Losing it: Ayresí weight loss by design
By Seth Nidever
Lemoore resident Steven Ayres is a shadow of his former self.
His clothes droop. His head is smaller. Loose folds of skin hang from his waist, arms and thighs.
And it's all happening according to plan.
Ayres isn't wasting away as a result of some intestinal parasite. Nor is he a steroid-swollen athlete returning to normal size after being deprived of his favorite drugs.
His odyssey -- minus 255 pounds and counting -- is a comprehensive effort to recover a life that was sinking into a paralysis of obesity, diabetes and vision loss.
"I really don't want to be this big anymore," he said.
Compare photos of Ayres two years ago to his appearance now, and he looks like a man who stepped out of an inflatable fat suit.
Struggling with low self-esteem, Ayres, now 35, started packing on pounds in the mid-1990s.
Like mercury in a thermometer, his weight began to climb steadily.
He was in a series of what he perceived to be dead-end jobs. He worked at fast food restaurants. He delivered newspapers in the morning, flinging them out the window from the secure perch of the driver's seat.
"I felt like I had amounted to nothing in my life," Ayres wrote in a 14-page blog he keeps on MySpace to chronicle his journey.
When he hit 350, he maxed out the scales at most health clinics. He stopped weighing himself.
He didn't stop putting on weight.
Ayres got to the point where he couldn't cross his legs. He couldn't lay down for more than a few hours without his massive bulk causing an unbearable backache. To go out, he had to jam his swollen feet and ankles into basketball shoes he could barely reach down and lace up.
It got so bad that when he finally decided to find out how big he really was, he had to go to a truck scale.
"I mean, it's embarrassing, but how else am I supposed to do it?" he said.
When the scale registered 550, he told himself that it wasn't calibrated properly and kept on eating.
The you-know-what didn't hit the fan until early last year, when Ayres started to lose his vision. He thought it was the result of staring at a computer screen all day in his cubicle at the Communication Services for the Deaf center in Lemoore.
A doctor diagnosed him with type 2 diabetes and sent him to Central Valley General Hospital for emergency insulin treatment.
After five days there, his vision started coming back.
It was the mother of all wake-up calls.
"... The greatest thing that has EVER happened to me was being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes," he wrote on the blog.
Ayres was told he needed an 1800 calorie a day diet. A doctor said his ideal weight would be 200 pounds.
"I just kind of embraced it from there," Ayres said.
Ayres got on a regimen that had him counting calories and carefully monitoring his carbohydrate intake.
The pounds started coming off.
Rejecting stomach surgery as a "quick fix," Ayres also steered away from diet plans, comprehensive weight loss systems and medications. Once the doctor told him what his daily caloric intake needed to be, he figured he had the answer.
"I do it the hard way. I watch what I eat," he said.
"Well, he did it the right way," said Rusty Van Baren, a Weight Watchers member from Lemoore who himself shed 60 pounds in the last couple of years through a combination of regular bicycle riding and changed diet.
"It's just a total lifestyle change," Van Baren said.
Ayres, who sits in a seat for as much as 10 hours a day at work, knew that he needed to do more than watch his calories. He had to get into a regular exercise routine.
These days, that has him going to a personal trainer at VQ Fitness four times a week plus an additional four sessions a week of aerobics at the YMCA.
On weekends, he walks as much as 10 miles.
Ayres raves on his blog about being able to do things many take for granted: Wear regular clothing sizes, sit in chairs, use ordinary bathroom stalls rather than the oversized handicap ones.
People, particularly his coworkers, haven't been able to avoid noticing the change.
Ayres said one guy offered him $100 and lunch at Tahoe Joe's if he gets down to 200. Another time, he said, a police officer stopped him on the way out of a convenience story and congratulated him on the change.
He said people at VQ Fitness -- and people who read his blog -- offer encouragement.
"Mostly what I've seen in Steven is determination. After he found out he was diabetic, he made a huge effort to pursue his health," said friend Keith Standlee, adding that Ayres looks like a "different person."
"I want to be normal," Ayres said.
But Ayres may never get to the "normal" that he is striving for.
Although he weighs in at a relatively svelte 255 pounds, the folds of skin that hang from his arms, midriff and thighs are constant reminders of his formerly massive size.
Perhaps the only way he can get rid of it is with plastic surgery -- which his current insurance won't pay for.
Ayres is currently trying to get on Oprah Winfrey's television show, hoping that she'll finance the whole thing.
"I want to think I have a six pack under all this skin," he said.
It's a dream that Van Baren can understand.
"I think he's realized some health benefits, but I don't think he's realized the self esteem benefits," Van Baren said. "And I think it's a very important thing. He'll never look the same as I do without surgery."
Ayres is hoping he can get rid of the skin, one way or the other.
In the meantime, he's got another 50 pounds -- and a lot of exercise --to go.
"What will I be doing next year? Will I be attempting a marathon? The more I lose, the more I want to do," he said.
The reporter can be reached at 582-0471, ext. 3061.
(Sept. 22, 2007)