Donald Phipps was fat. So fat that he had to spend $400 buying one pair of pants and a custom-made shirt. So fat that he never left his parents' home in Crownsville, except to work. And so depressed that he once contemplated suicide.
At 515 pounds, he never tried to get on an airplane, or attend an Orioles game. The one time he went to an amusement park and squeezed into a seat on the roller-coaster, the safety bar wouldn't come down and attendants told him he had to get out.
"I can't tell you how embarrassed I was," he says. "It was awful."
But that was before he went on a diet, lost 200 pounds in a year and received national recognition for his accomplishment. Mr. Phipps, who is 6 feet, 4 inches tall, has come within 20 pounds of his ideal weight.
His life, he says, "has completely changed. I'm a different person. People tell me I'm more outgoing."
He landed a new job with the FBI and began playing basketball at work. He's taking classes at Anne Arundel Community College and hopes to enter the University of Maryland next year, with plans to study law.
Last summer Mr. Phipps, 23, went to a community beach for the first time in his life.
It was the most commonplace thing -- a case of the flu -- that led to the change, he says.
When he got sick in October 1992, a doctor referred him to a Severna Park weight-loss center.
He had tried diets before, but none of them worked, Mr. Phipps says, and he assumed this one wouldn't either. "But when I saw weight starting to come off, I got serious about it."
The diet strategy wasn't terribly different from things Mr. Phipps had heard before. He changed what he ate. He dropped pizza, Chinese food and fast food and began "eating healthy," he says. He switched from sandwiches to bagels; from ice cream to yogurt and made rice a staple of his diet.
"Things I'd never eaten, I found were very good," he says.
He also began walking 13 flights of stairs a day and riding a stationary bike.
But the real reason the program worked for him, Mr. Phipps believes, was Nana Whalen, his weight loss counselor at the Severna Park center.
"I give most of the credit to her -- she cared and kept up with me," he says.
In recognition of his weight loss, Mr. Phipps won the Esprit Award from the national offices of Diet Center.
Ms. Whalen says most people should not lose weight that quickly, but his case was "unusual because he had so much weight to lose." She said she and Mr. Phipps' doctor monitored his progress closely and "did blood work every 40 pounds."
Mr. Phipps lost so much weight that an aunt from North Carolina attending his father's funeral last spring did not recognize him.
"It was the first time I realized what I had accomplished," he says.
Now, he says he wants to improve his social life. "I don't have a lot of friends now, but I have hope that will happen naturally," he says. "I'd like to meet a girl, but I have to be patient."