James Babb was just 31 years old, but in his mirror he saw a man fast-forwarded into middle age. In his doctor's office, he heard that he would likely need drugs to tame his hypertension. In his head he felt migraines.
He sensed that his health woes—even the awful headaches—could be blamed squarely on his round figure. "In high school I was fairly trim, but in college I started gaining," he explained. "Then I got married, and you know what that does to you."
"You're not going to believe this," says his wife, Suzanne, "but until he started his diet, his typical meal was a Supersonic Double Cheeseburger (usually with bacon), a Route 44 soda (those are huge), an order of mozzarella sticks, french fries, and a milk shake—he always had to have his milk shake. And when we went to Pizza Hut, he would order an extra-large Meat Lover's with a whole pitcher of Mountain Dew. I didn't want to nag, but last Christmas I got really worried about his health. I didn't say much—just things like, 'You know, your father had high blood pressure; maybe you should get that checked out.'"
Be Like James!
Finally, James reached 261 pounds, which was a lot to ask a six-foot body to carry around. "I wasn't happy at all with my weight," he said. "I wasn't too keen on the idea of taking medicine. So I decided to do something about it myself."
He wanted to lose a lot of weight, and fast—71 pounds in six months.* But how? He needed a source of inspiration, and his brain was on pause. Finally, his lifelong love for electronics helped Babb settle on his muse: "my fat self."
Babb's fondness for gadgets has led him to own two electronics stores around his home in De Queen, Ark., a town in the southwest corner of the state near the Oklahoma line. He had easy access to cameras and television sets, and put them to good use.
He began to create a videotape of himself when he started his diet. "Seeing myself at 261 pounds was good motivation," he said. "I did it just for myself, so I could watch it, so it could motivate me." The idea at the beginning was that the person on the screen was someone he never wanted to be again.
In the meantime, Babb was watching one of his TVs when he came across a second form of inspiration: DietPower nutrition software. He saw that a DietPower user had won the Discovery Health Channel's "Body Challenge," beating five other contestants in a race to improve their weight, fitness, and health.
Babb thought DietPower could help him, too. Like his camera, the software could provide him with an objective view of himself. For the first time in his life, he would be able to "Eat With Your Eyes Open!™," as DietPower puts it.
One reason Babb gained so much weight is that he's busy, and often needs to eat on the run (or, in his case, in the car). He already knew that drinking eight cans of Mountain Dew a day wasn't good for him, but DietPower kept him out of denial and stopped him from eating other bad things.
"I had never counted calories before," he said. Now that DietPower made it easy, he realized that he had been consuming up to 6000 a day—enough to put him over 400 pounds within a year. He didn't have any more time on his hands, so DietPower helped him choose well when he did eat out. Goodbye, double cheeseburgers; hello, chicken breasts. The best part, he said, was "knowing that if ate something bad during the day, I would have to log it into DietPower. I didn't like that."
Babb started jogging three miles a day, three times a week. Thanks to the diet and exercise, "I started dropping weight real fast," he said, especially after he swore off soda. Because he didn't want to look "gaunt" by the end, he also began a bodybuilding regimen. He dusted off a weight bench and began lifting. He also started drinking protein shakes.
His video, which began with him at his heaviest, was fast becoming a narrative of his dissolving weight. Suzanne was excited about the metamorphosis, and gladly helped tape it. "As the weight started coming off and you could see progress," he said, "that was even better motivation than the 'fat self' images were." He added a soundtrack of inspirational music: "Here I Go Again," a 1980s song by Whitesnake opening with the words, "I don't know where I'm going, but I sure know where I've been."
All the while, Babb was becoming buff. Suzanne even borrowed a technique from the bodybuilding competitions and slathered him with oil for the photographs. "It looks all right, I guess," he said, "but it didn't feel good."
The headaches vanished almost immediately. His blood pressure chart is almost Enron-like in its fall: It went from 179/120 to 138/83. He lost 13 inches on his waistline. His energy level now challenges that of a certain television bunny that plays a drum. He also looks more like a 31-year-old man again. "It took a lot of age out of my face," he said.
Meanwhile, says Suzanne, DietPower taught the whole family how to eat better. Although the program isn't designed for children, the insight that it provides has helped the Babbs prepare more nutritious meals for their two daughters, ages six and eight.
"I'm very happy with the choice my husband made," says Suzanne.
As for James, he jokes that he's not completely happy: "I vowed to lose 71 pounds, but I only lost 70." Bodybuilders, it seems, are their own worst critics.
Since this article first appeared, five months ago, Babb has stopped running and put more time into bodybuilding. He works out in his home gym about four hours per week. His weight has risen by five pounds, to 196—but most of that is apparently muscle. Recent blood work has pegged his total cholesterol at a healthy 167 and his triglycerides at only 43. "Suzanne is very happy," he says. "And So am I!"
"Sue took the picture above last November—two years and seven months after I started," Babb writes. "Happy new year!"
(To email Babb, click here.)