This week we introduce our new guest blogger, Eric Buwala, director of sales and marketing for Rapid Mailing Services and one of our newest Mercy Weight Management clients. Today and throughout the coming weeks, Eric will share his weight-loss journey with our readers. We hope his story will encourage and inspire people in our community and beyond to lose weight for better health and a more active lifestyle.
Have you ever slowed down to see an accident on the roadside as you pass? Have you ever been up late and watched a reality TV show that you wouldn’t admit to watching in the morning? Of course you have. We all have. Well, I have something really juicy for you. How would you like a front row seat to see a morbidly obese man struggle with losing weight?
I know what you are thinking…Eric, that doesn’t sound all that compelling. Fat people are just weak willed, right? They could just stop if they had will power. Fat people can’t possibly be like “regular” people, can they?
My “Hot Years”
First, let me tell you I was not always fat. Nobody ever believes this, so here is a picture of me from what my wife calls my “hot years.”
I was 19 and weighed 225 pounds. I know, control yourself. The “now” pic ruins it, but stay with me.
I got pretty hefty as a preteen, mainly because I was a nerd. No sports, limited friends, and tons of reading and computers does not usually equate to a stunning physique. As such, my mother, younger sister and I all went on a weight-loss program. I lost around 100 pounds over the course of a year. I got into bicycling, and after securing a job at a bike shop, began riding to work, competing in cross country and trials mountain biking, and generally spending most of my free time with a pair of pedals strapped to my feet. Hence, the “hot phase.”
Job and Life Changes
Well, college and three jobs eventually wore me down. I became a very young manager at a retail electronics company. As you can imagine, this does not allow for “hot phase” type of exercise and diet.
I put on a little weight. I got married, accepted more responsibilities at work, and put on a little more weight.
Now let me tell you, if you have ever worked in retail you already know that the general public contains some nice people. But for every nice person you encounter, there are three that will send you home questioning your life choices and considering renouncement of your faith. I got burned out.
When the opportunity came along for me to jump careers into another field of expertise, I didn’t hesitate. I began working for a water quality company as a PC tech and network administrator. It was nice work, paid well, and included great benefits. I got overtime and, best of all, mostly worked with computers instead of people.
Oh, I almost forgot…sitting at a desk all day…I put on a little weight.
After several wonderful years my son was born. Now in the meantime, my mother and father wanted me to join them in the family business. I told them no – continuously for three years. Because if you didn’t hate your family before…try running a business with them. NO thank you!
So, my son was born. He didn’t sleep for more than a couple hours a day for two weeks. I was a new father working 60 hours a week with a one-hour commute each way to work and a baby that didn’t sleep. Somewhere in the coffee-induced haze that was my life at the time, my parents offered again to hire me at the family business. They reminded me that I would have a five-minute commute instead of an hour. I would work 40 hours a week instead of 60. I took the bait. In the end, it was a great thing. Our business thrived for many years. I became successful in my industry and spoke regularly at industry events in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and many other great places around the country.
Best of all, I had lots of great hobbies! I had learned to scuba dive at 15 years old and got my certification at 16. Now as an adult, I got my advanced open water certification and wreck diving certification. I was able to buy (and learn to safely operate) a motorcycle. I got my private pilots license and was able to go flying several times a month!
Oh…and…I gained a little bit of weight.
I know, I know. I was active, right? But think about it. I spent most of my day working in front of a desk using a computer, phone, and fax to do my work. Motorcycling…no cardio there. Scuba diving…dude, I’m WEIGHTLESS under water! It’s like I was built for it. You ever see the difference between an 800-pound walrus on land vs. in the water? It’s crazy! Flying…unless I fly beyond breathable air altitudes, I don’t think there is an “anaerobic” phase to that.
I did cool stuff, but my weight was already yo-yoing between 285 and 325 pounds.
Obese to Morbidly Obese
Then the economy collapsed.
I lost around 50 percent of income almost overnight. I fought home foreclosure for two years. My wife and I had to file for bankruptcy. Bad times. My daughter was born somewhere in those good times I was earlier referring to, so now we were a single income household of four people and struggling.
I know many of you reading this (You are still reading right?) have had similar experiences. You can relate to the crushing pressure and stress that come with these situations.
Throw on the pile my marriage was on the rocks for six months or so. Subtract all major outlets of stress. No motorcycle. No scuba diving. No vacations. No flying. No money for a new hobby!
I was left with a couple of things to occupy me. Reading and video games were two big ones, which are acceptable and affordable means of entertainment. But the only thing left to cope with the stress was alcohol and food.
Here I was, a decent guy – friendly, outgoing and hardworking. I fought hard to be a better husband, better dad and better friend. I mean, come on, when my daughter wanted her ears pierced for her sixth birthday, I took her! She was scared of the piercing gun, so I got my ears pierced first while she sat on my lap and watched. Who does that? (The piercings are now gone, and all pictures of me wearing pretty princess studs have been destroyed.)
And yet, I was struggling with being the unflinching oak of a family.
Oh…and I gained some more weight.
I was doing everything I should do for everyone else in my life, but I felt I didn’t have the time or the means to do ANYTHING for myself. The only way I could reward myself was with alcohol and food. I would sit down at 11:30 p.m. at night and read for a couple hours. I would have a martini and maybe snack on a treat I got for myself (mmm…sour patch kids!). Then I would be feeling good, have a second drink and remember there was meatloaf in the fridge. Then I’d go back to get the accompanying mashed potatoes. If I made it to drink number three, I was considering the advisability of filling a hot dog bun with peanut butter and bacon. Then…er…well, you get the picture.
Rehab for Food Addiction
So after several serious and failed attempts in the last couple years, I came to hear about the OPTIFAST program through Mercy Medical Center.
At first I was immediately against it. It is a supplement program.
I was like, ‘I KNOW where to buy SlimFast. Thank you.’
Upon further desperation, I got some more information and met with the people there. I found out it is much more. The program is monitored. That means you see licensed healthcare professionals (doctors, nutritionists, dietitians, etc.) every week. There is counseling, education, group sessions, classes, and all kinds of other accompanying material. I started to think it might work for me.
I explained it to my family and friends and they were filled with trepidation at first as well. I related it (I think) pretty well. Look at it like this: If I was addicted to crack, it’s not crack that is the problem. It’s an underlying problem with the way I am coping with issues in my life. Likewise, if I got sent to rehab, they wouldn’t suggest a “diet” of just “less crack” every day. They would completely detox you, and spend the subsequent 60 to 90 days getting you physically well while using an intensive array of therapy, education, monitoring, classes, group session, and assorted tools to get you on the road to being healthy. At the end of rehab, you are sent back into the world healthier and with a new set of tools and ideas and habits about how to approach things.
Well, I’ve never done crack. But going to rehab for food sounds like exactly what I need. I would imagine that if you are reading this and you are five or 10 pounds overweight, you may have just stopped exercising or suddenly become painfully aware of buffalo-flavored potato chips. I believe in this case, yes, it just takes some control and willpower to correct that weight.
If on the other hand you are like me (see the pictures below) and weigh 437 pounds, it is more than willpower that is needed. Just like with drug addiction, it is possible to be so broken that there is no way out without help.
Are morbidly obese people just like everyone else? I asked the question earlier, and I would say my answer is no. I think I work hard to be an exceptional person, better than the bare minimum, to my family, my wife, and the people around me. I do this at the expense of myself, and now, I am hoping that the biggest difference between a morbidly obese person and a regular weight person can be seen by everyone.
Inside every one of us “fat people” is another living, caring, breathing, hoping, dreaming person who just like you struggles with their role as a father, mother, brother, sister, daughter, son, friend, coach, teacher, mentor, manager, co-worker. Inside every fat person is someone who needs serious, compassionate help to overcome a problem in their life that is insurmountable on their own.
I think the folks at Mercy, through this OPTIFAST program, are exactly the help I need.
Follow My Journey
If you’ve stuck with me this far, I would like to invite you to follow along every week. I promise they won’t be as long as this blog post. In fact, I promise to keep them heartfelt, entertaining, and maybe even a little fun. I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know who I am, and I am looking forward to hearing from you to find out who you are, too! So, add your comments below.
I start my testing and evaluation for the program next week, so I will see you then!