African American obesity rates are staggering, but when you look at children and young adults, its even worse. According to the CDC, 11% of African American children are obese by age five. Wow. And growing up, Tevante Clark was no different.
During his teen years, Tevante was always overweight. He was often teased during high school about his 5′ 7″ 400 pound frame. He eventually ballooned up to 405 pounds when he was 19.
“When I would go out with my mom to pick up groceries or shopping, I would wait in the car because I was so embarrassed,” said Tevante.
Even when he started college — new surroundings, new friends–he still struggled with those feelings of embarrassment and shame.
“I was having suicidal thoughts because of my weight. I even wrote a letter about it that my mom found, and she broke down crying,” he said.
“I was tired of everything; tired of people laughing at me, tired of being overweight, tired of being treated differently,” he said. “I thought about committing suicide, but I didn’t want to leave my mother by herself.”
After discovering the letter in his bedroom, his mom said she knew something had to change.
“I saw how depressed he was getting, and that’s what hurt me the most,” said his mother, Beverly Clark.
But she was not going to let him struggle on his own. She had recently lost more than 100 pounds after a scare from her cardiologist who said she was on the verge of having a heart attack because of her weight. That experience made her believe her son could lose the weight, too.
She was convinced that all her son needed was some guidance about moderation. But Tevante just wanted the weight off. He came to her after many tearful nights and asked if he could get gastric bypass surgery.
As an employee at Duke University, his mother knew about the school’s wellness program Live for Life, which offers a 12-month weight-loss program for employees and their family members. She wanted her son to lose weight, but she also wanted him to try natural methods before committing to surgery. So she made him a deal: Enroll in the program and try to lose weight naturally for the first few months. If that method failed, they would consider surgery.
When he started in the program in July 2011, his goal was to only lose 40 pounds to qualify for gastric bypass surgery. At the start of the program, he was paired with a coach and a dietitian.
Sally Neve, a registered nurse and dietitian, helped him devise a plan to meet his weight-loss goals, which included cutting back on sweetened beverages, eating more fruits and vegetables, and being mindful of portion sizes. He regimented his diet, eating three meals a day and two healthy snacks in between his meals.
Neve also encouraged Clark to get a gym membership even though Clark had never worked out before. But as Clark started working out and eating right, he saw big changes quickly. In the first week, he lost seven pounds. After a few weeks, he started walking 45 to 50 minutes every day on the treadmill with the incline set to high, at a speed that was almost a jog.
After three months, he had dropped the 40 pounds he wanted, but the desire to have the surgery wasn’t there anymore. He was now spending two hours a day at the gym.
“He became a changed person,” Neve said. “He became confident. He was like, ‘I can do this.’ I think that is so important for people, to have that confidence that they can succeed.”
The salty and sweet snacks were traded in for healthy meals.
Here’s an example of his normal daily diet:
Breakfast: Egg whites, whole wheat toast and two sausage links. Or a bowl of cereal and a piece of fruit
Lunch: Grilled chicken, brown rice, steamed or boiled broccoli and a piece of fruit
Snacks: A piece of fruit and trail mix
Dinner: A grilled meat option with steamed or boiled vegetables
After completing the program in December 2012, Clark was down to 280 pounds — a loss of 125 pounds! But he didn’t stop there. He wanted to be leaner. He started lifting weights on his own.
Now, happy with his weight, he continues to work out every day. He focuses on building muscle, not losing weight. He does cardio for 15 to 20 minutes and then puts energy toward sculpting his muscles by lifting weights and changing his fitness routine.
The 23-year-old even has a job that requires him to be fit. He works at a UPS warehouse and is on his feet lifting heavy boxes several hours a day.
“If I didn’t lose weight, I wouldn’t be able to do this job,” he said. “There are people who work with me who look like they are fit, but they can’t lift like I can. It really makes me want to keep staying in shape.”
After losing 225 pounds, he said the biggest lesson he learned was not to lose sight of who he was under all that weight.
“Your life will change, but you don’t have to change,” he said. “You can look at things differently, but don’t change who you are just because you changed physically.”