At 628 pounds, John Phillips expected (and got) stares when he went to the mall. He couldn’t buy clothes there, anyway; even the better “big and tall” options didn’t carry pants with the 82-inch waist he needed.
He had started big and gotten bigger, which helps explain why now, ten years after roux-en-y gastric bypass and just ten pounds from his goal weight, John still doesn’t recognize his reflection. The now-slim teacher and music director was a “husky” youth who grew to a 300-pound high school graduate and then a 400-pound college student. He was nearly 40 when he topped out at 628 pounds.
“I was miserable,” he said. “I was able to work, but I taught from a chair. When I walked from my classroom next door to the church to play piano, I had to sit down three times.
“I knew that if I didn’t do something, I was going to become disabled or die.”
Surgery was a risk but offered hope.
“At my size,” John said, “there was a huge risk that I wouldn’t make it through. I could either take the risk of dying on the table or do nothing and die anyway.”
He made the appointment. And then he planned his funeral, right down to the music.
John had surgery May 28, 2003. He had no complications, save learning to deal with the barrage of food commercials and the social pressure of parties, dinners, and drinks after he healed. These days, he has a very different relationship with food, which had been his primary source of comfort.
“Food had been my best friend, and to suddenly lose that was hard,” he said. “I’d have never thought I could sit in front of two ounces of cottage cheese and not eat it all—but to come away from that feeling like I’d just eaten Thanksgiving dinner.
“I knew what I was doing was going to save my life, so I kept up the struggle.”
John now hits the gym every morning at 5 a.m. and wears size 34 pants.
“It was a milestone to be able to shop at the big and tall stores, and then it was a milestone not to have to,” he said.
John has had three reconstructive surgeries, removing skin from his abdomen, chest, back, and arms. He’s done with surgeries but not quite done with weight loss.
“I have in my head that I want to get to 450 pounds lost,” he said. “That’s just ten pounds away. But it’s just a number; if I don’t make it, I don’t.
“I have a life now, and that’s pretty wonderful.”