For most of my life I couldn’t trust the information I was hearing and I had no sense of direction. In 2014 I was 25 years old, 355lbs (161 kilos) and unsure about what to do about my health or how to better myself.
I felt like everyone, in every direction, was trying to sell me weight loss reality shows, workout videos, processed diet products, smoothie mixes and expensive pills. It turns out they were but it took me a long time to trust my own feelings.
Background Of A Wallflower
Born in Southern California, my conservative parents raised me and my sister in a religious organization that enforced bizarre rules and we shared our home with a few other families. During our stay there, however short it was, me and my sister had been sexually abused.
We had left the multi-family home when I was an infant (my parents had disagreed with the church’s anti-Disney stance) but the flashbacks and aggression started when I was 6. Even into my adult life, I still have trouble with people touching me and I’ve never been in an intimate relationship.
My sister, four years older than I am, remembers more than I do and shared her experiences publicly after she became sober with the support of members of her church. I didn’t usually talk about my past with friends (out of fear of judgement) and I didn’t have a church to go to – but the longer I held it in, the more difficult it got for me.
Sleep Is For The Dead
Throughout my teenage years and adult life the unhelpful remarks from family members, strangers and even doctors made me feel worthless. It was like I always had a target on my back and everyone wanted to remind me about how fat I was. “Don’t fall over, you might crush the baby,” says grandma. “You should lose weight while you’re still young,” said the doctor after visiting him for an ear infection. Thanks, Doc. That’s really enlightening for a 12 year old. Let me just scoop the fat out after I get home.
My anxiety and depression were getting worse and I struggled tremendously with insomnia. My perspective was getting cynical and I was increasingly harder on myself. Convinced that people were going to make derogatory comments about my weight I would avoid leaving the house and relied heavily on the social interactions I had at fast food establishments and through online games.
The psychological toll heavily outweighed the physical one. I had lumps on my neck, I always felt tired, my nerves were a wreck and it felt like I was being pushed into some sort of hole. I was about ready to call it quits.
Killing Off The Main Character
It was in 2014 that it had all gotten to be too much and decided to commit suicide. That’s what I told myself at least. It was the first time, in maybe my whole life, that I chose to dedicate myself to making change happen. The person I had been before was now gone so I had to learn new ways to live.
I started messing with the things I ate. I started changing the material I consumed. I started watching documentaries instead of binge watching episode after episode of the latest pop culture buzz.
One important dialogue I had was with an online friend from Germany who questioned why Americans drank so much juice since it’s full of sugar; coming from a culture that normalized juice for breakfast I had no idea that other people could be critical of something as simple as orange juice.
I began asking a lot of questions, and as hard as I am on establishment and mass media, it was Katie Couric and her role in the 2014 documentary ‘Fed Up’ that really set off the alarms for me regarding politics, food and society. After I learned about the effects of sugar, how the sugar lobby plagued our government and healthcare system, and how junk food is the cheapest and most accessible to poor communities – I began piecing together the puzzle on who I was as a consumer and what I was really putting into my body.
How The Hell Was I Going To Lose 175lbs?
Surgery? Nutrition Experts? Nope. Too tired to exercise, I slowly began making minimal changes to my diet because I wanted it to be sustainable and permanent. I was eating more fresh food, no more frozen meals, no more juice, no more fast food or processed snacks. I cut things out one temptation at a time and it was really difficult. I learned to cook for myself as the months went by and grew more and more patient in the kitchen.
I swapped corn syrup sodas for diet sodas, though later realized that artificial sweeteners have the same damaging effect on our bodies as processed sugar, and now I mainly drink organic herbal tea which I buy loose by the pound. During this time I learned about pure and organic sweeteners like Stevia, I learned about dates, how raw honey has medicinal properties, how organic maple syrup has vitamins and minerals – I do have a sweet tooth after all.
Featured in the photos is an example of some of my groceries from a trip, veggie burgers (made with Black Beans, Barley and Quinoa), a cacao smoothie, and an organic apple with nut butter and cacao nibs.
After trying the gimmicks, such as eating a bit of 88% dark chocolate (helps end a growling stomach), ate lots of organic grapefruit (I enjoy grapefruit but I later found out it was linked to burning fat), I had more control over my own body and appetite. During my nephew’s birthday party I had brought a grapefruit, tea and nuts with me while everyone else enjoyed their pizza, cake and soda. It was this sort of forward thinking and preparedness that allowed me to not give myself excuses and stay focused on my goals.
They say that our overall health is 80% diet and 20% fitness and my personal experience backs that up.
Take My Money, Organic Food
I understood at this point that I had to learn to love food which meant how that food was grown which also meant learning about organic agriculture.
One thing led to another and after about a year of diet changes I decided to be vegetarian because I couldn’t afford to purchase organic free range chicken and had no interest in supporting factory farming due to their inhumane practices and the damage they cause to our environment.
Eventually (on a stable diet of organic fruits, tea, seeds, oats, curries, salads and frozen banana smoothies), I was able to incorporate more real and fresh foods into my everyday life. At this same time I was challenging the GMO industry by avoiding, as much as I could, anything that was genetically modified and investing my money into organic goods. I’d rather make sure my garden and the produce I buy is grown from natural and sustainable fertilizers instead of synthetic chemicals or pesticides and I also disagree with the idea of allowing companies to control seed patents; eating organic is a way to protest corporate control of the seedling and food industry.
I had to dramatically change where I shopped and how often I shopped to get affordable, fresh, organic produce; after a bit of traveling across the country I have seen how expensive and difficult (at times impossible) it can be to do this. Food costs got to be very drastic so I started buying items in bulk online which, on many occasions, ended up being cheaper per ounce than the genetically modified standard items they sell at most grocery stores.
Changing my diet alone didn’t give me the energy I was expecting so I began walking and jogging on a daily basis. Having a dog was an incredible help for me here especially since I would find any reason not to leave the house but I couldn’t say no to a dog barking in my face yelling at me to walk him. For the first time in my life, and 175lbs lighter, I found myself able to run for blocks around my neighborhood.
Escaping One Hell Only To Enter Into A New One
My anxiety and mental health didn’t seem to immediately improve even after I lost weight. I still ended up with a droopy body and in my new state of consciousness I was now reading all the latest headlines.
Learning about the ways our planet is changing, the endless war violence, how we are extracting too many resources and consuming too much, not to mention those instances of shock in society such as police killing unarmed civilians and the never ending school shootings here in the states – all of these things were hard to absorb and I continued to grow more and more uncomfortable.
And so I tended to be incredibly hard on myself and others around me. I failed to understand why anyone would want things to continue as they were. I also didn’t necessarily understand what was making me nervous or how to find happiness.
“You Are Not The Victim Here”
Legal trouble found me while taking a road trip to a healing event near Lake Oahe at Standing Rock in 2017; I had gone to meet with activists and to learn more about how I could help while also providing some funding to help the event kick off successfully. I was arrested and charged with a felony after a cop pulled me over for speeding in South Dakota since I had politely told him about my cannabis oil (maybe I was tired, nervous or thought I could use white privilege – I don’t really know) and the bail ended up costing me my entire savings of $1,500. They had me returning there every month through out the next year for court and the travel expenses emptied my pockets.
On one of the many evenings I spent in the Dakotas, and with a tremendous amount of back pain in that moment, I complained and leaned on an indigenous friend and she said to me, “Aye. You are not the victim here, alright?”
Hearing that phrase “you are not the victim” while being in physical pain really stuck with me. She was right on so many levels, especially for a white guy standing in a place like North Dakota. There was pain all around me and I needed to remember that I wasn’t there for myself or to be a burden to others.
I often wondered if it was ever worth taking that road trip. As difficult as it was, it did teach me a lot. I had ultimately confronted my country’s traumatic legacy and saw firsthand the effect that generational trauma and colonialism has on our indigenous communities. I also confronted my own mental health, flaws and past trauma during my stay in and around the reservation.
People saw me for who I was and they saw the mistakes I made. Ultimately, I found that a great deal of people liked me for what I was passionate about rather than how emotionally unstable, shy, depressed or anxious I was. I learned who my friends and family really were but the most important thing for me to have realized is that I, along with everyone else, was worth salvaging.
Embracing The Anxiety, The Inner Crazy And The Future
Being honest about my own insecurities and instabilities led to others opening up and sharing their own similar experiences with me as well. Outside interaction is critical when dealing with depression and mental health issues.
After a while, you realize that many individuals collectively share identical troubles (shaken nerves, panic, thoughts of suicide, hysteria, abusive histories), a lot of men have low self-esteem, a lot of women are being asked to do too much – many are almost at some kind of breaking point. You also realize that maybe it’s good that not everyone can relate to you or the way you feel at all times.
As far as my reoccurring depression and mental health go, I continue to avoid pills and anti-depressants and instead drink herbal tea. More specifically, I drink St. John’s Wort and Skullcap/Scullcap tea which provides a tonic that eases my nerves and gets that aggressive twitch off my shoulders (and I should note that here in California we have access to legal cannabis so I can consume and grow my own plants as well).
Beyond the herbs, I’ve also worked on training my mind to challenge the negativity and self-criticisms by replacing the toxic thoughts with alternative perspectives. After all, if we want to create a better world then we have to be able to envision it and maintain our imagination. The future is what we carve it out to be and the little actions we take -whether it’s eating healthy foods, sustainably growing food or reaching out to assist a friend in need – they can make a big difference.
I’ll still get into petty arguments, rock boats, try to help others, make people uncomfortable and need to listen more but I can do it all while loving who I am now instead of worrying that I’ll be rejected by a world that was never sane to begin with.