Humans of TCGMC: Kent Pitman
“It’s worth it. Do I still struggle with the fact that I feel like a fat guy? YES! But I have no regrets about doing what I did. I changed my body and I changed my life. At 45, I am healthier I than I’ve ever been in my entire life.”
We are talking with Kent Pitman, one of our new singers for our 39th season!
Josh: YOU MADE A FACEBOOK POST RECENTLY ABOUT YOUR DIFFICULT WEIGHT LOSS JOURNEY, AND YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR BODY AND WITH FOOD.I WOULD BE HONORED IF YOU’D TELL ME MORE ABOUT IT.
Kent: Well first of all, I wasn’t supposed to live. I was born 3 months early. I curse the day the preemie nurse said, “All my little Jack’s turn out to be big boys.” For the first seven years of my life, I was very underweight. Now I think I can pinpoint when things changed. When I was 7, my dad was in the Air Force, and he went back into active duty. We moved to Louisiana, and I think that was the emotional catalyst that started my unhealthy relationship with food. We left a life that we knew – a big house in the North Carolina mountains – to a small base housing house. We had less money, and so we ate a lot of mac and cheese and Spam and cheap food that isn’t good for you.
Josh: AND HOW DID YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD CHANGE BEYOND YOUR FAMILY’S EATING HABITS?
Kent: It became, and sometimes still is, my comfort. And since then, when I’ve been in an uneasy place or have felt sad or upset, food has been a place where I’ve gone. “I feel alone,” so let me go get food. “Someone hurt my feelings at school, so I’ll go home and eat more.” I enjoyed cooking for myself, because then I got to eat it.
Josh: AT WHAT POINT DID IT BEGIN TO AFFECT YOUR APPEARANCE? IF YOU COULD, PLEASE TAKE ME THROUGH THE YEARS BEFORE YOUR SURGERY.
Kent: Within a year [when I was 7] I went from being underweight to overweight. My parents tried to get me to be active, and sent me to camp for fat kids. I had some issues with my knees, so I always had a doctor’s note that said I didn’t have to run the mile. I played soccer, and one of my defense mechanisms was to make jokes at my own expense. I was the goalie because I blocked more of the goal than anybody else! We tried different programs, but nothing stuck.
Josh: YOU MENTIONED IN THE POST THAT THE EMOTIONAL EATING CONTINUED FOR A LONG TIME. DID IT CAUSE ANY OTHER PHYSICAL PROBLEMS, BEYOND YOUR KNEES?
Yes. When I was 28, I hit about 325 pounds. I worked for a hotel company, traveling and doing inspections, and we had a minimal budget for food. I ate tons of carbs and fast food. My boss at that time would see me walk up a flight of stairs and be completely beat. He said to me, “Kent, you’ve gotta do something – it’s just really unhealthy for you.” I saw that he’d done Atkins [low carb, high protein]. I gave it a try, and I lost 90 pounds in one year, with no exercise. In all of my efforts, I got to 230, and my body wouldn’t go any lower than 230, whatever I did.
Two-and-a-half years ago, at 263 pounds, I had friends who had either gastric bypass or gastric sleeve surgery. Gastric bypass is when they reroute your digestion around your stomach. They completely pass your stomach – they bypass it. I chose to have the vertical sleeve gastrectomy, aka the “Gastric Sleeve.” They removed 75% of my stomach, laparoscopically. My stomach is now the size of a small banana.
There are a lot of hoops you have to go through to get it approved by insurance. You have to show you’ve tried to lose weight, you have to take a psych test, you have to have a support group. It’s a lifelong change. They can’t put your stomach back in you!
There are a lot of stigmas about weight loss surgery – that it’s the “easy way out.” It’s not – it’s tough. It’s a tool, and if you don’t use it right, you’ll put it all back on.
Josh: WHAT LIFESTYLE CHANGES HAVE YOU HAD TO MAKE AS A RESULT?
Kent: Now that I have a small stomach, alcohol hits me much faster. I have rules. When I’m eating, I have to eat very small meals (I’m a cheap date!). A typical breakfast for me is a protein shake, or two eggs and a little bit of sausage and cheese. I will take vitamin supplements the rest of my life, and every year I have a blood test to see if I’m getting proper nutrition – especially calcium. Once I take my first bite of food, I’m not allowed to drink again until 45 minutes after I’m done eating. If you drink while you’re eating, it pushes the food through your stomach faster, and you digest it quicker. Then, I’m hungry again.
Since the surgery, I’ve settled around 200 pounds. Two weeks ago, I jumped on the scale and saw I’d gained back 20 pounds, and I looked in the mirror and told myself, “Kent, you can’t go back there.” Food cravings don’t go away – especially when you’re alone or struggling. But I made the change because I still wasn’t happy with myself. To quote Ru Paul, “If you don’t love yourself, how will anyone else?”
Josh: AS YOU KNOW, GAY MALE CULTURE IS PREOCCUPIED WITH PHYSICAL ATTRACTIVENESS. HOW HAS YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF YOUR BODY IMAGE CHANGED?
Kent: Part of the battle is not physical, it’s mental. It’s hard to lose “fat brain.” Every day, I look in the mirror and go, “Ooh.” I didn’t see myself as loveable, and even now, I still don’t –
Josh: – WELL YOU ARE –
Kent: – Thank you. I have great friends who tell me otherwise, but I want to be a healthier me, to be more attractive and find someone to spend my life with. Even though I’m down 130 pounds, I’ll be chatting with someone and he’ll say, “You’re ugly” or “You’re too fat.” It still cuts to the core. So I remind myself that I’m worthy of love, even though I’ve never felt it. But you know what? If they can’t see past a number and some extra skin, they don’t deserve my heart and head.
Josh: THERE ARE PLENTY OF MEN – GAY MEN, STRAIGHT MEN, WOMEN, PEOPLE! – WHO STRUGGLE WITH THEIR WEIGHT. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO SOMEONE CONSIDERING MAKING A CHANGE LIKE THIS IN THEIR LIVES?
Kent: Look at the people around you, and find some good examples of the life you’d like to have. They should know that surgery is not the easy way out. You have a lot of rules to follow, and it’s easy to end up as Big Kent again.
Josh: I’LL HONEST WITH YOU AND SAY THAT THAT WAS MY PERCEPTION – THAT IT WAS THE EASY WAY OUT. THANK YOU FOR EDUCATING ME, AND I APOLOGIZE. IT’S NOT THE EASY WAY OUT.
Kent: It’s not the easy way out. You have to get used to your “new” stomach, and there are some things you can’t eat anymore! I know a lot of people who have to give up dairy. If you don’t exercise, and just have the surgery, it’s not going to be optimal. You have to put in the work. I belong to two support groups on Facebook for gastric sleeve people – one is for gay men. You’ve gotta find someone who can be your champion.
It’s worth it. Do I still struggle with the fact that I feel like a fat guy? YES! But I have no regrets about doing what I did. I changed my body and I changed my life. At 45, I am healthier I than I’ve ever been in my entire life.There are ways to do it that aren’t weight loss surgery, but it’s an option. For the first time, it gave me a chance to start feeling like I am desirable.
Josh Elmore (he/him), singer and member of our small ensemble OutLoud!, created Humans of TCGMC in 2018. He graduated from Carleton College with a B.A. in Linguistics and has since worked in sales, higher education, and, most recently, as a bilingual insurance agent (Spanish). Endlessly curious, he has dabbled in improv theater, stand-up comedy, sword fighting, the cello, and modeling for fantasy-themed photo shoots.