“‘Heavenly Father I approach your lofty throne humbled, begging your forgiveness for my many shortcomings and sins. Lord, I beg of you to please allow me to wake up tomorrow and see another day. I know it is my own fault that I’m in this predicament, but my family needs me and I need them, Lord. I am so scared right now. With all the ailments and illnesses that I have going on, I just do not know if my body can take much more. I know I do not deserve your grace and mercy Lord at all, but do not do it for me, do it for Chauntel and the boys. I want to live. Please help me. Wake me up in the morning and allow me to see another day. I beg of you. I ask this prayer and blessing through your son Jesus Christ, Amen’
Can you imagine praying this aloud and being afraid to go to sleep nightly because you feared dying in your sleep? This was my nightly prayer just over 3 years and 245 lbs. ago when I was morbidly obese and knocking at death’s door. I was 461 lbs. at my heaviest and dealing with countless comorbidities such as sleep apnea, high blood pressure, gout, pre-diabetes, acid reflux, sciatic nerve pain, and high cholesterol. I was killing myself slowly and just living to eat.
Growing Up With Food
I have been overweight for over 30 years since I was like 8 or 9 years old. I had a great childhood, and I come from a good home. Food just became the center of my universe because I loved it so much. Coming from a Black family, everything that we do food has associated with it. Someone dies, we eat at the repast. Someone graduates, we have a celebratory meal. About any accomplishment you may have, you best believe food will be included somewhere. Growing up, we were taught to clean our plates and be thankful for the food we have. Sometimes food would be all that someone had to offer, so you were to never be disrespectful and turn down their food.
I do not blame anyone for my overindulgence in food at all. It was considered a labor of love to be able to provide for someone else and we were allowed to eat until we had enough. I was a kid who was into music, girls, and video games, and I was not the most active kid on the block either. So naturally, as my appetite increased, so did my waist. As a kid, I was a husky young man who was just slightly bigger than the average kid, so it was not really an issue until I hit high school, and I started to gain weight heavily.
As I grew older my eating habits grew more deplorable, and that is when my weight started to spiral out of control. I was teased a lot back then and I had to learn to defend myself verbally or go home crying every day. I got to be very sharp at the tongue and learned how to cut with words. I was an avid reader, so that helped. By the time I was a sophomore in high school, I was known as a verbal assassin and if you came my way with fat jokes you better be ready for what was to come out of my mouth. I was a person who studied others and looked for flaws and I kept a mental Rolodex for when I needed to expose said flaws for teasing me. So, if your Mama was ugly and I found out, then I was using it against you. I know it was not probably the best thing to do to someone, but it taught me a lot. It helped me to be able to stand up for myself and others and to be able to speak in front of anyone.
But the weight gain had dire consequences for me as a teenager. The more weight I gained, the more doors I locked to myself. I was not able to participate in a lot of fun things that kids do. Gym class for instance was not fun for me at all. For one, I could never fit into the gym uniform, and I would have to bring my own shorts. So, I always stood out as the fat kid who was too big for the gym uniform. I came in last place in about everything as well. I hated when we had to run the mile and be timed. I was dead last every single time.
I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, and we had a water park there called Adventure River that opened. I went with some family and friends, and of course, I wanted to get on the water slides like everyone else. When it was my turn to get on the slide I got on and it was fun and fast at first. Then suddenly, I came to a screeching halt on the slide, and I got stuck. I could not move! I had to scoot and scoot and scoot to make it down the slide and they sent people up to get me because I was stuck and holding up the slide.
That was the first time I was embarrassed at a theme park. The second time I will never forget either. I was 15 years old, and I went to the Mid-South Fair with a friend. I was able to fit in a few rides, so I thought I was safe. Nope! The last ride I got on was a thrill ride. When it was our turn to get on, I got in the seat fine, but it was tight. I tried to pull the harness over my head to snap it closed and it would not close over my stomach. The ride attendant saw me and tried to help me close it. I asked him to let me off, and he said, ‘No I can get it closed.’
Meanwhile, everyone else was getting settled into the ride, and I was hoping he could get it closed before they were all in so they would not be waiting on me. Well, that did not happen. He tried unsuccessfully to close the harness so much, so he stood on top of the ride with his foot and was swinging on it to get the harness to close. Long story short, the harness would not close, and I had to get off the ride and take the walk of shame to the exit amidst laughs from onlookers. Once again, I was embarrassed, and I never got on a rollercoaster again for another 30 years!
Adulthood and Obesity
Let us fast forward through high school and college, and now I am a married father with three sons. By this time, I was morbidly obese and living a miserable life health-wise. I could not be an active father to my sons because my weight prohibited me from doing so. I felt like a failure as a husband and a father even though my family loved me unconditionally. My sons faced ridicule from kids at school whenever I came to school functions, and I was made fun of by the other kids, but my boys defended me, and they still wanted me around. I could not play sports like a father should be able to with my boys because of my weight. When we took the boys to theme parks, I could only watch from afar while the boys got on rides. They would want me to ride with them, but I could not, and that killed me on the inside. It destroyed me honestly.
Even with my wife, I did not feel like I was adequate enough for her because of my obesity. She loved me unconditionally and stood by my side while I selfishly for years continued to overindulge and eat myself to death. We missed countless trips because I was afraid of flying and embarrassed to fly because of my size. Even going out to dinner was a chore because I sometimes could not fit in booths, and it would be embarrassing if I could not fit or got stuck trying to fit.
Who was I becoming? My PCP stayed on me for almost ten years because of my weight. She told me that I was going to die if I did not do something soon. Every year I had a routine physical. She was adding more things to my chart and adding more medicine. I was miserable, and life was no longer enjoyable for me. I tried all the yo-yo diets and boot camps for years, and I would lose some weight and end up gaining it all back plus more. I had finally had enough of moving like this and decided to make a change in the summer of 2018.
I talked it over with my wife and I made an appointment to see a bariatric surgeon and consult about weight loss surgery. I was scared, but I went anyway. I feared that I would die on the table during surgery, but I had nothing to lose because if I did not go through with it I would probably die anyway from obesity. I felt like this was my one and only chance to save my life and take back my health. I had my first visit and found that I had to meet six months of required doctor and dietitian visits, medical tests, and a psych evaluation to even qualify for the surgery. I had no idea how intense this was and what I was getting myself into. So, I started my journey fearing the unknown, but I did not want to let my family down. I did whatever it took to meet the requirements for weight loss surgery, and finally, on April 26, 2019, I had a vertical sleeve gastrectomy also known as VSG for short.
I survived the surgery and got a second chance at life! I did not take my second chance for granted, and I got the right to work. This would turn out to be the hardest thing I have ever had to endure in my life. I had no idea this life would be this hard. After the surgery, I had to adjust to life with 85% of my stomach having been removed. For so many years, I had been used to eating what I wanted when I wanted and now, I could no longer do this. Just two weeks post-op, I found myself mentally exhausted, wondering what I did to myself.
It was at this moment I knew I should have taken my pre-op more seriously, especially the psych evaluation. I was not mentally prepared to take on this journey, and for the first time since surgery, I was filled with doubt and unsure about whether I could successfully lose the weight that I needed to lose to live. I was a wreck emotionally, but I always kept my family in front of me, and I knew I could not let them down again. They were my ‘why,’ and I knew they were watching me. I am so grateful for them!
My wife jumped on board with what I was doing post-op and did everything I did like she was a bariatric patient because she knew it would help me survive the journey and be successful. So, the journey was underway, and it was an emotional rollercoaster to say the least. I went through so many ups and downs that I thought I was losing my mind. But the weight was falling off rapidly and my co-morbidities were starting to dissipate. For my three-month check-up, I found out I was no longer pre-diabetic and my A1C numbers were in the normal range. My gout and reflux were under control, and my blood pressure was down and under control as well. For the first time in decades, I felt good. Six months post-op I had lost 100 lbs. and for my 45th birthday that year, I participated in the St. Jude Hospital 5K with family and friends. It was so fulfilling to be able to finish the 5K in a timely fashion and be encouraged by not just family and friends but complete strangers.
A New Life
By the time I was 9 months post-op, we went as a family to Six Flags for Holiday in The Park. We walked around for a bit before the boys turned to me and said they wanted me to get on a ride with them. I did not think that I would fit but the boys were convinced otherwise. They picked the Georgia Scorcher to ride, and we made our way over to the ride. I was still not convinced that I would fit. Six Flags has a replica seat in front of every ride so you can see if you will be able to fit in the ride. The entire family crowded around me as I got in the seat and pulled the harness over my chest. I was able to snap the seatbelt and close the harness. I could not believe that I actually fit, and I was about to get on a rollercoaster with my family for the first time ever.
We got in line to wait our turn, and I was so nervous because I still did not believe that I would fit. It was finally our turn, and everyone got on. I was the last one to get on the ride. I pulled the harness over me, and I fit! I was so overwhelmed and excited. The ride began and by the time we hit the first loop I asked God what I had gotten myself into and I screamed like a girl for the entire one minute and 45 seconds I was on the ride. I had so much fun! We got off the ride and hugged each other. The moment was so surreal.
Now, granted, I did not get on another ride the rest of the day, but I was happy. I took a few photos and told the boys I needed to sit a moment and they could go ahead to the next ride. I did not want them to see me cry. I cried like a baby! I had not been on a rollercoaster in 30 years and that was the first time I had ever been able to get on a rollercoaster with my sons. I had never felt so good in my life. I get emotional every time I share this story. I am emotional right now and getting choked up as I write this.
I flew on an airplane for the first time in 16 years last year with my family. I would not fly for several reasons. I was afraid to fly, but most importantly I was too big for the seats, and I was embarrassed to have to pay for two seats and ask for a seat belt extender. I am overcoming my fear of flying one flight at a time, and I am looking forward to flying with my wife internationally soon so that we can see the world. I have so much living to do! I feel bad most times because I feel like I cheated my wife and sons out of countless years of enjoying life because my obesity kept me from doing a lot of things with them. But on the flip side of the coin, had I continued the same course, I was going to cheat them out of time with me if I died at the hands of obesity.
Community and New Habits
As time went on, I was losing weight, and life could not be better. Fast forward to 2020 and COVID strikes and shuts the world down. I am almost a year post-op, and I didn’t know how the pandemic would affect things. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. My industry completely shut down and I was at home on lockdown with my family. My boys are athletes and they played high school sports and they had to stay in shape. My wife and I adapted to their workout regimen, and we ate fresh healthy prepared meals daily. During the pandemic, I lost another 145 lbs.! Meanwhile, my social media presence was growing rapidly. I started the Sleeved Believe the Hype podcast to bring awareness to weight loss surgery and to help others along their journey. It features medical professionals as well as bariatric patients who share their stories with me. Also, bariatric patients were not able to attend their weight loss group sessions because the world shut down.
I along with another gentleman from the weight loss community formed a weekly Zoom call where other bariatric patients could gather, and this would be a safe place to come and talk with like-minded individuals who were on a similar path. This group grew by leaps and bounds and before you know it, we averaged 40 or more people on this Zoom call weekly. This was also the motivation I needed to keep going as this kept me accountable as well. There were plenty of moments along the way when I would get discouraged and want to give up. Eating became a chore in my mind. I resented meals because my stomach would only allow me to eat so much. I was so used to eating what I wanted with meals and now I had this restriction.
For example, Pappadeaux’s is our favorite restaurant. When we ate there without fail, I would order the same thing. I would start with a large Swamp Thing, which is an alcoholic beverage. I would have the crab and spinach dip as an appetizer, and then order the Pappadeaux Platter as my own personal meal which is a ridiculous amount of food for one person to consume. It consists of two fried catfish filets, extra fried shrimp and crawfish, fried oysters, stuffed shrimp, stuffed crab, and all of this was over a bed of dirty rice. Afterward, I would order dessert, a fat piece of key lime pie. I would walk out of there miserable and disgusted with myself. Now when we go there my wife and I share this exact same meal, but the difference is we get four meals out of one platter! Insane right?
People often have this misconception that once you have weight loss surgery you will never be able to eat foods that you enjoyed before. That is the furthest thing from the truth. After surgery, you can still enjoy those things, but you must institute balance and moderation with all things, especially food. I know now that I was not properly educated on the dangers of food and how to eat the right way.
Life is so much different for me now. I am able to enjoy life the way life is supposed to be enjoyed. One of the best feelings in the world was being able to walk into the mall and buy clothes from the regular person section and not have to shop in the big and tall section. I never knew how many doors I had locked shut with my obesity. My self-esteem as an overweight individual was nonexistent. I was not happy living in my own body. I had given up hope honestly. I was waiting to die. I thought I was a lost cause and there was no hope for me. Boy was I wrong! I have learned so much on this journey and I still have so much to learn. I can say this, it gets harder as time goes on. Being 3 years out and in the maintenance phase of the journey is tough. I must work much harder to maintain the weight loss and keep it off without gaining the weight back.
What has been the most fulfilling and rewarding for me has been helping others from the example I set forth. Being an inspiration to so many people has helped me to find my purpose in life. I truly believe that I’m here to help others take back their health and live life the way God intended. So many people have inboxed me and told me they had weight loss surgery because of me and that is so awe-inspiring. Personally, I have had three male cousins follow my example and get weight loss surgery and save their life. All three have successfully lost over 100 pounds each and they are much healthier and living life! I am so proud of them. Most importantly, my wife Chauntel followed my example, and she also had weight loss surgery, saving her life, and combined we both have lost 350 pounds! I would like for others to learn from my journey the dos and don’ts and find out the pros and cons so they can make a sound conscious decision if weight loss surgery is for them or not.
Moving Forward and Helping Others
I will say this also. Having weight loss surgery does not absolve you from all the damages that obesity causes the body. I will tell you why. Last October I went to the doctor for my yearly physical. I get one every year, so it was no big deal in my eyes, plus I was down 245 pounds and life was good right? Little did I know this visit was the start of another journey that was not so good for me. During my physical, I had a routine EKG and my doctor said something was wrong with my heart and she was referring me to a cardiologist, but first, she sent me to the hospital for a heart calcification test. Was I hearing things? She was mistaken, right? So, I went to the hospital for the test and the results came back. Red flags go up because I had a score of 506 which is high. My doctor called me with some extremely upsetting news. She told me I had early-onset heart disease, and it was imperative to see the cardiologist. I see the cardiologist and he orders a nuclear stress test and an echocardiogram. Both tests came back abnormal, so he sent me to the hospital to get a heart catheterization to see how bad the blockage was.
A few things could happen during this test. If the blockage were heavy, I would immediately be sent to Emory Hospital in Atlanta and scheduled for open-heart surgery, or if it were moderate, they could correct it right away by placing stents to open up the clogged arteries. But God had the final say! My blockage was very minimal and did not require anything! Praise God! I take a statin for cholesterol and a baby aspirin daily and I continue with my routine diet and exercise. God is good! Now had I still been 461 pounds this story would undoubtedly have been different. So even though the surgery does not completely take away the damage you do to your body, the weight loss puts you in a better position health-wise to be able to handle different ailments. I had a brief scare there for a few months but because I am much healthier, I was able to overcome it.
My story has also put me in a position to be able to speak about it to others on various platforms. I have been invited to podcasts and media outlets to share my story. Alongside my friend and bariatric brother, Terry, we created a space on Instagram for men on a weight loss journey called My Bro Ain’t Heavy. Men are a huge minority in the bariatric world and putting the spotlight on them shows them that it is okay to take back your health and talk about it. I created the group ATL WLS Crew right here in the Atlanta metro area as an accountability group for bariatric patients right here with me in Georgia. We get together several times a month and enjoy outings together. We participate in 5K’s, hikes and workouts together, and most importantly we are there for one another and we hold each other accountable.
I also show others through my cooking reels and tutorials that they can still eat and enjoy foods after surgery. Cooking has always been a labor of love for me, and I combine that with humor, music, and dancing to show others that you can be on this journey and have fun even with the many ups and downs. I created my own seasoning called Memphis City Blues Gourmet Seasoning Blend which is a low sodium seasoning that pairs well with any meat or vegetable.
Most recently, I was invited to be a keynote speaker at the Bariatric Society’s Annual Retreat this year, which took place May 5-8, 2022. It was such a joy to speak in front of 400 people about my weight loss journey. It is my goal to become a motivational speaker and that is what I see myself doing very soon. It is my calling and my purpose in life, and I know that and truly believe it. There are so many more things about this journey that I can share with you! I have coined the phrase, ‘When you change your mindset, you change the game. You cannot change until you make it up in your mind that change is needed. Only then will a person be able to change. If I can do it, anybody can!’”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kedric C. Barrett, Sr. of Alpharetta, Georgia. You can follow his journey on his podcast. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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