I'd never seen anyone this big move this fast.
Shay Sorrells, all 350 pounds of her, was up ahead on the bike path, absolutely flying. Furiously pumping arms and legs, the former "Biggest Loser" contestant was riding a Street Strider, a newfangled rolling elliptical machine. Once 476 pounds, she'd taken the Strider home after leaving the show and was riding it an hour a day around Newport Bay, hammering the flats at 13 miles per hour and soaring down hills at 30 — no different than me, about half her size.
"When you're this big, you can't move much without discomfort, which is why I love this," Sorrells said when we got back to her Costa Mesa apartment. "Yes, it's fast and fun, but more importantly it's low-impact and standing-up."
Do-ability is the key to enjoying a workout, and body size is a major factor that is often overlooked, she said. "People my size can't do 'normal' fitness activities like biking and rowing and weight machines because they're too uncomfortable," she said. "Our bodies get in our own way. We can't bend over. We don't fit. We can't run, either — the impact hurts our joints. So we give up on exercise before we try it."
Finding a doable exercise is crucial for obese people because movement is often the key that locks in weight loss. Diets come and go, but exercise sticks, and it prompts the lifestyle changes necessary to shed pound and keep them off, according to Dr. James A. Levine, a Mayo Clinic expert on nutrition and endocrinology.
"There are psychological and chemical advantages of moving over eating," Levine says. "A diet is a restriction — by definition unpleasant, to be avoided. But when you move it is something you have done and achieved. Every time you do it, you are winning, and feel good about yourself and want to do it again. You not only burn lots of calories, but may be motivated to make better food decisions."
Research is finding that just six weeks of exercise is enough to change both brain chemistry and body chemistry for the better, he adds. Diets alone don't have the same effect.
Exercise feeds on itself — once you get moving, you might not want to stop. As Sorrells and others have discovered, it is essential that all people hoping to slim down find some kind of exercise they can look forward to every day. Options that fit the largest bodies can be surprisingly fun, including walking, water running, swimming, elliptical training (on wheels or in a gym) and even a new three-wheeled sport called Trikking.
Read on for four success stories from obese people who have made working out work for them.