TLC’s My 600-lb Life facilitated another victory with its latest star Amber Rachdi, who lost 267lbs from her former 660lb frame over the course of a year, as last night’s episode chronicled.
When she joined the show, Amber, 24, was all but housebound and living at home in Troutdale, Oregon, with her parents and boyfriend – all textbook ‘enablers’ – unable to stand for more than half an hour at a time and describing herself as a ‘nasty monster’.
It took gastric bypass surgery to reduce Amber’s enlarged stomach from the size of a ‘football’ to the size of a ‘baseball’, as well as a concerted effort on her part to stop emotional eating, for her to shed the stubborn weight
Amber is at her wits end when she joins the show, having dropped out of college some years ago and been unemployed ever since.
I could be stuffed sick but I would still want to eat something
Her parents cook her meals and she eats massive quantities of it four to five times a day.
‘I have a lot of anxiety and I am at peace when I eat,’ she admits. Her mother Patty concurs and says it ‘calms her down’.
Amber insists she is ‘always hungry’ and ‘never full’, a sensation she’s felt her entire life. She was already obese when she was five years old.
‘I could be stuffed sick but I would still want to eat something if it was put in front of me,’ she says.
The only time Amber leaves the house is to go with her boyfriend Rowdy, who she’s been dating for two years, to buy more food; and to do that she has to cruise the supermarket aisles using a mobility scooter.
‘I do feel guilty,’ Rowdy says about feeding his girlfriend’s habit. ‘But what else do you do when you love someone?’
‘[Rowdy] is the kind of guy that prefers bigger women,’ Amber explains. Still, her size makes it impossible for them to ‘be intimate’ and leaves Rowdy ‘very sexually frustrated’.
Amber estimates she has gained more than 200lbs since she started dating Rowdy.
‘I’ve tried so hard, so many times, to change the way I eat. But I can’t,’ she says reproachfully.
‘I’m already such a failure. Why not just keep failing?’
I hate being in public. I feel like a sideshow
Amber is aware, however, that if she doesn’t take drastic action, she will likely be dead before her 30th birthday.
With that in mind, she makes the arduous trip to Houston, Texas, with Rowdy and her parents to plead with the show’s resident weight-loss surgeon Dr Nowzaradan for a gastric bypass.
Before even walking through the airport doors, there’s a problem. Amber is so heavy that she breaks her wheelchair as soon as she sits on it.
Her father Abe manages to find an oversized luggage cart, and wheels her through the airport on that instead. Several passers-by stop to take photos of the spectacle.
‘I am so humiliated,’ Amber laments. ‘I hate being in public. I feel like a sideshow.’
Amber has to purchase two seats on the airplane, and still has a tough time squeezing into the row. The rest of her journey leaves her so ‘overwhelmed’ with anxiety that she vomits several times.
Once she’s finally in front of Dr Nowzaradan, his prognosis is bleak.
‘This is a bad situation,’ he says. ‘Amber is surrounded by enablers.’
Dr Nowzaradan tells his patient and her family that she must lose 20lbs before he will ‘even consider’ performing surgery on her.
Starting to walk again has been difficult. It hurts and it’s hard
Finally taking the situation seriously, Amber’s family pack up and move from Oregon to Houston so she can be close to Dr Nowzaradan.
Determined to qualify for the surgery, Amber takes matters into her own hands. She cooks her own healthy meal – chicken and vegetables – the first night, and manages to resist temptation as Rowdy tucks into a fast food feast across the table from her.
She also takes up some gentle exercise.
‘Starting to walk again has been difficult,’ she says. ‘It hurts and it’s hard.’
Amber loses 17lbs over the course of three months, a slower pace than Dr Nowzaradan had challenged her with, but upon reviewing her progress, he agrees to schedule the surgery.
The surgery is a success and Amber goes home, but three days later, she is rushed back to hospital with severe chest pains.
Dr Nowzaradan speculates that she could be suffering a heart attack, but it turns out instead to be an anxiety attack.
Over the next few months, Amber sees a councillor to help her manage her chronic anxiety in healthier ways, now that comfort eating is off the table.
By month seven of her journey, Amber has lost 92lbs and dropped a lot of fluid from her legs.
I’m shopping for myself, I’m eating healthy and I’m working out
She can finally fit behind the wheel of a car, and being able to drive again affords Amber some much-needed independence.
By month nine, she has lost a total of 145lbs, and is able to go clothes shopping for the first time in years.
‘I’m now a 2X not a 6X,’ she says as she tries on outfits at a plus-size store.
Amber goes to see Dr Nowzaradan at the 12 month mark, and nervously steps onto the scales. Overall, she has lost 267lbs and weighs in at 390lbs.
Amber’s family move back to Oregon leaving her alone with Rowdy. With Amber mobile again, the pair are finally able to go on their second ever date together, and take a trip to the zoo.
‘I surprised myself,’ Amber concludes. ‘I’m shopping for myself, I’m eating healthy and I’m working out. I’ve taken control of my life.’
Dr Nowzaradan is willing to perform surgery to remove her excess skin once she reaches 250lbs. After that, Amber hopes to finish college, return to work, get married and start a family.
My 600-lb Life airs Wednesdays at 9pm ET/PT