Friday, December 12, 2014

Q&A with Gregg McBride

Gregg McBride is the author of the new book Weightless: My Life as a Fat Man and How I Escaped. He also has written Just Stop Eating So Much! His blog highlights food addiction and weight loss. A film and television writer and producer, he lives in Los Angeles.

Q: Why did you decide to write a memoir about your experiences, and how difficult was it to write about the more painful parts of your life? 

A: After losing over 250 pounds and then keeping it off for over a decade, there were many people in my life who had no idea I had been through such an enormous journey (no pun intended). 

When people would find out that I weighed over 450 pounds when graduating from college they either wouldn’t believe me, want to see proof (in the form of a before picture) or want to know where they could buy the “magic wand” they were sure that I had achieved my success with. 

The fact is, anyone who has struggled to lose excess weight (whether physical or mental) knows that the journey is a challenging one…and that even when meeting our goals on the scale, so much of the journey remains ahead of us (like actually keeping the weight off).

There were so many elements of my life that led to my weighing as much as I did. And while these elements included child and sexual abuse and my eating to survive (mentally), they also included my love of ice cream and other forms of junk food. In other words, I was always an “equal opportunity eater."

Even though diet book sections of libraries and bookstores are literally stuffed with all sorts of books about how to achieve “success,” almost none of them are written by people who’ve actually taken the journey (up and down the scale — and, in my case, a few times in each direction). 

I know that whether weighing what I do now (around 175 pounds) or what I did “before” (over 450 pounds), I would have loved to have found a book like Weightless…a book that provides an unflinching look at what I went through as I battled the bulge (covering a timespan from birth to just before the book's publication date). 

What’s more, I’ve been lucky enough (yes, lucky!) to live one heck of an entertaining life. This is one of those “You can’t make that up” tomes that seemed destined to be told. And so when I was fortunate enough to find a publisher that shared my vision, I knew the time for Weightless had arrived.

Q: How did you choose "Weightless" as the book's title? 

A: I considered lots of different titles for the book — most with the subhead that is on the cover of the published version (“My life as a fat man and how I escaped”).

For me, the title Weightless resonated on so many levels. Having lived through this life journey and also having had the honor of committing it to publication, I knew that the word “weightless” not only nodded to the physical weight that I lost, but also (and perhaps more so) to the mental weight that I finally released.

Getting rid of the mental weight was so essential and, it seems, might be essential for anyone who is looking to get over a harrowing past and/or transform his or her life. 

The fact that we survived awful times proves that we can do anything we set our minds to. But there lie the key words…OUR MINDS.

Until we resolve to not let ourselves be held prisoner by our thoughts, memories and, perhaps, our stubborn decision that we “should have” lived different lives, we will never really be free and never really be able to achieve everything we’re destined to. We all deserve to feel and to be weightless. And so, that’s become a very powerful word for me…and, as you noted, the title of this book.

Q: Your website is called "Just Stop Eating So Much!," which, as you describe in the book, is the advice a work colleague gave you about losing weight. Why did that phrase stick with you? 

A: As you noted, when a former supervisor glibly suggested that I “Just stop eating so much” after I asked him for some dieting advice, I was offended in a big way.

I was convinced this person (who happened to be thin, fit and could, it seemed, eat anything he wanted without ever gaining weight) was holding back secret information from me.

I was literally convinced that he and the other thin people where I worked (where, in the high fashion world of New York City was pretty much everyone except me — I was a real life “Ugly Betty” before Ugly Betty existed on TV) were not sharing the diet-minded information I was sure they had. And yet his words, although delivered rudely (or so I thought), stuck in my head and eventually became my mantra. 

Soon after hearing that phrase for the first time, I realized there was great worth in their simplicity. Could it be that to lose weight, one needed to eat less, I wondered? And no, I’m not being facetious here. I really, truly was getting that message for perhaps the first time.

It was at that moment, when weighing over 450 pounds (my digital scale at the time read “ERR” for “Error” since it wasn’t programmed to register that high of a weight), that I realized that all of the gimmicky diets and even pills and other outrageous methods I’d tried to use to lose weight up until then had only served to increase my weight. 

“Just stop eating so much” summed it up succinctly. It’s all any dieter really needs to know. Or is, at the very least, a magnificent starting point.

Sure, there’s some dark humor in the phrase as well. But as anyone who reads this book will know, humor is one of my saving graces. And so when wondering what I should name my blog, there didn’t seem to be any other choice…especially since the blog includes all sorts of helpful, insightful, sometimes funny and never secretive recipes, advice and rants about getting and staying healthy.

Q: You write, "I've come to learn that while there is some 'before' and some 'after,' it's mostly the 'during' that we 'dieters' have to deal with." Why is that? 

A: The commercial diet industry seems to gravitate toward the “before and after” of it all — or what I call a “light switch mentality.” As if we overweight people can just flip a switch and go from being fat to being thin.

First of all, we’re just as amazing when fat as we are when thin (we just have much better clothing choices and we get the benefit of living longer, healthier, happier lives when we’re at a healthy weight). 

But for anyone who thinks that once they reach their goal weight, they never have to think about dieting again, they might want to reassess their strategies for lifelong success. 

Life is a journey. Life will always be a journey. And there will always be temptations, situations and other life events that tempt us to eat too much (or do something else too much). It’s these moments that represent the “during” — and they don’t go away just because we can zip up our jeans without offering up a prayer. 

Most of us have lost weight in the past…only to see it creep back on (and often in the form of more pounds than we originally wanted to lose in the first place).

So many of us think the solution to successfully losing excess weight lies in our stomachs when, in reality, it lies in our minds. What do we do when presented with a bag of cookies? Eat one cookie? Or the whole bag?

This is during. And for those of us who have a dieter’s mentality, there will always be “during.” I find the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can all keep our lost weight off for over a decade — and even for the rest of our long, healthy lives. 

Sure, there can be a “before.” There can be an “after.” But the “during” is eternal.

Q: Throughout the book, you include perspectives from other people about their impressions of you during various times in your life. Why did you decide to incorporate those perspectives into the book? 

A: My number one goal for this book was that it be authentic. Since I had decided I was going to be honest about the abuse that I suffered at the hands of my pathological lying mom, my narcissistic father and others, I knew that I needed to reveal the abuse that I inflicted upon myself as well.

And while I share my honest reactions and emotions to the life events I detail in the book, I decided I’d take it a step further and ask people who knew me during the time periods I was writing about to add their own reflections of what they experienced. 

I’d like to think this gives readers a 180° view of my journey. Plus, while hopefully full of inspiration, I also wanted Weightless to be a really entertaining read (even for people who’ve never been overweight a day in their life).

To have my high school girlfriend be able to share her reflections in the book about the date we went on during which I broke a movie theater seat in public is pretty priceless. It’s all about perspective. And I’m happy that Weightless opens up those perspectives in ways that other memoirs before it have not.

Q: What are you working on now? 

A: My main career is screenwriting and producing in the motion picture and television industry. So I’m always at work on several projects at the same time. Currently I’m working on a horror movie that also happens to have a lot of comedy in it — as well as developing a couple different television shows.

I feel really fortunate to be doing what I do for a living and love getting to create worlds (no matter what the genre) that explore human relations. I find that the use of humor allows me to approach subjects that might otherwise make viewers uncomfortable. At the end of the day, humor can set us free…even if sprinkled into a horror or thriller script. 

I also like to populate my scripts with real life people (no matter what they weigh, where they’re from or what challenges they might be facing). Sure, the occasional producer tells me that audiences “don’t want to see fat people on the screen.” But I just nod and keep putting characters of all sizes and other differentiators into my scripts.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Once again, I’d love to drive home my belief that everyone on this planet deserves to be and feel weightless. So many of us have been through incredible journeys and have all the potential in the world. And yet we sometimes hold ourselves back because we think we’re not deserving or even that we have to meet a certain goal (like losing weight) before we can really be happy. Through all of my adventures (intended, accidental and otherwise), I’ve learned that living “as if” is one of the keys to a happy life. 

Who cares if others might be judging you a little harshly? I firmly believe we are all supermodels and life is our runway. Embracing that attitude and building up our self-worth can do wonders for every moment in life (even the smallest, quietest moments).

I hope that Weightless’s universal message of self-worth resonates for everyone who reads it. And I am grateful for the opportunity to share that message…both in the book and here in this interview.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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