Lifting the weight from his shoulders

Published on: June 16, 2011

Mitch Traphagen Photo

Mitch Traphagen Photo

By Mitch Traphagen

SUN CITY CENTER — He came to dread laughter. Being out in public, whenever he heard laughter, he was sure it was directed at him. At 455 pounds, he dreaded a lot of things that most people take for granted.

He couldn’t go to a movie without fear — fear that he could not find a seat with an movable armrest, or fear that the seat would simply break under his weight. Boarding an airplane was out of the question. Like most young men, he wanted companionship, he wanted someone to love who would love him back. He became convinced that no woman could love him, that no woman could look through all of the skin and tissue to see his heart. Finally, he nearly became resolved to that.

Not only was his heart broken, he felt broken, too.

And then, he changed his life.

Today Chris Deiss is a 34-year-old man with a chiseled face that would be the envy of many men his age. He exudes confidence and strength, and he has the body to match. At 225 pounds, he appears to be at the peak of health. His road has been long, filled with aching muscles, tired lungs and, most importantly, dedication. Along that road, he left 230 pounds behind. He is half the man that he once was — the better half. But the job isn’t finished yet, despite the motivation to exercise four hours a day and the discipline required to dramatically change his eating habits, there is nothing he can do finalize his goal — it is in sight, but out of reach. After his journey of a thousand miles, he is powerless to take the last small step.

Chris wrote a journal of his life as a morbidly obese person and of working towards his goal of not only losing weight, but also of saving his life. The journal is filled with words that should be read by an increasingly callous world, particularly those who may have snickered or stared in contempt at someone who is overweight. His words reveal the fear and isolation he felt. Before long, the weight on his frame was exceeded by the weight on his heart and soul — he felt alone and lonely.
In Sun City Center, many people who shop at the Publix grocery store, his employer of the past three years, know Chris. He has been overweight his entire life. Over the years, he has dieted and tried to lose weight, but it wasn’t until a co-worker challenged him that he found the focus, and the purpose of heart, to change his life.

“I was just sick of being alone,” he said. “No one is interested in you when you are that huge, and I know that. It got to a point in my life where I wanted to have someone in my life forever. Do I want to wait until it’s too late?  I didn’t want to do that. Back then, that’s all I was doing it for. I came around later and realized that wasn’t the right way to look at it. I wasn’t doing it for me, I was doing it in the hope… for someone. So it was easier to give up because it wasn’t for me.”

The only images of Chris at 455 pounds are in his mind. By that point in his life, he avoided the camera. After making a commitment to change his life for himself, he started small (by his standards) but saw results almost immediately. In the beginning, he could only walk for 45 minutes a few times per week — but that was enough. Those first steps began the journey. In the first week he lost 10 pounds; in the second week he lost 15.

“Once you start losing weight and you can see it and you drop pant sizes it becomes: ‘I knew there was more I could do’,” he said. “I wanted to keep that weight off.”

Before long, Chris was working out four hours a day, every day.

“I ignored everything else in my life at that time,” he said. “I wish I had known more about nutrition then, because I could have gotten a lot better results.”

With the help of a nutritionist, he learned about what was good for his newly emerging body, and what was not. The weight continued to come off — and it stayed off. Today, he lists off vegetables and food preparation techniques like an expert. He has become an expert.

In addition to nutrition, he has also become an expert in fitness. A gym he used years ago once expressed an interest in hiring him. There are few more knowledgeable personal trainers than Chris Deiss. For anyone hoping to lose weight, he has been there. He knows what works and what doesn’t. He knows what buttons to push to call up motivation and what to avoid saying that might kill it. In losing 230 pounds, so much more than his body has changed.

His target weight is roughly 195 pounds. Despite the scale reading 225 today, he has technically reached his goal. Except for the continued workouts that keep his body in shape and his mind focused, there is little more he can do — the extra 30 pounds is entirely composed of excess skin. Skin that won’t shrink back on its own. It is 30 pounds of skin that must be removed surgically because no workout program or nutritional regimen will fix it — nothing but surgery will fix it.

Chris Deiss (Mitch Traphagen Photo)His doctor has provided the medical necessity — the loose, excess skin he carries does not have proper blood circulation, which will increase the possibility of infection and will potentially develop painful cysts. His insurance company, however, has denied his request for surgery.

“They say, ‘OK, where are the cysts?  Where is the problem that he needs the surgery right now?’” Chris explained. “The doctor said that five years ago, before the economy was down, he could have had it approved without a problem. But today, everything has been cut down. Everything is being examined for specific medical need.”

In addition to the medical need, there are also the psychological and emotional needs. After all of his work and dedication, he can imagine it; but he can’t reach his goal. It is close enough to touch but still out of reach.

“People tell me I look great and say I must be so proud of myself and I appreciate that, but I know the truth. I don’t and I’m not,” he said. “It’s not done yet. With this whole process, I’ve either been in it 100 percent or I didn’t do it. Right now, regardless of what I look like to people, I still feel like that big guy because I know what’s underneath the clothes. That hasn’t gone away.”

And with that, he feels his dream of finding a partner in life, a woman who can see the heart of a committed and dedicated man, is out of reach, too.

“Working or being in a restaurant, I see good-looking girls all the time that look back at me, but I don’t have the confidence to ask them out,” he said.

He knows that any intimacy or physical contact is problematic.

“What happens when…something happens?” he asked, referring to intimacy. “They would leave — that’s how I feel about it. I don’t want to start something… I mean, why?  I just know where it would lead.”

He chooses his clothing to hide the last remnant of the obese person that he was. Out in public, he is the picture of health and wellness. He is muscular and fit. Yet looking in a mirror, he sees the body of a 90-year-old woman. The truth is that he avoids looking in a mirror. When asked, he just shook his head and said, “No, no, I don’t.”

“By the time you reach your late 20’s, with your skin, where it’s at is where it’s at,” Chris said. “My skin has been stretched for all my life. It’s not going anywhere.”

To reach his goal, he needs a procedure known as abdominoplasty. Resulting from his extensive weight loss, the sheer quantity of what needs to be removed is so great that his body could not tolerate having it done in a single operation. Each of the three procedures is estimated to cost $10,000 — money he doesn’t have.

Through an endless series of diets, Weight Watchers and Overeater’s Anonymous, he picked up tools he needed to change his life. But it wasn’t until he looked into his own heart, that he found the will to make it happen.

“When you have been as big as long as I have…I’ve never had confidence in myself,” he said. “That can stay with you.”

Stopped so close to his goal, his confidence has been shaken, but his will and determination remain steadfast. He remains dedicated to exercising and eating right. He has taken part in 5K runs, and plans to run a 15K next year. He plans to undergo the examinations required to become a personal trainer someday, because he is confident that he can help others. All of that is from a man who dreaded hearing random laughter only a few years ago.

Chris Deiss has finally emerged as the man he always wanted to be with only a single step remaining. Despite all that he has overcome, it may be the most difficult step of all. He started his journey as a big man. Ironically, he arrived at his destination as an even bigger man in spirit — his heart is open to the world.

As I was leaving his home and we were saying our goodbyes, I turned in the doorway and asked, “Chris, how are you?”

He paused for a moment and said, “I’m alright. I’m pretty good.” And then, he laughed a little.

If you have questions for Chris or ideas on how he can make the final step on his incredible journey, contact him at via email by clicking here.