Health & Wellness

Tom Arnold on losing 100 pounds: My son saved my life

Comedian and actor Tom Arnold wrote the following essay for TODAY about his year-long journey to reach his 100-pound weight-loss goal.

Michael Buckner / Today
With Mike Myers and producer Shep Gordon during the 2014 SXSW festival in Austin.

I hate it when I hear about celebrities who say, ‘don’t you know who I am,’ but that’s exactly what I considered saying at my yearly physical last week when the doctor made me stand on the scale.

This has always been one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.

"Oh darn, I ate breakfast. I will weigh next time," I told him.

"Just stand on the scale, Tom."

"I know my weight, so you can just write it down."

"Get on the scale, Tom."

Damn! I could run.

I don't weigh myself very often because I don't want to become obsessed and becoming obsessed is what I do. But I knew it would be better than last year’s weight: 287 pounds, 32 percent body fat. So, I stripped down to my boxers and manned up.

The doctor looked confused. "Wow. 187, 11 percent body fat.”

That's the moment I realized I'd reached my goal of losing 100 pounds.

My goal in life has always been to live with as little humiliation as humanly possible. But being 100 pounds overweight is a perpetual humiliation extravaganza.

Trying on clothes that don't fit anymore or never did. The sweating. The blotchy skin. The lagging sexuality. The awareness that you look unhealthy because you are unhealthy. The overcompensating for your low self-esteem and unusual eating habits.

You don't look at yourself and you pray other people don't, either.

The absurd irony of me is that I became an actor. I've been in 120 movies (four good ones) and me and my big gut are up there onscreen and on TVs somewhere, literally every day. It's painful for me to watch.

(I was on a show last night at this weight and that was painful for me to watch, too, so I obviously have deeper issues.)

Because my blood pressure is now 120/80, instead of 180/120, the doctor took me off my heavy meds. I’d also had sleep apnea, which required me to sleep with the world’s least sexy mask on my face every night. Now I don’t need that CPAP machine anymore. My snoring is no longer ridiculous. I wouldn't allow myself to sleep on airplanes because of the humiliation of waking myself up with crazy pig snorts, my unique brand of snoring.

On a flight to Philadelphia for a stand-up show this week, the fella in the seat behind me just complimented me on my work on “Sons of Anarchy,” which prompted the young lady beside me to say, "Oh my God, you are Tom Arnold. I didn't recognize you." (That's cool.) "I can't wait to tell my parents. They are fans."

Eliot J. Schechter / Today
On the red carpet at the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series between the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings at Dodger Stadium in January.

Oh well. I can fix the weight, but I can't fix the old guy thing.

I've heard parents say their children saved their lives. I always thought that sounded lame. I thought a lot of things parents said sounded lame until the moment my son was born and they all rang true. I've always wanted a child and it was a terribly long, 25-year journey for me to get here.

But when my son Jax was born last April, I immediately knew that this is the exact time I was supposed to become a father. Of course if I'd known that 25 years ago I would've saved a butt-load of money and stress but … I am in the right place in my life, with the right partner.

It's as if all the times I prayed and begged my son to come, he just said “Dad, I love you and I will be there as soon as you get it all together.”

From my extensive experience as a child raised in Iowa in unusual circumstances, I know that the best gift I can give my son is a gift I never got. I do plan to pay for his college, too (as long as it's the University of Iowa). But I realize, in all actuality, I probably will never let him leave home and Iowa is far. I can figure this out in a couple years, right?

My gift to my son is his knowing with 100 percent certainty that his mother and father love him unconditionally, and they paid attention to him and protected him and they always will because, in life there are so few certainties, but Jax can always be sure.

It's not everything, but that unconditional love from his parents just might help get him over some of the rough spots. It's like walking around with $100 hidden in his wallet. It's not enough to fix any jam but it's enough to get a cab home safely so you can game plan and face whatever's happening with a clear head. My goal is for Jax to never feel alone. Long after I've moved onto that Iowa in the sky, he needs to feel my love.

But that takes time and energy. Since I'm 55, I'm putting my time and energy in right now and I have a hell of a lot more time and energy now that I've gotten healthy.

It's so much easier to jump on the floor with him and roll around and wrestle. I don't wake up with a pounding food hangover anymore (the sugar ones are worse than the alcohol ones). My sleep is so much better, so I am physically and emotionally able to rock him back to sleep at 3 a.m. when he's teething. My wife Ashley Arnold does this 90 percent of the time, but, like most husbands, when I do it, I kinda feel like I deserve a gold medal or something.

I do take time to exercise. But if Jax wakes up, I write down how much cardio I've done and calories and distance. Then I come back later and finish my 75-90 minutes. I write everything down. It's how I set goals and challenge myself.

I've lost the most weight breaking my cardio up into two sessions anyway. My trainer MB Regan comes to the house and trains me three times a week for an hour. Or 30 minutes, if that's all I have, but those are 30 intense minutes.

My trainer is also creating little programs for me to do in hotel rooms. I don't lift heavy weights but lots of core work and stretching. I've had a couple abdominal surgeries, including having an infected mesh hernia implant removed this fall, so we are very careful.

Before Jax I would've taken that surgery as a green light to not work out and eat badly, but since it's obviously another sign that I need to be in shape for my son, I stayed focused. It wasn't easy. Since the mesh was gone we basically have had to rebuild my abdominal wall tiny muscle by tiny muscle and that can be painful. I was sore a lot, but I knew it was a good thing and we paced ourselves so I didn't get hurt. And now it's all good.

I'm not going to take my shirt off in public anytime soon, but I'm not ashamed to strip down and get in the tub with my wife and son anymore. A lot of people have asked if I had gastric bypass. Nothing against that, but I never felt I was big enough, or out of control enough to do that. They also ask if I have loose skin (yes) and will I have surgery to fix that (no). One hundred pounds of fat definitely stretched my skin, but my work with my trainer is already firming that up.

Or maybe I just don't care anymore. I've got my wife and son and they loved me when I was fat — so who cares, right?

As I prepare for my stand-up show in Philadelphia, I've been thinking a lot about cheese steaks. I haven’t had one in a year. My wife Ashley offered to make me some with chicken and fat-free Swiss on gluten-free bread, but I passed.

If I’m going to eat cheese steak, it will be a real cheese steak, with beef and Cheese Whiz on a soft white bun, and it would be in Philadelphia. I know there are consequences for my actions, but I also trust that I will eat only one delicious cheese steak instead of four. I probably will be dragging a bit, but I will be OK.

Sometimes a man has to jump into the fire to remember it's hot (I am NEVER saying that to my son). I brought some healthy treats with me and my hotel in Philadelphia has great cardio equipment, so I won't have any surprises. I won't have to deviate from my routine.

Except for one cheese steak, one delicious cheese steak. The only question is Geno's or Pat's? They know me and I don't want to hurt their feelings so I'd better have one from each.

Or you know what? It's bath time. So maybe I'll just go to my hotel and Skype with Jax.