How One Man Lost 266 Pounds

Kelvin BurnettMark Manson is an author greatly interested in happiness, self-knowledge, habits, relationships, and several other areas of human awareness. He invited a guest blogger with a fascinating story, Kelvin Burnett, who lost 266 pounds by “getting his mind straight.” (A short time later, an expanded first-person account was published by Huffington Post as a reader success story.)

As a child, Burnett had meningitis, which put him in a coma and damaged his hearing to the point of legal deafness. At around seven, he was enrolled in a school for deaf kids, and had already started to gain weight. By high school, obese was the only word that fit. Clothes didn’t, and he couldn’t shop for them in regular stores, or go on amusement park rides. Furniture broke beneath his weight, and kids used ugly nicknames.

Burnett responded by playing football, where bulk was an advantage; watching a lot of TV; and pretending that he felt just fine about being oversized. Then he went to college, and gained so much more weight that he couldn’t fit in an airplane seat to go home for vacations. He writes:

By sophomore year, my relationship with food had likely reached the point of addiction…From what I’ve seen, the definition of an addiction is when your desire for something begins to interfere with the functioning of other parts of your life…I think I became addicted to the feeling of being full. So I ate, and I ate, and I ate. Food became my drug.

The One-Person Intervention Team

During a summer break, Burnett’s grandmother visited and scolded him vigorously for letting this happen. She reminded him of how, during the meningitis coma, his life had hung in the balance. That was something nobody could have controlled. But now here he was, a grown man, in a different kind of coma, a self-imposed one, on a road that only led to one destination, a miserable early death.

The shock of being taken to task by this normally mild-mannered grandmother was too much. He went to the gym and did something he had not done in a while—stepped on the scale. It registered 484 pounds and, Burnett says, “That number, by itself, was an intervention—like a hard slap in the face.” Wanting to start with something uncomplicated, he began riding a stationary bike every day for 40 minutes to an hour. After a couple of weeks, he started to like it. He says:

This was key. If you’re going to stick to a new lifestyle, you have to find a way to enjoy it. If you don’t find a way to enjoy exercising, you will never stick with it.

He switched to a diet basically consisting of fruits, vegetables and grilled chicken, with one cheat day a week, and by college graduation had lost 130 pounds. Now he could fit into an airplane seat, but at 350 pounds he was still not date-bait, and that was a concern. Further dietary adjustments and increased workouts were next on the agenda. As a child he had adopted the “fat kid” identity to be accepted, but as an adult he rebranded himself as the guy who was constantly losing weight. It gave him pride and confidence. Burnett wrote:

There’s always a simple choice to make in the present. Take those choices one at a time. Forget about yesterday. Forget about tomorrow. And just focus on what you can do no —don’t eat that dessert, go outside and walk 30 minutes. All of these things are a series of tiny choices, not any sort of dramatic lifestyle change. Do that and eventually, one day, you’ll find yourself on top, and you’ll hardly even know how you got there.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Winning the Mental Battle of Weight Loss: How One Man Lost 266 Pounds, 08/29/13
Source: “I Lost Weight, 09/02/13
Image by Kelvin Barnett

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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