Larry Sherman lost 350+ pounds using yoga. We recently published his story here. But when we talked to Larry we found out that this is not just a fascinating weight loss story, but a story of triumph against overwhelming odds. Here is the full interview:
What was the diet plan you were on when you began losing weight?
I ate three nutritious meals with no eating in between. I eliminated all products with any type of flour and all sweeteners and sugars. No desserts, breads, pasta. This is the diet I follow even now.
My discovery was that I am a Food Addict and these particular foods create a craving in me similar to the one I had when I used drugs and alcohol. I don’t eat any processed foods, I make everything from scratch. It is not as hard as it seems. It is really quite easy once you get the hang of it.
What was the role of yoga in your weight loss?
I weighed over 550lbs when I started. I could not physically do any exercise: I could hardly walk or climb stairs or even sit up for long periods of time. It was an exertion to even breathe. After I lost the first 50-70lbs I wanted to do something and I met a yoga teacher who told me I could do yoga at my current weight of over 500lbs and she would help me. Yoga taught me many things: when I got into distress in a pose I was told to calm my mind and breathe and concentrate on the breath instead of my mind. So when I felt like eating, (usually because I was upset about something) I learned to breathe and concentrate on my breathing and find peace of mind. When I did this I found that I would feel peace instead of distress and didn’t have to eat over it. Also I learned that when I am uncomfortable in a pose that I could work through it mentally and actually become comfortable with feeling discomfort. So when life gets uncomfortable I don’t run from it, I work through all I can do at the moment and work through the mental discomfort like I do to deal with the physical discomfort on my mat.
Did you go to the gym (besides doing yoga) when you were losing weight? If so what was your exercise program?
I started doing yoga at 450 or so pounds. As I lost weight I started walking and eventually started riding my bike. At first I thought I was amazing because I could ride a whole mile! Then one day I thought why not 2 miles? I started pushing myself to do more and more, and today I ride as many as 20 to 50 miles in a single day. You see yoga has taught me that no matter what I am capable of I am probably capable of much more. I now feel that in fact there is no limit to what I can do. My limits were only illusions. I set the limits, not the world, not society, not my job, not my family or friends; it was me all the time.
Were you part of a support group?
Yes, eventually I joined a studio called Yoga Shelter and started becoming part of a community. Eric and Lisa Paskel, the founders of the Yoga Shelter, created a community where everyone regardless of limitation could come and support each other. Many of these people were also addicts like me, and it is this community to this day that has been there for me every step of the way. I can contact Lisa and Eric anytime of the day or night when I am in trouble and they will personally reach out to me and assist me however needed. They do this for all their community. I have never felt so much a part of life as I do now.
Before this weight loss, had you tried before to lose weight?
Yes, I had tried many diets; I tried to lose weight many times by just eating whatever I wanted but limiting the amounts. Once I lost the weight I would find that my cravings would return and I would be back where I started.
I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict for almost 26 years. My breakthrough came when I realized that I had to treat food the same way as drugs and alcohol: remove the addictive food from my diet! Once I did that the craving went away and my food problems resolved.
How important do you think is yoga is for you to keep off your weight?
Yoga is very important. It is my time each day to look inside myself and to bring myself back to the present moment. See it is not the food that causes my pain; it is the pain that causes me to want the food. People think the problem is the weight; they think if they can just lose the weight they will be happy. This is not true for me; I have to look at what is wrong in my thinking that is causing me to turn to food for happiness. When I take care of my thoughts (resentments, attachments, jealousy, shame, guilt, etc…) then I don’t have to eat and the weight takes care of itself. Yoga allows me to look inside instead of to the world for solutions. Yoga also helps me to breathe and align my body so I eliminate the stress physically. And finally, yoga reminds me to set an intention for my life each day: To not always think about my problems but how I can change others lives to focus on someone outside of me.
What advice you would give to folks who are trying to lose 100+ pounds?
Don’t think about losing 100+ pounds, think about losing 1 pound. Don’t focus on how much you have to lose, think about how much you have to gain. Everyone hears how I eat and say “Oh I could never go without sweets, bread, pasta, fried food forever!” Don’t focus on what you are losing; think about what you are gaining! I don’t eat sugar but I can now wash my own body, tie my own shoes, ride a bike 50 miles, take a walk. These things are much higher quality things than mere food. I now realize that food gives the illusion of being yummy or tasty but keeps me dead inside.
How important it is to you to be able to help others in the same situation as you were?
It is very important. I spent my whole life dealing with my own needs: I used drugs, alcohol, sex and food, to help me deal with my guilt and shame and regrets.
Now I am able to focus on others. I now realize that by reaching out to others and focusing on changing my world I actually make it a better world for myself. In serving my fellow man I serve myself. We are all one, what we do for any one person we do ultimately for ourselves. I live to serve. This is the real yoga: Karma and Bhakti yoga. It starts with the poses and ends with serving all.
Do you think yoga has changed you?
I know yoga has changed me. When I was at my biggest I had a great desk job and was always thinking about how much money I was earning. Last year I quit the high paying job and now I do a job that I don’t make as much money but I am happy. I am so happy to go to work everyday, because my job working at a rehabilitation hospital for drug addicts and alcoholics brings me so much joy. I love every minute of my day everyday. What brings me joy today does not come from things; it comes from how I feel inside. Today if something makes me uncomfortable I don’t look for a way to avoid it or stop feeling, I breathe; I work through it and make myself comfortable with life. Today I am free from my chains and the future is without limits.