• Tue, Mar 15 2011

A&E’s Heavy: Exercise and Weight Loss Are Much Harder for a Dwarf

Tim in the pool on A&E's "Heavy"

Last night’s episode of Heavy, A&E’s weight-loss reality docudrama, featured a participant and Arizona resident named Tim, who is a dwarf. More specifically, he was born with a type of dwarfism called achondroplasia — an autosomal genetic condition that basically means he has an average-size torso, but shorter limbs, bowed legs, a prominent forehead, and general short stature. It also means that it’s even more dangerous for Tim to be obese than other people, because his short stature increases the danger of his internal organs being compressed. And make no mistake: Tim is obese. Or, at least, he was. When he arrived at Hilton Head Health at the start of last night’s episode, Tim weighed 240.2 pounds. Which might (and I said might) be okay for a 6’7″ NBA player or a defensive tackle in the NFL. But Tim is 4’2″ tall.

Watching a staff member show Tim his blood test results (sky-high glucose and BMI, pre-diabetic, sleep apnea, increased risk of every major disease you don’t want to die of, etc.) struck me as particularly terrifying, because one of my sisters has achrondroplasia. Okay, she’s not obese, but the potential health risks still scared the hell out of me. They scared the hell out of Tim, too, and caused him to lament the fact that “I am wider than I am tall.” At that point, Tim could barely get himself in and out of a chair. He was 33 and cruising toward death at a rapid speed with no brakes.

Frankly, it was distressing to watch Tim try to work out on the treadmill for the first time with the help of his personal trainer. (Of course, I find it distressing to watch any obese person struggle to work out, even though I’m rooting for them. Unfortunately, that’s what makes good TV.) Despite having grown up with an older sister with achondroplasia, I really had no idea that “achons” (as my sister calls them) have decreased muscle tone as a result of their condition. And they obviously don’t have nearly as much range of motion in their extremities as average-size people, which means that working out productively ( be it cardio or strength training) is a hell of a lot harder for someone like Tim than it is for someone like me. Tim’s trainer even confided to the camera that he wasn’t sure how much weight Tim would actually be able to lose because of his physical limitations, no matter how hard he tried.

This thought had never even occurred to me, because my achon sister has gone through periods in her life when she was extremely physically active. She’s been a serious road cyclist, as well as a dedicated sailor with her own sailboat. She always looked super-lean in a bathing suit, and I was jealous of her drive and determination to stay fit. But I guess I’d always assumed that because there was technically “less” of her in terms of body mass (not personality!), that exercising would actually be easier for her. (Along the same lines as this logic: It’s easier to learn how to ski when you’re young, because you don’t have very far to fall and injure yourself.) I was wrong. It was much more challenging for my sister to exercise, lose weight, and keep fit, but she did it anyway. These days, she’s married and busy with two small kids (one achon, one average-size), a career, volunteer responsibilities, etc., and I know she has far less time to be fitness-focused. Which worries me.

In the end, Tim lost 66.8 pounds over six months, which was a truly astounding transformation to watch, even though it was just on a one-hour reality TV show that’s designed to keep me riveted. Still, at 173 pounds, Tim is still very overweight for his height (and dangerously so). But if he keeps up his Hilton Head Health regimen, he’ll most certainly add serious years to his young life. So, thanks to Tim, I’m going to go work out, and afterward I’m going to call my sister and bug her about when was the last time she hopped on her bike or set sail on the water.

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  • JeaniG

    Wow – this article was really an eye-opener for me! As a morbidly obese woman in her 50′s, I thought I had it about as hard as possible. Obviously I was wrong!

    Several months ago I made the commitment to lose the weight (more than 200 pounds) and get myself in shape once and for all – before I kill myself with the weight!

    I have found an exercise program that someone my weight can do and see some good results from, and I also blog about my progress at http://www.richandthin.com. These two things, along with maintaining a daily calorie deficit of 1,0o0 calories, has put me on the track to success. However, before I read this article I was still feeling sorry for myself. Now, I think that if Tim had the strength of will to achieve his weight-loss goals, then I surely should be able to do the same.

    Thanks for the article and Way To Go, Tim!