by Jeff Newell 
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Walt Disney once said, “All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” Ironically, my “kick in the teeth” would happen in one of his theme parks.

One year ago, I was in the queue to ride one of my favorite attractions in Orlando, and I was unable to squeeze in when I got to my seat. Embarrassed, my wife and I had to wait for the ride operator to seat the rest of the guests and escort us out of the attraction. That was my breaking point. In that ride, I knew something had to give. My weight was out of control, and it had consumed my life.

Months prior to that, I had quit my job, thinking I had enough qualifications and experience to find a new one with no problems. Fat chance (pun intended). With years of experience behind me, I was turned away from job after job. There was only one thing to blame for my lack of being hired – I had obesity

I had never let my weight stop me from doing the things I wanted to do. I would go to ball games and concerts, squeezing into the seats or taking my place in the “standing room only” area. I would go to the beach and take off my shirt — I didn’t care what anybody might think or say about me. It was my life to enjoy, and I’m going to enjoy it the best way I can. It was only when the world around me started to show its limits to my size that it became an issue.

I knew obesity is commonly a catalyst for other health issues – high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, etc. — but other than being severely overweight (533 pounds on my 6-feet-1-inch frame) I had no other complications. My doctor didn’t understand why, but I was the picture of health. For that reason, I never worried about my weight, but with the things I wanted to do getting harder and harder for me to do, I knew it was time to make a change. I researched bariatric surgery and started my journey to a new me.

I continued my job hunt, and had no luck. I was tired of being overlooked due to my weight. In my frustration, I researched information about weight bias, and that lead me to join the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC). I realized that I wasn’t alone; there were others like me and a team of people fighting to end weight bias and provide rights to those with obesity. I soon found out about the Your Weight Matters National Convention, and knew I had to be at it, but how? I had been out of work for more than a year, and couldn’t afford to make the trip to Orlando, Fla. for the convention.

I decided to take a shot at crowd-sourcing, and to my surprise, it worked. Through the love and generosity of my family and friends, I was able to make the trip to Orlando, Fla. and attend YWM2014. They even threw in a couple of tickets to theme parks as a bonus for me.

The OAC’s National Convention changed my life. I was able to meet with some of the leaders in the field of obesity treatment, and speak to them one-on-one to ask questions about my personal health. I learned what it was to be an advocate and lend a voice to help others in the fight for obesity rights. While doing all this, I gained timeless friendships — hundreds of people just like me were there, each having their own story and reason for being there, and it was awesome to meet so many of them. When I left for the long drive back to Massachusetts, I knew that the decision to pursue bariatric surgery was the right one.

On Dec. 1, 2014, I had gastric bypass surgery, and it was the best thing to happen to me. In the seven months since my operation, I’ve lost 189 pounds and have built a new life for myself. I still have a long way to go on my journey, but I don’t let that stop me. I hike, I bike, I swim; I do whatever I can to the best of my ability. I’m even planning a trip back to the theme park to get on ALL the rides.

I am determined to defy obesity, be it by doing the things society says I can’t do or by losing weight to become a survivor — and a better me.

I pride myself on how far I’ve come, and through social media, I’ve become an inspiration and mentor for others that are in a similar situation to where I was. Having people behind me keeps me accountable, and keeps me aware of the issues that people with obesity go through in their lives, and it reminds me that the fight isn’t over. We have to stop weight bias and advocate for the health and well-being of millions of others like me. It’s time to give obesity stigma the “kick in the teeth” it deserves.