As you've undoubtedly heard, the number of obese people in America is soaring. What you probably don't know is that the percentage of morbidly obese people (body mass index of 40 to 50) is growing twice as fast. And the percentage of super-obese (50 or above)? Three times as fast.
You think it couldn't happen to you—precisely what everyone that heavy once thought too. How many people at any random 12-step meeting expected to find themselves there?
Family history often plays a role in weight trouble. Pete had a lone fat uncle. Childhood obesity is another factor, but as a kid, Pete was never chubby. Like so many of us, he packed on the pounds in his thirties. He used food to ward off debilitating anxiety and melancholy. Problem is, the fatter you are, the more your hormones and neurotransmitters go haywire. Pete wrestles daily with very real feelings of starvation; his body reacts to the dietary changes he's made much as it would if he were on an epic hunger strike.
Yet he has endured. He's beaten the odds. Diet and exercise alone rarely help you shed more than 10 percent of your body weight—and that weight generally comes back within a year. Pete has lost five times that much since 2005, and so far, he's kept most of it off. He wants to get to 280. It's that sort of determination—and the voice, and that big, generous heart of his—that makes Pete Vallee freakishly unusual.
"I just love all of him," says his new wife, Amanda Lasham. "Inside and out. He's a beautiful person."
The lounge is draped in veils and white silk, transformed into a chapel just for today. Pete climbs the steps and stands onstage, beaming. Sonny West is the best man. Lucille Star is the matron of honor.
Near the craps tables, Amanda Lasham—a slim, pretty bride, part Hawaiian, part Filipino, her hair concealing the ELVIS PRESLEY tattoo on her neck—takes her father's arm and heads up the aisle.
It's been three years since she first set foot here in Bill's Gamblin' Hall, then-boyfriend in tow. Amanda had been supporting the two of them with her job as a greeter at the Riviera. The couple had been fighting. Amanda was pounding Long Island iced teas from small plastic cups. She would have left, but she wanted to check out Big Elvis. She considered herself a strict judge of E.T.A.'s.
When she heard Pete's voice, she says, "my mind blew."
She introduced herself after the show. At the time, Pete was in a relationship too. Amanda kept coming back, sometimes with the boyfriend, sometimes solo. She and Pete leaned on each other during their respective breakups. Amanda, then 29, was so young and beautiful that Pete didn't dare to think of her as anything but a pal. Over Chinese food, on their umpteenth friend-date, she asked him if he found her attractive.
Love bloomed. Some of Amanda's friends were mystified by her attraction to Pete. Amanda couldn't understand. "I just love all of him," she says. "Inside and out. He's a beautiful person."
She moved in and picked up where Lucille had left off, cooking healthy meals and taking pizza coupons straight from the mail to the trash. In September 2009, Pete did what he was once incapable of doing.
He got on one knee and proposed.
Now he takes Amanda's hand. They exchange vows. They kiss. In the glare of the spotlight, Mr. and Mrs. Pete Vallee dance.
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