TACOMA — Raymond Cool was the fat kid in his senior class in high school, a likeable fellow with an appetite for life and food that seemed irrepressible.
It almost destroyed him.
“I’d tried to lose weight a lot of ways, but I never liked fad diets,” Cool said. “I was one of those who believed if I ate less and exercised more, I’d lose the weight. That didn’t work for me, and at some point I couldn’t exercise — then it was all downhill.”
Cool met Lisa in an online trivia chatroom in 2008, and though he told her he was a “big guy,” they didn’t meet for months. When they did, his weight wasn’t an issue.
The two married and settled in Graham, Wash.
“She’s the love of my life,” Cool said.
When a friend loaned them the use of a time-share condo near the ocean, Ray and Lisa Cool spent an idyllic long weekend. It reinforced how much he loved his wife, how much he wanted to be around for her. It changed his life.
“I’d been on disability, the weight was like living in a prison,” Cool said. “I couldn’t do so many things. It was hard to just clean myself.
“I’d reached a point where if I didn’t change I was going to die. I’d watched people go that route, and it’s a long, downward spiral — 10 to 15 years of misery.”
It was October 2010, and he was 45 years old. He could only weigh himself at his doctor’s office — and he weighed 486 pounds.
“I set a goal, an absurd goal, to lose 300 pounds. For months, I didn’t make any dietary changes, I just read a lot,” Cool said.
He devoured books, used the Internet, searched for answers. That December, a friend invited him to watch a video about the vegan lifestyle.
“If he hadn’t been a friend, I’d have stood up and left,” Cool said. “I was a fanatical carnivore, but I watched.
“The focus was on what you should eat — whole grains, for instance,” he said. “You could eat all you wanted. That appealed to me, so I took that last of my life savings — $600 — and bought a Grain Master.”
He didn’t become a vegan; he still ate meat, drank dairy. But he also started consuming homemade, whole-grain breads and cereals.
Stubborn when it came to change, he was determined to eat a more healthful diet.
The first three months, he lost 17 pounds.
“That was my first ‘Aha!’ moment,” Cool said. “I realized I could do this.
“I still didn’t want to give up meat. My second ‘Aha!’ moment was realizing that I was gradually eating less meat, feeling healthier and getting full without it.”
In June 2011, Cool came across a website operated by Dr. John McDougall, a long-time proponent of making starches and vegetables the core of a diet. McDougall, a physician for 42 years, offers free courses online and runs a California clinic.
Cool watched a 90-minute video, took down recipes and realized McDougall’s theories fit his own. Cool’s conversion was complete — though not without opposition.
“My doctor told me the diet wouldn’t work,” Cool said. “She told me that after I’d lost my first 100 pounds, too.”
McDougall had encountered that many times.
“Nutrition isn’t taught in medical school, and doctors eat just like everyone else, except they can afford to go out to eat more often,” McDougall said. “Some doctors are fat, some of them have children with diabetes. It’s no conspiracy, they just don’t know better.
“People are eating a diet fit for kings and queens — rich diets — and they look like kings and queens. They’re overweight and sickly.”
Cool went vegetarian.
“I’m never hungry, I love the food,” he said.
And the weight continues to disappear. His exercise routine mostly consists of walking. One day recently he walked 16 miles, just five weeks removed from back surgery.
He weighed 196 pounds recently. He wants to lose another 20.
“I’ve been on disability for 10 years and that will end,” said Cool, a former school custodian. “I don’t know what I’ll do for a living, but I’ll be healthy enough to pursue some things. I’d love to work with others and help them do what I’ve done.”
Not everyone has a wife like Cool’s; he calls Lisa his “motivation and inspiration.” But his approach, he said, can help anyone.
“What scares me is that I see kids getting off a school bus today and 260 pounds — what I weighed when I graduated — wouldn’t be the fattest kid on the bus,” Cool said. “You don’t have to do everything I did, but take a few steps in my direction.”