Growing up, Otis Barlett never realized he was heavy. "I didn't think I was obese, because everyone in my family was," he remembers. "It wasn't until I started school that I realized it wasn't the norm. Being picked on for my weight was really a shock." Otis attributes his childhood obesity to his family's habits: large, unhealthy meals and little exercise.
Playing football did nothing to help Otis' unhealthy habits. As part of the defensive line, Otis didn't have to do much cardio—at most, he'd have to run 20 yards at practice. That, combined with a voracious appetite, led him to continue to pack on the pounds. It wasn't until a massive heart attack took the life of one of his friends and fellow players that Otis received the wake-up call that said Otis' life was in danger if he didn't lose weight.
This is Otis' story.
What led you to become overweight in the first place?
We did a lot of overindulging in my family. We ate soul food, Southern cooking, and fried everything. Every day, we'd have cornbread and gravy. All of our food was made with excessive amounts of butter and cheese—you can't have macaroni and cheese without 20 different types of cheese, right? That was our normal. Moms who only used one cheese, they didn't know how to cook.
How did playing football further contribute to your weight problems?
As a defensive player, I was encouraged to eat to excess to put on more weight. I could get a burger with six patties if I wanted to. We needed to be bigger, stronger, faster, and take up more space. Fuel the beast, that's what they told us. We were supposed to burn it all off during practice, but that's not how it worked.
Why was your friend's death a turning point in your own health journey?
He was very young—22 or 23. He was a person I sat across the table from every day. We saw each other every day. We would talk and laugh it up and joke around, because we were so similar. It was such a shock when he died. I remember somebody telling me, and thinking, "That's impossible. I just talked to this guy earlier." How does something like that happen to someone that young? It opened my eyes to the fact that it could happen to me. When I decided to get healthy, I wasn't just doing it for myself—I was doing it for both of us.
How did you get started losing weight?
I knew cardio was going to be the fastest way to drop weight. I was scared. I wanted it done, and I wanted it done right away. I probably took it to an extreme. Some days, I would work out two or three times a day.
I began reading every article that had to do with Arnold Schwarzenegger and his legacy. I knew that if I could do this, I could anything. I also remembered a quote from college that always stuck with me: "We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."
Remembering that kept me on track.
When did you work strength training back into the mix?
I stuck with just cardio until I had lost most of the excess weight. I was down to probably around 210 pounds when I started working strength training back in. I was thin, but there was no muscle on me. I felt like a bag of bones.
How did you create your workout plans?
I went on Bodybuilding.com and used the programs there. I followed Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jay Cutler. Once I got to a certain level, I started to design my own workouts. By then, I knew what worked best for me. For a lot of the exercises, I start with a lighter weight and a higher rep scheme, then I increase the weight and lower the rep count.
How did you design your diet plan?
It was a lot of trial and error. If I didn't see results, I would switch it up. I used the meal plans included with the workout plans to get a baseline idea of what to do. I built my meal plan from there. The one rule I always stuck to was that nothing would go into my body if I couldn't grill it or bake it. I also cut out soda and unhealthy snacks.
Did you use any supplements?
What was the most difficult part of your transformation?
The cravings for sweets and the fried foods that I love so much were tormenting me.
What are your future plans?
I plan to be the best person I can be! For me, it's not all about looks and strength. Fitness is about health, self-esteem, and being a good role model for my daughter. I'm committed to showing others they can live a healthier life, and I share my story and goals with anyone who will listen.