right next to the entrance. So there was no way for me to simply slide out of the back and pretend that this wasn’t happening.
Once I found my way off of the track and through the gate, I was forced to do a walk of shame through a crowd of onlookers. It seemed like everyone I passed made it their responsibility to remind me just how much of a second-class human I was for simply being overweight and holding up the ride. I had never been a part of such a public hating in my life.
For me, though, the thing that pushed this over the top was that my parents had to watch the entire thing unfold. What should have been a family vacation full of wonderful memories was reduced to the single most embarrassing day of my life. That’s when I knew that life as I knew it was over. A part of me died that day, and in that moment, I wasn’t sure if it was my will to live, or my will to live the way I had been living. I felt my choice was between life change or suicide. The problem with suicide for me was that I really loved life. I was just bad at it. And this moment was the most sobering reminder of that.
The first step I took was figuring out how I got so overweight in the first place. I know that may seem trivial, but when I was at my heaviest, I just ate all the time. I had no idea what a portion size should be. So the first thing I did after we got home from the go-cart incident was take caloric inventory for about a week. Once I knew how much I was actually eating, which was between 3,000 and 5,000 calories a day, I compared that knowledge with the new knowledge of what I should have been eating. The medical consensus was around 2,000 calories. I made it my goal to consume as close to that number as possible. It took a couple of weeks, but once I achieved that milestone, I started to research how I could make the best use of those 2,000 calories a day, because the more I learned, the more I realized that all calories are not created equal: 260 calories of Mountain Dew is not the same as 260 calories of a nutritious meal.
It might sound funny, but knowing the boundaries of what made a good caloric choice vs. what didn’t gave me the freedom to create and sustain my weight-loss journey.
When it came to eating, it’s hard to explain what I did as a specific plan. I would describe it as clean eating, with some paleo tendencies. I did some research into the foods my body craved versus the foods my emotions made me crave, and sought a balance between the two. Once I started to understand how nutrition worked (good calories and bad calories, micronutrients and macronutrients, etc.) I started looking at my diet in the same way I looked at paying off debt. The weight I had gained over all of those years was the debt I accrued against my total health. The act of eating nutritiously was like paying off the principal that I owed myself. This mindset allowed me to never feel like I was neglecting myself during the process. If I wanted to have some cheesecake, then by all means, I would have some cheesecake. But I would also have to ask myself: Is this cheesecake worth it?
I lost my first 100 pounds simply by walking, then wogging (a mixture of walking and jogging) and then, once my lungs and knees felt up to it, jogging. While I still love running today, the second 100 pounds I lost really focused on a regimen of circuit-based resistance training and running. I was a member of a band when I got closer to my goal weight, which kept me traveling, so the exercises I chose at the gym were easily doable using resistance bands and free weights. I felt if I set my exercise program up this way, then I would never have a reason to say that I couldn’t exercise. I’ve learned that to sustain wellness, you need to be resourceful, not militant.
When I started, I was desperate, because I felt like I had finally hit rock bottom. But along the way, I felt empowered. Still, there were periods of loneliness and self-doubt. What kept me motivated early on was the music of the band Everclear and the story of their singer Art Alexakis. It’s probably cliché to say, however, I truly feel like music has the ability to speak to the heart, when words sometimes fail. The majority of Everclear’s first few albums deal with Art’s struggle with, and ultimate victory over, his drug addiction. There was just something about his “Loser makes good” mentality that made me think: You know, if this guy was able to overcome his addiction to cocaine, then surely I should be able to overcome my addiction to cheeseburgers and apathy. And so, for a majority of my walking/wogging/running time, it was just me, my Walkman, and three different Everclear albums.
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there, because shortly after losing upwards of 140 pounds, I found myself going off to college, meeting my future wife, getting very comfortable and lazy, and as a result, gaining back every single pound and more.
The second time I embarked on this journey, I was leading music for a campus fellowship program at a small state school outside of Pittsburgh. I wasn’t taking the faith I was singing about very seriously — to the point where I actually got called out on it in the cafeteria. I was headed up for my third trip to the buffet, and the captain of the rugby team, who lived next door to me on campus, came over and said, “You know man, I think it’s cool what you’re doing and all, trying to spread some ‘good news,’ but honestly, bro, if your God can’t save you from your own eating habits, maybe you shouldn’t be talking to others about what they’re struggling with.”
He was right. I was living very hypocritically. I took about a week or so to figure out what was really important in my life, and I decided to live in a way that was emblematic of that. The result was not only successful for initial weight loss, but more importantly, keeping it off for over a decade. Since then, my life has changed in many ways. Physically, I feel great. I’m able to dress the way I want to and I’m able to keep up with my two kids (both under 5 years old).
Emotionally, I feel, is where the greatest victories were found. I always believed that if I could just lose the weight, that everything would fall into place. But that’s simply not true. I lost 140 pounds in two years, and two years later, I gained it all back. Simply losing the weight wasn’t enough. I had to find out who I was, and more importantly, who I really wanted to become. Once I knew the answer to that question, I could look at weight loss as a barrier between what I was and who I wanted to be. My weight was no longer my identity. Once I could appreciate that, it became real easy for me to keep the weight off the second time, because I was finally happy with who I was and the life I was creating.
I eat about the same as I did when I was losing weight. On the weekends, I exercise by playing with my kids. On weekdays, I run 4 to 6 miles per day. I find that 45 minutes of “me time” very cathartic, because not only am I doing something good for myself physically, I’m also finding one of those rare moments in the day where I’m able to disengage from my cell phone and have uninterrupted peace.
My family and faith keep me motivated, and so do the people who trust me enough to ask me for weight loss and wellness advice.
The first thing I would tell anyone wanting to lose weight is to not believe that being overweight is their biggest issue. When people focus on simply losing weight without asking the question, “Why am I even overweight to begin with?” they are going to gain back any weight they lose, because they’re never actually solving their main problem. It’s a very frustrating, convoluted and emotionally draining cycle that is completely avoidable.
The truth is, those of us who struggle with being overweight have something going on underneath the surface of our lives that’s keeping us overweight. For some of us, it’s poor time management. For others, it’s a lack of education or awareness of calories and overall nutrition guidelines. For a majority of us, there’s a deep-rooted shame we feel that’s linked to our current or past failures in the weight-loss process. And for some others, there are even deeper issues. If we never take the time to ask the hard questions about ourselves, then we’re never going to have the freedom of finding a solution.
We say we want to lose weight, but what we’re really saying is: We want to lose weight and find a way to make sure that it never comes back. That’s why the first step of any sustainable weight-loss initiative needs to start by asking the question: “Why am I overweight to begin with, and how can I start correcting those habits so a quality weight-loss initiative will actually work?” Don’t worry about the diet; don’t worry about the exercise; worry about addressing what it is in your life that has kept you from making the best choices in regards to your daily diet and exercise habits up to this point. Once you’re able to solve that, then you’ll be unstoppable.
All photos courtesy Jeremy Rochford.
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