INDIANAPOLIS — Brock Easley used to spend hours watching reality TV shows My 600-lb Life and Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead. He saw himself in the people on the screen.
At his heaviest, Easley weighed more than 700 pounds. He couldn't work, couldn't drive; his life was basically confined to a bedroom in his mother's home.
"I kept carrying this baggage, and it kept getting heavier and heavier until I could barely move a muscle," he said.
"I ate and ate, and it nearly killed me."
Looking back, he says he was feeding a hole in his heart that seemed to get bigger just as he did.
"Food was my antidepressant."
Part of the overeating was a concentrated effort to push away the pain of his parents' failing marriage, Easley said. But it got really out of control after he graduated from Indiana University.
As he grew bigger, his life began to get smaller. In college, he had a large circle of friends who loved his easy-going nature, his sense of humor and his kindness.
But when college was over and he moved into his mother's home (his parents had since separated), he began to go out less and withdraw more.
His weight kept ballooning as he tried to find what he was missing.
"I was a compulsive overeater," he said. "I prayed for the Lord to take this humiliation off me. I felt like a prisoner in my own body."
After years of stuffing down his feelings with food, he turned back to his faith. "I said a prayer: 'God, I can't take it anymore. I'm tired of being embarrassed. I'm tired of not being able to do things with my friends.'"
Things like riding roller coasters, sky diving and go-karting — thrills he has on his bucket list still today.
Road to freedom
Now 33, Easley has been on a grueling journey to a new life for nearly five years. He started slowly, working with a personal trainer hired by his mother. He never considered gastric bypass surgery, instead trying multiple weight-loss programs, including Slim Fast and Weight Watchers. He had some success, dropping 200 pounds in about two years.
That progress meant more than a number on the scale. It was a ticket to more independence. Easley shook off his insecurities, got a job in customer service and moved into his own apartment.
Independence felt good for the Indianapolis man, who was diagnosed with autism as a child.
Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can impair a person's ability to communicate and interact with others. It can also include obsessive and repetitive behaviors. Easley is considered high-functioning.
He says this: "I may have autism. But autism doesn't have the best of me."
He maintains his focus on shedding pounds by eating less and moving more. He gets up at 4 a.m. six days a week and heads to a gym near his studio apartment for three-hour workouts.
Over the past two-plus years, he has charted his ups and downs in a most public way.
Easley is a big fan of social media, and it loves him back. He uses Facebook and Instagram to post his triumphs, feeding off the support and encouragement he gets from his robust online cheering section.
Among those cheering him on is former Indianapolis Colts cheerleader Allie Hosler, who has known Easley for six years.
He was a "huge dude" when they first met, she said, but he also was a huge Colts fan. She started seeing him at cheerleader appearances and other fan events and remembers thinking: "This guy is so genuine, and he lives for the Indianapolis Colts. That's the type of guy I want to be friends with."
Hosler said her friend's weight loss has been inspirational.
"Colts fans all come with these great stories, everybody brings something special to the 12th man," she said, "but Brock has this thing going — you feel equally inspired not only to support him but to do better yourself."
Even at his heaviest, Hosler said she saw Easley as a joyful, faith-filled person. She, her husband and a few of the cheerleaders formed a friendship with him, occasionally going out for ice cream or his favorite treat, bread pudding.
"He's the most social guy I've ever met. We felt the best way to support his weight-loss journey was to be there for him."
Easley weighs himself every Saturday on a bathroom scale. He acknowledges it has fluctuated a bit, but he's proud to report his most recent weight was 325. His goal is to lose at least another 100 pounds from his 6-foot frame.
"I don't want to be super skinny; that's for the birds."
He's gone from a size 11X to 3X in shirts, he said, and from a size 70 to a 50 in pants, but he often wears his clothing baggy.
He doesn't have any photos of him at his heaviest. It's not something he wants to remember.
But his mother, a physician, hasn't forgotten. Tommie Easley could see that her eldest child was eating himself into an early grave.
She remembers him as a chubby child in elementary school — he says he weighed 260 pounds at age 10.
He was a big eater, she said, but he was also active in sports as a child, which helped burn some of those excess calories.
"We always encouraged him to eat healthy. We did our best not to make him feel bad about his weight; you don't want to do that," she said. "I prayed for him every day."
She has watched her son's transformation in body and mind with pride.
"Brock is a very inspiring person. He's very determined, and that shows you the kind of spirit he has."
Year of inspiration
Easley regularly shares photos from the gym, peppering his posts with inspirational quotes: "When in doubt, sweat it out." "No time to waste." "Be the inspiration." "Rise Grind Conquer."
He wasn't always so enthusiastic.
"The hardest thing was getting myself off the couch. I didn't like working out at first, but I got used to it. And I started seeing results."
He points to a collage of photos on the wall in his apartment as part of his motivation. They include Colts team pictures and photos of cheerleaders. Easley has followed the Colts for years, but he didn't go to a game for many years for a simple reason: He was afraid he wouldn't fit in the seat.
He attended his first game in 2014; the next year he participated in his first Colts 5K.
"I thought I was going to be embarrassed." Instead, he was rewarded with a steady stream of fist bumps and high fives. He walked the 5K again this year and plans to run it next year.
This year, Easley has season tickets to Colts games. And he has a game-day routine.
He leaves his apartment at 8:30 a.m. (for 1 p.m. games) to get a good parking spot near the Indiana Statehouse. Next, he spends time with the Bleed Blue Horseshoe Tailgating Crew. At 10:30 a.m., he is in Touchdown Town to wait in line for Colts cheerleader autographs and pictures.
He heads into Lucas Oil Stadium by 11 a.m. to get more pictures and to visit with other fans. After his rounds, he heads to Section 626 to grab his seat.
He routinely posts photos before and after every game, usually with cheerleaders.
When he's not watching football or working out, Easley likes to read and watch movies. He's a fan of Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Jaws and the Justice League superhero comic books and films.
Fascinated by cookbooks as a child, he still enjoys doing a little cooking, particularly for dinner. For breakfast, he eats Special K or oatmeal with almond milk. Lunch is usually fruit, veggies and chicken. When he gets home from his job in customer service, he often has teriyaki chicken or tuna with veggies.
He prays, watches a little TV, then goes to bed between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. so he can rise before dawn for his date at the gym.
It can be a grind, but Easley doesn't look at it that way. "Losing weight is hard, but so is being overweight."
He slips sometimes, but he has trained himself to recover quickly.
"Anytime I have a bad meal or snack, I recover by having breakfast later, around 11 a.m., and eat a light dinner. He kicks it up a notch in the gym, drinks more water and walks for an hour.
"I'm still letting go of this baggage," he said. "I learned it's not going to get easier, but I'm going to get better."
Life has already gotten better, he said.
Next summer, he intends to climb aboard the the Valravn coaster at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, for the ride of his life.
Follow Maureen Gilmer on Twitter: @MaureenCGilmer