Doug Hennig knows the pain of being bullied, of feeling alone. He knows the awful march to school knowing the only people who might talk to him that day would be his teachers. He knows what it is like to be, in his own words, “the fat kid.”
Hennig is 22 years old now. He is neither fat, nor a kid. He has a degree in engineering from the University of Cincinnati and this spring he will earn his MBA. He is engaged to a pretty girl.
It would be easy, expected even, for Hennig to to walk away from a difficult youth. To pretend it never happened or to put it in a box in his mind and close the lid tight.
Photos of a young overweight Doug Hennig, now 22, are photographed with the book and movie, ‘The Fat Boy Chronicles.’
But Hennig never wanted to do that. His first thought, after he got healthy and lost weight, was not to move on. He was inspired , to try to help other kids.
So he worked with two authors and his story became a book, “The Fat Boy Chronicles,” and then a movie. Now the book and movie are used in schools to help stop bullying and to let kids know they are not alone and that they do matter. Hennig knows what it is like to feel invisible. That, he says, is the worst part.
“People didn’t give you a chance. Nobody would talk to me. Nobody,” Hennig said. “It makes you think your opinion isn’t worth anything. The next step, is ‘I’m not worth anything.’”
Between sixth grade and seventh, Hennig’s family moved from Pleasant Run Farms to Mason. For a boy that age, it may as well have been across the country.
Hennig was the new kid at Mason Middle School, and he was already chunky. Soon, he was more than that. “I wasn’t happy, so I ate, and I didn’t have friends, so I played video games to go to another world,” Hennig said. “Now I’m the new kid and the fat kid.”
For nearly two years, he suffered abuse. It was, he says, just run-of-the-mill meanness, as if there is such a thing. He means his treatment was consistent low-grade cruelty, a string of fat jokes and emotional cruelty, not actual torture. But the isolation was awful. “You feel really alone,” Hennig said.
In 8th grade, Hennig went to his doctor for his annual checkup. He had gained 20 years for two straight years. He was 5’5” tall and weighed 187 pounds. He was no longer chunky, he was obese. The doctor told him he was worried about him.
“He said you are on a bad track,” Hennig said of the conversation. The doctor’s tone he said was very calm and non-confrontational. “Then he said if you don’t change, you will have to live this way for the rest of your life.”
That struck a chord with Hennig. He was already looking forward to getting older. People always told him that his life would be easier when he grew up. That he would lose his baby fat and meet nicer people. Now his doctor was telling him that might not be true. Hennig can still hear Dr. Richard Heyman’s next words. Lose weight he said, or “you will have to live this way for the rest of your life.”
It was the right message at the right moment. “Something clicked. I would be excluded and rejected for the rest of my life. It was scary. I knew I could not live that way.”
That week Hennig started excercising with his father, who had recently bought a Total Gym — “You know, the one with Chuck Norris.” Hennig also started on Weight Watchers with his mother. The point system can drive a boy to madness or make him start eating better. Hennig started eating fruits and vegetables with nearly every meal and and drinking lots of water.
The next year he returned to Dr. Heyman, who first had to check that he had the right chart. This time Hennig had lost 20 pounds and grown a few inches. First the doctor made sure Hennig had lost the weight in a healthy way. He had. Then Dr. Heyman asked a simple question: “What did I say to you?”
The doctor said Hennig should share his story. People, he said, would benefit from it.