By Chris Line
I was morbidly obese.
Weighing in at 438 pounds, I knew something had to be done to save my life. This “revelation” came to me just as I was hired full-time as a legal fellow for the Freedom From Religion Foundation in June 2017.
So, as my legal career began to take off, I decided to take off the pounds, too. I was tired of making excuses for my weight.
Being over 400 pounds doesn’t happen overnight. I grew up on fast food, soda and, really, any high-calorie food that I could get my hands on. Any fitness effort was always eclipsed by the massive amount of food I ate. By the time I graduated from high school, I was well over 300 pounds and growing.
The weight gain continued during my first couple years of college before I was finally able to stem the tide, temporarily, at least, for the first time in my life.
It was during this period that I discovered a love of playing ultimate frisbee. I also realized I enjoyed long walks while listening to audiobooks. It was during these walks that I first listened to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens. I had been an atheist since high school, but it was books like these that really solidified my beliefs and made me feel like I wasn’t alone.
Within the secular community, I finally found a place where I felt like I belonged. I became heavily involved (no pun intended!) in the Secular Student Alliance group at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. I considered attempting to get an internship at FFRF, but, ultimately, I took one closer to home.
During this time, the weight seemed to melt off. I lost more than 80 pounds, going from around 350 pounds to 270.
Unfortunately, the weight loss didn’t last long. I graduated college in 2012 with a political science degree and no clear career path. I found a job in my hometown, working on cars for minimum wage.
Gone were the days of discussing philosophy, politics and the meaning of life. I lived with my parents and saved what I could, which wasn’t much. My weight skyrocketed. I was over 400 pounds during this time.
I knew I had to do something, anything, because the path I was on was leading toward total self-destruction. I quit that job and started studying full-time for the LSAT. During college, I had taken that test to get into law school, but I really didn’t do that much studying.
This time, however, I put in the effort. I studied for months, worked through multiple LSAT programs, took every practice test available and achieved a score that allowed me to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison on nearly a full-tuition scholarship.
Things were looking up and, before starting law school, I was able to lose a little bit of weight. But the stress of law school led me back to my old ways and I quickly started to gain weight again.
Law school was especially hard for me because I wasn’t passionate about being a lawyer. My real interest was in atheism and secularism, but there is no such thing as a professional atheist. This time, I applied for and was accepted for a legal internship at FFRF during the summer after my first year of law school.
Within my first few weeks at FFRF, I knew that I had found my home. I spent the summer working with an incredible group of attorneys, protecting the separation of church and state and generally advancing the idea of a more secular society.
I interned at FFRF for more than a full year, which made my law school career advisor worry about me. She believed I was making a big mistake by only interning at one organization. But I had faith, so to speak.
Toward the end of law school, I applied to be a full-time legal fellow at FFRF. I was a bit worried, but optimistic, given my years of experience. Happily, I was offered the fellowship and, on June 1, 2017, started working at FFRF full-time.
With this new job now locked in, I knew it was time to make a change, a real change, in my health. I started with small adjustments to my diet — like removing fast food — and just kept eating less and less as my weight dropped. I went from drinking soda to low-calorie lemonade to flavored water. A typical day included a breakfast sandwich or wrap, a protein shake for lunch, and then chicken and vegetables for dinner. I didn’t count calories, but ate things that were lower in calories and low in carbs.
It wasn’t easy, sometimes I was hungry but my body was able to adapt to my new lifestyle pretty quickly. I made sure to allow myself to indulge when necessary, especially when my coworkers would bring in eclairs, candy, or various baked goods. I also had to give in whenever our amazing supporters would send pizzas, or other treats to the office for our staff to enjoy. It’s all about balance.
Within a year, I lost 180 pounds, going from 430 to 250 pounds.
When I first started my weight-loss program, I would walk a lot — two to three hours on workdays and five to eight hours a day on the weekends. At some point, I transitioned from just walking to running. My FFRF co-workers signed me up for a half-marathon as a “reward” for my hard work and progress. I only had six weeks or so to prepare. I started trying to run as far as I could without stopping. I ran my first half-marathon on Nov. 11, 2019.
Since then, I have been running every day. I’m now down to 170 pounds, meaning I’ve lost more than 250 pounds from my highest weight. With my new lifestyle that I am enjoying so much, I don’t expect that I will have to worry about becoming obese ever again.
And when my two-year legal fellowship ended, FFRF kept me aboard and hired me as a full-time attorney — a dream come true.
I have so much more left to achieve in my life and career, and I can now do so with a tremendous weight off of my shoulders.