Three US men have taken the unusual step of moving to China in an extreme attempt to lose weight at a fat reduction clinic — and have become surprise local celebrities.
Alonzo Bland, 33, and brothers Walt and David Anderson, 56 and 50, have lived in Tianjin since the middle of this year as part of an effort to break away from their unhealthy lifestyles back home.
Together, they have lost a combined 192kg and are aiming to shed over 100 more.
“The reason why I think it works here is that China is away from everything, all the stuff that I’m familiar with,” said Bland, who has lost 103kg of the 291kg he weighed when he first arrived in Tianjin.
He came after winning a contest organized by China Connection, a US firm promoting traditional Chinese medicine, and was being treated free of charge for as long as it took to lose his target weight — like Walt and David.
Bland, who had a tracheotomy in 2000 because the fat in his face was pressing down on his windpipe, left a fiancee and two children behind in Wisconsin.
For David Anderson, a dishwasher in a casino in Iowa who sold his car and ditched his job to come to China, the move was a life-saver.
“Before I came over, it got to the point that I couldn’t walk 20 feet [6m] without gasping for breath,” said David, who is down to 104kg after losing 41kg. “I don’t think I would have made my 51st birthday.”
Every morning, the three lie down in their spartan bedrooms at the Aimin Fat Reduction Hospital for acupuncture, which doctors say increases metabolism and reduces appetite.
But the rest of the weight-loss treatment is similar to the West — exercise twice a day and good nutrition, albeit Chinese-style with rice, fried vegetables, tofu, meat and soup.
The three have featured prominently in local media, prompting a Chinese woman to ask to meet Walt when she saw his photo in the newspaper and subsequently proposing to him — an offer he refused.
“I didn’t come here to find a Chinese wife,” Bland said. “I don’t need a wife.”
Later, as the three walked out of a bus and onto the streets during their break, locals openly stared at them as they strolled by — a situation the three said was even more pronounced when they first arrived and were bigger.
“For us [Chinese people], it’s very hard to see such obese people,” explained Su Zhixin, their doctor. “Alonzo is the heaviest person to have come here since our hospital was set up in 1998.”
Sighing, Alonzo said it had been difficult to cope with the attention when he first got to Tianjin.
“It was unbearable, I just wanted to not go out at all. But then the weight started coming off, and I thought — I am who I am,” he said.
Walt Anderson said he missed driving his car more than food in the US, but for Bland, it was his children and fiancee that he pined after.
“But my aim is 220 pounds [99.8kg] — the lowest I can remember weighing is 360 at high school,” he said.
When asked whether they would be able to withstand temptations back home, the trio said they were determined to keep the weight off.
Walt Anderson began to dream about the day they went home.
“Riding the airplane over, we had to get a seatbelt extension because we were so big,” he said. “Now we can just get on that plane. That’s going to be a real thrill.”