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After completing my series of blogs on the reality show Fat March and the reality of how weight and weight loss can affect life insurance rates, I had the pleasure of getting to know and interviewing one of the participants, Will Millender. Over the next 3 posts I will be “airing” that interview. Will has some heartfelt and poignant thoughts on his overweight life that I think are very relevant in the continuing discussion about obesity, health and life insurance.

Question: At what age did your weight problem begin? Tell me a little bit about the progression.

I was always the fat kid. When I was 9 or 10, the doctors would always tell me I had the weight of a 13 year old. The reason was simple. I grew up with a mom who has poor eating habits and passed them on to me. This continued all the way up until leaving for the march. When I say this, I don’t mean to point a finger. When you hit 25 years old, and you still have the problem, yes your environment is partially responsible, but at some point, you have to take personal responsibility.

Question: You have described yourself as addicted to food. Even though this is a fairly recent revelation, in retrospect, what were some of the early signs?

Going back to personal responsibility, I never wanted to take it. That means ignoring any sign that I DID have a problem. I always chalked it up to liking food. I wasn’t really an emotional eater, rather if I had an emotional issue and I was on a diet, it made me not care about the diet anymore, but this happened more often than not. One cheat day would turn into two, two into three, three into a week, etc. The day I finally look myself in the mirror and realized I had an addiction, it was because of a television show. Primetime ABC had a special about obesity and they had an interview with a guy named Michael Hebranko. Here you have a guy that was 900 pounds, lost 700 pounds and ballooned back up to 1,000 pounds. And the first thought I had was “how could this jerk do this to himself, what a loser, this is freaking ridiculous.” And the more he spoke, the more I identified with everything. I remember he said, and I’m paraphrasing, “An alcoholic can put down a drink and never have to have it again, but a food addict has to put a fork back in his mouth to survive.” And all of a sudden for some reason it clicked with me and made sense. I had been looking into “the easy way out”, surgery. I figured it was the answer and yet as much as I wanted to change, here I was on the website, crying, and then eating a half dozen donuts the next day. It was out of control.

Question: We all know about Fat March. What were your other most serious attempts at weight loss? Why did they fail?

I’ve tried Weight Watchers in the past. I’ve tried plain old just eating right. Dieting is not rocket science. Control your portions, be active. Anyone with half a brain can lose weight. But we all have personal freedom of choice. And THAT is where everyone messes up. I can go on any diet I want to. But if I can’t control my hand from grabbing the Twinkie and putting it in my mouth, then what’s the point? The problem I’ve always had is that my brain just will not do the right thing. I don’t understand the physiology of it, but there is something in the brain that just makes me want the wrong thing all the time, and a lot of it. What I always said would be the thing that would work, would be to put everything out of my control and get me started. Literally put my life into someone elses hands where none of the choices were mine. And once I had that foot in the door, I would be able to continue because I’d finally see a difference in myself. That is the thing when you get as big as I was. You look in the mirror, lose 10 pounds, don’t see ANY difference physically, and then ask yourself “why are you even bothering?”. Now when I see a pound or two more than I was, I’m pissed. I’ve since went back on Weight Watchers because that control issue is being worked out, little by little, and it’s a great way to just help you keep track of what you’re doing.

Question: Growing up, how did your family feel about weight control? Were they supportive of your weight gain? Were they supportive of any weight loss?

My family has definately been supportive and wanted me to lose weight. But around here, support is “We know you can do it. Please pass the fried chicken.” It’s really hard to get support from people that are, themselves, doing nothing but drinking regular soda and eating cookies and then have no alternative to offer nor was an alternative really wanted in the first place. My grandparents have always worried too, but eventually, they knew their concern was of no value and stopped voicing it. You can only tell a fatty so many times how worried you are before you don’t care anymore.

Question: What was the competitive eating all about? Did it seem like a way to capitalize on your addiction?

For me, competitive eating was just for fun and got me attention. For once, I was cheered for being able to eat a pizza pie instead of chastised. I could walk down the street and people would stop and recognize me and want to shake my hand. I got on a television show on the Discovery Health channel. Unfortunately, it felt good to know that the problem that made people judge me and stay away from me, was making me popular.

I will continue this over 2 more posts. My thanks to Will for his candid answers.