Everyone has skeletons in their closets and some of those skeletons started as entire chickens, which we ate until there was nothing left, but skeletons. Each time I went through something traumatic I’d eat as if it was the answers I needed. The more that happened to me the bigger I got, and I had no idea how serious things would get. If my weight, at my heaviest was any indicator of my life struggles, you’d probably believe that I was going to die at any minute… because I was.
I grew up humbly around bodega type corner stores and the sounds of mothers telling their children to stay out of the street! Humid southern sunrays beamed in my neighborhood, as I played joyfully outside. At 11 years old, it was standard to only worry about begging your mom for 2 quarters to go pay a visit to Ms. Pat, the neighborhood candy lady. For 50 cents you could get a red frozen cup with just enough syrup at the top to spill on your school clothes. Oh and lets not forget the sugary, peanut buttery goodness that came in the form of chic-o-sticks that she’d allow you to purchase with the left over change. I never shared my frozen cup with anyone, but I might have let you have a piece of chic-o-stick.
There weren’t many good choices of food in the corner stores either. After playing hide and go seek and double-dutch all day, mom would send your butt right to the store to grab some shortening, 4 dollars worth of chicken wings and drumsticks, a stick a butter, and with the change you could buy whatever you wanted. I prayed for a $20 bill so I could splurge on iced honey buns, nutty buddy ice cream cones, and little Debbie cakes, but many times was given a book of food stamps that equaled $10, which I still was grateful for. Mom always made sure I had enough to get something a little extra. Besides, we were about to eat for 3 days off of that. Instead ofpaying for 5 dollar almond milk and a bag of 3 dollar kale, we ate more for less money.
What I didn’t know was why I found so much comfort in the foods that was available to us in our neighborhood. Maybe it was the group of boys that were encouraged by the drug dealing men on our corners to “rough me up” because I wasn’t interested in sports, fighting, or little girls that laid the foundation of comfort eating for me. I’d create shortcuts to avoid the fear of running into Timothy, Black, and Junie who’d torment me every chance they got. Oh but, Swiss rolls, colorful barrel drinks that only cost a quarter, and Utz potato chips would quell that fear.
In hindsight, that was the first indicator of my relationship with food. As I got older I realized that even though there were smaller people in my neighborhood who ate the same things, for some reason I ate more. High school came and I was proud to attend one of the states first schools for blacks in the segregated south, Booker T. Washington High School. I was a little bit more popular as my now 240 pound body was able to step on the high schools step team and be one of popular drum majors for the most rockin’ band in the land, but I couldn’t pass the mile run time assignment in gym. I was cool, but slower and most times labeled the cool fat guy. At lunch, all the popular kids chose to leave school and have lunch at one of the many good food choices around. If you were popular you went to McDonalds, Churches Chicken, or the Jade Gardens, which had the best general Tao’s chicken. I didn’t eat because I was popular though; I ate to hide from the reality of still being ridiculed as the big gay boy. Food helped me hide that pain and smile even when it wasn’t genuine.
Life continued and I hadn’t met my father at all face to face…ever. I ate to cover that pain too. In 2002, as an almost 300 pound junior in college, I met him in Camden New Jersey. My father, whose first question to me was “What sports you play” I guess he was about to be just like Junie and Black and ridicule me. I smiled and said “I’m actually a band head, I play the tuba” My mother supported every venture I wanted to do, with what she had she gave me all she could. But, food tasted good and it hid me. 10 years later, I was in the beginnings of a Ph.D program and he passed away, by this time I was 353 pounds. I had ballooned to a weight I didn’t even know I was. It certainly didn’t feel like I was that big. I guess because everyone kept saying, “You carry your weight so well”
While I had incredible friends, I had never known intimate love, and I felt inadequate and like a big boy fetish. I didn’t love my body or myself. But I adored food, as it has always been there to be quiet and drown out my pain. When I moved to Philly on my own, it was the first time I had heard of whole foods (the store of course), kale, quinoa, protein, soy milk, the joys of almonds and the gym. Trust me, I tried all types of gyms, diet plans, Herbalifes, Xenadrines, Ketone Pills, trainers I couldn’t afford in gyms that were too expensive for my checks, Green tea pills, Apple Cider Vinegar, running, walking, sleeping, accountability partners, saran wraps, sweat suits, Crossfit, everything.
Then one day I went to the doctor and he said Kenny, you are 363 pounds on the verge of needing to take blood pressure regulating pills. That’s when it hit me, that I was turning into my father who passed at 52 years old from complications because of his weight.
At 35 years old, I made the decision then to take control of my life in a way I had never had before. I sought a nutritionist to help me un-do all the horrible lessons I took away from food and a doctor to help me stay on track! I joined a gym and found Monday night Zumba that allowed me to dance my pains away. I began small by cutting my food portions in half, then learning how to reset my body so it doesn’t want as much food as frequently. I feel in love with eating for fuel, and not for comfort! Timing when I ate as I learned that food after 8pm is just a pillow for your stomach. I have never been good at weight lifting so I needed help and fast. I joined a community of people who supported my decision to get vertical sleeve gastronomy, which by no means was a fix all…but the boost I needed to get my body and life in order.
Many critics believe that it’s an easy way out and I assure you that it was no easy road!! After the procedure, I couldn’t walk; my stomach felt like I had done a million crunches, and everything was hard to do for myself. Although I had a tool to give me the boost, I still have to workout 4 times a week to keep my body in the shape I wanted it to be. Some people have that type of will power but I made a decision that was best for my life and me. Currently I am 214 pounds and have lost over 150 pounds of shame, guilt, ridicule, excuses, and the past. A new life with a smile that is more genuine. I win! Now I am a part of a community of people that look up to me for standing firm in my truths and my decisions. I have found better foods and better training techniques that keep me looking the way I want to look.
Every journey to wellness is different. Every story has its own pages. This was mine and I don’t plan on it ending anytime soon.