Larry Sherman vividly remembers the morning of May 26, 2006. Sitting in his car before work in tears, he found himself at the lowest point in his life. At 550 pounds, Sherman had a 76-inch waistline and a death wish.
“My pants were splitting, and that was the biggest size they sold,” Sherman recalls. “I prayed every night to die. I just hated my life, and I hated who I was.”
But, consumed by his food addiction, Sherman, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, still headed to a buffet after work, bought a couple of cartons of ice cream, and ate himself to sleep.
Advance four years, and you would never guess that this optimistic 51-year-old struggled with morbid obesity. Now weighing 180 pounds, Sherman found the strength to shed his excess fat and negative mentality through yoga.
His weight-loss journey started three days after his meltdown when he decided to get his diet into shape. Having attended food-addict programs since 1982, Sherman, a former personal chef and Detroit Media Partnership employee, knew what foods to eat and how to portion them.
“I thought, instead of having two steaks and three pieces of chicken and a whole bunch of shrimp for dinner, if I weighed and measured it all out, I would be following the program for one day,” Sherman says.
When he successfully completed the first day, he continued, staying up until 5 a.m. with his son to prepare healthful meals for the next two days. From there, his efforts snowballed.
But Sherman’s real transformation began when he started yoga. He first experienced the muscle-strengthening activity through a work-sponsored program in 2006. It was the only exercise he had tried in 17 years.
“Yoga is basically holding poses, putting your mind over matter, working through the pain of a lot of positions,” says Dr. Mark Rosenberg, a primary-care physician at Macomb Medical Clinic who often works with overweight patients. While yoga poses tone muscles and are performed with controlled breathing, they can also be a form of cardiovascular exercise when changed at a quick pace.
But yoga goes beyond burning calories. “I think the benefit of yoga is, it becomes a mind, body, soul experience where it takes you to a different level of just, say, working out,” Rosenberg says.
Once Sherman got a taste of yoga, he became hungry for more. Already down 60 pounds from his heaviest, he found the Yoga Shelter. Walking into class the first day, he saw Lisa Paskel, the studio’s co-founder.
“She started saying things about no one should put limits on us,” says Sherman, who still becomes emotional talking about that day. “So I tried getting into the poses.”
He recalls that during one position called Half Moon, “She came up behind me, and I had my eyes closed, and she put her hand on my heart.” Paskel stood there breathing with him, and Sherman, who hadn’t been touched in years, immediately began crying.
“I just wanted to feel what’s going on with this man,” says Paskel, who was concerned Sherman was going to have a heart attack. “It was kind of a love affair after that. I just fell in love with his enthusiasm and his sincere and earnest desire to be healthy.”
Sherman, who had steadfastly refused bariatric surgery because he knew it would not solve his food addiction, began regularly attending classes. He then decided to try the Yoga Shelter’s Life Training, a five-day yoga retreat with self-exploration at its core.
“I thought yoga changed my life when I came to the Yoga Shelter,” Sherman says. “The Life Training turned it on edge. It moved it all to a whole new level.”
Supported by others, Sherman dealt with the issues at the root of his food addiction. Growing up with four siblings, he saw his parents find comfort in food. Sherman later turned to drugs and alcohol. After becoming sober through recovery programs, he used food to fill the void.
“Larry had a blueprint in his head that said, ‘I’m a terrible human being,’ and he wanted to cover that up,” says Eric Paskel, the Yoga Shelter’s co-founder and Lisa’s husband. “No matter how much he ate and how big he got, he still couldn’t cover it. And when he discovered that message, he challenged it and saw it was a lie.”
After Sherman’s first Life Training, Eric began working individually with him. Acting as his mentor, he gave Sherman a plan that included studying every day and volunteering, in addition to continuing yoga and sticking with his meal plan. Eric, who lives in California and also works as a therapist, still talks to Sherman by phone at least twice a week.
“There’s something that clicked in him,” Eric says. “He has put forth on a daily basis an effort to better himself and better the world around him like no one I’ve ever seen.”
Sober from drugs and alcohol for 25 years, Sherman now has his addiction to food under control. Working part time with drug addicts and alcoholics at Brighton Hospital and with Life Training, he’s at the other end of where he used to be.
Sherman has maintained his weight for more than a year by attending yoga class at least six days a week and adhering to a vegetarian diet that eliminates flour and sugar. He still struggles with his body image, but says he has rediscovered his dignity and sense of self-worth.
“It’s a journey; I’m not healed,” Sherman says. “But every day I have hope as long as I eat the way I am and keep going to yoga that I’m going to keep getting better.”