Lauren Shelton and her husband Justin together were tipping the scales at more than 420kg before a medical shock set them on a diet path
How a couple weighing in at more than 420kg decided to diet – losing 237kg in 18 months.
Watching my husband Justin trying to get out of the armchair was painful. He rocked, puffing and panting, until he eventually stood up. “My back hurts,” he moaned one day, but I didn’t pay much attention.
After all, he was 1.83m and weighed 268kg while I was 1.68m and tipped the scales at 154kg. We were so obese we had to have special furniture made and shopped at stores selling supersized clothes.
Justin continued to complain about severe lower back pain for several days. Then one day while at work as an IT consultant he began vomiting again and again.
Worried, he decided to drive himself to the hospital near our home in Jefferson City, Tennessee in the US. But on the way, he found himself in so much pain, he pulled over and called me. Rushing to get him, I was worried, especially when he told me
Whenwe ate at home we had huge portions. Two of us would eat a meal for four and still be hungry
that he was urinating blood. Shocked, I was speechless for a few seconds. “It’s OK, don’t panic,” I managed to say, doing exactly that myself.
On the way to the hospital I kept having the most dreadful thoughts. Justin and I had been married four years and were still young – I was 24 and he 25 – and wanted to do so much, but our weight was a problem. It was hardly surprising as we never stopped eating.
Every day, I’d have a Southern breakfast including savoury biscuits, fried eggs and bacon and gravy. Justin would have sausages, frozen pancakes or waffles with eggs or grab something from a fast-food outlet on his way to work.
For lunch, I’d have fried chicken, fries and cookies. Justin would have a huge homemade sandwich with crisps and a soda or whatever takeout they ordered at work. Sometimes he’d have both. For dinner we’d have Chinese – we both loved fried chicken with fried rice.
Justin and I had tried dieting but we could never stick to it for long. We weren’t ready – but now I began to wonder whether our excesses had caused him some irreparable damage.
At the emergency room the staff took Justin for a CT scan. “We suspect he may have a kidney infection,’’ the doctors said. They put Justin on the machine but he was just too heavy for them to move him into the proper position.
“Without a scan report it’ll be difficult to confirm your condition,’’ they said. They gave him antibiotics and, fortunately, Justin got better.
But it was traumatic for him and scary for me. He was depressed for days and started thinking about his own mortality.
“Do you think I’ll die?” he asked me one day. “What if my kidney condition recurs or what if it becomes something worse?”
“Don’t worry. You are fine now. Nothing will happen to you,’’ I consoled him, hoping I was right. A few days later, in early February 2012, he sat me down and said, “Lauren, I’m going to make some changes to my lifestyle. I’d love for us to do it together but, if not, I completely understand.”
I knew what he was saying – we both needed to go on a diet.
A few years earlier I had been diagnosed with gallstones and had to have my gallbladder removed. “It’s your poor diet,” a hospital resident had told me. I should have done something about it then, but now after Justin’s health scare I knew it was time for me to make some lifestyle changes.
Eating to hide the pain
As a child I’d always been a bit bigger than the other kids. But I didn’t start to gain a lot of weight until my freshman year of high school when I was 13. Over just a few months I gained around 12kg.
Part of it was adjusting to high school. I felt I had no friends as many of my middle-school friends had moved away. I didn’t realise it at the time, but whenever I was unhappy, sad, angry or depressed, I used to turn to food for comfort because it was always there.
When I was 14 I also started dating a guy who was emotionally abusive. One moment he’d say he loved me, the next that I wasn’t good enough for him. He’d make digs about my weight, which sent me rushing to the chocolate stand. I put on around 60kg.
By the time I left high school I weighed 124kg and was a size 22-24 [UK size 26-28]. He would tell me I’d be pretty if I lost weight, draining my confidence.
When I was 17, I decided I’d had enough. I finally broke up with my boyfriend, but I was left with a bad habit of binge eating. When I met Justin two years later, through MySpace, I liked him instantly. He was a year older, and weighed around 130kg. He had an amazing sense of humour and was so intelligent. He made me laugh and seemed to genuinely enjoy being around me. We also found comfort in each other because we were both overweight and knew what it was like to be treated differently and to have to look for clothes in plus-size stores.
We married two years later in May 2008 and we were so happy – but a lot of our time was spent eating. We went to restaurants, fast-food places, or ordered takeaways. Our waistlines ballooned and every year our clothes would get tighter. When we ate at home we had huge portions. Two of us would eat a meal for four and still be hungry. We also drank several sodas a day and hardly did any exercise apart from walking our dog. I would be really tired and achy just from walking through the grocery store.
There were times when we sat down and decided that we had to lose weight so we could enjoy life better – go for long walks, play sport, shop for clothes in regular sizes... But we’d soon fall off the diet wagon.
But now, after Justin’s health scare, we realised we couldn’t afford to take any more chances. “We must get healthy,’’ Justin said, and I nodded.
We went to our local hospital and met a physician’s assistant for guidance. He weighed us – and Justin was shocked. He never got on the scales and had thought he was about 220kg – but he was nearly 270kg. I was now 154kg.
Our diet was simple. We were told to cut out high-calorie and processed foods and fill up on vegetables, fruit, nuts, meat and low-fat cheeses and eat under 2,350 calories a day. In
Since losing all the weight we feel like newlyweds. It’s almost like we are seeing new people
that first month I lost around 9kg and Justin lost around 11kg. We were amazed because we never starved ourselves and weren’t hungry because we filled up on fruit and veggies.
We’d have a chocolate protein shake made with a banana and unsweetened almond milk. For lunch we’d have skinless chicken with carrots, a whole zucchini or some sautéed spinach and broccoli. For dinner we’d usually have something similar but lighter, smaller portions and we’d try to eat before 7pm if possible. Snacks – which used to be junk food like cookies and chocolate – were Greek yogurt, low-fat cheese sticks and almonds.
Justin was the motivator
As we began to lose weight, we realised that there were so many things we could now do that we couldn’t before.
I could bend and paint my toenails without struggling to breathe or bust a blood vessel trying to reach them. I could cross my legs and even do a few push-ups.
During the first month we didn’t work out. But in the second month we started walking between five and 15 minutes every day. We slowly increased our walking and then we joined a small gym where we started doing weightlifting and using the treadmill. I hated it at first. It was hard, but Justin encouraged me and after a while it became easier. It helped that we went together and that the weight fell off us each month. Soon I had to start buying smaller clothes, and after another six weeks they’d be too big and I’d have to buy a dress size smaller. It wasn’t long before Justin hugged me – and could put his arms around my waist. That had never happened before.
A year after starting our diet I went into the store and slipped into a size 10 dress [UK size 14] and a tiny pair of shorts. I just couldn’t believe it. I took a ton of pictures in the dressing room with my phone because I was astounded that they fitted and I could zip up the shorts. I wanted to skip out with the old dress shouting out to everyone in the store that I could wear a 10.
Another milestone was when we could go on a roller-coaster ride last summer. Justin told me that when he was 14 he had to get off a ride at the Universal Studios because he was too big. He was mortified, as everyone saw. I’d been forced off a ride at other places before so I knew how important it was for our confidence.
This time Justin and I went on every single one of the rides and he fitted in the seat with plenty of room to spare. “That’s brilliant,” he kept saying with a huge grin.
After that we weighed ourselves – we’d been on a diet for 18 months and found we had lost a combined total of more than 237kg.
Now we go to the gym about five to six days a week. Some days we swim, hike or go for a run. I hated exercise before but now I love it.
Since losing all the weight we feel like newlyweds again. It’s almost like we’re seeing new people. I’ve always loved Justin and thought he was handsome but I think that even more so now. The weight loss has strengthened our relationship and we have a new outlook on life. We’re much more adventurous and want to go out and do more.
The family reactions have been overwhelmingly positive. They were all really happy for us. “You look fantastic,” they told us, and we feel it too.
My dad used to be really overweight and Justin and I losing weight inspired him to get healthy as well. He has lost about 36kg too.
Justin and I prove that the key to losing weight is staying positive and never giving up. We all have bad days when we eat two cupcakes, but if you tell yourself you can do it, then you will. We’ve shed a lot of weight while we have learnt to love ourselves a whole lot more.
Lauren, 26, lives with husband Justin, 27, in Jefferson City, Tennessee, US.
BEFORE Justin: 268kg Lauren: 154kg A health scare spurred Lauren and Justin on to
AFTER Justin: 111kg Lauren: 74kg
The couple met online and bonded over their common problem
Weight didn’t stop the pair socialising, but occasions often revolved around food
Justin and Lauren now spend time together at the gym and exercising
Embarrassing moments at theme parks are a thing of the past