Writer. Warning: opinions. My lawyer advised a disclaimer, but didn't include any jokes to go with. Damned if I can think of any either.

Open letter to TAE: 13 years and 300lbs

One of my favorite things about writing a blog is the responses I get when people choose to respond. I’ve gotten a comment this week, however, that simply broke my heart.

Here is the text of TAE’s comment, from this post about A&E’s show “Heavy”:

Hello I’m almost 14 and I’m about 300 pounds it’s not fun being one of the biggest in your p.e class or now being able to wear the cool tees shirts. I wish that I could get on this show because I can’t afford weight loss summer camps. I just want to be about half the size I am because I’m 5 foot 5-6 inches and that’s around the right size I need to be. I have tried weight watchers 4 times it don’t work after the first time. My doctor said I’m to young for wright loss pills so I’m down to going to a fat camp but cant afford it. I would love to look like a normal teenager but it’s hard to loss the weight I need to get away to a place where they will push me into loading weight.

My friend Colleen, writer of her own blog, Modern Crunch, asked me if I was going to try to respond. I said I wasn’t about to attempt to reason with a 13 year old kid about anything, let alone mental game, fitness, or philosophy. The only problem is that I can’t really get TAE’s remarks out of my head.

There were also some great responses to TAE from Chris and Gob, as you can see from the comment thread. Both those guys hit the nail on the head, but I’m still shaken up.

So, I’m just going to write out my thoughts and hopefully feel a little better, and if someone happens to read this and find it interesting or helpful, that would be nice.

The Fat Kid: Me

Dear TAE,

As you might have noticed at the top of this web site, I was once over 300lbs. I was always the fat kid in school. My clothes always fit funny, and I was always self conscious about it. I know what you mean when you talk about not getting to wear the cool shirts. I’m the lightest I have been since I was close to your age, I’d imagine, and I’m still battling my love handles. I wear my pants super low just so I don’t accentuate said love handles.

Are you familiar with the idea of muffin tops? Well, I have cake tops. Some people call them “mom hips.” They’re a problem, believe me.

People have always called me Big Jim, and I have always hated it. I don’t think they did it to be rude, per se. After all, at 6’1″ 310lbs, I was pretty damned big! I still wanted to punch them for it, though, truth be told. I don’t go around calling people “Fake Eyebrows Jeanine” or “Self Absorbed Cheryl” do I? No, I do not.

My point is I know how isolating it feels to be big. I know how helpless it feels, and I know that being full feels good when everything else feels bad.

I hate to tell you this, my man, but its going to get worse.

Next Stop: Romance

You’re 13 years old, going on 14, so that means you have recently started to think about girls (or boys, if that’s your thing) in some new and complicated ways. Your schoolmates are experiencing the same thing. Whatever your preference, you’re about to start interacting with your peers with the addition of a new romantic component, and that means that whatever teasing you are currently enduring, if any, is about to go from jet power to afterburner. Kids are cruel, but young adults are ruthless.

You probably already have some mechanisms in place to deal with this. In my case, I was the hilarious super-friendly fat guy. It works to keep the heat off you, but it works at a cost to your own happiness. Don’t put your self in a position where your last thoughts every night are things like:

  • Why do I try so hard for nothing?
  • What’s wrong with me?

Those negative mantras do permanent damage.

Now, you probably have a lot better game than I do. People probably love you. Trust me when I tell you, though, that life is much, much easier on the romantic level when you are fitter and slimmer. Trying to go through your dating life on the fat side will be highly problematic and pretty hurtful. If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll get friend zoned a lot.

People will tell you things like “there are a lot of fish in the sea,” and that famous chestnut “Just relax and be yourself!” but the truth is that being more attractive physically simply attracts more people. Don’t get me wrong, though. What’s on the inside does count. It’s just that you usually don’t get a chance for it to count if your outside needs work.

You have got to lose the weight, buddy.

How to do it

I’m not a dietician or a physical trainer. I’m certainly not a doctor. That said, in my opinion, I don’t think that getting onto a reality show is the answer. You have to do this yourself, because even if you get on the show, you’re still going to be you when all the lights are packed up and the cameras are off.

You have to think long and hard about the kind of life you want to live, make some firm choices about yourself, and then change your mind about how you eat. At your age you are man enough to make these kinds of decisions for yourself. I don’t know what kind of relationship you have with your parents or your school teachers, but I bet if you ask around you can find someone who will help.

In short, you have to change your mind, not your situation.

Fat is not who we are, it’s just a type of cell that is under our skins. It does not have a will, but you and I do. It cannot adapt, but we can.

The good news, from my perspective, is that you’re already asking questions and looking for answers. You just have to stay on track, keep asking and keep trying.

I know it sounds dumb but you have to believe in yourself. Sometimes your heart hurts, and it only makes it feel worse if your stomach is empty as well, but the small comfort of being full right now only means more heartbreak and misery later. Trust me on that one.

Good luck, buddy. You can do it.

11 thoughts on “Open letter to TAE: 13 years and 300lbs”

  1. Sarah
     · 

    Great response Jim and good luck Tae.

  2. Nick
     · 

    I feel ya brother!

  3. Jenny Clark
     · 

    Jimbo, GREAT post. Thank you for having the courage to craft such a compassionate response. I hope that TAE reads this and has the family support that he needs to see a doctor and improve his health. As you know, I’ve been there. However, I wasn’t able to lose the weight until I moved out of my parent’s home. As much as they loved me, they didn’t have the knowledge or capability to support me being a healthy person. Otherwise, I never would have been a 5’2, 210 lb teenager.

    I love the “It gets better” messages that society has recently given GLTBQ youth. I wish there were a similar campaign for fat kids. Although the message would have to be “it gets better, but not without a lot of work.” Maybe we should do this. Thanks for kick starting the movement.

    TAE – Life can and will get better. Jim is a great example of this. Let his story inspire you whenever you start to feel that fat is forever.

  4. Michael Hawkins
     · 

    Excellent response. Can you see roughly where TAE lives by his IP address, Jim? Odds are he’s nowhere near me, but I would like to help if I can. At the very least there must be programs wherever he lives, something that can give him the structure that will help him.

  5. jim
     · 

    I can, and I have an email address, but I’m not about to divulge either for privacy reasons. I wouldn’t even if he were an adult, which he isn’t.

    On top of that, I’m not sure it really matters what other people want to do for someone who doesn’t want to help themselves. I think the best thing we can do for others might be leading/living by example.

  6. Michael Hawkins
     · 

    Fair enough. I hope he at least sees this post and it makes a difference for him.

  7. llml
     · 

    Wonderful response..you are one sweet boy, Jimmy!
    xo

  8. Stephen Touset
     · 

    One unfortunate part of his situation is that, being a minor, he’s almost wholly dependent upon his parents for a lot of his nutrition. If the parents eat fast food every day, so does the kid. If they don’t cook meals, or keep fresh food on hand to be cooked, even with the best of intentions his hands might be tied, at least from a dietary part of the equation.

    For the other half of the “diet and exercise” equation, my only advice is to find some form of physical activity that you enjoy doing. I’ve been somewhat overweight from high school until two years ago, when I discovered that bicycles are just about the most fun I believe that I’m capable of experiencing. When you find something you love to do, you’ll find ways to incorporate it into your life regardless, and that’s a lot easier to maintain than setting aside an hour a day to do something you hate.

    Best of luck, dude.

  9. Kyle
     · 

    You’re as good a man as Charlie Brown, Jim.

  10. abby
     · 

    Thoughtful and insightful, Jim. You’re right, on all accounts, especially the tough things that are hard to say.

    Stephen’s right about the exercise bit — some people really enjoy treadmills and weight lifting and stair stepping. Or triathalons, or road races. :) To me, those activities are tedious, not particularly energizing. I see cardio machines as chores that need to be done when I don’t want to go outside because it’s cold or rainy. It’s easy to lose interest in something you view as a chore — what’s important is to find the movement you enjoy. Biking, for a lot of us that follow this blog. But also soccer, or tennis, or volleyball, or swimming or walking places — all those are movements that burn calories and lead to health.

    For a 13 year old (well, for anyone, really), I think it’s vitally important to be involved in planning meals, selecting produce and reading labels on food that has them. Actually cooking a meal or helping do so is a good way to wrap your head around what you are consuming. Ooh, and while I’m rambling, recognizing that cooking really ought to be more than unwrapping and heating is often a big step, too.

  11. John Tackett
     · 

    Jim – He is fortunate that there are people like you (and I) that can relate and share our experiences in regards to being “heavy.” It was difficult growing up as the big kid in regards to weight. While it had its pluses; I was a damn good football lineman and make some awesome cannonballs at the pool; they were overshadowed by the negatives.

    And you are right, it will only get worse as he goes into those teen years. It was difficult not being able to socialize because of your weight, buy the cool clothes, or develop self-confidence. Kids have it tough enough today and having a weight problem just makes it harder.

    The world if lucky to have people like you who care enough to take the time out of his life an reach out and hopefully make a difference in a young persons life.

    Rock On my friend!!