Fat Man Walking
July 8, 2005 9:08 AM   Subscribe

Fat Man Walking. Steve Vaught chronicles his effort to shed most of his 400 pounds on the highway from San Diego to New York. An inspiring, if medically dangerous, tale of human willpower. (via today's Washington Post, registration required).
posted by Saucy Intruder (45 comments total)
From the journal: "A couple of people yelled obscenities. Some kids threw a big gulp cup at him. At least they missed."

Nice. I get this too when biking to work, and it's hard to take. Steve handled it better than I did.
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:37 AM on July 8, 2005

He'd probably have better luck eating less and joining a gym.
posted by keswick at 9:48 AM on July 8, 2005

I support his resolution to lose weight, but he'll probably screw up his joints for life with this endeavour. Good luck, I guess.
posted by sid at 9:49 AM on July 8, 2005

Kudos to him! I wish the journal was a bit more detailed, but I'll certainly be taking a look at this after I get my work done.
posted by rolypolyman at 9:51 AM on July 8, 2005

A couple of people yelled obscenities. Some kids threw a big gulp cup at him.

I find it's one useful measure of the level of culture of a locale, if people riding in cars will attack people on foot, or not.
posted by nervousfritz at 9:51 AM on July 8, 2005

Crazy. I wonder what he'll do if he makes it to NYC without loosing any, or very much weight.

Nice. I get this too when biking to work, and it's hard to take. Steve handled it better than I did.

I heard someone mention once that putting an "NRA" sticker on their bike helmet reduced the incidents of people throwing crap at them.

According to this crazy website He'll need to walk about 3,000 miles to lose 200 pounds. Without eating any food.

Also, 1 calorie per mile = 0.00259981707 newtons, acording to google. I also learned:
A gallon of gasoline (about 4 liters) contains about 31,000 calories. If a person could drink gasoline, then a person could ride [a bike] about 912 miles on a gallon of gas (about 360 km per liter). Considering that a normal car gets about 30 miles per gallon, that's pretty impressive!

To be fair, keep in mind that a car generally weighs a ton or more, while a bicycle weighs only 30 pounds. Cars also travel a lot faster than 15 mph. But it is still an interesting comparison. Note also that people cannot drink gasoline. However, people can drink vegetable oil, which contains nearly the same number of calories per gallon (if you look at How Fats Work you can see that fat contains long hydrogen/carbon chains just like gasoline does).

posted by delmoi at 9:51 AM on July 8, 2005

Walking is medically dangerous?

Through the desert in summer, by yourself, alongside traffic, with people throwing crap at you...yeah, it is.
posted by Kickstart70 at 10:01 AM on July 8, 2005

Those calorie calculators are crap. They ignore the extra need to feed newly-created muscle, etc. All they do is say "This much mass needs to move this distance, how much energy is required". It's a flawed method, ignoring all the real issues.
posted by Kickstart70 at 10:03 AM on July 8, 2005

Good luck to him.

More walking across America: This guy, Wild Bill Holden, was featured on ESPN and in a documentary this spring. It wasn't coast-to-coast (Arizona to Chicago), but it's still a hell of a walk, especially on a pair of bum knees. He made it in six months, raising funds to fight juvenile diabetes.

(Being a fellow Cubs fan, it's also especially nice to see something positive going on for the ballclub these days.)
posted by sellout at 10:18 AM on July 8, 2005

[This is fascinating]
posted by shawnj at 10:21 AM on July 8, 2005

The calorie calculators work great--- if you are a calorie burning machine-- you can accurately judge and count all the inputs, outputs and energy waster to friction, etc.

However, human beings aren't all that, we have metabolic rates, organs to maintain, homeostasis to maintain, cellular growth-repair, organ functions, etc to support.

Only thing I wish he would do to do get better at what he is doing is-- increase some sort of muscle growth. He's doing mainly a slow-twitch, aerobic activity.

People acclimate to this, and the body get more efficient at it, and he will continually have to walk longer and longer to get the same benefits. Also, the more efficient he gets and more glycogen storage he burns up, the body's gonna start start going to crisis mode and burn his muscles up instead trying to store fat for long-term survival.

Oh well, maybe all that extra weight he's carrying counts as resistance. Just needs to go hunting once in a while for protein: road-kill steak anyone?
posted by countzen at 10:24 AM on July 8, 2005

From the web site:What about the fact that only 3% of weight loss attempts are permanently successful?
What makes him think this will work? Once again I must respectfully vote for join gym, eat less. Of course, that doesn't get you an interview on 99X or whatever.
posted by fixedgear at 10:42 AM on July 8, 2005

join gym, eat less
too steep a curve in the beginning... easy to say, but hard to stick to. He also addresses it in the Post article. I for one, think this was a great decision on his part.
oh... and according to the Post article, he has already lost 50 pounds.
posted by anonetal at 10:48 AM on July 8, 2005

Gyms aren't for everyone. I get bored as all hell with them, but put me in front of an axe and firewood, or someother activity where I'm actually accomplishing something and I'll stick to it. Being too brain-active for my own good, this is a big requirement.
posted by Kickstart70 at 10:57 AM on July 8, 2005

Eating less is almost impossible for some people. If he ups his fiber intake enough he can probably squeeze down the calories. As for gyms, the shame factor seems higher than walking. I wish him luck getting and keeping the weight off.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:13 AM on July 8, 2005

I wish he was walking through my state. I'd walk out there with him like the people jogging next to Forrest Gump.

Any MeFites going to give him a place to crash?
posted by ColdChef at 11:21 AM on July 8, 2005

I have a hard time even remembering to do pushups in my very own air conditioned living room, but I think nothing of pedalling my bike across town in hot muggy weather just to save a buck on a six-pack. (This is why my weight is stable, neither gaining nor losing: "will exercise for empty calories.")

I thought about doing that myself, not to lose weight or to make a point like Granny D. but just to sightsee and explore. (Why DID Cain walk the Earth anyway? I forgot the point, if there was any.) But my "S.O." would miss me -- and besides I'm pretty lazy.

Him I wish luck and success.
posted by davy at 11:21 AM on July 8, 2005

This is really great. I wish him well.
posted by NewBornHippy at 11:24 AM on July 8, 2005

join gym, eat less. Of course, that doesn't get you an interview on 99X or whatever.

It also leaves you open to insinuations from those "concerned about your health" that you're lying about how much exercise you're doing or how many calories you eat. With this method, unless they want to accuse him of secretly hitching rides, the naysayers have to admit that he really is walking exactly as far as he says, even if he doesn't lose enough weight for their liking.
posted by transona5 at 11:28 AM on July 8, 2005

So he has a lot to think about as he walks. About the anger he carried around so long, and how pointless it seems now. About how accepting help from people doesn't shame him anymore, now that he sometimes has to ask strangers for water. And about the value of living in the moment, of just surviving that next stretch of road.
At this rate, he's going to arrive in New York skinny and enlightened.
posted by Eamon at 11:29 AM on July 8, 2005

As someone who has been a gym person for about 2.5 years now, I have to agree that they are boring. Very boring.

I went from 315 to 185, and I was bored the entire time. If I didn't have headphones on, and just total determination, I would have given up.

On the other hand, as someone who has been extremely heavy in my life, let me tell you this is not a good idea. Not because its bad on the joints to walk, but because it is bad on the joints to walk with that much weight. When I was heavy, I could barely walk down the office without feeling it, so walking across the country can only be about 1000 times worse, I would imagine.

It's not about eating less and exercising. It is about changing lifestyle habits. And he says that he is doing that, to which I say "good for him." But before he embarks on such a journey, I would say it would be a better plan to lose some weight first.
posted by benjh at 11:39 AM on July 8, 2005

This is good stuff, inspiring and uplifting.

Yes, he could join a gym and work out and be at home but he's trying to not only walk off some weight but retrain himself so that he approaches his life in a more healthy manner.

I say he's on the right track by taking charge of his own destiny (and density).
posted by fenriq at 11:42 AM on July 8, 2005

I agree that walking may be a better project than "join gym, eat less." If you grow disenchanted with the latter after two days, feh. You simply don't go to the gym. You eat what you want, dammit.

But if you grow disenchanted with walking across America when you're halfway through Oklahoma... well, odds are you're gonna keep walking, one way or another. And (as fenriq said, on preview) once you get done walking, you've made some changes in your approach to life.

BTW, here's another Big Walk, not just across the continent, but to all 48 states on it.
posted by soyjoy at 12:03 PM on July 8, 2005

I don't know. . .I think I'd be more in favor of this if he were single. Given that he has a wife and at least one kid, and expects to lose his house and car because of this, the gym would have been a better choice, regardless of how boring it is. Better for retraining himself, too.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 12:13 PM on July 8, 2005

Benjh beat me--I went from 310 to 290 several years ago and have kept it off via the gym and a radically modified diet--though gyms are very boring.

Honestly, the coast to coast walk sounds fun.
posted by sourwookie at 12:16 PM on July 8, 2005

Good! More should do the same, fat or not.
posted by stbalbach at 12:21 PM on July 8, 2005

This is great. I laugh every time I see a full gym parking lot with people inside on treadmills. Just walk, people!
posted by letitrain at 12:21 PM on July 8, 2005

BTW starting his hike in the southern US desert in summer is insane, or reckless.
posted by stbalbach at 12:25 PM on July 8, 2005

BTW starting his hike in the southern US desert in summer is insane, or reckless.

Agreed. If crossing the country from San Diego I'd start in late September, and I'd keep to the southern tier (fire ants and killers bees be damned), aiming for, say, Jacksonville, FL. I'm not sure which route though: roughly paralleling Interstate 40 would be prettier, but oh those mountains; further south would be flatter, but it'd take YEARS to cross Texas.

On the West Coast starting in San Diego in April I'd head north along the Pacific coast. That would be much prettier. If duration/length mattered then I'd simply turn around and walk back; one good thing about the West Coast in winter, you might mildew from the monsoon but you won't lose any toes to frostbite.
posted by davy at 12:56 PM on July 8, 2005

Doctors will also tell you, even if you're in great shape and an experienced mountaineer, that they can't endorse your climbing Everest. I think for him, this is an Everest, and while there are medical risks, it just seems to be something he has to do. He seems to know himself well enough to know that he won't stick to a gym/diet routine, so he's trying to save his own life the only way he could think of.

It's easy to carp or nitpick at his chosen method, but I respect him and wish him well. I hope whatever insight he gains on the road allows him to stay healthy mentally and physically when it's over.
posted by emjaybee at 1:23 PM on July 8, 2005

In Defense of Gyms:

I consider going to the gym a social activity in addition to exercise. I've gotten to know a lot of the guys and gals who frequent the campus gym, and it really isn't hard to chat and work out at the same time. I often leave my summer research job and head right for the gym, where I'll mull over the days work while working out. Workouts are only brain-inactive if you just lift weights. I also think treadmills are boring, and prefer to run outside, but some people can't take the heat or cold. Rowing is an awesome aerobic, full body exercise, and unless you happen to own a boat and live near a river, a gym is about the only place to get that workout. When I go backpacking during the summer, the regular workout schedule really pays off; I can pack a 60 pound load a couple thousand feet up to base camp no problem.

I just wanted to point out that gyms don't have to be boring or pointless.

I think this guy's chosen method of weight loss will be quite effective, and knowing several ex-marines, he should be more than up to it. I wouldn't be surprised if his joints aren't actually quite strong; I'm fairly sure that the extra tendon thickness and bone density you gain after getting into really good shape (being a marine) sticks around after the muscle has disappeared and turned to fat.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 1:55 PM on July 8, 2005

A gym isn't the silver bullet. When someone leaves the gym, they may go snack before and afterwards. This guy is looking to change his life, and he is doing so with a major lifestyle change. Rather than sitting on his duff, he is going to hike all day long.

I presume he has a doctors okay (meaning he doesn't have >300 chloresterol) and he has packed a ton of water - or people meeting him. Otherwise, hike away. He could sit at his desk and have a heart attack or he could get up and do this. Even if he lost 50 pounds by the time he gets to the east coast, he has changed what he does on a daily basis.

Good for him. As an aside, there was an interesting discussion on the second half of Science Friday (NPR) which discussed the 125 Hard questions for Science - a topic brought up for extending life was eating 30% less. Interesting stuff.
posted by fluffycreature at 2:16 PM on July 8, 2005

I don't know. . .I think I'd be more in favor of this if he were single. Given that he has a wife and at least one kid, and expects to lose his house and car because of this, the gym would have been a better choice, regardless of how boring it is. Better for retraining himself, too.

His wife responds to this line of thought on the blog (Scroll to the end of the 6/4 entry)
posted by shawnj at 3:19 PM on July 8, 2005

I can understand where this guy's coming from. Sometimes you need to go completely out of your element in order to accomplish something--a gym would have been too pedestrian, too easy to shrug off when you're just don't feel like it.

I've got total respect for him.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:34 PM on July 8, 2005

Thought I'd quote the wife's message here, because it's beautiful:
Steve actually is not a success yet. He has taken steps to change his life for the better, but internally, he has not yet been able to make changes on the inside. He needs time, reflection, and duress to force himself into making the long term changes that will keep him around for his family in the long term.

We have already been able to visit with him probably 7 or 8 times in the almost two months he has been away. We stayed with him a hotel once and had to bring him back to the house twice. While he was in San Diego County and Temecula, we had lunch with him nearly every day. I plan to visit him on Father's Day, he will be in Arizona by then and again, when he gets to Albuquerque where my brother lives. We will probably meet up with him in Ohio, (if we can swing it) him and his relatives.

This will be a great adventure for the kids and when he has finished, my daughter will be very proud of him on many levels. It is difficult sometimes, but this is a necessary departure. If he were in the military again, we would go just as long sometimes without seeing him. At least, this is for our future. I am not worried about money. Like he said, "We can get more stuff". My daughter and son cannot get another father. He has my 100% support in this.

I have known him since I was 14. We have been a couple for 10 years. I know what will happen if he comes home now. He hasn't found the answers yet and for those people that haven't suffered through the kinds of things that he has probably just wouldn't understand. It is because he has a responsibility to us that he is putting himself through this. We don't have a complete family. The kids miss out on having their dad involved in their lives more. Steve and I both grew up without our fathers and neither one of us want that for our children. What if he decided not to go after all. What if he decided to wait six months, and died of a heart attack in the meantime. There is no time like the present. We will do the best that we can and there are many people that succeed with less than what we have. We are strong and determined and that is what we have on our side.

I don't mean to convince you. Some people just aren't going to get it. Alcoholics get it. People who have serious addictions understand the difficulty and the necessity for a mental "journey". The path is different for everyone, and for Steve, this is it. This is the thing that will work. I would rather say goodbye for 6 months than have him half here for the next 5 and have to say goodbye forever. I know he will work it out on the road.

We don't have insurance or the money for surgery, besides that wouldn't fix his internal problems. He would be left with a mess of a body and a mess in his head. There are many people that climb mountains, hike, or bike dangerous territory with children at home. What Steve is doing isn't even really dangerous. It's just scary. He is smart enough not to do himself in and we are lucky enough to have plenty of support here at home. It is the hard part, the adversity that makes us stronger as a family. Thank you for your thoughts. I appreciate where you are coming from. This isn't my ideal life, but we don't get to choose. It is what it is, and we have to make the best of it. This is making the best of it. -April
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:39 PM on July 8, 2005

Derive the Hamiltonian of..., sorry to say it but you are part of the reason I stopped going to the gym altogether. It isn't a social center, its a place for people to work out and get on with their lives.

People who use a gym for their socialization sit on equipment and slow down other people who don't want to chat, they want to work out. They take alot longer to get their sets in while they talk with their buddies.

That and the little gangs of skinny guys with big chips on their shoulders just got old after a while. But I never got bored as long as I had my music and there were a couple of hotties to use for motivation.

Now working in a gym is a whole 'other thing. If I'm not working out, I've got no problem speaking with members but will also keep an eye out for disgruntled glances if they are duffing on a piece of equipment for too long.
posted by fenriq at 3:44 PM on July 8, 2005

My friend Cesar was not that fat, but heavy enough to have Type 2 Diabetes, so he took off and hiked the Appalachian Trail. (The first Cuban, he claims, to have done the whole thing.) Now he's caught up in long-distance walking, and has decided to hike around the world.

on preview: I like what his wife says: it's just scary, not very dangerous. And better than hanging around with "a mess of a body and a mess in the head."
posted by LeLiLo at 3:50 PM on July 8, 2005

I believe he has lost about 50 lbs so far, well, 42 ish. He started off at ~400 and the first weigh-in had him at 358. So he is, you might say, "on his way". I believe he will arrive in New York a changed man, both mentally and physically, and I do applaud the reasons he has stated for making the trip. I'll be following the story...

Not that it's THAT long of a walk. So far as I know this guy holds the record, having walked from the southernmost tip of South America, to the Northernmost tip of Alaska. Took him almost EIGHT YEARS. The audio book makes for a very good listen. George Meeghan is British, of course ;o)
posted by stonesy at 5:16 PM on July 8, 2005

fenriq, did you read the part where I said it's easy to chat and work out at the same time? Not stopping your workout for five minutes to socialize, but talking to the guy spotting you or the girl standing next to you? It's quite feasible, and you can get in just as good a workout. Back in high school, I'd spend two hours after school training for powerlifing, after which I'd go to rugby practice for an hour and a half, following which I'd eat dinner, spend the rest of the night on homework, pass out for 7 hours, and get up the next day to do it again. In an environment like that, you learn to multitask and get social interaction in when you can. College hasn't left me with much more free time.

Take your cheap shots elsewhere. Oh, and good job throwing in the "skinny guys with chips on their shoulders" comment and the "hotties for motivation" bullshit. You come across as a real man's man. If you aren't working out for yourself, don't bother. Oh, wait, you said you stopped going to the gym...
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 5:27 PM on July 8, 2005

I admire this man.
posted by dougunderscorenelso at 8:52 PM on July 8, 2005

Bravo! He's not doing this just for himself. He wants to come out of it as a better husband and father and live long enough to be recognized as both. Well played!
posted by mrblondemang at 9:45 PM on July 8, 2005

Yes, this is marvellously quixotic.

I hope he makes it in every way.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:56 PM on July 8, 2005

I wish this fellow all the best in his pursuit of a better life for himself. From many of the response to this post it would seen that fat folks are damned if they do and damned if they don't do something to change their bodies. Fat folks in western culture receive so much in the way of exclusion, prejudice, bullying and abuse as part of their everyday live's that it's good to see at least some positive response to someone taking on a brave venture like long walk.

Before you condemn someone walk a mile in their shoe's.
posted by Arqa at 4:17 AM on July 9, 2005

Kudos to Steve. I wish him all the luck in the world... this story was quite inspiring to me. Nice to see such a go-getter mentality!
posted by Micah at 2:51 PM on July 10, 2005


I have dealt with a lot of people as an RN who are morbidly obese. Many of whom, hide behind their weight and use it as a disability. I know that being overweight makes life difficult. I know that being overweight can be disability. But, I do not believe for a minute that if one chooses to sit on the coach and stuff his face with food and cry into his bowl of ice cream that this is a physical disability. I believe this is a CHARACTER disability.

I can say this because I was rather overweight after being on strict bedrest due to a physical condition. I could barely cross the room once allowed out of bed. I can now manipulate persons weighing twice as mush as me while connected to more tubes, wires, and IV drips than letters in y'all's names. Oh, did I mention the ventilator, dialysis equipment and IABP/balloon pump (look it up). Not to mention, I do this during my 12 hour shift during which I barely get to go to the bathroom, much less sit down. Why am I typing all of this? Because, weight is not what disables you, it is your mind set!

I applaud Steve for doing something about his weight. He didn't stay at his mother-in-law's house and keep crying into his ice cream. He got up! Those of you who are crying about his joints -- yea, they would look really great and healthy in the coffin, if he didn't get up! If this walk ruins his joints, but he makes it all the way, I will personally fund raise and find the doctors to replace his knees. So shut your mouths and stop shoving the BonBons in there.

I read a lot of messages from people like those of you who can't find it in yourself to support Steve. You know why you're not supportive. Because you are better at being negative than actually being someone. unbelievable!!!! We don't all have to be miserable. We don't all have to unsupportive of our fellow man. I don't care if you are a size 6. Have you ever seen "Shallow Hal"?

April, I didn't mean to leave out my support for you, either. I think it takes one HELL of a woman to let her husband find himself. Glad to here you didn't make him stay home for you. Having been a military wife myself, I know what it means to be holding down the house without my man. You are what God meant a wife to be -- supportive! God bless you and your babies!
Kudos to all who actually do something to make themselves be the person they want to be!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
posted by croomsmeister at 4:56 PM on July 13, 2005

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