Fit to Fat: Lessons Learned While Doubling My Weight

I have written a lot about my weight loss journey.  But I have yet to tell the story of how I gained the weight in the first place.  Also, I have posted plenty of Before and After pictures once I got back to my fighting weight.  But I have yet to post the “Before the Before” picture.

You see from this picture I was fit first! I was a West Point cadet and then a well-toned Army officer.  It has been said that you learn more from what you do wrong then what you do right.  So, this is the story of how I went from a Fit Captain in the US Army that could pick up a ruck and jog 13 miles on any given day to a 358 lbs. behemoth that could barely walk 13 yards without getting winded.

skinny elvis

My weight gain story starts as a slow progression to a rapid decline into morbid obesity.  It is not a fun story and I would rather tell the other blog (that will be the next).  But it is a story that needs to be told nonetheless for others who may be dealing with this problem now.

Growing up until my teen years, I did have some struggles with my weight.  I and the rest of my siblings have a predilection to being bigger.  But by the time, I was 15 I shot up like a weed.  I was no longer chunky and my high school sports of football, wrestling, and track/baseball kept my weight under control.

I also could keep my weight under control in the Army and West Point.  I did, on occasion, have to pick up a ruck on the day of weigh ins at the Army to jog a few miles to keep my weight down (I did have a big build).  But it was no problem.  When I left the Army at 175 lbs., I could run a half marathon at the drop of a hat and had no problem with any physical activity.

Over the next 25 years, my weight however more than doubled!  It did not happen all initially.  For the first 20 years, I fluctuated from being 220 to 260 and could push my weight back down easily. The first slow weight gain over the 20 years were the result of three things:

  1. I was not exercising as much.  In the Army, you are paid to do PT and it is part of your job description.  If you did not do it, you could not perform your job function.  But as much as my current company does commend fitness, they do not require you to do it.  I still worked out but not as much.  However, despite this decline in activity, I continued to take on the same number of calories.
  2. I was prone to Yo-Yo dieting. I was adept at driving my weight back down through a series of the latest diets – Slimfast, Protein only diet, etc.  I also would up my exercise in brief bursts that was unsustainable. I would go from zero to 60 on the Stairmaster or equivalent and think that I could keep it up.
  3. My metabolism slowed from aging. I was no longer eating the 4 Suzy Q’s in one sitting as I used to do at the academy, but I was still eating 2.  And my raging metabolism from back in the day had significantly slowed.

Still until about 2010 and 2011, I was still in a redeemable place.  Then two singular events caused my weight to progress in a non-linear fashion as you see in the graph.  From 2011 – 2014, I put on over 100 lbs.  Not a pretty site.   There were seven habits that drove this prodigious weight gain.  But before we discuss the habits, let me discuss the two triggers that started this “hockey stick” moment in weight gain.

  1. I took on too much responsibility at work and the work that I was driving also had a “hockey stick” moment. Not being able to say no I took on three roles, two of which have now been taken over by my peers or superiors.  In addition, the business that I was helping to drive grew from 60 people to nearly a 1,000 at its height.
  2. I lost my last parent, my Mother, at the same time of this growth. I did not take time to grieve nor did I take time to get her estate in proper order.

These two triggers caused seven bad habits that I have since conquered in part.  Some I still struggle with but am in a better place.

  1. Binge Eating – During the time I was working crazy hours or in moments of grieving, I went on unmitigated eating binges. I had three nemeses.  First, there was a tray full of peanut M&M’s kept in our office.  When I was pulling a late nighter, I would drink cup full of peanut M&M’s to keep my sugar high up.  Next, I would usually not make it home for dinner, so I had a McDonald two-way fix.  On the way home from work, I would have a Quarter Pounder and a milk shake.  On the way to work, to break up the Austin traffic, I would eat two sausage McMuffins (I would the skip the egg in the crazy idea of cutting calories!).  Lastly, on the weekend, I would get a bottle or two of Barefoot Wine (because it was cheaper) to keep me going through weekend work.
  2. Overworking – My binge eating was mainly a symptom of me not being able to say no and overworking.  I fashioned myself as the Iron Man, that could work anyone into the ground.  No time for exercise, no time for eating, no time for sleeping, no time for getting a check-up.  I had to lead by misshapen thoughts of being an example.  How could I ask my team to work if I was not always in the trenches with them?  This is really the root of the other bad behaviors.
  3. Not Sleeping – I pushed those two years on very little sleep.  Here is a true story.  One day I was on a call at 3 AM in the morning trying to adapt to some changing direction.  I suddenly realized I was in danger of missing my 6 AM plane since I was still at work.  I continued the call on the hour drive home.  Threw some clothes in suitcase and remember praying I could get on the plane without crashing the car and getting some sleep.
  4. Stress, stress, stress – I put a lot of stress on myself.  Some of it could not be avoided but most self-imposed.  I had in my mind I could not let the team down and the only way to do it was to lead up front.  I also did not want to let my siblings down with my Mother’s estate.  By working so hard, not taking care of myself, and insufficient delegation, I let myself down and at times both work and my siblings.  Also, stress led to two medical conditions that leads us to bad behavior 5.
  5. Not going to the doctors – During this two years, I had a constant nagging cough and several bouts of walking pneumonia. I also had two undiagnosed issues that were directly contributable to 30 lbs. of the weight gain.  I did not have time for the doctor and let it ride.  As a result, my shoe size went from a 10 ½ to a 12 ½ (and sometimes I needed a shoe horn).   Lesson learned – never, never, never let a medical problem go undiagnosed.
  6. Not taking time for grief and not recognizing Depression – I spent the two years busy but depressed. I never took the proper time to recover from the loss of my last remaining parent.  That in turn fueled my overeating and my stress.  TAKE TIME TO GRIEVE!
  7. Not drinking enough water – This bad habit sounds like the least one of the seven discussed so far.  But it cannot be discounted.  I drank “Leaded” Coke and coffee and very little water.  I went for the sugar and caffeine rush and skipped drinking water.  I now know that being tired was in part from being dehydrated.


So now it is time to unveil, the “After” picture. This is a picture of me at a conference after attempting to dance.  I got it from one of my colleagues, as a reminder after I made the turn around.   A few weeks after this picture was taken, I tripped while leaving work and landed knocked out on the ground at 3 AM in the morning.  After an unspecified time knocked out, I was able to crawl back to an upright position just barely getting into my car.  I keep my smashed glasses to this day in memory of this painful memory.

Large guy attempting to dance
After Picture

So, there you have it.  How a once fit Army officer, doubled his weight and ended sprawled on the ground literally clinging to life.  I have told this story so that you can learn from my bad habits and stop them if you have them, before they become out of control. The next blog will be titled Fat to Fit Again and discuss how I learned to tackle the 7 bad habits.  As Paul Harvey use to say that “Is the Rest of the Story”.

5 thoughts on “Fit to Fat: Lessons Learned While Doubling My Weight

  1. Carron Whittaker 2018-04-09 / 11:50 am

    Thank you for your transparency…You truly are a living example of a turnaround…I personally need to evaluate my own weight gain in this fashion and use your example of my inspiration as I continue the move from Fat to Fit!! YOU ROCK Don! Keep it up!


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