In 2016 I was 31 years old and working hard to get back to a healthy weight after peaking at nearly 325 pounds. By “working hard,” I mean I was struggling through grueling workouts that left me feeling like I could reward myself by eating whatever I wanted. This was not what Marcus, my personal trainer, had in mind.
After two months, he looked me right in the eye and said, “I can’t be your trainer anymore. If you’re not going to care about yourself, I’m not going to either.”
I doubted anyone cared about me at all, and it must have shown on my face. So Marcus held up his phone to show me the text messages he’d exchanged with my general manager at the LifeCafe where I worked in Schaumburg, Ill. They both knew I had yet to reach my potential and that the best version of Jason was still inside me.
I realized I didn’t want to let them — or myself — down anymore. That was the moment I started caring about myself, too.
Eating My Feelings
I was a pretty active kid, playing soccer throughout my childhood and into high school. In my junior year, I stopped playing competitively so I could focus on my grades. That was also when I began driving — and eating dinner from the drive-thru window. That added 15 pounds to my 5-foot-8-inch frame. Running and working out helped me lose that weight before my senior year, but I didn’t drop the fast food.
The focus on academics paid off, and I left for Wayne State University as a premed major. But the pressure of so many advanced classes led to stress eating, which caused more weight gain. Before the year was over, I transferred to a local community college. I brought my grades up, but my weight climbed, too: I was now carrying 225 pounds.
In 2006 I enrolled at Central Michigan University and worked as a manager at a pizzeria. That’s where I ate most of my meals, too. I gradually added another 25 pounds.
Then in October 2011, my world was sent into a tailspin when my younger sister died of a drug overdose. I’d always been a stress eater, and I began relying on food to soothe my sadness and anger over her death. Before she died, she’d pointed out that I was gaining weight, in that blunt way only siblings can. “Yeah, someday I’m going to lose it,” I always told her.
But now she wasn’t around to keep me accountable.
By the time I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2012, I was pushing 280 pounds. A friend encouraged me to apply to work with him at the LifeCafe in…