Paul Mason, formerly called “the world’s fattest man,” has shed nearly two-thirds of his body weight after gastric bypass surgery in 2010. At his heaviest, the 52-year-old from Ipswich, England tipped the scales at an astonishing 980 pounds.
Mason used to be so heavy that he was unable to leave his room. When he needed a hernia operation in 2002, the fire department had break down the front wall of his home and load him into an ambulance with a forklift. At that time, he weighed 784 pounds.
That humiliating ordeal was one of many low points for Mason, who became “an object of fascinated horror, a freak show exhibit,” reports the New York Times. Now that the 6’ 4” former postal worker is down to 336 pounds, he’s hoping for a second chance at a normal life.
No longer trapped inside his home—and an enormous body—Mason has ambitions of launching a jewelry business, learning to drive, going on a vacation, and finding a girlfriend, all of which would have been impossible in the past.
Ate 20,000 Calories a Day
Many challenges are ahead for Mason, but nothing compared to when he was at his heaviest and reportedly needed seven caregivers, working in three shifts around the clock, to cook his meals, change his incontinence pads, and turn him over every three hours to prevent bedsores, according to ABC News.
He estimates that he used to eat about 20,000 calories a day, about eight times the recommended amount for an average man. The surgery shrank the size of his stomach to about the size of an egg, leading to rapid weight loss.
“I have nothing but admiration for Paul’s courage, determination, and steadfast aim to get his body once more back in the shape it should be,” says photographer Paul Nixon, who documented Mason’s remarkable transformation in a series of before-and-after pictures.
“I have watched Paul literally shrink before my eyes,” adds Nixon.
“A Prisoner in My Skin”
Mason is now seeking another surgery to get rid of the more than 100 pounds of loose skin that he was left with after dropping more than a quarter ton of weight. “I feel like I’m still trapped, with the excess skin…it’s horrendous,” Mason told reporters.
The massive folds of skin hang from his belly like an apron and from his thighs like saddlebags. Mobility in his arms and legs is limited by the weight of the excess skin, making it hard to exercise. Although he’s able to stand, he frequently needs to use an electric wheelchair.
Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) has reportedly spent more than $1.5 million on Mason’s medical care but hasn’t authorized the complex skin operation, which would cost about $47,000 if done privately.
He’s been told that he must wait until his weight has been stable for at least two years to prove that he’s a good candidate for the operation, known as an apronectomy.
A Broken Heart Triggered Compulsive Eating
As a child, Mason endured verbal and physical abuse from his father, a military policeman, and was sexually abused, starting at age six, by a female relative, according to the New York Times.
After leaving school, he was employed as a postal worker and became engaged to a woman more than 20 years his senior. After his fiancée announced, “I don’t want to see you any more—goodbye,” he became a compulsive eater, spending every cent of his and his mother’s social security checks on food.
The bank repossessed their home, but local convenience stores and fast-food restaurants showered him with burgers, fish and chips, French fries and even about $22 worth of candy bars a day, Mason told the NY Times. “They didn’t deliver bags of crisps [potato chips]. They delivered cartons.”
Mason spent his days eating and sleeping. “You’d be awake most of the night eating and snacking. You totally forgot about everything else. You lose all your dignity, all your self-respect. It all goes, and all you focus on is getting your next fix,” he recalled.
Overcoming a Debilitating Food Addiction
After Mason’s mother died, he became so despondent that he considered suicide. Instead, he began seeing a therapist. A major turning point was when the NHS finally authorized gastric bypass surgery, after turning him down three times.
By then, his weight had hit an all-time high of 980 pounds—and Mason was dubbed the “world’s heaviest man” by the media. Previously, that title belonged to Manuel Uribe of Mexico, whose weight topped 1,200 pounds at one point. Uribe lost 550 pounds after years of diet, exercise, and medical treatment.
Today, Mason no longer uses compulsive eating to blot out emotional pain. Amazingly, he hasn’t cheated on his diet even once since his surgery. In fact, he actually lost 70 pounds before having the operation.
These days, he eats normal meals that include such items as a piece of toast for breakfast and a baked potato for lunch, and he also sees a therapist twice a week.
“I do look back and think I should have got to grips with myself earlier,” he told the NY Times. “But I think I can use what I’ve gone through as a tool to help other people.” Once he’s more mobile, he hopes to give talks at schools and hold support groups for people grappling with food addiction