From as early as I can look back, I was larger than everyone—everyone. Between the ages of six and sixteen, I had about an average weight gain of thirty pounds a year. Growing up obese, I was the source of much bullying in elementary school and never thought things would change.
Childhood can be hard enough, but when you weigh more than 95% of the teenagers in the entire country, you may feel a little less than perfect. Nearly 400 pounds, blood-pressure through the roof, some heart risks and showing signs for initial onset of diabetes, life at sixteen was pretty chaotic. By junior year of high school, I weighed 380 pounds. I felt nothing and nobody could help me—not even me. It wasn’t just that I was chosen as the teddy bear look-a-like for my high school yearbook, and I used to threaten to sit on people—on my insides, I was hurting.
You know the moment you realize you are out of control? I remember coming home that night, just crying because I didn’t believe I can change--I did not have the will power. At that point, I felt as if my reservoir of hope was running on it last drops. I was scared, I felt angry and helpless.
It was at this instant that something happened. The moment came. You know, the moment you realize that things don’t need to be this way. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook describes this moment as the “lightning flash realization,” that who I am now is not who I need to be, and that in fact, I can defeat that which holds me back. After a life of enslavement to deeply embedded poor habits, nutritionists, late night binges, and the “Isaiah I bet you can’t eat a full pie of pizza in 7 minutes”— there would be no more.
“Anything you do in life comes from you. As hard as this sounds, no one can help you with this. It will be hard but you must want it,” my nutritionist, Deborah, told me.
She sent me home with no sort of diet plan, telling me instead to contemplate about what she said until our next session the following week. I came to the decision that I will lose weight and that I was capable of doing so.
Now, be not mistaken. The sea did not part for me. But another kind of miracle did take place. In my storm of adolescent winds pulsing and colliding within me, a flame was born from the embers of self-doubt and degradation. A certain flame that has lasted for eight, no, nine, years, and it only continue to burn: The flame of desire.
Two attributes were the precise recipe: consistency, and a desire so deeply rooted in my heart, that it burns during the coldest and windiest of winter days.
Consistency to me meant that no matter how late the hour, and how great the party, if I didn’t exercise that day, I went on the treadmill when getting home. At the beginning, fifteen minutes is all it took for me to look as if I just went swimming. Consistency meant that all “carbs were cardboard,” and “all cake was fake!”
Desire meant that no matter how hard the battle, the heart’s calling will forever echo in your ear, saying: “You can do it, you are better than that.”
I started a diet and for the first time, I actually stuck to it. I exercised everyday, started losing weight, and feeling great. If I were offered a piece of cake I would push it away. As the weeks and months went by, I started losing exceptional amounts of weight. I was happy and people were making positive comments on my weight loss. I stopped having to go to “Big and Tall.” I felt normal because I was able to share and fit into my skinny, older brothers' clothes. I finally felt at peace with myself, now no longer afraid to tip the boat over on a fishing trip, or go on a rollercoaster. I felt like I was becoming a part of society.
I weigh now what I was in 6th grade. After losing 170 pounds, I gained my spirit; after losing 170 pounds, I gained an inner love and identity.
“How come I cant control my temper?!” “Why did I press snooze ten times this morning?” “How did the to-do list get so high?” “Uch, not again”
One of the most important lessons of my journey was realizing that the battle for autonomy, the battle for consistency, the battle of life, are all part of knowing that challenges and troubles will come. All people have their seasons when the storm rages. So the main thing is to locate your flame of desire. For with it, you can reach the highest heights and take yourself out of the lowest lows. With it, you can light up the world.
Isaiah is a 4th year rabbinical student at Yeshiva University and works as the Spiritual and Experiential Educator of Carmel Academy in Greenwich, CT. Isaiah is originally from Monsey, NY and is the product of a mixed-race marriage, and proud Jew of Color.
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