You have more to lose than pounds

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(CNN) — One day last September, I stumbled upon an article about retired NFL linemen who were struggling with their weight. A study mentioned in the article showed the life expectancy for those former linemen was significantly shorter than their normal weight peers.

It made sense: How many older people do you know who are 6-foot-3 and weigh more than 350 pounds? People that size don’t really grow old.

I had already decided that I needed to make some lifestyle changes regarding my own health. But as a former football player, reading that article hit me hard.

My first course of action was to buy a scale; I hadn’t been on an accurate one in years. The scale in my doctor’s office would only go up to 350 pounds. Just to be safe I looked for a scale that had a maximum of 400 pounds. I set the scale on my bathroom floor, and exhaled as much air as I could as I stood on it.

The next few seconds were followed by a rush of emotions — shock, disbelief, frustration and anger. I weighed 383 pounds.

How did I get to this point?

As I looked back on the previous few years, I realized that I was not a happy person. Within a year’s time, I had turned 40, become a single father and lost my biggest supporter: my mom. I was disappointed in the direction my personal and professional life was taking. And I was using food to cope.

I used to read a poem to my student athletes that said, “You can’t fool the guy in the mirror.” But yet that is what I had been trying to do.

I thought I was destined to be a large individual for the rest of my life, and I questioned my ability to lose a significant amount weight at my age. The self doubt was prevalent in my mind. The more I felt sorry for myself, the more I ate. It was a vicious cycle.

I realized that this decision to change my life was about more than just losing weight. I had to lose my inner critic. I had to lose the ropes that were tying me to the past. More importantly, I had to lose this black cloud hanging over my head.

I had only myself to blame, and I knew I was the only one who could fix it.

Exercise quickly replaced food as my comfort in life. Where I once turned to fast food in times of stress and frustration, I instead found myself going to the gym. The more I exercised, the more weight started to drop off.

It was a slow climb out of the personal hole I was in, but I found that eating right and exercising were the best remedies to change my outlook on life.

When I got to the 50-pound milestone, I decided to look at my wardrobe. I had a closet full of bad memories and BIG clothes.

For instance, I had a shirt that I wore to my 25th high school reunion. I hated it when I saw pictures of how heavy I looked in it. So why did I keep it? I didn’t have to think twice now about giving it away.

It took at least two hours to finish cleaning out the closet. When I was done, I had five heaping garbage bags full of clothes. It was a gratifying experience to lose that much clutter from my life.

The best part came when someone asked if they could take those clothes off my hands. I shared my story with that person when he picked them up. Maybe he’ll be giving them away again in the near future.

I firmly believe that if I can make these lifestyle changes, that anyone can. We all have something to lose.

By Mike Wilber, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mike Wilber is one of six CNN viewers selected to be a part of the Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge program. Follow the “Sassy Six” on Twitter and Facebook as they train to race the Nautica Malibu Triathlon with Dr. Sanjay Gupta on September 14.

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