One man’s journey to move beyond poor health habits — and overcome an undiagnosed eating disorder.
When our first child was born in 2007, I had an awakening. Carrying 285 pounds on my 5-foot-11-inch frame, I was completely out of shape. I had become a self-indulgent person, and it was time to start living for my family.
This new sense of responsibility inspired me for a while, but after four years of yo-yo dieting and sporadic workouts, I realized the gravity of the challenge I faced. It wasn’t until my wife snapped a photo of me standing next to my daughter at a water park that I came face to face with who I’d become. I thought, Is that really me?
I knew it was time to get serious about improving my health. I started by simply taking a walk outside every day, and I dropped some pounds right away.
I graduated to running and signed up for some races — not for money or medals, but for motivation. That kept me going for a while, but then I abruptly stopped losing weight. By the fall of 2014, I was running out of hope.
I knew my eating habits weren’t ideal; late-night snacking, in particular, was my Achilles’ heel. But I didn’t realize that my diet was seriously impeding my attempts to lead a healthier life.
I wasn’t an adventurous eater. I loved meat, pizza, Chinese takeout on Friday nights — pretty standard American fare. It didn’t help that my sales job meant I spent a lot of time in my car (and often ate there, too).
I had tried plenty of quick-fix diets, but they had been tough to maintain. Anytime I slipped up, out came “old Eric.” I would eat a healthy breakfast and lunch, but at night I would raid the fridge. No matter how much I ate, I never felt satisfied.
Some days I would run 10 miles, which I used as justification to eat more. I’d get home and step on the scale to learn that I’d gained a pound. It was incredibly frustrating. In my darkest hours, I started to think, Well, maybe this is just my body, forever.
Then I learned about “Always Hungry?” the weight-loss and healthy-lifestyle program (now a best-selling book) created by Harvard researcher David Ludwig, MD, PhD. I was more than ready for a change, so I went all in.
The “Always Hungry?” program started with a prep period. I removed all the taboo foods — mostly certain types of unhealthy fats and sugars — from the kitchen. My wife and daughter watched from the dining room as I trashed package after package. It was drastic, but it was the eye-opener I sorely needed.
I outfitted our kitchen with fresh produce, lean proteins, and healthy fat sources; I bought some new cookware and a host of new spices. I stocked up on all the things I needed to live a more wholesome lifestyle.
I learned that sleeping well is critical for healthy weight loss, so we decluttered our bedroom and installed softer, more calming lighting.
With a tight budget and busy schedule, I had to plan carefully to stick to the program. Over the weekend I prepped all my meals for the week ahead, which helped curb temptation. I also learned to feel comfortable bringing my own meal to a party. It’s my body: I choose how to treat it.
During Phase I, I discovered that food has the power to energize me or drag me down. Surprisingly, I didn’t miss the junk I used to eat. My palate began to evolve as I experimented with recipes from the program: I enjoyed chicken curry, marinara primavera, and other dishes I had never tried before. I started to cook and eat in a whole new way.
The first phase was easier and more gratifying than I expected, and I dropped weight rapidly. I sailed through Phase II, which added some starchy vegetables and whole grains to my diet, as well as some natural sweeteners, like honey and agave. I was no longer hungry all the time.
But when I added a little processed sugar back into my diet during Phase III, it all fell apart.
It took me months to realize that sugar is at the root of my eating issues: It obliterates my self-control. During that stretch, I returned to my old ways, eating whole bowls of ice cream and devouring nearly everything in the kitchen. I finally admitted I needed to cut sugar out of my life. This time for good.
In December 2015 I did a reboot of the “Always Hungry?” program, hoping to get back to where I’d been — physically and mentally — before I’d reintroduced sugar. The program had helped me take a good look at what I eat, when I eat, and how much I eat. Without sugar in my diet, I lost weight and felt good. When I didn’t have it, I didn’t miss it.
Around that time I came across an article about the symptoms of binge-eating disorder, most of which, sadly, were familiar. I thought, This is me! This is what I do!
While my weight-loss results made me a firm believer in Ludwig’s approach, this new knowledge changed my life. I met with my general practitioner, who confirmed I had the eating disorder and prescribed medication to help me manage it. It was such a relief to know this — for years I’d wondered why I struggled to stop eating. I finally understood my food issues were not just about willpower: It’s a medical condition and there is a name for it.
In the past 10 months, I have completely changed my lifestyle by sticking with the “Always Hungry?” program; the eating-disorder medication is helping me stay on track. I’m down to 227 pounds and I feel better than I’ve felt in years. At my latest follow-up visit with my doctor, he told me I’m at the lightest weight I’ve been since I started seeing him a decade ago.
I still have some work to do to reach my goal weight of 200 pounds. But I’m playing hockey, I’m more active in my church, and I’m keeping up with my 3-year-old son, who is a ball of energy. My 9-year-old daughter and I revel in our after-dinner walks, and at the dinner table she is trying out vegetables she historically refused to eat. All my lifestyle changes have led to a life full of small moments that I would have otherwise missed.
I keep the unflattering photo of my daughter and me in the kitchen to remind myself how far I’ve come and to keep myself honest. We take a new photo every year on vacation, and the original comes with me. I know this year’s will be the best yet.