Chronicles of a fat guy seeking to be skinny again

This might come as a surprise to many of you. I’m fat. Not hefty. Not chunky. Not big-boned. Not portly. Not plump.

F-A-T. Fat.

Recently, I took a major step to reverse that trend. My bosses and I thought chronicling the journey and telling the stories of others who are doing their best to battle the bulge would be of interest to our readers.

At my heaviest, I weighed 421 pounds. I’m shooting for 280 by next year and already am 39 percent of the way there just three months into this life-changing experience.

I am by no means a poster child for getting into shape. Far from it.

And that’s the point.


According to the Centers for Disease Control, one third of U.S. adults are classified as obese. About 17 percent — 12.5 million — of children ages 2 to 19 are classified as obese.

During the past 20 years, there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the country. In 2010, no state had a prevalence of obesity less than 20 percent, according to CDC figures. Texas is among 12 states where the prevalence of obesity is more than 30 percent.


I wasn’t always fat. In my younger days as a high school and college cheerleader, I was in pretty good shape.

In our younger days, most of us were probably in good shape.

Too many days spent by a beer keg, late night runs to Whataburger and generally eating too much — and unhealthy — food changed me from sleek to obese.

Mind you, I note those all are choices. No one force fed me unhealthy food. I don’t blame the fast-food industry or TV advertisements.

This is all on me.


As I gained weight through the years, it didn’t really bother me.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I didn’t like the fact that when I was out with friends, the women often would look me up and down in disgust.

And the first time I could not fit in a roller coaster was a bit embarrassing.

Still, I continued to go snow skiing and golfing and enjoying other physical activities without much hassle.

Then I turned 40.

It was if my body’s warranty had expired. I started having problems with back pain and knee soreness. I had trouble breathing and often felt lethargic.

After years of avoiding doctors, except for major illnesses, I started making regular visits. I spent more on deductibles and co-pays in one year than I had in the previous 39.

I knew that almost all my problems could be traced to my weight. That’s when I started looking into weight-loss methods, including surgical procedures.


I am not a patient person. I also don’t like doing things that I don’t like to do. I enjoy a good steak, cold beer, fine cigars and life.

If I was going to lose weight, I convinced myself it would have to be on my own terms. I wanted to have my cake and eat it, too. That, of course, is not a realistic plan to lose weight.

Oh, I tried, though.

Atkins, South Beach, Zone, Weight Watchers, Nutri System and even starvation. All had some minor success. Five pounds gone here, another 10 there. Then one quick run to Whataburger, and I was back to old routines.

What I know about myself is this — my will power sucks. If I was going to do this, I needed something drastic that would lessen the chances of me cheating on diets.


I had followed the trends of weight loss surgery and studied up.

My good friend Kevin Yackly, owner of Grand Prize Barbecue, was one of the first people I knew who went under the knife for gastric bypass.

Kevin lost a lot of weight. But he also told me how he almost died on the operating table.

It freaked me out.

Still, I knew that given my lack of will power, that surgery was the most viable option.

It would be the kick-start I needed to get myself in shape.


I continued to research different procedures. I also read my company’s health insurance policy, which does not cover surgical weight loss procedures.

Former Daily News Publisher Dolph Tillotson went to bat for me with our insurance company about getting any procedure covered. My grandfather Jim Kelly, a longtime insurance agent here, did what he could as well.

No go.

So, it was obvious from the start, this would be an all cash deal.

For me, the investment — by the way, thanks a bunch to my father, Jerry, for the daddy loan — was something that had to be made. Still, I wasn’t prepared for every cost associated with getting the work done.

When all was said and done, about $22,000 had been spent.


I saw the ads on TV, weight loss doctors saying: Don’t worry, come in. They could work it out with insurance companies. Others bragged of their success and caring approach.

Many people have had success with these surgeons, but I thought I was dealing with snake oil salesmen.

I had a lot of questions and major concerns. I would ask questions, but the answers I got sounded like a sales pitch — not a focus on my health.


When the money was in hand, I felt the time to move ahead was the summer of 2011. A heart scare also did its part in convincing me to stop talking and get to doing.

I already was jaded by the Houston doctors. I wasn’t about to go down that path again.

Then I came across an ad in our paper. Yes, I read our ads, too.

The University of Texas Medical Branch’s Center for Obesity and Metabolic Surgery was offering a summer special on the lap band procedure for $9,999.

I liked the idea of the lower price and shopping locally with an advertiser who contributes to my paycheck each week.

Again, the eventual price was much higher, so anyone considering this approach should be prepared to pay more than the sticker price.


I attended one of the center’s seminars at the Victory Lakes campus in League City and met surgeon Dr. Obos Ekhaese, nurse Kelli Gondesen and dietitian Sukwan Jolley. This was, by no means, a snake oil salesman pitch.

Dr. Ekhaese was frank but encouraging and a bit funny. He pointed out the pros and cons and did not brush aside the cons of any of the surgical procedures offered at the medical branch.

Gondesen, I should note, is not just an employee of the center. She also was a patient. Her practical advice and firsthand knowledge played a major part in easing any anxiety I had.

Soon after Dr. Ekhaese and I met face to face, I was convinced I should try lap band.

He thought it would be a poor choice for me.

That was a shocker. I had cash in hand, ready to go, and he didn’t want to take my money.

He knew I was opposed to gastric bypass, despite the success many friends have had with the procedure. I didn’t like all of its rules and side effects. I didn’t like that it was a more invasive procedure.

Instead, we looked closer at the gastric sleeve procedure. In short, it calls for removing 80 percent of your stomach.


I went under the knife Jan. 9. As of last week, I had lost 35 pounds since the surgery and more than 55 since joining the program in November.

There have been some high points — having to buy clothes in smaller sizes already.

There have been some real low points — pain after surgery and the purée diet portion of recovery.

I am thus far pleased with the results, which are far from being final.


So, a journey is under way.

Part of that journey is to share with readers my own experiences and those of others who have tried different ways to lose weight.

To help tell those stories, each Thursday, I will post in my T.J. Aulds blog at a diary of the experience. It also will offer readers a chance to tell their own stories, offer advice and tips or to seek information.

The first blog entry is posted today and tells the story of people whose weight loss efforts I find inspiring.

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