MY NAME IS ZACH MCCRITE and I am an addict.
I’m the same sort of addict as one you probably know or are related to or might even be yourself.
I’m no different from the guy who can’t kick the crack habit or the gal who just can’t stop smoking or the one who bellies up to the bar night after night after night.
I’m just like those people. I’m just like you.
I’m an addict. My addiction is food. And it always will be.
Since November 2017, I’ve lost 80 pounds. Now, I’m proud, don’t get me wrong. But I hesitate to talk about it. Much less celebrate it.
Please forgive me for this different kind of weight loss story. A lot of this piece will probably be all of the hesitations that I feel about sharing the story in the first place.
For instance, when our fearless editor-in-chief insisted that this would be a good topic to swing at in the latest issue of the best publication in the Metro (pardon the brown on my nose), I hesitated… again (you will see a growing theme).
In the end, I reluctantly said I would. I hope she still feels good about her insistence now that I’ve written it.
Regardless, I hope it resonates, because my hope is that this space is more a tale about the successes and failures we all endure in our lives – both health-related and otherwise – and how we deal with them.
That said, the hesitations to share my story are plentiful.
I FEEL GUILT, EVEN WHEN I LOSE WEIGHT
Partly because it opens old wounds. Talking about it opens up the pain that I know others share about not being looked at like the “rest of the crowd,” but becoming so used to it, you joke with others about it.
Hesitation also comes partly because I feel guilty for how my weight affects the people who choose (or, in my family’s case, have no choice but) to include me in their lives, but have to rearrange their cars, houses, weekend activities, big ticket purchases, vacations, etc. to accommodate “the big guy.”
And even more hesitation because – and I know this is backwards, but – I had found a personality inside this humongous frame that I thought some people were starting to latch onto. And that felt good, even if my health sucked!
But one of the biggest hesitations is this.
I’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE
Back in November, I tipped the scales at 377. As of this writing, I’m weighing in at 297 lbs. Awesome, right?
But, I’m sure most of you know how the story sometimes goes from there. The majority of people with weight issues do the “yo-yo” a lot. Get fat, lose some weight, feel good for awhile, use food to celebrate because “we deserve it,” put all the weight back on.
The latest yo-yo for me began around four years ago, when I had worked my way down to about 270 lbs. from 388 in a little over a year. And then…
Rinse. Repeat. Back to 377 just six months ago.
No rinsing or repeating this time. At least not yet.
And that’s one of the problems: I keep saying “yet” as if I’m destined to put it all back on again.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m happier than I’ve been in quite a long time. My parents, my wife, her parents and our extended families have been beyond supportive. Life is good.
But, I got so used to being fat that, even with a lot of weight gone (and plenty to go), I get into this seemingly-neverending internal struggle where my inner voice is telling me, “Hey man, you’ll be back up here in the 400s eventually,” and I come out of the gate swinging saying, “Nope, not this time.”
Ring the bell. Let’s go. Let yet another weight loss fight begin.
I throw a left jab at the inner voice. Then a right uppercut.
But, like George Foreman in “The Rumble In The Jungle,” I’m in that boxing match with my inner voice, swinging and landing punches (and shedding pounds) like I never have before.
Jab. Jab. Jab. Right hook.
But my inner voice won’t budge. It’s taking every punch like it’s been hit with a feather as my energy and willpower are nearing empty.
Jab. Panting. Left hook. More panting.
All the while, my inner voice is whispering back at me.
“Is that all you got, Zach?”
Apparently, my inner voice is as strong as Muhammad Ali.
And I was tired of getting beat by him.
SO I ASKED FOR BACKUP
Let’s go back to April 2017 for a second. My wife was pregnant with our second child – a boy (Monroe officially joined the family a couple of months later).
My weight was climbing (again), and I had been bumming because I lost all of the weight the previous time around due in large part to not wanting our firstborn child, Remi, to be subject to an obese father. But, she was born and my inner voice had told me, “Mission accomplished, now come on back to the dark side.” And I had.
Anyway, we knew our health insurance deductible for the rest of the year was going to be met with the birth of Monroe in July, so I threw it out there joking, “We should go ahead and get all the medical work done we need if insurance will pay for it all.”
I threw out the option of weight loss surgery, but I figured that wasn’t even possible. I figured insurance wouldn’t cover such a thing.
But, the more and more my wife and I talked it out and researched it, we started to find that this sort of thing was, indeed, covered by our insurance plan with one big, fat (no pun intended) contingency: I had to be medically supervised for six months on the same diet and exercise plan to prove that I was invested in this process and not gain one pound over that time. I was to come in to the doctor once a month for a weight and wellness check.
Only then would the insurance company decide whether or not to count the surgery as “medically necessary” and, therefore, covered at 100 percent by insurance.
“OK, then, I’m in. I’m doing this,” I remember telling myself. Only to hear the inner voice tell me over and over: “Six months without gaining a pound? Yeah, right.”
And I’m not gonna lie. There were times I was convinced the insurance company was going to come back and say “denied.”
But there was one more hurdle. One more hesitation that’s tough for me to share.
There was a part of me that was sort of hoping I would get denied the coverage I needed to go on with the surgery.
I was ashamed that I was even using this route. I didn’t want to tell anyone I was going to have the surgery. Why? You know why.
Because everyone would’ve thought I took the easy way out.
I was already having nightmares about how people would talk about me after the surgery.
“Zach is so weak. He couldn’t do it the old-fashioned way, huh?”
It was debilitating. On one hand, I NEEDED HELP to reach health goals that I had not been able to maintain. I still do.
On the other hand, I hated the very notion that people would consider me weak-minded for not being able to lose weight and keep it off the traditional way.
I can remember the justification I made in my head. “If the insurance company denies me, that’s OK. I’ll still be fat, but I can work on it again, and when I lose all this weight on my own, everyone will look at me as strong.”
I could hear my inner voice chuckling.
Anyway, the six months rolled by. I lost a little weight on my own and the insurance company, to my surprise, accepted the cost of the surgery in full.
I was a mixture of scared and ecstatic. Scared to tell my friends and family that I was taking the “easy” way out.
But then I started to attend all of these meetings with Dr. John Oldham and my other doctors at the Bariatric Center at Baptist East Hospital in preparation for the surgery. They wanted to make sure I knew this wasn’t an easy fix. It was cemented into my head that this was going to be tough.
I couldn’t leave the place any of the umpteen times I went without hearing something to the effect of “Remember, this surgery is just a tool in helping you lose weight. If you don’t use the tool, the tool becomes useless.”
In other words, I have to get over the psychological addiction I have with food as well. The vertical sleeve gastrectomy procedure, commonly referred to as the “sleeve” would remove 90 percent of my stomach. Ninety percent.
But, the addiction to food for many can be so overwhelming that the stomach removal just doesn’t matter. The patient still eats even though they receive signals of being full way quicker than they ever had before.
It’s yet another reason I am afraid to share my story. Because here I am – my story thrown on paper with ink that will last forever – and if my addiction wins out over my new “tool,” I’ll want to literally eat every one of the magazines this story was printed on as a way to shred the evidence of me having ever told my story.
BUT I DID IT
But, that’s the chance I took on Nov. 6, 2017.
Pain after surgery was real. Making me walk an hour after leaving the surgery floor as to get my body back to normal as quickly as possible – not fun. Eating broth and drinking liquid protein shots for days upon days after the surgery – not fun. Watching others chow on the delectables I used to shove down my piehole without taking a breath – sometimes not fun.
But, all worth it.
A little over six months later, my excitement and enjoyment of life is outweighing all other feelings at the moment – although, I know this story of all of my worries would likely prove otherwise.
But I share my worries because I think they are important to the overall story.
In the end, I’m ecstatic because I know getting this tool would help me reach my ultimate goal of not being an obese parent for my children. They are about to turn 3- and 1-year-old, respectively.
I’m glad I still have a little longer to push more weight off before they start to have true memories with their father that they’ll tell their kids about down the road, much like I had with my dad, and still do.
And, believe me, I’ve still got a long way to go to get to a “healthy” stage. My journey has just started.
In all, the real reason I ultimately decided to share this is so when someone else is struggling with the decision to change their lifestyle forever, that they know that they’re not alone.
It’s a lifelong battle.
I’m here to help. So are others. You are not alone. You need the accountability. So do I.
Because I’m an addict.
And I’m happy.