When Conswella Bennett, 37, of Clarkston was told, “Good grief, you’ve gotten big,” by her mother’s friend, something clicked.
“In 2008, I knew I had gained a lot of weight and tried working out for awhile, but I didn’t really stick to it,” she says. “Then last year, I could tell my energy level had decreased … I would just come home from work and go to sleep.”
That comment from her mom’s friend made her decide to really go through a lifestyle change, lose the weight she needed and begin eating a healthy diet.
A discount coupon to the Sweat Box in Decatur set her on her start on July 19, 2010. She met with a personal trainer and said she wanted to lose weight, tone up and be healthy.
“I was tired of looking in the mirror and seeing what I was seeing,” she says. At that time, she was 5 feet 1 inch tall and weighed 171 pounds. She had a 36-inch waist.
Since July, Bennett, a lesbian, has lost 32 pounds and weighs 139 pounds with a goal of 135. She also has a 32-inch waist.
“I feel good, I look different, and I’ve had to do a complete wardrobe overhaul,” she says.
For her, working out with a trainer and eating right are what it took to lose the weight. Plus, she says, “I had my mind made up.”
In her early 20s, Bennett said she weighed just over 100 pounds. As she aged, she became a person who worked and ate at her desk, ate out for every meal because she didn’t find it necessary to cook for one person, and, well, had a liking for Long Island Iced Teas — which have approximately 300 calories each.
She’s cut out that particular drink when going out with friends and her trainer, Michah Hayes, told her vodka and cranberry is O.K. to drink because it has less calories.
It hasn’t been easy, she acknowledges, and says a supportive partner and friends help her stay on track.
After missing several workouts with her trainer in October, Bennett says she went in for a weigh in expecting the worst. Although she continued to eat according to the meal plan, she was sure she in for a setback.
“When I stepped on the scale, I was looking straight ahead, but I was moved to look down when I heard Micah gasp and say, ‘Nah, that can’t be right.’”
Turns out she had lost 20 pounds.
The next morning, Hayes sent Bennett a text message saying how proud he was of her and to, “Be an inspiration.”
“That is something I’ve been trying to do. I am still on the journey to reach my weight goal, to stay on the track of eating healthy and keeping the weight off,” she says.
— Dyana Bagby
How a ‘bear’ got his weight under control
At 6 feet tall and 320 pounds, Brian Crawford said he felt like a beached whale. He knew he was unhealthy, depressed and, simply, fat.
“I realized I was only getting worse health wise and if I didn’t do something at 32, where would I be when I was 40 or 50? Would I even make it to 50?” he says.
Three years ago, Crawford, an Atlanta resident, decided to take control of his life and weight. He texted everyone he knew and said, “I’m officially fat.” He wanted his friends and loved ones to help keep him honest and he set off to lose weight.
“I could tell people that I weighed 250 pounds. I lied to everybody and myself. I wanted to be transparent with the texts,” he says.
Crawford, who works for Keller Williams in Decatur, believes his weight gain was part of the success that came with being in the real estate industry at its apex just a few years ago.
“Success made me fat. All I did was work and eat. I felt like my whole life was collapsing because of my weight.”
His health deteriorated and due to stress and his weight, Crawford had to spend a day in the hospital. He was pre-diabetic and had high blood pressure. And it was time for him to do something.
Crawford went so far as to print out spreadsheets on calories, became an avid food label reader, and started grilling his chicken instead of frying it.
He then learned of a three-month medical weight loss program offered through Emory Healthcare and says that program taught him everything he needed to know to lose weight, keep it off and stay healthy.
“It retrains you on how to eat,” he says.
Crawford also works out five days a week — he walks three miles to the gym and three miles home and walks 12 miles a day on the weekends.
His weight is now down to 237 pounds and he is working to get to 230 or even 215 pounds. He says he can splurge now and again on a Guinness beer or two and some cheesecake, but it’s all about moderation.
“I lost an 8-year old boy off my back,” he says.
As part of his discipline, Crawford also keeps a blog titled, “A Fat Boy No More” where he shares his story with others.
“I was a reluctant bear, but now I’m OK,” he says. “I’m a more muscular guy with hair — I’m probably a healthy bear.”
‘Female-bodied’ anorexic, now a healthy man
While the focus with most Americans is on losing weight, there are also those on the opposite end of the spectrum — those who struggle with eating disorders from anorexia to bulimia.
It is estimated that 8 million Americans have an eating disorder – 7 million women and 1 million men. Of those who suffer from anorexia, 5 to 10 percent die within 10 years from the start of the eating disorder.
Trans man Dae Jedic, a 22 year-old Athens native, is one of the survivors.
Jedic reports he had a complicated eating disorder long before he realized it. His eating habits started off “average” when he lived as a “female-bodied” person, but as years went on while he was trying to understand himself and his body, eating habits took a turn for the worse and thus began the downward spiral.
“I had bouts with OCD rituals before I even noticed how much it affected the way I saw my food,” he says. “Subconsciously, I would think myself into a cycle of madness. “
Jedic recalls how he could not eat unless he made the food, but he couldn’t prepare food unless his kitchen was spotless. And because he ate so little, he didn’t have enough energy for either cleaning or cooking.
“My mind literally thought that controlling the way I ate would help other aspects of my life feel more in control,” he says.
Jedic realized his gender identity was “male” and started his transition in July 2009. Since he was now more aware of himself, he finally began to speak openly about his weight and anorexia.
“I was 21 years old, and hadn’t been over 95 pounds in several years. I wanted to fix it, I hated being so small. But the other aspects of weight gain, having more curves or bigger breasts to have to bind, were not things I wanted,” he says.
As Jedic began taking hormones, a therapist helped him understand why he wasn’t eating.
“Testosterone really helped more than I thought it could. After starting [it], my moods leveled out, my anxiety went down, and I finally got an honest appetite,” he says.
Jedic extends gratitude to his circle of support, which includes his fiancé Maggie.
“She’s been someone whose really held me accountable for the way I treated my own body and helped me get into better habits both in daily routines, and in what I eat.”
Jedic has been on testosterone for four months, has reached 110 pounds and is still gaining. Adding those 15 pounds has been a triumph for him in his life.
“I can do five pull-ups in a row and almost bench my own body weight. Seeing as I’ve never really been active in a sport or any other physical means, I consider these things achievements,” he says. “I’m feeling healthier than ever, and it’s all thanks to finally transitioning and taking a look at how much my body is affected by my mind.”
— Tristan Skye
Emergency room trip leads to 100-pound weight loss
August 2008 proved to be an awakening for Janackeh Blackwell. She found herself at the emergency room with heart problems, weighing in at 340 pounds.
“It shocked me,” says Blackwell, who lives in Lawrenceville. “I was in complete denial that I weighed that much.”
In early 2009, she began to take a real assessment of her health and realized it was time to get serious about losing weight in order to live a long, healthy life.
“The way I was eating and not exercising was detrimental to my physical and mental well-being. I started to realize that being overweight, and having been overweight most of my life, was affecting much more than just my physical body.”
Blackwell explains that there was no official formula for losing weight.
“Honestly, much of it was more emotional and spiritual than anything else. Once I started actively dealing with the root of emotional issues and allowing God to have the reigns in my life, the weight began to come off.”
In December 2009, Blackwell stopped eating meat and cut out most dairy, processed sugar and processed flour. Her fiancé, transman Jesse Klein, taught her how to cook using fresh vegetables and she ate more fruit than ever before.
“I used to live off of fast food of all varieties: bread, meat, and desserts. All processed, sugar-laden, and cancer causing. … As far as exercise goes, I began walking and jogging some and even light resistance training,” she says.
Blackwell owes her support system to Klein. “He never babied or pacified me. He has always pushed me forward realistically acknowledging my strengths and weaknesses.”
Although Blackwell has lost close to 100 pounds, she says she is not done yet.
“It’s not easy staying dedicated to living healthy but when I think about the alternative (death) or remember where I came from, it makes it well worth it,” she says.
“I’m not perfect in my eating and I’m not religious about working out, but I now know and understand with clarity the benefits of a truly healthy lifestyle having experienced some of those benefits personally,” she says.
Losing weight is still changing Blackwell’s life.
“With working out, I have met many challenges and overcome them, proving to myself that I can physically do more than I ever thought I could,” she says. “It pushes me to try new things because of this new found confidence in realizing I can do things.”