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When the Weight Comes Back

June 11, 2012

Trigger warning: Extreme weight loss discussion.

Three years ago David Smith was all over the news, including The Today Show. He was called the 650-Pound Virgin on a TLC special about his weight loss. There were photos and videos of him displaying a spectacular amount of loose skin, left over from losing more than 400 pounds without surgery. His trainer started hawking some kind of food measurement devise for weight loss.

This week, David was back on The Today Show talking about regaining 300 of those pounds. He weighs 500 pounds now. He has a girlfriend, though, so maybe people will stop connecting his sexual status with his body size. The Today Show video claims David’s relationship with the trainer who helped him lose 400-plus pounds in two years is “frayed.” Chris Powell still uses David’s story and video to sell that food measurement system.

David is a great example of the plain fact that losing weight is not a cure-all. He had social issues, for instance, when he weighed over 600 pounds. He had trouble liking himself. Those things didn’t go away just because he could provide the world with a face and a body that more closely fit the beauty standard (except when he took off his shirt and showed off all that skin). He wasn’t ready to be a role model, and he ended up turning first to alcohol and drugs to ease his anxiety, and then to food.

He says in The Today Show that he feels, in his 500-pound body, about how he did in his 650-pound body: afraid that he is going to die. Maybe that’s just a perception. Maybe it’s the effect that losing so much weight so fast, and then putting so much back on just as fast, can have on the human body.

I’ve really been thinking about David for the last few days and trying to get my own head around how I feel about anybody who weighs 650 pounds, or loses 400 pounds and gains back 300. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

First and foremost, David Smith’s body isn’t my business. Sure, he kind of made it my business by agreeing to go on talk shows, etc. But in reality, his body is his own business and I don’t get to make moral judgements about it.

Second, I firmly believe that a 650-pound man or a 500-pound man gets to love himself and his body just exactly the way a 180-pound man does. He gets to not feel guilty about his body, not feel he owes the world an explanation for it. If he wants to move more or eat differently, then it should be because moving more and eating differently feel right to him and maybe make him feel physically better.

Third, it’s pretty clear to me that David Smith wasn’t a sad man who lost weight and wasn’t sad anymore, then gained it back and was sad again. I truly hope he figures out how to be happy, and that being happy can happen in his current body, whether or not it ever shrinks again.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. June 11, 2012 9:52 am

    I will disagree with you on one point, Shannon – while his body may not be your (or our) business, we all still get to make moral judgments about his choices in our own mind. We are permitted to think what we wish. What we don’t have the right to do is to foist those moral judgments off on him and insist that he live by our dictates. We have the responsibility to treat him as we would any other human being regardless of his size or choices. Humanity is humanity.

    • June 11, 2012 10:15 am

      Hey Helena,
      Just to clarify, Shaunta wrote this post, not me. But I personally agree that there’s a difference between passing judgement and foisting our judgements on others. For example, I think the fact that he’s already wanting to lose the weight again is unhealthy in terms of weight cycling and that, like Heavy D, if (God forbid) Mr. Smith should have a heart attack and die, it will be chalked up to his weight, while the severity of his weight cycling will go completely ignored.

      But I should add that while I think it’s foolish for Mr. Smith to keep trying to get to an arbitrary weight, I don’t blame him in the least for doing so. Our society encourages people like Mr. Smith to try, try again until it finally “sticks,” which it doesn’t for most people. The result is a lifetime of cycling that causes more damage and long-term weight gain. My only wish is that we could send a message to him about Health at Every Size and encourage him to pursue health for health’s sake. He’d be much better off.


      • Duckie Graham permalink
        June 11, 2012 12:57 pm

        It also makes me angry that even if a guy like this were to have had a heart attack at his lowest weight, it would still be blamed on his fat without second thought to the dangers of weight cycling or other such insanities. I, too, hope he finds happiness and has a long life (which of course will be erroneously accredited to that one time when he lost all that weight).

  2. vesta44 permalink
    June 11, 2012 10:14 am

    This, I think, is the biggest problem with weight loss diets – they tout that losing weight is going to solve all your problems. Don’t like your body? Lose weight and you’ll love your new body. Can’t get a date? Lose weight and people will want to date the “new you”. Going nowhere in your job? Lose weight and your job prospects will take off like a rocket. For every problem a fat person has, weight loss diet plans say that losing weight will solve that problem. The only problem I’ve ever seen a weight loss diet solve is the one of being able to find clothes that fit (and even that one is iffy, especially if you’re taller than average or shorter than average or your body doesn’t conform to the garment industry’s sizing standard in every way).
    If you don’t like yourself and your life as a fat person, nothing about yourself or your life essentially changes when you become a thin person. Sure, you have thin privilege, but really, how much good does that thin privilege do for you if you don’t like who you are, deep down inside yourself? And I haven’t seen a weight loss diet yet that is prepared to deal with any of the many issues that fat people can have, aside from weight loss. They say they’re about teaching fat people how to eat in a healthy way, but really, I think what they’re all about is getting people to lose a lot of weight as fast as possible so that when the rebound weight regain happens, those people will be back to pay to lose that weight again (and again and again and again, forever).
    I don’t know if this young man could have been successful in maintaining his weight loss if he had dealt with his issues while he was losing the weight, but I do think he would feel better about himself now that he’s regained most of what he lost if he had dealt with those issues. At the very least he would have been prepared for all of the feelings he went through and the possibility that he would regain some/most/all of the weight he lost.

  3. June 11, 2012 1:15 pm

    I so feel for this guy. I remember watching that show and thinking to myself how uncomfortable he looked (his facial expressions) when he became thin, and then thinking. here we go. I was the same way when I lost a lot of weight many years ago. Without my fat, I honestly felt like a deer in the headlights. When you’ve been a certain way for so many years, how can you be expected to suddenly take on a new persona and have everything suddenly be “okay”? I’m glad at least that he has found someone who seems to love him and hope for his sake that she will stick around through his trials and tribulations. It’s like Vesta said: people tell you, just lose the weight and all your problems will be solved. What a sad, sick joke. I hope he makes peace with himself, does his best to be healthy (at his size) and doesn’t undertake another drastic weight loss … because that will surely kill him.

  4. Mulberry permalink
    June 11, 2012 4:44 pm

    What losing weight taught me, even at the modest amount which came off, was to dislike people. I could not make any sense out of why people would be nicer to a slightly thinner me. Therefore, it seemed like some sick way of making fun of me. I mean really, would a sane person treat you better for going hungry and feeling awful? Would an honest person who didn’t like you before suddenly like you for such a stupid, trivial reason?
    And that was my reaction to a relatively small loss, about 16% of my starting weight, long since regained. I can’t imagine what a psychosocial disconnect it must be for someone who loses such a tremendous amount as David Smith did.

  5. June 11, 2012 8:07 pm

    I don’t think many people understand the huge psychological adjustment required for someone who loses a tremendous amount of weight. Think about it: here is a person who is 650 pounds, hates himself, has no friends or personal life, plans to kill himself … and he loses 400 pounds or whatever. You think he’s suddenly going to be the life of the party? That he’s going to be Mr. Makeout Man when no woman has ever given him the time of day before? He must have been absolutely terrified, did his best to fake happiness, and then just couldn’t hack it anymore. That’s why I sympathize with him so much and can really empathize, because I went through a lot of the same emotions, I’m sure. I was always a reserved person just personality-wise, but my weight accentuated that, and when I got thin (for about five minutes) I just didn’t know how to cope. I’m sure that at least some of the reason the weight always comes back. We just don’t know how to cope in these different bodies. Fellow fiercies, what do you think is more of a factor in weight regain: just the metabolic, physical aspect of it, or the emotional, unconscious drives to eat and old habits? Or do you think they’re equally a factor?

    • Happy Spider permalink
      June 13, 2012 1:32 pm

      Roundgirlrocks, I don’t like either of your two options. On the other hand, I’ve never lost a tremendous amount of weight so maybe the mentality of people who have done so is different from mine. The most I’ve ever done is that twice, about 10 years apart, I signed up for a big well known weight-loss program, each time staying on it nine months and losing about 80 pounds.
      What I experienced is that dieting is unnatural behavior so weight regain is just the result of what happens when you stop forcing yourself to act unnaturally. Sometimes the unnaturalness is obvious– people on a serious diet act sort of like brainwashed cultists, with their entire life focussed on dieting– but sometimes it is a little more subtle. I liked what someone said, I wish I remembered the exact words, about being on a diet means unending awareness. There is always, always, a part of your brain that knows you are on a diet and is nattering on about it: “I can’t eat yet because it’s not time to eat. I am looking forward to eating when it is time. I feel no urge to break my diet. I like what I am planning to eat today. This is a lifestyle. It’s good that I have this lifestyle. Need to exercise. Exercise gets all the bad toxins out of the body. Out bad toxins out. This is a good lifestyle. I feel no urge to break my diet. My healthy meal will taste good when it is time to eat.”
      I distinctly remember how surprised I was at the sudden feeling of quiet I felt when I stopped dieting. It was like I relaxed a muscle I didn’t even realize was clenched. I didn’t realize how pervasive the nattering was until it stopped.
      So I guess I’ll go for your option of “emotional drives to eat and old habits” but that makes it sound as if I had good habits while dieting and then reverted back to old habits. But dieting was not a good habit. It was an unnatural state. It beats me why the diet people claim that if you follow a behavior for a few months then it will become a natural habit and you won’t gave to think about it anymore. That’s just a flat-out lie as far as I can tell.

    • Mulberry permalink
      June 13, 2012 5:51 pm

      What a great topic for discussion!
      I definitely have to go with the metabolic aspect of it. There is a definite drive to regain lost weight. However, it would be hard to separate the two aspects, since those who are most successful at weight loss tend to be the ones whose weight gain was temporary or small. But wouldn’t they also have better coping abilities for being thinner since they would have spent more time in that state?
      Whether 80 pounds is a tremendous loss or not depends, I guess, where you started. If it is not a great loss, then you would probably get treated much the same at your new weight.
      Happy Spider, it’s not just about dieting becoming a habit. What puzzles me is that some people get addicted to this habit and find it hard to break. I never understood how going hungry can become an addiction for some people.

  6. tom s permalink
    January 22, 2013 5:02 am

    It makes you wonder why Chris Powell is no longer this guys friend, doesn’t it? How does a trainer for over 2yrs or more of a guys life then have a “falling out” with a client. No wonder the the guy gained the weight back. Chris was like his “only friend” and they did YouTube videos together in 2009 and 2010….then Chris gets his own girlfriend and gets married, then probably was pushed to the side by Chris who made time for his new wife and maybe the new wife didn’t want Chris to be friends with him anymore….it’s a sad situation all around. You have to have a support group like any addictive group such as AA, NA, etc… same with food addiction…. this guy lost his only support group in trainer Chris.

    • Patty permalink
      March 22, 2013 2:50 am

      Be careful not to judge anyone in this scenario. It’s easy to point fingers and unfortunately most people do without all the facts. I pray for this young man as he deals with the battle of the mind as we must all do. Life happens to us all. We need to love and encourage each other to work through life’s challenges and experience victory by overcoming them. Be blessed.


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