A&E’s HEAVY: Two people’s journey to stay alive

(A&E has a new reality series: Heavy. Of course, I’m watching it.)

Heavy is not only about weight-loss, fitness and eating right; it’s about staying alive. While MTV features teenagers who still have some semblance of a metabolism, Heavy focuses on two adults each week who are fighting to stay alive.

The first featured is 37-year-old Tom Arnold and the second person is Jodi Von Kessel, a 36-year-old wife and mother of two. Both have mental and physical problems dealing with their morbid obesity.

Tom weighed 638 pounds at his first physical in 15 years. He also suffers from lymphedema, which is caused by blockages in the lymphatic system, an important part of the immune and circulatory systems. The blockage prevents lymph fluid from draining, and as the fluid builds up, the swelling continues. The lymphatic growth must be surgically removed.

Jodi weighed 367 pounds and her body is shutting down. She has already had a mini-stroke, which has affected her life expectancy.

Both are at the point where they have to do it or die. Tom and Jodi have been paired for six months in an extreme weight loss program to lose weight under the careful supervision of their trainers, Britny and David. Tom weighs almost twice as much as Jodi, but they will both face the difficult journey of attempting to lose more than half their body weight.

During the first month of the program, both participants will live at a facility without phones, television or distractions of any kind (including their families), which is one of the problems Jodi faces when it comes to living healthfully. At the facility, they will learn the tools they need to make changes in their lifestyle to a healthier life, instead of continuing on the downward spiral that is their obesity.

David described Jodi as “attitude,” and Tom as a man “carrying a refrigerator up a hill.”

After one week in the program, Jodi lost 15 pounds, and Tom lost 16 pounds; but their struggle wasn’t only pain, it was attitude, fear and anxiety of the unknown.

Unfortunately, Jodi does not feel that she is giving 100 percent and fears she will disappoint her family, her trainer and herself because her body cannot do what her heart wants to do. Her anxiety turns into stress. Jodi doesn’t feel like she can do it. I have never been heavy, but I have felt failure. Britny believes that Jodi will fail only if she succumbs to her own mental issues.

“No fat person wants to work out with a personal trainer who’s never been fat,” Jodi said. Sounds fair to me.

After two weeks in the program, Tom lost a total of 28 pounds, but Jodi only lost an additional three pounds, bringing her weight loss to 18 pounds total. Her disappointment in herself was visible. She cannot get past the mental attitude of “I cannot do this.” While the trainers were there to address her weight problem, a therapist was there to address her anxiety and stress issues.

Her stress and anxiety stems from problems in her marriage and problems with her mother who she described as “a cancer” in her life.

During the first month of the program, Tom and Jodi left the facility to learn healthy grocery shopping techniques in order to eat well while saving money. The facility’s dietitian, Megan Conrad, showed them what it was to read a nutrition label, which I highly doubt either had done in a long while if at all, and what a lean cut of meat is.

Jodi received a cute picture from her son but nothing from her husband who said he would have to move on if she didn’t change.

After one month, Jodi lost 30 pounds total and finally felt the good part of losing weight. Tom lost 51 pounds. One month down and Tom and Jodi must return home to go it alone. The facility provided them with trainers to keep them focused at the gym, but at home with all the distractions, temptations and enablers, they really are alone.

Tom’s family feeds him because they love him. Jodi’s friends celebrated her weight loss at a Mexican restaurant (everything covered in cheese) and ate horrible food that she couldn’t eat right in front of her. From what I could see, these two didn’t have support.

At a weigh-in on day 48, Tom gained 23 pounds and admitted to cheating on his diet and over-over indulging. Because of this non-progress, he had to return the facility. After three weeks, he lost 80 pounds. Before returning home again, he weighed 541 pounds for a total weight lost of 94 pounds.

Because of his weight loss, Tom can finally have surgery to remove the lymphatic growth on his leg.

Britny pays Jodi a visit to diffuse many concerns in her home environment: failing marriage, over bearing mother and living her life for everybody but herself. After kicking her mother out of her house, her motivation is astounding. At day 94, Jodi lost a total of 58 pounds, and when she reaches 74 pounds lost, she breaks the 300-pound mark.

After a dual therapy session with her husband, Jodi reconnects with the man she married. His faith in her ability to change grows. (It’s sweet, you guys.)

After the surgery with the leg-growth removed, Tom has more energy, more stamina and is able to move more easily. After some rehabilitation, at day 149, Tom goes back to the gym. He has lost weight and even looks much smaller.

At the final weigh-in, a much thinner, much more confident Jodi walks through the gym doors at the facility to greet her trainers. Jodi’s total weight loss equaled 77 pounds, and her total inches lost equal 74. Her final weight: 289.

Tom walked in with more ease than seen throughout the show. He was substantially smaller than in the beginning. His final weight loss equaled 155 pounds. He lost a person. He still has two more people to lose. His final weight: 483.

While neither of them are in the “safe zone” because of their body mass index measurements, they’ve come far enough to make the safe zone happen.

Both Jodi and Tom suffered from obesity, but they suffered in different ways. Tom had a severe food addiction and many enablers in his life making it easy for him to gain and gain. Jodi suffered from anxiety and broken relationships and turned to food to find some control over her life.

But at the end of the six-month program, they were different people; they  changed for the (much) better.

Note: Next Monday, I might not be able to blog about this because of graduate classes, but I’ll try my hardest to keep you all updated.

4 thoughts on “A&E’s HEAVY: Two people’s journey to stay alive

  1. Sherri

    While some feel that verbal abuse is the right way to get things done, understanding and compassion are the most effctive tools to communication. Those who are trying so hard to lose weight have already beat themselves up enough. Empathy will over-ride any other technique. As for Jodi; her husband married her just the way she is, so why did he decide he was about to move on? This is for Tom. He is just so handsome and has such a wnderful personality. Those are the type of people we need in this world to stick around, not die early from obesity. I love you both, Jodi and Tom! Good luck in your struggle.


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