Hero Worship

It started as an oddball diet plan. More than 200 lost pounds later, 'Subway Guy' Jared Fogle is a celebrity on a national scale.

May 31, 2000|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,SUN STAFF

Dawn has just broken cold and gray on TV Hill when Jared Fogle arrives at the studios of WJZ-TV to tell his story to Don Scott and Marty Bass on "Coffee With."

It is a great American story, a parable for our times. It's about salvation, redemption, an old life left behind and a new life emerging, where every day is Christmas morning.

If you just want the Cliffs Notes version, here it is: Jared Fogle lost 245 pounds in less than a year. And he did it by eating Subway sandwiches.

All you poor slobs killing yourselves on the treadmill and then spooning cottage cheese onto a bed of wilted lettuce and pretending this is a grand way to go through life, you may not want to hear this story.

But it's a heck of a story, nonetheless.

It's the story of a 22-year-old man who once weighed 425 pounds before finding a way to lose weight that no one had ever tried before.

Now Jared Fogle is the most famous former fat guy in all the land.

Now he sits and talks about the "Subway diet" with Oprah and Matt Lauer and Katie Couric.

Now he stars in a Subway commercial that airs coast-to-coast and people come up to him in hotels and airports with pens and cocktail napkins, asking for his autograph.

Now he's known as the "Subway Guy" and his picture is plastered in the window of 14,000 Subway shops nationwide, a picture of him beaming and holding up an old pair of his size 60 pants with the caption: "245 Pounds Later -- Way To Go, Jared!"

"It feels weird to be known for something like this," Fogle, an engaging, soft-spoken man, observed during a stop in Maryland yesterday. "But it's been a lot of fun."

But there's another picture of Fogle I wish you could see.

In this picture, an enormous man with a round, swollen face is sitting in an easy chair, only the easy chair looks like it has another 10 seconds before it crashes to the floor and turns into kindling.

He's wearing an Indianapolis Colts jersey the size of a bedspread and shorts -- which should be against the law for a man this size, for his legs look like massive twin futons of flesh.

Not long after that picture was snapped, Jared Fogle thought: I'm tired of looking like this. Tired of feeling my life closing in around me.

Then he went out and did something about it.

For starters, he pounded down a few hundred Subway sandwiches.

Let's go back a couple of years, to when Fogle was a sophomore business management major at Indiana University in Bloomington.

He was a big man on campus, only here we're talking literally. After a lifetime of bad eating habits, of grazing in fast-food joints at all hours and super-sizing every order, his weight had ballooned to 425 pounds.

"As my weight went up, there was a decrease in my life and life functions," he says. "I used to bowl, play tennis. When you're 425 pounds, it's tough to bowl, or find tennis shoes."

Soon, the weight, and the sedentary lifestyle, became a health hazard. First came the early stages of sleep apnea, then a dangerous fluid buildup in his legs.

He couldn't fly on an airliner because of his size, couldn't ride a roller coaster. He'd pick his classes at IU based on whether he could fit in the classroom chairs.

The down side

Even though he was generally upbeat about his obesity, it took an emotional toll, too.

"When you're that big, you're ignored," he said. "People don't know how to deal with you. In college, you're not asked to play basketball. Even though I couldn't play basketball at the time."

His father, a physician in his hometown of Indianapolis, hectored him to lose weight.

"I hated going home," Fogle says. "It was: `I don't want to eat healthy, no matter how much pleading [he'd] do. All the horror stories, it doesn't matter.' "

But the bigger Fogle got, the more his world began to shrink. He tried liquid diets, high-protein diets. Nothing worked.

"I needed to do something" to lose weight, he recalls. "I was desperate."

And in this sweaty desperation, he found salvation literally 10 steps from his apartment, in the form of a Subway sandwich shop.

Twice a day, he began visiting the store and ordering from its menu of "7 subs with 6 grams of fat or less."

For lunch, he'd have a 6-inch turkey sub, small bag of baked potato chips, Diet Coke.

For dinner, it was a foot-long veggie sub and Diet Coke.

No cheese, no mayo on the subs, lots of vegetable toppings: lettuce, green peppers, banana peppers, etc. Every day for a year it was the same thing: coffee for breakfast, turkey sub for lunch, veggie sub for dinner.

People thought he was insane. At first, this new regimen was a jolt to his system.

"I was extremely hungry for the first two weeks especially," he says. "But once I started seeing results, I got incentive."

And the results were dramatic. On this diet, he was consuming less than 10 grams of fat and about 1,000 calories a day. In two months, he lost 95 pounds.

One day, back in Indianapolis, a visibly slimmer Fogle visited his dad at his office.

Norman Fogle couldn't believe his eyes. Come back here and step on the scale, he said to his son.

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