By Martha Hewett @martha_hewett
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Videographer / director: Adams Wood
Producer: Martha Hewett, James Thorne
Editor: Sonia Estal
Joel Reed, 23, and originally from Texas, weighed 467lbs at the age of 19.
Four years later, he has managed to lose a huge 230lbs through diet and exercise, weighing in at 264lbs.
Joel told Barcroft TV: “For the longest time, I thought I was just the fat kid or the fat guy – and that’s just how it was going to be.
“I never thought I was going to lose the weight.”
Joel, who never dated when he was at his heaviest due to fear of rejection, has since found love with Katlin, who underwent a fitness journey of her own.
Joel said: “I was always so scared to make a move; I didn’t date when I was heavier.”
But since losing his weight, Joel said: “I was surer of myself, prouder of myself and more likely to put myself out there.”
When Joel was growing up, he noticed he was much bigger than the other kids his age – and often had to shop in the men’s section to find outfits that would fit him.
He said of his childhood: “I would definitely say that the weight had an effect on my happiness – I always put on a front, like I was the happy kid.”
During this time, Joel faced the first of two-family tragedies that left him finding comfort in eating.
“When I was 10 years old, my dad had a stroke and unfortunately, he passed away from that.
“I was very shocked at the time; death was never something I thought about.”
Tragically, five years later, Joel’s mother died after a seven-year battle with cancer, leaving Joel isolated and unable to reach out for support.
“I didn’t want to ask for help. I didn’t want to talk about how I was feeling – I just wanted to deal with it myself and so I started eating for comfort.”
At that time, Joel’s diet consisted of pizza, snacks, soda and all-you-can-eat buffet food.
“I’d snack all day, play video games all day and then wake up the next day and do it all again.”
“To say I was unhealthy at my heaviest would be the understatement of the century,” Joel added.
After Joel’s mother passed, he moved from Texas to North Carolina to live with his aunt and uncle.
It was here that he finally took the first step in a journey that would change his life forever.
“I knew I had a history of heart attacks, a family history of strokes, diabetes, high blood pressure – basically, the cards were stacked against me.”
At the recommendation of his aunt, Joel went to the doctors for a check-up before moving.
“I weighed in at 467lbs at 19 years old – that kind of blew my mind when I saw that. Something had to change.”
Joel’s fitness journey started gradually, from taking walks to working out at the gym he worked at.
During this time, Joel found a love of powerlifting.
Now it’s his biggest fitness focus, concentrating on getting stronger and more technical with his lifts: “I love competing, I’m a very competitive person.”
Joel met Katlin Casanova in December 2018, after striking up a conversation online.
“We met in person and sparks flew, we’ve been happy ever since,” Joel said.
Katlin, 26, used to weigh 400lbs – she has since lost 250lbs.
Joel said: “We really had that to bond over, which was great.”
“Joel motivates me to keep fit – he’s even trying to get me to become a power lifter,” Katlin added.
Having Katlin has given Joel a new sense of confidence and reassurance when it comes to his excess skin.
“When you’re very big, your body adds a lot of fat and your skin is going to stretch with that. Once you lose the weight and you start to shrink back, unfortunately the skin does not shrink with it.”
Joel describes having a love-hate relationship with his excess skin that hangs under his arms and over his waistline.
But, ultimately, it reminds him of how far he has come.
“This is a better body than I had before, I’ve lost the weight and it’s something I’m really proud of now.
“It’s almost a trophy.”
“Joel’s skin definitely doesn’t bother me; we are pretty open when we are together.” Katlin said.
Joel added, “We have moved from measuring our progress on the scale to measuring our progress by quality of life.
“Losing the weight has definitely freed me up with what I can do and quality of life and my options for life.”