Was 350 lbs., Waist 60"
Now 200 lbs., Waist 38"
When Cedric Williams weighed 350 lbs., he needed a special extension to make airplane seat belts fit around his 60-in. waist and daily insulin shots to keep his diabetes in check. Still, aside from wishing "I could buy clothes off the rack," the 5'9" Williams says he had resigned himself to a life of obesity. "I knew what I was -- and I was big."
A stroke in 1998 changed all that. In the hospital for a week while doctors tried to stop the bleeding in his brain, Williams, then 43, suffered partial paralysis in his right leg. For a man who at the time worked two jobs in his hometown of Washington, D.C. -- as the print-shop manager at Howard University and as a counselor to troubled teens at the Iona Whipper Home for Girls -- the thought of being disabled was terrifying. "I was determined," he says, "not to live like that."
Williams made good on his promise. In November 2000 he paid out of pocket for a six-month, $3,408 Howard University weight-loss research program aimed at African-Americans and not only shed 150 lbs. but learned how to maintain his new frame. "I am trying to eat to live," he says, "not live to eat."
Adopting that philosophy wasn't easy. As a boy in Norfolk, Va., his great-grandmother showed him love with home-cooked meals of fried chicken and pot pies. By his 30s eating had turned into an obsession, and fast food and butter pecan ice cream were diet staples.
Not surprisingly, the Howard program proved a shock: Each day Williams was allowed only three low-fat, low-salt meals, such as oatmeal for breakfast and oven-fried catfish with rice and green beans for dinner, totaling 2,000 calories. A self-described "couch potato," his 40-min., three-times-a-week treadmill workouts were also a strain. But after the first week, when Williams became an outpatient, he had dropped 18 lbs.
Over the next year he continued to visit Howard for thrice-weekly exercise sessions. He also met regularly with nutritionists and counselors who taught him how to cook healthy foods, so that after six months he could switch from Howard's pre-packaged meals to ones he prepared himself. By then Williams was closing in on his current weight of 200 lbs. "People who hadn't seen him for a while didn't recognize him," says program director Dr. Otelio S. Randall, who notes that half of the program's patients lose at least 30 lbs. in six months.
Today the single Williams -- who no longer needs insulin shots -- stays in shape by walking up to 10 miles a day and practicing portion control. Breakfast might be a boiled egg and one strip of bacon, dinner a grilled hamburger with salad. More than his new physique, it is a second chance at life for which he is grateful. "The stroke was God's way of saying, 'You're out of control. You need to get yourself together,' " he says. "At first I was angry, but God woke me up." < PREVIOUS: Olga Arias
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