Editor’s Note: John Hudson is a Clinical Staff Pharmacist in Charleston, WV. His life was forever changed after losing 160 pounds and embracing a life of health and fitness. He graciously shared his story to inspire others who are struggling.
I felt like I was in a black hole, unable to climb out. Weighing 410 pounds at my heaviest, I was morbidly obese. And I was broken.
I guess I’ve never known what it’s like to be thin. I had been obese or morbidly obese my whole life, or at least since I was 5 years old. That’s when I noticed a change in my weight when looking at old family photographs. Mom always had to buy me those darned “husky-sized" jeans when I was in elementary school, and I wasn’t a huge fan of them.
I didn’t get teased much for being fat when I was young because, unfortunately, a lot of us in West Virginia were overweight.
My parents didn’t know how to provide a nutritionally balanced diet to my siblings and me, and that’s not completely their fault. They cooked what their parents cooked and what was financially available to them. The cheapest foods are usually carbs, and lots of excess carbs equals obesity.
I really didn't know how bad things were when I was young until I came across those old photographs - and my public school transcripts from 6th grade. Recorded there were my height and weight at the time - I was 5'9" and 240 pounds!
As I grew older, and had to both figuratively and literally “fit” in with society, I was an emotional wreck. Severe depression led to emotional overeating, which led to even more depression, and more overeating. It was a vicious cycle.
That trend of obesity continued throughout my life. I would do a fad diet here and there and lose some weight, but I always gained it back, and then some.
I also struggled to find stylish clothing that would fit. Not only was I big, I was also tall at 6’ 4”. It’s easier to find clothes if you’re big OR tall, but much more difficult if you’re BOTH! Especially clothing that is affordable.
From my teenage years onward, I was self-conscious about my appearance because I felt like I couldn’t dress like the cool kids, even into my early 30’s. I resented not being able to walk into a department store and buy clothes off the rack. And there weren’t many outfits in my closet to choose from because decent big and tall clothing is so much more expensive than regular clothes.
I constantly worried about “fitting” into things and breaking chairs when I sat.
One of my most embarrassing moments occurred after a girl invited me to her house for dinner with a few of our mutual friends. She served dinner on the patio. I looked at the chairs and, oh my, did they look flimsy! My friend could tell I was concerned and she asked what was wrong. After telling her I didn’t believe her chair would hold me, she politely responded “Oh, don’t be silly, you’re gonna be fine; you’re not that big!”
I nervously went to the chair to sit down with my large plate of spaghetti and RED sauce. I tried to ease into the chair, but it was a lost cause. As soon as my butt hit the seat, BOOM! The chair collapsed and the spaghetti with red sauce flew all over me. Totally embarrassing!
The fear of not fitting into things also crept up with airline seats and restaurant booths. I always had to request a seat belt extender when I flew. And in restaurants, I often had to ask to be reseated because I couldn’t fit into a booth.
Physically, I was also a wreck. My knees were a mess. My lower back ached all the time. I had sciatic nerve pain that would cause my legs and feet to go numb after being on them for 10-15 minutes.
I love to travel, and any time I went on vacation and participated in a tour, I had to take frequent rest breaks to sit and allow my back, legs, and feet recover before I could continue on.
I felt terrible! And I always thought, “if I feel this bad physically, there’s no way I can exercise to lose weight.” I felt like I was in a black hole, unable to climb out.
In 2009 while in pharmacy school, I weighed roughly 380 pounds. Based on the medical information I was learning, I knew I had to get my weight under control.
I reduced my food intake, increased my exercise level, and lost down to 300 pounds in about a year.
But when I started my year of clinical rotations in 2010, I got out of the routine I had developed and gained back up to 360 pounds.
One thing I had never focused on in any weight loss attempt was the psychology of WHY I was morbidly obese and WHY I had the food issues I have. I knew the pathophysiology and nutrition aspects of weight loss, but the psychology aspect (which is probably the hardest to conquer), I neglected.
In the fall of 2011, after beginning work as a Clinical Staff Doctor of Pharmacy at CAMC in Charleston, W.V., and obtaining precious health insurance, I had my health condition evaluated.
My Hemoglobin A1c, which evaluates the presence of diabetes, was more than double the normal level. My triglycerides were nearing 300, my liver enzymes indicated the start of fatty liver disease, and my blood pressure was critically high. I was a walking time bomb on multiple prescription medications and on the verge of having to take insulin.
That was the breaking point for me.
In January 2012, I made my most successful commitment to improve my health. I began by doing what I always did anytime I tried to lose weight; I joined a gym and started a diet plan.
Exercise was the hardest part because of the chronic pain. But I pushed through it and as the weight started to come off, the pain slowly subsided.
I also decided to hire a personal trainer. I know they can be expensive, but a personal trainer is incredibly helpful when you are starting an exercise program. The key is to learn from them so you can eventually design your own workout plans. I understand many people can’t afford a trainer, but I highly recommend doing whatever it takes to hire one for at least the first 1-2 months.
I educated myself by reading books on emotional eating and dealing with the psychology of being obese. This aspect of weight loss is, in my opinion, the most crucial piece of the puzzle.
People neglect working on the psychological part because, honestly, it’s the most taxing. Delving into the depths of your psyche, attempting to figure out how you became obese is not fun.
I still struggle with how I psychologically approach food and probably always will. But the key is that I’m aware of my triggers and most of the time I can deal effectively with them.
Success… and Struggle
I’ve lost 160 pounds from my heaviest and currently weigh about 250 pounds. No longer do I take diabetes medications and my A1c is normal. My liver enzymes and blood pressure have both returned to normal without medication. My cholesterol panel is near perfect and my HDL (good cholesterol) continues to climb.
I still have some weight to lose, but I'm a changed person! I know that I'll eventually get to where I want to be.
Running has become a passion thanks to Matt Young’s Genesis 5K Training Program. Thanks to Matt, I finally know how to properly run without causing pain. His encouragement, guidance, and mentoring have been keys to developing this healthy passion. And because of the knowledge Matt shared with me, I was able to successfully complete the Marshall University Half-Marathon in 2013 (my first). I consider it one of the biggest accomplishments of my life to date. I am training for my 2nd and 3rd Half Marathons this year, and I run 22 miles per week, which completely blows my mind.
But there are still struggles. I am a foodie at heart and love to eat delicious food. My diet is a million times better today than it was in the past, but I will always struggle not to overindulge in decadent foods.
Another extremely important thing I often struggle with is planning. It’s so easy to get caught up in life and forget to plan healthy meals and exercise for the week. Sometimes I crave less structure in my life and wish to be more spontaneous. But the truth is when my schedule is more structured, I have less stress, and I’m more successful.
What I’ve gained in life by losing
I have gained so much by losing weight and getting fit. I’ve discovered that I love being active and outdoors. I have discovered that life has no limits and the only boundaries that exist are the ones that I allow to exist.
I’ve learned that I’m resilient. I’m a fighter. I have a voice now and I’m using it. One bad day, week, or month doesn’t define me. What is in the past is going to stay there. I know that there is nothing I can’t overcome, and when I’m down, I will always be able to fight my way out of that black hole.
I would like to lose a little more body fat and that will slowly occur. But I don’t have a goal weight because honestly, I have no idea what that would be. I’ve never been there.
I am going to continue doing what I’m doing now, which is living an active, healthy lifestyle, and enjoying everything life has to offer. It’s amazing what things you can see and do when you’re a healthy, fit person!
I also want to continue helping people through social media outlets and in person who need help conquering obesity. I especially would like to get more involved in helping to defeat the horrific epidemic of childhood obesity. If we don’t help and educate the kids who are overweight or obese, nothing will ever change.
I also want to compete in Triathlon after my running improves a bit, and I learn to properly swim and cycle. I also hope to finish the Boston Marathon!
My perfect run
Did I mention I am passionate about running? My perfect run is one with friends running alongside me, discussing life while we pound out a few miles. Or if I’m in a contemplative mood, running alone with only my thoughts can be very healing. Running in the beauty of nature, near water, temperature around 60 degrees, with a blue sky, and a couple of puffy white clouds is my idea of a perfect day.