My (nearly) 500lb life was almost death of me


There are very few TV shows I watch faithfully.  (And yes, that includes HBO's Game of Thrones.)

Mostly, I'm a channel-surfer. When I come across a program that interests me, I'll stop surfing, put down the remote, and watch.  One program that always grabs my attention is TLC's My Six-Hundred Pound Life. 

There's also a version called The 600-Pound Family, in which several members of an entire family are morbidly obese.  The shows spotlight a person's effort to lose weight, with the goal being to lose enough weight on their own, before qualifying for weight-reduction surgery.

I'm not watching out of some voyeuristic curiosity. My interest goes deeper than that, on a much more personal level.

People in Hattiesburg who've known me all my life,also know my present physical appearance is not the one I "grew up" with. In my case, growing up is better described as "growing out." I was an overweight kid who morphed into an even more overweight teen, and eventually, a morbidly obese young man. 

I remember being weighed in gym class at Hawkins Junior High School. I was barely 11 years old when our gym teacher, Coach Jerry Smith, had me stand on the scale. I weighed 155 pounds. Yikes! 

For some reason, that number still stands out in my head. Even though I was younger than most of my classmates, I weighed more than even the older 8th and 9th grade boys. 

I was the heaviest kid in gym class, and as you might expect, I'd get picked last for team sports and also picked on because of my weight. 

Thankfully, Coach Smith, fair man that he was, would have no part of it. He didn't tolerate the other boys making fun of me, so teasing was kept to a minimum. 

I don't know how I pulled it off, but all the way through 12th grade, I managed to avoid taking another P.E. class in school, ever. (Whew.) Good thing, too. 

Because as I got older, I only got bigger. I also avoided weighing myself whenever possible.

My mother worried so much about me and my ever-increasing weight. She'd send me to one doctor after another in an effort to get me help. 

Doctor after doctor, pill after pill, even a Weight Watchers visit or two was not the answer. My love affair with food, and that's what it was, consumed me. 

Eating was my one true passion in life and I wasn't about to give it up.

After graduation from The University of Southern Mississippi, I must have easily topped 300 pounds. I can't be sure, simply because I still refused to weigh myself.  'd earned a degree in Radio-TV-Film with a minor in Journalism. 

Hitting the pavement, looking for a career, I had no luck in finding a job in my chosen field. My weight surely had a lot to do with it, my appearance keeping me from making a good first impression. 

In the late 1970s, Hattiesburg had a number of 7-Eleven convenience stores and I ended up landing a job with them, working as a store manager.

Oh, great. Surrounded by candy bars, snack chips and all the Slurpees I could drink (free of charge to employees) was all I needed. Not surprisingly, I continued to pack on the pounds.

All that time, I'd been able to avoid getting on a scale. That changed when I finally had to visit the doctor and oh, what a shocker it turned out to be. 

I drove to Hattiesburg Clinic to see Dr. Owen for the first time in years, and of course, my long overdue physical began with a weigh-in. (Gulp.) 

The clinic's main scale had a weight limit of 300 pounds. Fine for most people, but good luck with that one for me. 

Not surprisingly, the scale couldn't measure my weight and I was so embarrassed. But it was about to get worse. The nurse had a solution. 

She and I took the elevator up to the fifth floor; that was before Hattiesburg Clinic's 6-floor addition.

The fifth floor was, I discovered, where all the mothers-to-be were examined. So there I was, this giant of a man, the object of puzzled stares from a waiting room filled with expectant mothers.

Finally, away from their curious eyes, I came face-to-face with the second scale. Its limit was 500 pounds. 

Starting where she'd left off, the nurse pushed the scales's bar to 300, me thinking I'd end up checking in at 300-and-something pounds. 

I wished. Push the bar up to 350, that wouldn't do it either. Inch the bar again, up to the 400-pound limit. Nope, again. 

By now, I was in a state of disbelief, but my ordeal wasn't over. 

After the nurse pushed the scale's balance bar to 450, finally, the verdict was in. At just 22 years old, my weight was now 484 pounds...and-a-half!

The nurse and I took the elevator back to the first floor, where I received the expected lecture from Dr. Owen on what I weighed was doing to my health.   drove home in a fog as my life's reality check set in. Still living with my parents, I dared not share the news with my mother. 

Fact is, she'd given up encouraging me to do something about my weight. I guess she'd resolved herself to the fact that I was content with what I weighed. But I wasn't - not at all. 

And especially now. I remember sitting in my bedroom all by myself, as tears began rolling down my face, not believing I'd allowed my weight to get so out of control. It was the holiday season and Christmas was only a couple of weeks away. 

Just shy of 500 pounds, I sat on my bed and got angry. Not with anyone in particular, only angry with myself, for having allowed my weight and life to reach this point.

That night, something in my mind just clicked.Not starting after the Christmas holidays, on New Years' Day or "next Monday" (my favorite day for beginning a new diet) but starting right now...tonight! I was going to finally lose the weight and take my life back from food.

How was I going to do it? Well, the details are simple. To lose the weight, I had to eat less and exercise more. 

Basic arithmetic: burn more calories than I consumed. Plain and simple enough, but there was a third element. I had to have a positive I CAN DO THIS attitude. I had to really want it and...I did.

I started immediately cutting the calories. A small, healthy meal on Christmas Day, and I passed on dessert. (That's right, not even a bite of my mother's famous German chocolate cake.) I carried my new eating habits with me into the new year, adding an exercise program to my routine. 

That wasn't easy at first. 

I started out with a daily walking program. 

At my beginning weight, running was out of the question. My determination was paying off, though. As the pounds began to come off, every pound I lost fed my "I can do this" attitude, inspiring me to keep fighting. I was losing weight, getting stronger, had more energy and was eventually able to run, instead of just walking.

After five weeks, I went back to the doctor's office to see how I was doing. Dr. Owen was as astounded as I was with my early weight loss. In those first five weeks, I'd dropped 110 pounds! 

Thing is, when you start out extremely obese, as I was, changing your eating habits, along with the exercise, often leads to a huge and immediate weight loss. 

Your body is mostly shedding water weight. But hey, I didn't care what it was; I was just excited to see the results of my hard work. 

Besides that, I was actually having fun!

My rate of weight loss slowed after the first few months, but that was okay; I was on a mission now. As the numbers on the scale continued going down, my spirits were going up, way up. 

In about 1 1/2 years, I'd loss more than 300 pounds. I was like the incredible shrinking man, going from 484 down to 180 pounds.

Keep in mind, I was losing weight while still working at 7-Eleven. My transformation, inside and out, was amazing, and here's one of my favorite stories from the experience. 

At 7-Eleven, I saw a lot of the same customers regularly. 

One day, a man came into the store who hadn't visited in a while. Paying for his purchase, he looked at me and asked, "Hey, what ever happened to the big black fella who used to work here?" What fun to tell him, "Sir, you're looking at him!" 

People I've shared my weight loss story with find it hard to believe. But I have to always add the part of my story I'm happiest about. It's not just about how much weight I've lost. The real success is, after losing the weight, I've kept it off.

I never got to experience my own version of a "Six-Hundred Pound Life." Believe me, my almost "500 Pound Life" was close enough. 

But now you see why these TV shows demand my attention. 

Even though my weight loss journey was completed more than 30 years ago, I still very much relate to the people I see on these shows.

The obese Elijah Jones still lives inside me, even after all these years. But that's okay - he helps keep me on my toes.

I must admit, a part of me gets angry when I'm watching the people on these programs. Just like I got angry with myself all those years ago sitting alone in my bedroom, weighing nearly 500 pounds. 

Still, I have to temper that anger with compassion. I've lived the life they're living now. I know the struggle; I "know" these people. 

To this day, whenever I see a morbidly obese person, I can relate to them. I know an addiction to food is a disease every bit as powerful, and dangerous, as addiction to any drug. 

What's the secret to successful weight loss? It's really no secret at all. How much you really want to lose the weight? If you want it, you can have it. 

God has given us all the power to lose the weight. He has just left it up to us to use that power.

Begin by taking control of your eating habits. Make exercise your body's new best friend. (And it is, too.) 

Work on keeping that attitude of yours strong and positive. Learn to love yourself more than you love the food.

Don't turn your weight loss fight into a chore or something to dread. Make if fun, like I did. A whole new life is waiting for you.

Yes, you do have to work for it. You have to earn it. But that's true of anything else in life worth having. Make your new, healthier lifestyle a good habit. 

You'll soon discover that good habits are as hard to break as the bad ones.

Elijah Jones is a writer and a proud graduate of the Hattiesburg Public School System and the Univrersity of Southern Mississippi. Email him at: