Last night, in more than 600 theaters around the country, people saw my friend Joe Cross' new movie Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 2. I've been nervous — okay, scared — about what the movie would reveal. For the last two years, I'd been keeping a terrible secret.
Let me explain.
Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 2 is a sequel to Joe's first film, which followed not only his transformation from obesity and ill health but mine, too. I was driving a truck for a living when I met Joe and eating a typical trucker's diet (which is all the crap you can imagine).
Spending all of my time alone on the road, I was tipping the scales at more than 400 pounds when I met this cheerful, friendly Australian guy in a truck-stop parking lot in Winslow, Arizona. Turns out, we had the same autoimmune disease, in addition to struggling with our weight.
By then, Joe had been doing what he called "Rebooting" for about 40 days — drinking nothing but fresh vegetable and fruit juice — and showed me pictures of what he looked like two months earlier. It was like looking at a different person.
He walked me over to his SUV, since it was time to get his “dinner” ready. In all of the years I spent driving a truck, I had never seen someone with a juicer in the back and bags full of produce. He was making something he called a Mean Green, which seemed to have more fresh vegetables in it than I had eaten all year, and which looked suspiciously like liquid grass.
But I was so impressed with the difference between the pictures he had shown me and the guy standing in front of me, that I asked if I could try some. Turns out, it didn’t taste bad at all.
Before we parted company, Joe explained that he was just a regular guy — not a doctor or health expert — but that if I ever wanted to try it for myself, he would help me Reboot. He handed me his business card and sped off onto the highway.
Well, that card stayed tucked into the visor of my truck for months. Finally, at a terribly low point, I called him and left a voicemail, reminding him of our meeting and asking for help.
A few days later, Joe called me back and made good on his promise, one that he'd made to a complete stranger in a truck stop parking lot. He jumped on a plane back to the States and put together a team of people who helped me lose more than 200 pounds by Rebooting, and my story made it into the movie.
Well, that little film has been seen by more than 20 million people around the world, and I've received amazing emails and Facebook messages from people who were inspired by my story. Being an inspiration to people is pretty intoxicating, let me tell you.
I was a poster boy for successful change. For the next three years, I stayed in good shape, running and swimming. My diet was excellent, with an emphasis on the vegetables I had come to know and love.
I juiced, blended and ate micronutrient-dense plant food all the time. Thanks to my dietary habits, I had a healthy waistline, bright eyes, and sound sleep. I found work I enjoyed and spent time with family.
Most excitingly, I got married after a whirlwind romance. I pinned all of my hopes and dreams on this relationship. With a track record of failed marriage behind me, I was hopeful and excited that this time it would be forever.
Sadly, it wasn’t forever. The marriage ended badly. I couldn’t believe that I was alone, and divorced again. Time passed and my heartbreak didn’t heal — in fact, it seemed to get worse and after a few months set off a major depression. I didn’t care about much of anything. Friends and family tried to snap me out of it, but they seemed to make my feelings of shame and sadness worse.
I started avoiding those well-meaning people, and spending more and more time alone. Work became too much for me to handle, and little by little I started falling into my old habits. Depression led to isolation which led to food — processed food. And lots of it.
I stopped shopping for nutritious groceries, going for a swim or calling a friend. My beloved juicer gathered dust, but I knew the name of every person at the Wendy's drive-in window.
I had trouble keeping a job, I isolated myself from my friends and family, I didn't answer Joe's calls, and I made my world as small as possible, numbing out with the kind of greasy, processed, sweet food that was terrible for me. Before I knew it, I was more than 400 pounds again.
Every time I went to a fast food place, I prayed no one would recognize me from the movie. Every time I got a Facebook message from someone who had just seen the film and said they hoped they could be like me one day, I wanted to curl up into a ball. How could I let all those people down? After so many years of keeping the weight off and knowing full well how great I could feel by taking care of myself, how did I let myself down?
Joe and his team left me about a million voicemail messages, letting me know they were working on the follow-up film. One day, I realized I couldn't hide from them any longer. I screwed up my courage and called Joe back. I told him that I had failed — failed myself, failed him and failed all of the Rebooters all over the world.
There was a slight pause, and then Joe said, "Well mate, let's get you some help." I didn't realize it in that moment, but I had taken the first step to getting healthy again — simply by sharing my story with a friend. With the guidance of Russ Kennedy, a behavioral expert Joe arranged to have help me, I started to understand that the isolation was as dangerous for me as the double cheeseburgers and milkshakes I was eating.
That community was as central to my health and wellbeing as fruits and vegetables. And that shame was a toxic drug that I simply couldn't allow to take hold of me.
So now everybody knows. Knows that the guy who they saw at the end of the first movie was really successful ... until he wasn’t. That he slid backwards and wound up right where he started. I'm sure some people are disappointed and I have to live with that. But now that the secret is out, I feel free and you know what? Freedom feels wonderful.
What I hope is that the people out there like me who try and fail and try again will see Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 2 and recognize their own story. I hope they do what I did — raise their hand, say "I'm struggling," and begin again. I am determined to stay on this path. I may screw up sometimes, but if I do, I'll start over, with the help of my friends.