Open Your Eyes
The first step toward change is recognizing that you have a problem. When I was at my heaviest, every time I passed a mirror, every morning when I got dressed, every time I had to haul myself out of a chair--nearly everything I did told me that I had a serious weight problem. But I refused to acknowledge it.
Simply admitting that you have a problem is a huge step. In the beginning you don't even have to do anything about the problem. Just think about it. Consider your situation objectively and try to see it for what it is. All you have to do is admit that you have a problem and you're already on the road to a solution.
I will never forget the day I went to my endocrinologist's office to finally face the music. It was the scariest day of my life. Just being in the examining room made me panicky and claustrophobic even though it was bigger than the little rooms you find in a regular doctor's office. The table was larger and closer to the ground. The chairs were extra wide with no armrests. The blood pressure cuff hanging on the wall was big enough to put around some people's waists. And then there was the scale.
I remember sitting on the table, staring at the scale as I waited for the nurse to come in and weigh me. This was the moment I had been dreading for years. I had put off this examination for as long as I could, even tried to figure out ways to cancel the appointment by faking some sort of mysterious illness that would save me from this monster embarrassment. But the scale was right there, standing against the wall, looking back at me, waiting for me to get on, snickering as if it already knew how much I weighed.
I knew this had to be done. Not so much for my health--I wasn't even thinking about that. I just wanted to save myself from further embarrassment. I knew that doctors' scales--even the superheavyweight models--went up only to a certain weight. The one in my father's office topped out at 350. I had no idea how much weight this one could handle, but I did know that if you maxed out on one of these babies, you had only two alternatives. I'd either have to go down to the local meat-packing plant and get weighed on the scales they use for livestock, or I could drive to a truck stop with a weigh station where they'd weigh my car with me in it, then weigh it again with me not in it, subtracting one figure from the other to get my weight. In either case people would be watching, and I didn't want to be gawked at like a side of beef or a big rig.
But more than that, I just didn't want to know. I was in denial. I knew I had a problem, but somehow not knowing the specifics seemed better than having to face a cold, hard, undeniable number.
The examining room was silent except for the muffled sound of easy-listening music filtering in from the waiting room. I wondered if they played this kind of bland, soothing music for the steers before they went to slaughter.
The room had no windows, and now I really started to feel closed in. The office was on the ground floor of the building, and I wondered if there was a back door. There had to be, I thought. I could sneak down the hall and slip out the back. But then I thought about it. At my size I didn't do much sneaking or slipping out of anything. Wherever I was, my body made a statement--even (or should I say, especially) when I didn't want to.
I drummed my fingers on the edge of the table. My mouth was dry. I cracked my knuckles out of nervousness. My legs trembled. I was afraid that if I tried to stand up, my knees would buckle. Then I'd be on the floor, and believe me, getting back up wouldn't be easy.
I realized that there was no escape, no way around it, no talking my way out of it.
This was my vision of hell, and I was scared.
Suddenly I heard a knock on the door. It was a light, fast knock--one, two, three--but to my ears it was a battering ram breaking down the door. The Fat Police were here to get me. I was busted!
"May I come in, Jared?" It was the nurse who'd brought me back to this room. She sounded so nice, like someone's mother.
I didn't answer. I couldn't.
"Jared?" she said. "Are you all right?"
I coughed. "Ah . . . yeah," I said. "I'm fine."
"May I come in?"
Could I say no? Was that an option? And what if I did? Would she get the doctor? Would she get my father, who was waiting in the reception area? Please no, I thought. I didn't want anyone else to see me on the scale.
"Yeah, sure," I said. "You can come in."
The door opened, and there she was, a nice middle-aged lady with wire-rimmed glasses, short blond hair, and a kind smile. Too young to be a grandmother but too old to have kids still in school, kind of that in-between age. She was wearing pale blue scrubs and a stethoscope hung around her neck. She seemed totally nice, but there was one thing about her that made me wary. She was carrying a clipboard. My chart was on that clipboard. The chart where she wanted to write down my weight.
"Can you step up on the scale for me, Jared?"
I didn't know what to do.
"You don't have to take your shoes off," she said.
Obviously the extra weight of a pair of sneakers didn't matter much at my size, but she was probably trying to spare me the ordeal of having to bend over and put them back on later.
She stood by and waited patiently as I slowly got off the table and stood up. My knees felt so weak I was afraid to take a step, fearing that I might collapse on the floor. Then what would they do? Call a tow truck?
I moved carefully, taking sliding baby steps toward the scale. I could swear the damn thing was laughing at me.
"Just step right up on there," the nurse said. "That's it."
My brain was telling me not to do it: Faint if you have to, Jared. But I did as she asked. I knew there was no way out of it.
The counterweights were already pushed to the left and set at zero. The scale clanked as I stepped onto it, and the pointer clunked into the up position. Sweat was dripping down my brow. I usually perspired a lot because of my weight, but this was beyond normal. This was panic sweat.
"Okay," the nurse said. "Let's see how we do."
She slid the big counterweight to the right, past the 100-, 150-, 200-, and 250-pound notches, stopping at 300.
The pointer didn't budge.
She slid the small counterweight to the right, nudging it along.
I forced myself to keep my eyes open, staring at the pointer. It wasn't moving.
She got to the midway point.
She nudged the counterweight faster until she moved it all the way to the right.
The pointer didn't move.
Oh, God, I thought. I was over 350. I had kind of suspected that I was, but how much over 350?
She slid the small counterweight back to the left and moved the big one over another notch to 350. She slowly moved the small weight to the right.
The pointer stayed right where it was. I started to wonder if it was glued there and this was some kind of sick joke.
She kept pushing the small weight with her finger. I stopped breathing, waiting for the pointer to move. 360 . . . 370 . . . 380 . . . 390 . . . 395 . . .
She slid the small weight back to the left and reached for the big weight. My mouth was a desert.
"Do you want me to take my shoes off?" I asked. I sounded so lame.
"That's okay," she said, maintaining her pleasant demeanor. Whatever she thought of me and my monstrous size, she wasn't letting on.
She put her finger on the big weight and pushed it over another notch to the 400-pound position. My heart was slamming in my chest. She started to nudge the small weight. 405 . . . 410 . . . The pointer didn't move, not even a flutter.
She kept pushing.
I closed my eyes. I couldn't look.
My shirt was drenched. I wanted an earthquake to crack open the earth and swallow me up. I wanted to disappear. I didn't want to be here.
The sound of the metal weight sliding along the metal bar was like a samurai sword slowly sinking into my chest. When was it going to stop? I thought. When?
I wasn't born fat. As a little kid, I was pretty normal, and I played all kinds of sports--basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis; I even ran track. But when I started third grade, something happened and little by little I started to gain weight.
One contributing factor I can pinpoint is that I just loved food. All kinds of food. Healthy food, not-so-healthy food, junk food--you name it, I liked it. Everyone in my family loved food. Our kitchen was always well stocked--mostly with healthy food (my father was a physician, after all), but my mother kept some junk food around, like chips and soda, for occasional treats. But while everyone in my immediate family and even my extended family loved food, I was the only one who gained a ton of weight. Somehow everyone else managed to burn off the calories better than I did.
Looking back, maybe I loved food a little bit more than they did. I recently found my fourth grade journal and was shocked to find that nearly every entry was about food. That's all I wrote about. I would go on and on about food, particularly school lunches. Every kid I knew thought cafeteria food was the worst, but not me. I loved cafeteria food. I looked forward to it. If a breeze blew into the classroom from the cafeteria and I got a whiff of what was on the menu that day, I was like that cartoon dog who floats on air, totally blissed out by the mere thought of getting a dog biscuit.
I loved cafeteria food so much I would eat my friends' leftovers. I was particularly fond of the hamburgers--the steamed bun, the machine-made grilled patty, the glob of ketchup--and whenever I could, I would sneak an extra dollar to school so I could buy an extra burger.
The other factor that contributed to my weight gain was my social awkwardness. When I was little, I didn't dwell on rejection or hurt feelings. If I was ever sad about something, the feeling didn't last very long, and I bounced back pretty quickly. But by the time I entered the fourth grade, slights and insults became big things. I felt that I didn't fit in very well, and now that I was getting chubby, I felt even more isolated. I thought that no one liked me and there was nothing I could do to improve the situation. So in the tilted logic of a self-conscious fat kid, food became my only friend.
If I wasn't picked to play in a basketball game, I bought myself a package of Twinkies.
If a popular kid snubbed me on the playground, I went home after school and made myself a sundae.
If I overheard kids making jokes about my size, my next stop was McDonald's.
Food never disappointed me the way other kids did. It always tasted good. It didn't talk about me behind my back or make fun of me or criticize me. It was always there for me the way a true-blue friend should be. It gave me love and comfort whenever I needed it. Of course, fat-kid logic prevented me from realizing that the larger I got the more out of place I felt. I just couldn't make that connection.
Even though I was sensitive about my weight, I could still take a joke if it wasn't mean-spirited. In fact, my father was always quick with a joke, and occasionally he'd make one about my weight. He certainly didn't mean to be hurtful, but everyone and everything was fair game for his brand of humor, and our whole family accepted that. One summer when I was in middle school, my family went on a trip to the Grand Canyon. We all had a great time, and of course we took a lot of pictures. A few days after we got home, my mom brought home the developed photos, and we all sat around the kitchen table before dinner going through them. One shot sticks out in my mind--me sitting on a donkey. The donkey doesn't look happy and actually seems to be making a face.
The day that photo was taken we were on a trail ride down into the canyon. My dad had asked the guide to find a donkey strong enough to accommodate me, and he jokingly asked if there'd be an extra charge if I broke the donkey's back. Everybody got a good laugh out of that, even me. I knew he loved me and that it was just one of his little jokes. At the time I equated my size with strength and power. I mean, did anyone ever call the Hulk fat? Or the Thing? I don't think so.
But the photo didn't show the Jared I had imagined myself to be. I definitely didn't look like a superhero on a charging steed. I looked like a pathetic fat kid on a really ticked-off donkey, and in hindsight my father's comment to the guide that day hurt more than my father could ever have imagined.
After seeing that photo, whenever kids at school made me the butt of their jokes, I cringed and withdrew. It sent me back into my shell. And whenever I retreated from the world, you know who I turned to.
By fifth grade, I was sneaking food so that my parents wouldn't know I was overeating. I remember one time when my parents let me stay home alone. They'd told me the week before that they'd be going out for the evening and that my brother and sister would be staying over with friends, which meant I had time to plan. I couldn't wait for that night to come.
I watched from the front window and waved good-bye to them as their car backed out of the driveway. I'd told them to have a good time and not to worry, I'd be fine. But inside I was so giddy and excited I could have exploded. My plan was to call out for a pizza and have it delivered. A large Pizza Hut Meat Lover's pizza with sausage, pepperoni, hamburger, and extra cheese. For days I had been thinking about this pizza. It would be all mine. It would be like an old friend coming over for a visit. I must have been salivating on the windowsill, I was so delirious.
I waited ten whole minutes to make sure my parents were really gone and wouldn't be coming back because they'd forgotten something. Then I ran to the phone and ordered my dream pizza.
"It'll be there in twenty-five minutes," the man on the other end said.
"Great," I said.
And it was great. I remember sitting in the living room by the front window, waiting for the delivery truck, thinking this was the happiest day of my life. Me alone with a large pizza was my version of paradise.
I pulled the crumpled-up dollar bills I'd saved out of my jeans and smoothed them out on my thigh. I didn't dare go watch TV or play Nintendo while I waited. What if I didn't hear the doorbell and missed my pizza? I couldn't imagine what I'd do. So I sat in the armchair facing the window and waited.
When headlights swept the front of the house, I leaped out of my seat. I went to the window. The pizza truck was pulling into the driveway. A college kid got out and started walking to the front door with a thermal pizza case in his hands.
I ran to the door and opened it before he had a chance to ring the bell.
"Fogle?" the college kid asked. "Large Meat Lover's with extra cheese?"
I think I managed to say yes, but I might have been too intoxicated by the aroma of the hot pizza to form a full sentence. I handed him the money--I'd already figured out how much it would be and added a generous tip. I certainly didn't want him coming back the next time my parents ordered pizza, complaining about the lousy tip he'd gotten the last time he was here. No, I had thought this through completely, and I intended to cover all my tracks.
The college kid handed me the pizza. "Have a good night," he said before he trotted back to his truck.
"I will," I called after him.
I closed the door and headed to the kitchen with my prize, setting it down carefully on the table. I opened the lid. Steam wafted to the ceiling and fogged my glasses. The smell was incredible. I couldn't believe it. This was a dream come true. Alone with a pizza all to myself.
I picked out the little plastic table in the middle of the pizza that kept the cheese from sticking to the lid of the box and tossed it on the counter. I separated my first slice, raised it to my mouth, and bit into it. It was heavy with toppings and so hot it burned the roof of my mouth. But I didn't care. This was my pizza.
I finished the first slice and went on to the second. Then the third and the fourth and the fifth and the sixth and the seventh and finally the eighth. I ate so fast the last piece was still warm as I ate it. In a few short minutes I had demolished the entire pizza. And now I felt awful.
I was stuffed. I had eaten too fast and was beginning to feel sick. But my physical discomfort was nothing compared to my fear that my parents would suddenly walk in the door and find out what I'd just done. I had to stick to my original plan, I told myself. I had to cover my tracks.
The first thing I did was fold the empty pizza box as tight as I could and step on it to flatten it even further; then I buried it in the trash can, covering it with stuff that was already in there.
Next, I found a can of air freshener under the sink and sprayed the room until it smelled like a flower shop instead of a pizza parlor.
Finally I went to the refrigerator and took out one of the frozen dinners I had told my parents I was going to be eating. I quickly microwaved it, then scraped the food into the garbage disposal to get rid of it. I left the dirty plastic tray on the counter so that it would look as if I had eaten that for dinner. I looked around the room and gave it the once-over. When I was satisfied that there was no evidence of a pizza ever having been there, I went downstairs to veg out in front of the TV and let my stomach settle, confident that I had covered my tracks completely.
I would later find out, however, that I was no criminal mastermind. (How many ten-year-old boys are?) My parents returned a little after ten o'clock, and within five minutes I was busted.
"Jared?" my mother called to me from the kitchen. I could tell by her high-pitched tone that something was up.
I walked into the kitchen. Both my parents were there waiting for me. They looked grim.
"What's this?" my mother said. She was holding the little plastic pizza table in her palm, like a giant about to crush it.
Oops. I'd tossed it on the counter and forgotten about it. How stupid!
"Catching up on your reading?" my father said, pointing to the yellow pages on the counter under the wall phone. It was open to the "Pizza" listings.
Oops again. My face felt hot. I looked at my reflection in the chrome toaster. My face was as red as pizza sauce.
My mom stepped on the garbage pail pedal, and the lid popped open. She picked around in the trash a bit and found the folded pizza box. I guess I hadn't buried it as deeply as I'd thought. Oops number three.
I felt soooo stupid. And embarrassed. Now I had to own up to it, which wasn't easy for me. For me a pizza wasn't just a pizza. It was something I coveted, so now I had to admit to my guilty pleasure.
I was grounded for two weeks. My father told me I had to come straight home after school every day and a sleepover scheduled for the next weekend at my house was going to be canceled. My parents lectured me big-time that night, the first of many lectures. They had concrete proof that I was sneaking food, and they got on me about it because they were concerned about me. But the more they lectured me, the more ashamed and resentful I became. Instead of learning my lesson, I resolved to get sneakier and hide my traces better. My parents didn't realize it, but they were actually pushing me toward the only friend I could depend on for uncritical comfort--food.
Whenever I felt down, I'd hop on my bike and sneak over to "fast-food row," which unfortunately was just a convenient five minutes from my house. McDonald's, Burger King, Dunkin' Donuts, Wendy's, Taco Bell, Roy Rogers, KFC--we had them all. It was so comforting to see their bright lights shining in the distance as I pedaled toward them. I was going to be with my friends.
Copyright © 2006 by Jared Fogle. All rights reserved. Jared Fogle began appearing in Subway advertisements in 2000, after spectacular weight loss eating the chain’s sandwiches. He lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, and travels around the country throughout the year on a vigorous speaking and personal appearance schedule. Anthony Bruno is the author of the novels Seven and Hot Fudge and the nonfiction titles The Iceman and The Seekers. He lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.