For almost two decades, I was a fat kid. Hell, I was THE Fat Kid.
The weight gain started in elementary school when I was around 8 or 9 years old, but the psychological seeds were sown years prior.
At 3 years old, my mom had my brain tested. It turned out I had an I.Q. of 136, so I was now the smart kid that got placed a grade ahead of the other students my age…
…and everyone knew it.
From my earliest days in school, I was picked on and ridiculed relentlessly. I was never gifted athletically, and was always the last one picked for any team events, but the first one picked when working on an assignment in a group, or when we’d play the school version of Jeopardy. I liked country and pop music; the other students liked rap and hard rock. Boys picked fights with me; girls did not talk to me. Most teachers were encouraging and supportive; some teachers resented me, and made a priority of balancing out the praise they perhaps felt was unearned by a 5-year old. So, I buried myself into my schoolwork, and at home, my first love, playing the drums.
I got straight As; no minuses. In both 5th and 6th grade I was pulled out of class for half a day once or twice a week, and taken to another school to study computer programming and other advanced subjects along with a handful of smart kids from other schools in the area.
I didn’t really hang out with many people from school. When attending school, those with whom I would hang out from time to time would either join in on the insults or pretend I didn’t exist. They were embarrassed to be friends with me.
When I was 5, I began taking Karate lessons at my local dojo because I was afraid of getting beat up at school. After 3 years of lessons and earning some colorful belts — the Karate belt system is used in martial arts training to mark the progress a student has made in their study — my instructor closed his business; I didn’t join another dojo afterward.
At that point in my life, I had been playing drums for 6 years. A friend of mine played guitar, met another kid at his school who also played guitar and introduced us. BAM! First band formed! (NOTE: I would go on to play with these two musicians on-again, off-again, for the next 16 years. More on that journey in future blogs!)
So at 8 years old, instead of playing outside, climbing trees, riding bikes all day and taking Karate lessons throughout the week, I was being driven to and from my new buddy’s house to go play songs as a band with another 8-year old and a 7-year old.
I’d load my Noble & Cooley drum set (settle down, pro drummers; it was a toy store version of a legitimate N&C kit) into my dad’s truck, get dropped off, set up and play. At his house was a professional Premier drum set, and we’d secretly play on it when his folks weren’t home…mostly because I had all but destroyed my toy set, and my cymbal stand kept falling over.
When we’d get hungry, we’d bike to any of the fast food restaurants and convenience stores in the area and stuff our faces.
Around this time, an older kid moved into the neighborhood. He was a skateboarder, and me and my bandmates thought he was just the coolest dude ever. So, we started skateboarding, too. We learned about the secret skate spots in our area, and we’d carry our boards while riding our bikes to go skate at these places.
When we’d get hungry, we’d bike or skate to any of the fast food restaurants and convenience stores in the area and stuff our faces.
My brother and I joined a Saturday morning youth bowling league, and remained in the league for years to come (until I could drive my own car and my teammates started playing “real” sports). My dad would take my brother and me to Hardees for breakfast in the morning on the way to bowling. During bowling matches, Dad would buy us snacks and sodas out of the vending machines.
After we finished our games we’d usually go to my grandma’s house for dinner, and on the way, stop at the local book store. We’d each get a new book to read…and candy, even though Grandma always had candy. I’d drink anywhere from 4-8 cans of Coca-Cola Classic while we hung out at her house, and would spend most of my time trying to eat as many M&Ms, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and Hershey Kisses from her candy dishes as possible without anyone noticing; it was my little secret.
In order to bring extra money into the household, my mom began doing day care out of our house for family and friends. Each summer, there would usually be anywhere from 5-10 kids in the house Monday through Friday, and she was responsible for feeding everyone lunch. I mostly remember eating soft tacos and “cinnamon crispas” from Taco Bell and mini fried chicken sandwiches with mayo from Kentucky Fried Chicken. And drinking lots of Dr. Pepper.
My family moved to a new city when I was 10 years old. At the new house, what would normally be the rear fence of the backyard was actually a high concrete wall to separate our yard from a mall parking lot. Our house was 3 houses from the corner, and at that corner was a dead end through which you could walk to get to the mall. Almost every day after school for two years, my mother would give me and my brother five dollars each to go the mall, eat at the food court, play arcade games and hang out until our dad got home. We’d usually get Taco Bell, since it was cheapest and that meant we could play more games.
A kid in school began making fun of me for my “rolls” at around that time. I thought he was talking about the bottoms of my blue jeans.
When I changed schools after completing 6th grade, I had a choice that summer: I could go into regular 7th grade at the local middle school and end up graduating high school a year early; or go to a gifted school a little further away, repeat 6th grade with more advanced teaching and be with kids my own age. I got a legal pad, went into my bedroom, drew a line down the center and labeled one side “Regular 7th”, the other side “Gifted 6th”. I wrote down all the pros and cons I could think of for each situation, and ultimately decided to go to the gifted school.
I thought that no one at this new school would make fun of me for being smart; they were all smart.
And I was right. Not once did anyone ever make fun of me for being smart.
Instead, they made fun of me for being fat and poor.
I was now a poor fat kid, ridiculed in a whole new way, and I became incredibly depressed. I was furious at myself for choosing to attend this school, effectively adding a year to my seemingly never-ending sentence of ridicule.
Even at 11 years old, I knew I owned my decision. I’m the one who weighed the pros against the cons and did what I thought was best given the circumstances. I thought I was going to a school filled with people just like me, and that things would be so much better. I knew that making new friends could be difficult and awkward, but I was excited to be with kids my own age and whom shared some of my skill set and abilities.
And now here I was, in a new school with people I’ve never met, most of whom grew up together in their upper-middle class neighborhoods, enlightening me to my family’s financial woes and my own obesity.
I could not endure the pain any longer. I had to make some sort of stand.
So, I told my bandmates to start calling me “The Fat Kid”, and created a kind of alter ego where I was totally comfortable with being overweight. I made jokes about myself before others could have the chance. Whenever something would go well for me, I’d pick up an object, hold it in my hand like Groucho Marx with a cigar and say “The Fat Kid always wins!” It got so many laughs that I went to the custom t-shirt shop in the backyard mall and had it ironed on a extra-large cream-colored t-shirt in big blue letters…
The Fat Kid ALWAYS Wins.
That shirt became my “security blanket”. I wore it to school. I wore it when my bandmates and I rode bikes and skateboarded. I wore it when I played drums at shows. I embraced the whole character of the overweight kid in the group that tries really hard to get everyone to laugh, and continued to portray that character for over a decade.
And I effectively eliminated all ridicule about my weight.
Today, I’m in the best shape of my life. I’ve lost 70 pounds from my highest weight ever, bike almost every day and go to the gym 3-4 times a week. I eat a well-balanced diet of food throughout the day, and only binge or cheat on festive occasions. As a result, I’m stronger than I’ve ever been physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I also have more stamina where it really counts…behind the drum set, ladies!
The late Stephen Covey wrote in his best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us.” I knew back then I couldn’t change my weight problem overnight. (In fact, it has taken the past six years of consistent — and inconsistent — effort and decision-making to finally get to a point where I can stand naked and sober in front of a mirror and smile). What I did know was this: just as the decision to attend the gifted school was mine to make, so was my decision to choose my response to my bullies. I decided to use the exact same smarts the kids used to make fun of me about, and turn the tables on my adversaries.
And the only person stopping you from doing the same thing in your life is you.
Turn the tables on your haters. Use their own tactics against them. Sharpen your mind and create a better life for yourself. Feel free to start with Covey’s book above. I’ve bought it 3 times and given it away to people to help them, leaving me with no copy. One of my best friends recently gave me his extra hardcopy. (Call it karma, right?)
My birthday is coming up this Saturday, and I always get myself a gift.
This year’s gift: six-pack abs.
Thanks for reading.
P.S. Speaking of Saturday, I’ll be posting a big announcement on here! Those who follow this blog will get it emailed directly to them so they don’t miss it. I have a no-limit policy on how many people can follow, and it’s FREE!!
P.P.S. Here’s a moment from the fat years that stuck with me…
Once, on the way home from bowling, I remember going through the drive-thru at McDonald’s and this exchange happening as we were waiting to pull up to order:
Dad: “Okay boys, what do you want to eat?”
Me: “A double quarter pounder with cheese extra value meal, super-sized with a —”
Dad: “Doggone it, John! Do you always have to get the biggest thing on the menu??”
I fell silent and shrunk into the passenger seat.
“Why does he care what I order, anyway??”, I wondered at first. “Is it because it’s the most expensive thing on the menu and my family is struggling with money??” (Maybe.)
Then, I began to get really pissed off. “So what,” I reasoned, “I’m hungry, and you’re just jealous that I can eat more than you.” (What??)
My brain brewed with thoughts and my body shook inside for at least an hour. Bottom line, I was really upset with my food lifestyle being challenged. I had settled into the role of “The Fat Kid” and what he would order when he went to fast food restaurants: whatever the biggest value meal was, super/biggie/fatfuck-sized. But I knew in my heart that he was right to ask the question, albeit angrily.
So, why did I always have to order the biggest thing??
It was the habit I unconsciously created over the course of almost 10 years due to my daily decisions.
Make better decisions on a daily basis — even the decisions you think are small — and you’ll eventually create new habits and get the results you want. I know from experience, dude.
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