My name is Che Wilkinson, and I’m a 45-year-old teacher living in Austin, Texas. After a lifetime of being “the big guy,” I could no longer stand having achy joints from my excess weight. So, I decided to prioritize my health with the help of Profile by Stanford, a health and nutrition program.
Growing up in Texas, I always had a tough relationship with food. My family used it to celebrate the happy times and commiserate during bad times—basically any feeling or event was an opportunity to come together and eat. Because of this, I was always a heavyset kid, the biggest in my class, and being 6’1”, people always saw me as a big guy. People called me Big Che or Big Man, nice-sounding names that centered around calling me overweight.
In my family, there were many big people; my grandmother and her family are from Georgia, so they cook a lot of Southern foods and they all weigh 300+ pounds. It wasn’t a weird thing at home, because I figured we were all just big people. But out in the world, it became evident I was different, and I didn’t like that. At school, my lunches were comprised of fried chicken, carby dinner leftovers, and Cheetos, while the other kids were having healthy things like fruit.
He reminded me that many rappers I looked up to had died around my age from weight-related causes, and it woke me up and motivated me to change things.
In college, the freshman 15 became the freshman 50, and I really started packing on the pounds…ones I’m still taking off more than 20 years later. The weight gain continued through college and grad school. I didn’t go out to eat often, but I ate whatever was in front of me and was sedentary, so my days were eating, studying, and staying up late. I’d been in grad school for ministry at the Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, then moved to Austin and eventually enrolled in Concordia University to pursue teaching instead; I was stressed about making the right decision. I had fears about the future and figuring out what I wanted to be. By the time I graduated and started teaching middle school, I was up to 350 pounds. Seeing that number on the scale was scary, but I was in my 30s, felt pretty young, and could still play with my students, so it didn’t feel like an emergency. I just assumed I’d be big my whole life and was resigned to that.
Getting Stuck in the Diet Cycle—and a Wake-Up Call
From time to time I would get motivated to lose weight. I would take action, but only with the help of a program since I didn’t know how to eat well on my own. I’d be up watching TV and see something about a 30-day plan offering big results and think to myself, I can do anything for 30 days! So, I’d sign up, feeling excited, and do the diet consistently. By the end of the month, I’d have lost 20 to 40 pounds. But when the month was over, I would go right back to eating the same way I had before. I never learned how to eat other than being on their plan.
I tried four or five different diets, dropping down to about 260 pounds each time, and at the end of every single one I put the weight back on—and then some. I knew I needed something that would work, but it seemed like all of the things I tried left me in the same place, even heavier than where I’d started.
My a-ha moment came when I’d just turned 40. My then-wife and I went to Las Vegas to celebrate our anniversary—of course we wanted to eat at all the great buffets. Well, just walking down The Strip, I had to stop at every hotel and sit down for a break because my knees and feet hurt. I told myself, As soon as I get back home, the first thing I’m gonna do is see a doctor.
The doctor I met with took my blood and did a full checkup and then sat down with me. He told me I was pre-diabetic, with hypertension and high cholesterol. He was also an African American man, and he talked with me about issues we’re at risk for in our 40s that can lead to death. He reminded me that many rappers I looked up to had died around my age from weight-related causes, and it woke me up and motivated me to change things. My doctor suggested I see a nutritionist, and I started going weekly for accountability. Learning and better understanding the effects of certain foods on my body helped me get down to 240 pounds from 340 pounds, but I was still a big guy and a long way from where I wanted to be.
Breaking the Cycle and Getting Results
Then one day, about two years ago, I was going to a new eyeglasses store my insurance company had recommended. It shared an entrance with Profile by Sanford, a health and nutrition program developed by medical experts at Sanford Health, one of the world’s largest healthcare providers. I accidentally walked into the Profile side and realized my mistake, but figured…while I was here, why not ask what it was all about? They explained that they have a coaching program where you meet with a health coach once a week to stay accountable and to learn skills like how to read food labels and how to eat healthy while dining out. They also told me they have meal plans that can help you lose weight. I didn’t sign up, but they gave me a business card, which I stuck in my wallet.
When COVID hit, I was in a bad place. I was nervous about my job, stressed about the health risks to me and my family because of underlying conditions, and my wife and I had split up. How did I handle it? Eating, eating, eating. By August of 2020, I went for a doctor’s appointment and though I’d weighed 240 before the pandemic, now I was back up to nearly 300 pounds. I looked in my wallet, and I saw that card from Profile I’d stuck in there six months before and called them up.
I was ready. Whatever they told me to do, I did it. Eat this specific food at this time? OK. I liked that it wasn’t a 30-day program—you’re on it until you reach a point you feel comfortable enough to maintain healthy habits on your own. I didn’t remember the last time I was under 200 pounds, so I said my goal was to hit 199—a 96 pound weight loss. I also continued my weekly check-ins with the nutritionist as an extra level of accountability.
That was nine months ago. Since then, I have learned so much about myself and started believing for the first time that I might not have to be fat my whole life. I followed the plan with fidelity, starting with the protein shakes and other pre-made food from Profile, like their pastas and soups. What I like about the plan is that when you start losing weight, you can eat fewer pre-made items and cook more for yourself, following the recipes in their meal plan. That’s where I started thriving: making my own meals, cooking vegetables, planning for my grocery store trips, always keeping my water with me. I love it all! I don’t go out to eat that much, but if I do, I now have a set order: A small salad with a piece of salmon. I could definitely get other things and stay on track, but it’s tasty and makes dining out a no-brainer, so I get it wherever I go.
I also started exercising. Three to four times a week, I’m getting up in the morning and working out. For weight training, I use an app that lays out step-by-step exercises—I knew I needed someone or something to tell me what to do. I’ve also gotten into running. I’ve never been a runner before, but I know cardio is good for my health and I wanted to work toward a goal, so I’m training for a 5K.
Progress and New Goals
At my last weigh-in, I was down to 207 pounds, which means I’ve lost 88 pounds since 2020—just 8 pounds away from 199. I want to keep at it though so I decided my new goal is to hit 190 pounds.
Running longer races represents something I never thought I could do.
The main thing I notice, separate from the scale or how I look, is how I feel. I remember as a teacher, after lunch I felt so tired. Now I have energy throughout the day, I feel good, and my knees and feet no longer hurt from a simple walk as they did in Vegas. I also recently went to the doctor and he told me my blood pressure is just slightly above normal, my cholesterol is fine, and I’m no longer in danger of developing diabetes. Getting healthy is the best thing I’ve ever done.
For my future goals, I want to work up to 10Ks and a half marathon. But my biggest dream is to do an obstacle course race. Running longer races represents something I never thought I could do. My health journey helped me shift my mindset from thinking I can’t do this to I could do this. Doing an obstacle course race still scares the heck out of me, but now I know I can do it. That’s next!
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