By the time Samr “Rocky” Tayeh was a senior in high school, he weighed more than 500 pounds. He needed special desks in all his classrooms and an elevator pass to get up a few flights of stairs. His family continually pressured him to lose weight – something he felt utterly incapable of doing -- and he felt like a “monster.” So, two months before his high school graduation, Rocky made a decision to have weight loss surgery and to – as he saw it -- “save his life.”
Like thousands of Americans, Rocky has lost a lot of weight – 200 pounds in one year -- due to the lap band surgery. Yet while those numbers make it seem like a quick fix, choosing and living with weight loss surgery can be anything but.
ROCKY: When I was eleven years old, I made a promise I couldn’t keep. I was on vacation at my uncle’s house. And after a fun day of swimming with my shirt on, of course, I went into the bathroom and nervously stepped on the scale: 200 pounds. So I swore to Allah, something you’re not supposed to do in the bathroom that I wouldn’t get any fatter. But I could never slam the door on food — my comfort for life, my best friend in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.
SISTER: You have a choice to lose weight! Just now you ate a pint of ice cream, is that necessary?
ROCKY: I ate a pint of ice cream.
SISTER: You ate a pint of ice cream, strawberry ice cream!
ROCKY: That’s my twin sister and me. I recorded it when I was 15 for my first radio story.
SISTER: Yesterday you ate three bowls of cereal.
ROCKY: It wasn’t strawberry ice cream it was fudge ice cream.
ROCKY: The night before my story aired I thought everyone was just going to hear me as a fat-sad-complainer who really didn’t want to lose weight.
LETTER 1: This message is for Rocky…
ROCKY, NARRATION: But so many people wrote in. And I didn’t feel alone anymore!!!!
LETTER 2: Isn’t it ironic that despite being a Jewish anorexic, I identified with Rocky’s.
LETTER 3: That means having healthy munchies around, you know raisins, fruits.
LETTER 4: If Rocky wants to ask me about it tell him to feel free to e-mail me or call me.
LETTER 5: Unbelievable.
ROCKY: I went from hiding my problems to telling millions of strangers.
Jane Pauley Show: Live from 30 Rockefeller Plaza, on The Jane Pauley Show.
ROCKY: When the Jane Pauley Show came knocking I was fatter than ever.
ROCKY: My name is Rocky I am 16…
ROCKY: There I was—in soft focus… with what seemed like my only friends in the world: my cat Simba and, of course, the refrigerator.
ROCKY: I need to lose weight or I am going to die.
ROCKY: I was on the show with a whole panel of fat kids. And the girl sitting next to me was scheduled to have a new type of weight loss surgery: the lap band – an inflatable ring around the top part of your stomach. Her surgeon Dr. George Fielding told us that diet and exercise for morbidly obese people, like me, is just hopeless.
DR. FIELDING: Her real chances of losing weight is effectively zero.
ROCKY: For a year, those words kept on repeating in my head over and over, like a non-stop washing machine, getting louder and louder. I always knew surgery was an option. I just thought of it as a last resort for people who are so fat they can’t even move. And I wasn’t at that point! By my last year of high school I was 300 pounds overweight – 300 reasons for my mom to be angry and concerned.
MOM: I want to see you outside hanging out, have friends, have a life!
ROCKY: I don’t have a life?!
MOM: Not like your brothers, no.
ROCKY: Don’t make it seem like that I’m just a cave man.
MOM: But you’re not doing nothing and every week you’re gaining weight.
ROCKY: I am not doing nothing?
ROCKY: Don’t you think dealing with my weight mentally is exhausting?
MOM: I don’t see you doing nothing.
ROCKY: I’m dealing with it in my head!!!
MOM: Is you’re head helping you?
ROCKY: Let’s make it clear--I wasn’t just a “fat-boy-sitting-in-the-corner-looking-depressed.” At school, I made people know me for more then just a kid who wore a size 64 pants.
ROCKY: I am a funny person.
“FRIENDS” FROM SCHOOL: Yeah Yeah you’re funny.
ROCKY: so shouldn’t that overshadow my size?
“FRIEND” FROM SCHOOL: Nothing can overshadow your size!
ROCKY: Just like nothing can overshadow your bad grades.
ROCKY: But I had bigger problems that just coming up with quick insults. I had to request an elevator pass to get up two flights of stairs and a special desk in each of my classrooms.
ROCKY: I weighed 517 pounds. So I made a decision to have surgery and save my life. My brother and sister told me I was taking the easy way out.
SISTER: You don’t even go to gym class!
ROCKY: I do go to gym class!
SISTER: No you don’t. Don’t lie.
ROCKY: I’m medically excused from gym.
SISTER: See you put no effort into it!
BROTHER: Do you not wake up and eat a Hershey Bar? That’s issues right there. That’s something you have to control in yourself.
ROCKY: Hello! Hello! I know I have a weight problem and my solution to my weight problem is surgery!!!
ROCKY: My dad told me I wasn’t allowed to have the surgery–-- he thought I should just go to the gym. But in my family if dad says no, you convince mom.
MOM: You’re father doesn’t know.
ROCKY: And then of course keep it a secret.
MOM: We’ll fill up the closet with slim fast. We’ll tell him you’re on slim fast.
ROCKY: Hey this is Rocky. It’s Sunday night and the day before my surgery.
ROCKY: Before I could finally have the operation, I had to go on a two-week low calorie liquid diet.
ROCKY: I’ve just been sleeping everyday just to get through the day without food, it’s just...It’s sad to see how much food has control over me. But I can do it, I am ready to say goodbye to food. It’s going to kill me if I don’t say goodbye.
ROCKY: What are we doing today?
MOM: You’re doing your surgery.
ROCKY: That’s my mom and me at the hospital.
ROCKY: How do you feel?
ROCKY: What are you afraid of?
MOM: God forbid if something happens to you, that’s why. That’s why I couldn’t even look at you. I said oh my god if something happens to him what I am I going to do with my life.
ROCKY: It was finally time. I put on a blue gown and went into small room to wait. Wait for my name to be called, wait for my new life to begin.
ROCKY: It’s 11:57 April 10th, the day of my surgery. I had the surgery. I want to cry but it’s going to hurt if I cry. I can’t wait to see what my life has in stored for me, I can’t wait.
ROCKY: It’s Sunday and I’m in my bathroom and my dad just called me down to eat. My mom made dinner him. so he’s calling me down to eat and I'm so f* scared because I can’t eat that much but I am going down.
ROCKY: I ended up telling my dad right after dinner. I couldn’t hold back anymore. He was surprisingly calm.
DAD: Even if I don’t agree with it. I am still going to support you.
ROCKY: I think he already knew. And weeks later, he was teasing me about the Lap Band.
DAD: Get ready big boy! Get that belly! Get that rubber band open we got a lot of lobsters to eat!!!
ROCKY: But months after surgery I was trying to push the lap band to the limit, first with Pringles, then with Chinese food. My Saturday night dates with TV and food continued.
ROCKY: The lap band controlled how much I ate but it didn’t control why I ate. So what do I do when I’m sad, frustrated or bored?
ROCKY: I feel really full, my body is telling me no and but my mind is telling yeah. I have to learn to accept me or I am just going to keep on throwing up and throwing up. There comes the soup. I definitely ate too much. I’m hovering over the sink because I know it’s coming out – bluuuuh. And there goes my dinner, back into the sink.
ROCKY: This was it. I thought I’d found a secret loophole---a way to still eat my emotions away and lose weight. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with throwing up.
ROCKY: I went to Dunkin Doughnuts to buy like a case of these Dunkin Donuts cups so when I throw up I can just throw up in these cups and then throw the cups away.
ROCKY: But then a nutritionist in my surgeon’s office told me the lap band could slip and would have to be removed, and that I might destroy my esophagus.
ROCKY: See ya later Hero Sandwich, hello Pumpkin Spice Late, with Half and Half!!!
ROCKY: “Can I have a pumpkin spice latte…”
ROCKY: I’m supposed to avoid liquid calories. But that’s the only thing that can make me feel happy and not make me throw up. And even with my daily trips to Starbucks, I managed to lose more than 200 pounds in one year.
LETICIA: Oh my God! You look really good.
ROCKY: are you excited?
LETICIA: yes, I am excited.
ROCKY: The last time my friend Leticia saw me I was huge.
LETICIA: People used to look at as like ‘why is that pretty, skinny, pretty girl with him!
ROCKY: the train was the worst.
LETICIA: Oh yeah with the boys, remember when that movie came out and that boy was calling you fat Albert.
ROCKY: he was?
LETICIA: Yes Sam! They would say like hey, hey, hey.
ROCKY: Reactions have changed. Leticia even says people are looking at us like we’re a couple. This is a new person, and I look so good. But, Leticia thinks my weight is the only thing different.
LETICIA: What do you think, ‘cause you are skinny you look good. To me you look good before!
ROCKY: Oh don’t lie! Don’t I look so much better now?
LETICIA: you look better, but you’re still the same person!!!!
ROCKY: But I’m not, I’m not Rocky anymore. I wish this me, could have told huge monster Rocky just how better life is, how much more fun life is, how alive I feel. I do want to figure out why I got so big…. And I still eat to feel good, like when I’m bored, or I can’t express how I feel.
My body is marked with scars and extra skin, reminding me every day just how big I was. But even now—with another 100 pounds to lose--when I’m walking down the street I feel like I’m flying, like the wind is pushing me along.
And when I see little fat kids, I want to wake them up and tell them, before it’s too late, just how hard life is for a fat teenager. So they won’t grow up to be like me, with a band around their stomach.
For WNYC, I’m Rookie Reporter Samr “Rocky” Tayeh.