Battling Obesity: The Story of Rocky's Reduction Teenager Samr "Rocky" Tayeh battled obesity for years. It's a story he shared on the air in December 2003. A year ago, he decided to undergo weight-loss surgery. He shares how he came to make the decision and what happened.
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Battling Obesity: The Story of Rocky's Reduction

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Battling Obesity: The Story of Rocky's Reduction

Battling Obesity: The Story of Rocky's Reduction

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Samr "Rocky" Tayeh first came on our program three years ago and told us about his struggle with obesity. At the time, he weighed 400 pounds.

Mr. SAMR "ROCKY" TAYEH: I really don't get myself. I know my parents feel sad for me. Who wouldn't? I'm the fattest kid in my house. I'm the fattest person on my block. I'm the fattest teenager I know.

BLOCK: Rocky told us then about his concerned mother, his teasing sister, and his own dreams of being thin. A lot has changed for Rocky since he first went on our air. He's 19 now and a freshman in college. And a year ago, he underwent weight-loss surgery.

Mr. TAYEH: When I was 11 years old, I made a promise I couldn't keep. I was on vacation at my uncle's house. And after a fun day of swimming, with my shirt on, of course, I went into the bathroom and nervously stepped on the scale - 200 pounds. So I swore to Allah, something you're not supposed to do in the bathroom, that I wouldn't get any fatter.

But I could never slam the door on food, my comfort for life, my best friend in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.

Unidentified Woman #1: You have a choice to lose weight just now. You ate a pint of ice cream. Is that necessary?

Mr. TAYEH: I ate a pint of ice cream just now?

Unidentified Woman #1: You ate a pint of ice cream, strawberry ice cream.

Mr. TAYEH: That's my twin sister and me. I recorded it when I was 15 for my first radio story.

Unidentified Woman #1: Yesterday, you ate three bowls of cereal.

Mr. TAYEH: It was not strawberry ice cream. It was fudge ice cream.

The night before my story aired, I thought everyone was just going to hear me as a fat, sad complainer who really didn't want to lose weight.

Unidentified Woman #2: This message is for Rocky.

Mr. TAYEH: But so many people wrote in. And I didn't feel alone anymore.

Unidentified Woman #2: Despite being a Jewish, anorexic, I identified with…

Unidentified Man #1: That means having healthy munchies around, you know, raisins, fruits…

Unidentified Woman #3: But Rocky wants to ask me about it, tell him to feel free to e-mail me or call me. Unbelievable.

Mr. TAYEH: I went from hiding my problem to telling millions of strangers.

(Soundbite of "The Jane Pauley Show")

Ms. JANE PAULEY: On "The Jane Pauley Show."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. TAYEH: And when "The Jane Pauley Show" came knocking, I was fatter than ever.

(Soundbite of "The Jane Pauley Show")

Mr. TAYEH: My name is Rocky, I'm 16…

There I was in soft focus, with what seemed like my only friends in the world, my cat Simba, and of course, the refrigerator.

(Soundbite of "The Jane Pauley Show")

Mr. TAYEH: I need to lose weight or I'm going to die.

I was on the show with a whole panel of fat kids.

Unidentified Woman #4: Rachel(ph) is so young.

Mr. TAYEH: The girl sitting next to me was scheduled to have a new type of weight loss surgery, the lap-band, an inflatable ring around the top part of your stomach.

(Soundbite of "The Jane Pauley Show")

Dr. GEORGE FIELDING (Surgeon): Way, way, way too big.

Mr. TAYEH: Her surgeon, Dr. George Fielding, told us that diet and exercise for morbidly obese people like me is just hopeless.

Dr. FIELDING: And her realistic chances of losing that weight, it's effectively zero.

Mr. TAYEH: For a year those words kept on repeating over and over in my head, like a nonstop washing machine, getting louder and louder.

I always knew surgery was an option. I just thought of it as a last resort, like for people who are so fat they can't even move. And I wasn't at that point. By my last year of high school, I was 300 pounds overweight, 300 reasons for my mom to be angry and concerned.

MOTHER: I want to see you outside to hang out, have friends, have a life.

Mr. TAYEH: I don't have a life?

MOTHER: Not like your brothers, no.

Mr. TAYEH: But don't make it seem like I'm just a caveman.

MOTHER: But you're not doing nothing, and every week you're gaining weight.

Mr. TAYEH: I'm not doing nothing?

MOTHER: Nothing.

Mr. TAYEH: Don't you think dealing with my weight mentally is exhausting?

MOTHER: I don't see you doing nothing.

Mr. TAYEH: I'm dealing with it in my head.

MOTHER: Is your head helping you?

Mr. TAYEH: No.

Let's make it clear. I wasn't just a fat boy sitting in the corner looking depressed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TAYEH: At school, I made people know me for more than just a kid who wore size 64 pants.

Am I funny?

Unidentified Man: Yeah. You're funny.

Mr. TAYEH: So doesn't it - shouldn't that overshadow my size?

Unidentified Man: Nothing can overshadow your size.

Mr. TAYEH: Just like nothing can overshadow your bad grades.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TAYEH: But I had bigger problems than just coming up with good, quick insults. I had to request an elevator pass to get me up two flights of stairs, and a special desk in each of my classrooms.

I weigh 517 pounds. So I made a decision to have surgery and save my life. My brother and sister told me I was taking the easy way out.

Unidentified Woman #1: You don't even take gym class.

Mr. TAYEH: I do take gym class.

Unidentified Woman #1: No, you don't. Don't lie.

Mr. TAYEH: I'm medically excused for gym.

Unidentified Woman #1: Oh, see?

Mr. TAYEH: Sammie, you put…

Unidentified Woman #1: You put no effort into it.

Mr. TAYEH: Okay, it's again with my theory.

Unidentified Man #2: Do you not wake up and eat a Hershey bar or something. That's issues right there. That's something you got to have a control in yourself.

Mr. TAYEH: Hello. Hello. I know I have a weight problem. My solution to my weight problem is surgery.

Unidentified Man #2: No.

Mr. TAYEH: No.

Unidentified Man #2: It's a risk.

Mr. TAYEH: Because that's not your solution. No, it's not.

Hey, this is Rocky. It's Sunday night and the day before my surgery.

Before I could finally have the operation, I have to go on a two-week low-calorie liquid diet.

I've just been sleeping every day just to get through the day without food and it's just - it's sad to see how strong food has a control over me, but I can do it. I'm ready to say goodbye to food; it's going to kill me if I don't say goodbye.

What are we doing today?

MOTHER: You're doing the surgery?

Mr. TAYEH: That's my mom and me at the hospital.

How do you feel?

MOTHER: Scared.

Mr. TAYEH: What are you afraid of?

MOTHER: God forbid if something happened to you, that's why. That's why I can't even look at you. I said oh my God, if something happens to him what I'm going to do with my life?

Mr. TAYEH: It was finally time. I put on a blue gown and went into a small room to wait. Wait for my name to be called. Wait for my new life to begin.

It's 11:57, April 10th, the day of my surgery. I had the surgery. I want to cry but it's going to hurt if I cry. I can't wait to see what my new life has in store for me. I can't wait.

Months after surgery I was already trying to push the lap-band to the limit, first with Pringles, then with Chinese food. My Saturday night dates with TV and food continued.

The lap-band controls how much I ate, but it didn't control why I ate. So what would I do when I'm sad, frustrated or bored?

I feel really full. My body's telling me no but my mind is telling me yeah. I have to learn to accept that I'm just going to keep on throwing up and throwing up and throwing up.

There comes the soup. I definitely ate too much. I'm hovering over this thing because I know it's coming out.

(Soundbite of vomiting)

Mr. TAYEH: And there goes my dinner. Back into the sink.

This was it. I thought I found the secret loophole, away to still eat my emotions away and lose weight. I didn't think there was anything wrong with throwing up. But then a nutritionist in my surgeon's office told me the lap-band could slip and would have to be removed and that I might destroy my esophagus.

See you later, hero sandwich. Hello pumpkin spice latte with half and half. I know I'm supposed to avoid liquid calories, but that's the only thing that could make me feel happy and not make me throw up. And even with my daily trips to Starbucks, I managed to lose 200 pounds in one year. The last time my friend Leticia saw me, I was huge.

LETICIA (Friend): We used to hang out. People used to look at us like why is that pretty, skinny girl with him?

Mr. TAYEH: The train was the worst.

LETICIA: Oh, yeah, with the boys. Remember when that movie came out and the boy calling you Fat Albert?

Mr. TAYEH: He was?


Mr. TAYEH: When?

LETICIA: There was a hey, hey, hey.

Mr. TAYEH: Reactions have changed. Leticia even says people are looking at us like we're a couple. This is a new person and I look so good. But Leticia thinks my weight is the only thing different.

LETICIA: Why do you think because your skinny you look good? To me you look good before.

Mr. TAYEH: Oh, don't lie. Don't I look so much better now.

LETICIA: No. No. You look better. You look better but you're still the same person.

Mr. TAYEH: But I'm not. I'm not Rocky anymore. I wish this me could have told huge monster Rocky just how better life is. How much more fun life is. How alive I feel. I do want to figure out why I got so big. And I still eat to feel good, like when I'm bored or I can't express how I feel. My body is marked with scars and extra skin, reminding me every day just how big I was. But even now, with another 100 pounds to lose, when I'm walking down the street I feel like I'm flying, like the wind is pushing me along. And when I see little fat kids, I want to wake them up and tell them before its too late just how hard life is for a fat teenager so they won't have to grow up to be like me with a band around their stomach.

For NPR News, I'm Samr "Rocky" Tayeh in New York.

NORRIS: Rocky Tayeh recorded his story for Radio Rookies, a program of member station WNYC in New York. It was produced by Kaari Pitkin and edited by Marianne McCune and Karen Michel.

You can hear Rocky's original story and see photos of him then and now at

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