Meet the Reeds: An Austin, Texas, Family Confronts Their Obesity - Pacific Standard

Meet the Reeds: An Austin, Texas, Family Confronts Their Obesity

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A community rallies to help some of their own. Will they succeed?

By James McWilliams

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A woman weighing herself on a bathroom scale, 1957. (Photo: Housewife/Getty Images)

Like most people who vow to lose weight, Becca Reed — 51, diabetic, confined to a wheelchair, taking nearly a dozen medications — had precise goals. Unlike most people, she’s willing to share them. On a piece of crinkled notebook paper she wrote in bubbly cursive script what she hoped her future would be like:

  1. Reach 225 pounds or less.
  2. Feel sexy and buy an outfit at a regular store.
  3. Have James look at me with that sparkle in his eye.
  4. Feel better able to clean the house.
  5. Walk five minutes straight.
  6. Bench press 100 pounds or more.
  7. Back fat and fat above butt—get rid of it.
  8. Strengthen arms — flabby upper part.
  9. Get off medication!
  10. Ride horses on Padre Beach with James.
  11. Be able to stand long enough to sing more than one song.

James Reed, Becca’s husband, is a baby-faced 57 who suffers from his own obesity-related problems, namely his high blood pressure, which was 250/190 before he was finally medicated for it. He, too, made a list of weight-loss goals and agreed to share it:

Short Term:

  1. Get below 250 pounds.
  2. Feel better about myself.
  3. Sleep.
  4. Bench 400 pounds.
  5. Leg press 600 pounds.
  6. No blood pressure meds.

Long Term:

  1. Weigh 210–215 pounds.
  2. Make it to retirement.
  3. Don’t become diabetic.

I recently sat down with Becca, James, and their 26-year old son Drew, who is also badly overweight (despite the 150 pounds he lost after gastric bypass surgery last December). The family, which lives in south Austin, Texas, is more than burdened by obesity; they were (until recently) essentially killing themselves on a steady stream of Taco Bell, Jack in the Box, Whataburger, queso and chips, cookies, and ice cream. Their new trainer, Mike “Bonebreaker” Crockett, explained how “the apex of their weekly planning was the list of the fast food places they were going to visit.” Becca, in a later conversation, confirmed as much, noting that the family normally ate fast food or take-out four times a day, the last meal within minutes of going to sleep.

Crockett, who owns a vegan-based gym in Austin, first met the Reeds in June. He offered to train them (for free) under one non-negotiable condition: The family had to eat a healthy plant-based diet and exercise at his gym three times a week. The Reeds jumped at the opportunity. “We’re ready to become new people,” Becca said. “Better people.” James and Drew, who typically cede most of the talking to Becca, nodded together in assent. Crockett, who has lost 150 pounds since 2011, reversing his own diabetes in the process, is as prepared as anyone to help James make it to retirement, and Becca buy that dress at a normal store.

The Reeds have been victimized by their standard American dietary choices for the entirety of their adult lives. Only now are they starting to understand the breadth of alternatives.

Reality is stacked against the Reeds. When it comes to our eating habits, an unusually intense path dependency prevails. The Reeds have been victimized by their standard American dietary choices for the entirety of their adult lives. Only now are they starting to understand the breadth of available alternatives. Still, even the most knowledgeable dieters typically fail to sustain whatever progress they experience. Obesity, as most dieters know, is stubbornly recidivist. As with any difficult endeavor, knowing what to do is one thing. Having the will power to make it stick is another.

On the upside, the Reeds enter this noble experiment with an unusual foundation of support. In addition to Crockett’s tri-weekly training program, the family recently received a personal (and also free) consultation with fellow Austinite Rip Esselstyn, a nationally known plant-based guru and author of The Engine 2 Diet. They also have access to a number of basic vegetarian cookbooks, as well as detailed instructions on how to negotiate restaurant menus. For what it’s worth, as I cover the family’s ongoing attempt to heal itself, I’ve agreed to assist them in any way I can when it comes to making healthy choices.

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Mike Crockett, James Reed, Drew Reed, and Becca Reed. (Photo: James McWilliams)

After 10 days of commitment to the new regime, results have been encouraging. With fast food verboten, the family now opts for fare such as store-bought veggie burgers, fruit, vegetables, and baked potatoes with salsa (rather than the usual dump of sour cream, bacon, and cheese). Eating out, which the Reeds now only do about once a week, requires some research, but last week they ended up visiting one of their traditionally favorite places — Texican (a Tex-Mex chain) — only this time, instead of the chips and queso and steak fajitas, they ordered veggie fajitas with corn tortillas. Becca even went so far as to ask for lettuce leaves in which to wrap the vegetables. James’ biggest fear about this whole transition concerned taste. Would food still be satisfying? “It’s been really, really good,” he says.

Also really, really good: losing 11 pounds, which James did in two weeks. Becca lost five. Whereas Becca previously took insulin before every meal, she now only has to take it three times in a week, as her blood sugar has dropped to normal levels. As we were discussing the immediate benefits of their dietary shift, Drew addressed his father, telling him, “You know, you have come home from work in a really good mood for the first time.” James smiled softly. He operates a forklift in a warehouse that lacks climate control. In an Austin summer, the temperature rises from 82 in the morning to over 100 in the afternoon. James typically came home physically wasted and emotionally angry. But now, as Drew observed, this was changing. Drew also says that he “just about exploded inside” when he quietly watched his mom, momentarily out of her wheelchair, step over the childproof gate they used to keep the dog out of the living room. “It blew my mind to see that,” he said, looking at his mother.

Such accomplishments seem simple. But they are monumental when obesity defines your existence. The Reeds want to re-define what monumental means. They want to live lives in different bodies, under different circumstances. They have taken promising first steps. Stay tuned to see how they progress.

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