Man overcomes dark times of obesity, works to encourage others who are struggling

Story part of 'What's Up, South Texas' series

By Japhanie Gray - Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - Challenges vary from person to person in life, but for one man, his challenge was a severe wake-up call.

Chris Sanders is now a healthy, athletic 51-year-old and weighs a solid 196 pounds. However, that hasn't always been the case.

“I started gaining weight in middle school, and when I got to high school, I lost it and gained it back and lost it and gained it back,” Sanders said. “I made it into the military by just one pound, but, of course, I lost weight and gained it back.”

Sanders said every time, his weight got bigger and bigger. Three years ago, his scale read 469 pounds.

“A doctor sat me down and did a little intervention with me and said, ‘You have to do something about this or you are not going to be around much longer,'" he said.

Sanders said his entire family has battled obesity. His mother died from complications of it, and his father also struggled with his weight. He said knowing that he needed to make a life change pushed him to do something different.

“Before, I didn’t want to be seen in public. I was so big,” Sanders said. “I didn’t want to go to HEB or go to a restaurant. I would just be holed up eating junk food.”

Sanders said he also lost a lot of friends and never had the opportunity to get married and have kids.

“It is a very dark place and not easy to get out of," he said. “You become more isolated from society.”

He was desperate to change, so he looked into bariatric, or weight-loss, surgery.

“I tried everything before, but it just did not work,” Sanders said. “Herbalife, Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, you name it, I basically tried it.”

Sanders said because of his strong support group of friends and family, he completed his gastric sleeve surgery operation in April 2015. 

“I have a blast now,” he said. “I am in the best shape I have ever been. I can go out and do stuff. I don’t worry about people looking at me, and if they are looking at me, I am, like, 'Why are they looking at me?' It is a whole new world now.”

Though his world is happier, he is still reminded of the dark time of being obese when he hears rude comments about others struggling with weight issues.

“Many people forget that I was that big,” Sanders said. “They either forget or don’t know, and I would hear them make comments like ‘fatty two shoes’ or derogatory names like that. I can’t help but think they said bad things about me.”

Sanders said he wants people to be more cautious about the things they say and who they say them around.

“You know, it has made me a little disappointed in people sometimes when they are one way to your face and then another behind your back,” he said. “You never know what people have gone through or are going through. In most cases, they can't help that they are obese because obesity is an addiction. Society doesn’t see it as that, but it is. It is a disease.”

Sanders set out to always be that counsel and support to others in need of advice on how to change their life.

“I just want to pay it forward, because someone else did that for me,” he said. “I have talked to many people, giving them tips and motivation on how to get their lives back on track. My father has even dropped a ton of weight because he is mirroring the lifestyle I am leading now.”

Sanders has even given tips to those who are getting weight-loss surgery.

“Many people think it is just the easy way out,” he said. “It is not the easy way out. In fact, it is a total lifestyle change that can be difficult. You have to be ready. You have to make sacrifices. I had to hit rock bottom to make that commitment, and I think that is what it takes to overcome an addiction. Because of that, I traded one addiction for another. I traded a food addiction to a gym addiction.”

In January, Sanders was awarded by the American Heart Association for changing his life around and for making a positive impact on his community. Now, he wants his life’s transformation to be a lesson to others.

“Don’t judge people, because you don’t know where they are at or what they are going though. Someone’s appearance is not the total person," he said.

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