Subway diet works for local

March 05, 2001|By Kevin Cowherd

LET ME BEGIN by saying that I'm a sucker for stories about former fat guys.

A year ago, I wrote about Jared Fogle, the Indiana man who lost 245 pounds, in large part on a diet of lower-fat Subway sandwiches. Fogle was hot at the time. He was in national commercials and telling his story to Oprah and Matt Lauer and Katie Couric. Plus a picture of him smiling and holding up an old pair of his size 60 pants was plastered in the windows of 14,000 Subway stores around the country.

Then last week I got a call from a local advertising rep, Blake Wise.

In so many words, he said: "How'd you like to meet a guy from right here in Essex who lost 180 pounds in a year eating Subways? He was doing this even before Jared's commercials came out. And now he's doing Subway commercials."

"That is so me," I said. "Just tell me where to meet him."

In this case, the former fat guy's name is Don Napier, 19. I met him in the cafeteria at Essex Community College, where he's in his second year of classes and looks like any other happy, healthy college student.

To set the tone, Napier, now a solid-looking 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, showed me two old pictures of himself.

One was his yearbook picture from his senior year at Eastern Tech. The other was a picture of him before his senior prom. At the time both were taken, he weighed 410 pounds. In both, he looks like a jowly mountain of flesh in a suit.

Then he reached into a bag and pulled out one of his old T-shirts. It was a 6X, the size of a beach blanket. After that he pulled out an old pair of pants, size 56.

Believe me when I tell you this: Your entire family, plus selected relatives, could fit in these pants.

"I was always heavy," Napier said softly, as he began to tell his story. "There was never a point in my life when I wasn't heavy. I was born heavy."

The thing about Don Napier is this: Even when he was heavy, he never felt it really limited his lifestyle.

Jared Fogle, the fatter he got, the more his world seemed to close in on him. By his sophomore year at Indiana University, this was his life: no exercise, no girlfriends, the social life of a corpse.

Increasingly, all he knew was the sight of a fork going back and forth from his plate to his mouth.

Don Napier wasn't crazy about how he looked, but he was always active, even when he could break a bathroom scale with one foot. He played baseball and basketball. He was the senior class treasurer and voted Best Personality. He attended the prom.

If you watch the video of his graduation and the ovation he receives when he gets his diploma, it's as if someone announced: "Ladies and gentlemen, the suit against Napster has been dismissed!"

But his eating was out of control. Seven, eight slices of pizza at a clip. Two, three Whoppers at a time. Cakes, cookies - "everything that was bad for you."

Then in 1998, he began having stomach problems. Medication didn't help. Months later, he was sitting in an examining room when a doctor looked at him and said calmly: "Lose weight or you'll die."

Funny thing about death - it always gets people's attention.

"Something clicked after that," is how Napier puts it. In September of 1999, he began dieting. "I cut everything out. Stopped cold turkey with all the fatty foods."

No red meat, no fried foods, no butter, no oil. Skim milk instead of whole. Lots of water, skinless chicken, veggies. Tiny portions of everything. No desserts.

Oh, and one more thing. When he was out - which was often - he'd eat Subway sandwiches.

"Half a turkey breast sub on wheat with lettuce, tomato, mustard, pickles and green peppers," he recites. "Same thing every time. Lunch and dinner ... I figured it was a [healthy] alternative."

The dieting, along with a three-times-a-week gym regimen, paid off immediately. In a month, he lost almost 20 pounds. By January 2000 - when Jared Fogle's first Subway commercials began airing - Don Napier was down to 350.

No one was whistling at him on the street just yet. But everyone noticed how much better he looked.

"I was really pumped up," he said. "When I saw Jared's commercial ... it let me know I was doing the right thing."

By spring, he passed his biggest milestone: He stepped on the scale one day and was under 300 pounds. If you were standing in that bathroom with him, he would have kissed you.

"Whenever I passed one of these milestones," Napier said with a smile, "my mother would say: `Let's celebrate with cheese-steak sandwiches!' She said it that day. But I didn't want one. I was focused on [losing weight]."

In September, when he had lost 180 pounds and his weight was down to 230, he e-mailed Subway corporate offices with his story. Now he's appearing in a local commercial for the company. Now people stop him in the gym, on the street, in Food Lion and say: "Hey, I just saw you on TV!"

"You've become a weight-loss celebrity," I say to him.

Don Napier just smiles. He seems so proud of himself. Right now he weighs 220. He can run all day when he plays basketball. His waist size is down to 36.

I ask if he wants to get thinner.

"I never had a target weight," he says. "I might be [at the right weight] right now. It's really up to my body. I'm not going to have a chart tell me what I'm supposed to weigh."

Here's the kicker to this story of a guy who changed his life after a health scare: Last September, he passed out while playing baseball. He ended up in the hospital for five days. The doctors tried to figure out what had happened. Finally he was diagnosed with an enlarged heart, a leftover from his days as a fat guy.

"They said if I was 410 pounds in September, and I had passed out, it would have killed me," Don Napier said quietly.

That's what I like best: fat-guy stories with a happy ending.

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