At GQ, Justin Heckert profiles Paul Mason, who ballooned to 980 lbs. eating to forget childhood abuse and horrific loneliness. Mason lost 700 lbs. after bariatric surgery and discovers that, despite the experiences now available to him with newfound mobility, happiness remains elusive; dramatic weight loss does nothing to treat the underlying depression and emotional trauma that caused him to eat to excess in the first place.
His father, Roy, was overweight and contracted diabetes at age 29. “I remember one Sunday mum cooking salad,” Mason said. “Mum had prepared a salad for all of us with some cold meat. We weren’t allowed to sit at the table until dad sat down. He sat down and looked at the plate, and said, ‘What’s this rabbit food?’ She said, ‘I thought we’d have a change.’ He slammed his plate across the table and said, ‘I want my roast. Now go in the kitchen and cook it.’ She just started crying. He would force us to eat the same size plates as he did. He was quite barbaric.”
That’s when he began to indulge in the comforts of food, which briefly lifted his spirits every time he tasted it. “It hit the back of your throat, and you’ve got that endorphin that’s released in your brain and that makes you feel good. I began to be just like a drunk. I didn’t realize what I was doing to myself.”
His new life was full of wonder, and yet defined by all his old burdens. He still needed huge amounts of medical care. He didn’t have a car. He didn’t have a driver’s license. He didn’t have a social security number. He didn’t have a job. He said that he received $197 a week in pension from the U.K., which is how he afforded his $125 a week rent and the money he spent on groceries from Walmart, where he zipped around on a scooter. When I asked him what he did with himself, how he spent his days, he said “Walmart.” When I asked him how he got around, he said he waited on the bus sometimes, out there on the concrete stoop near the road, and other times he asked either neighbors or worshippers at his local Salvation Army church to take him where he needed to go. When I asked if he had friends, he demurred and then said, “Yeah, a couple.”