133: How Tragedy and Love May Have Saved My Life | Joel Leyton

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At a peak weight of 585 pounds, Joel needed to learn what it meant to love himself before he could transform his life and health. A family tragedy became the kickstart for change.

“I know the great years of my life are ahead of me now.”

Weight Gain Background and Contributing Factors

Joel says there were “fat genes” in both sides of his family. Joel grew up as a pastor’s kid in Texas and always felt a lot of eyes on him growing up. Joel had a lot of insecurities and stress growing up, and he began the habit of emotional eating from an early age.

As a senior in high school, Joel moved to Atlanta with his family. This took a toll on him because the town was so different and he had to get used to being a racial minority as well as being one of the heaviest kids in his high school.

After he graduated, Joel moved away to go to college, and he says that a “trap” for him was the unlimited food at the cafeteria on campus. The stress of college and exams caused weight gain immediately.

Joel decided to start losing weight on January 1, 2007, and when he woke up that morning he discovered his grandparents had died in a car accident. Joel is such a consummate caretaker that he couldn’t help but feel guilt about the car accident, although there was nothing he could have possibly done to stop it.

The sadness, guilt and stress he felt surrounding the accident caused further weight gain. Joel stopped attending college and moved to Texas for a job, and he says he ate at fast food restaurants every single day.

“It was too much food.”

How Being Overweight Impacted Joel’s Life

While Joel is proud to be an independent person, he points out that it’s ironic he couldn’t be a self-starter on weight loss. At this point in his life Joel shares that he felt “very alone,” and kept putting on weight.

Joel’s weight began to severely impact his sleep. His parents told Joel that they were concerned for his health, and when they visited they noticed that at night Joel would stop breathing for up to a minute. His parents wanted to drive Joel to work instead of letting him drive, because they were afraid he would fall asleep at the wheel.

Once at work, Joel blacked out on a phone call for 30 minutes. Eventually Joel decided to resign from his job.

“I was just trying to make it another day, staying alive just another day.”

At his heaviest, Joel shares that he became afraid that he would die and not be able to fit into a coffin. In September 2010 his parents told Joel that they were bringing him back to Atlanta from Texas because they were concerned about his health. He says he could feel their intense love and concern for him, and he left with them immediately.

The Turning Point

Joel’s uncle said he’d dreamed Joel had passed away, and at the same time his uncle told Joel about a weight loss treatment center he knew of in North Carolina, associated with Duke University.

Joel went to the facility for 4 weeks and learned about healthy eating, how to cook, and how damaging obesity was to his body. He restricted calories from an estimated 3000 calories per sitting when he was at his heaviest, to 1200-1500 calories per day. Joel lost 53 pounds in 4 weeks.

It was while working on his health at this facility that Joel learned how to love himself first, and to be a caretaker to himself as fiercely as he was accustomed to caring for others. In 2012 Joel tried herbalife, and actually regained some weight. In 2012 at a family reunion Joel felt that he hadn’t made enough progress, and was disappointed in himself.

Soon thereafter Joel discovered juicing through the documentary film “Fat Sick & Nearly Dead,” which gave him a new lease on life. In September of 2012 Joel moved back into his parents’ house to take control of his health as his main priority in life.

Starting The Weight Loss Journey

Joel started eating a lot of fruit and vegetables. He shares that he was on no specific diet, just worked on staying within his calorie limits each day, and no foods were totally off limits.

Joel mostly juices during the week, and on the weekends he eats healthy whole foods that put him under his calorie limit. Joel views juicing as a way to reboot and reset his body’s whole metabolism. Joel says he can immediately feel the energy when he has a glass of juice.

Once every other weekend Joel has an off-plan meal where he will eat, for example, a small portion of dessert. Joel says he had to transition himself away from the mindset that he had to finish foods that were at home right away, rather than portioning some off to enjoy later.

“The food is always going to be there.”

One thing Joel always thinks about when he is tempted to eat bad food is how poor his sleep quality was when he was heavier. The lack of sleep caused him to care less about the food quality he ate, and lessened the amount of willpower he had through the day. Joel’s peak weight was 585 pounds (266 kg), at age 25, and at this point he has lost 190 pounds. (86.3 kg)

Challenges Joel Faced Along The Way

Joel got a hernia from all the extra weight he had been carrying around, and is going to have surgery to get it removed. (He says anyone could try an experiment and pick up 190 pounds and try not to get a hernia—this is what Joel was carrying around every day.)

This surgery has caused Joel to need to alter his exercise plan. The doctor’s team has encouraged Joel to think of the hernia removal as a part of his old (heavier) self “dying off.” Joel swims and walks for exercise while he waits for his hernia surgery.

What Joel Learned About Food, Exercise, and Himself

Joel says, “I never used to believe it, but you are what you eat.

When discussing weekends and family gatherings, Joel says

“I can’t…serve myself 3 times and expect to feel good at the end.”

Joel starts each day with a small pep talk for himself, which sets the day off in a positive direction. He says, “I know the great years of my life are ahead of me now.

Every weight loss journey takes a lot of hard work, and Joel has learned over many years that he cannot help others the way he wants to unless he takes care of himself first, both mentally and physically.

Joel’s Advice For Your Journey

According to Joel, self-motivation and self-love are key to continuing on your journey.

“At the end of the day you’re the one doing the work.”

People who he meets on social media and are still on their weight loss journey are good inspirations for Joel.

Resources Discussed In This Podcast

  • Documentary “Fat Sick & Nearly Dead” by Joe Cross (Joel was featured on Joe Cross’ site earlier this year.)

Joel suggests that we can take the good parts from shows like “The Biggest Loser”.

On Joel’s Workout Playlist

Joel’s Favorite Movies

Contacting Joel

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