“My 600 Lb. Life” returned for season 5 on TLC, with the story of the show’s first set of twins, 29 year-old Brandi and Kandi Dreler. With the two-hour episode there was plenty of time to cover the history of the sisters’ weight problems. As regular viewers know, trauma drives many of the stories on the show.
These young women were given food as a babysitting tool from early childhood by a drug dealer father. Their mom became an addict and as young girls they physically restrained their mother during a suicide attempt. Food was their refuge, and because they’re twins they reinforced everything for each other. That might have turned to enabling as they grew larger, but it was their salvation after they met with Dr. Nowzaradan.
After getting too big to work and plagued by anxiety attacks they ate themselves into a state where they realized an early death was a distinct possibility.
Their grandmother’s place was a refuge as young girls and she was their only stable family connection from then on. She was honest about her misreading of her own daughter’s addiction issues that didn’t help her grandchildren. She also said she had no idea how to get them on a weight reduction program and like many family members of patients on the show, she felt helpless and gave up.
It didn’t mean she wasn’t fearful for them, so despite limited resources she agreed to partially fund the trip to Houston. She was unable to remain there throughout their year of treatment, but arrived for surgeries and of course for the emergency with Kandi, who coded days after her procedure.
Kandi Dreler began at 604.7 lbs. and Brandi at 587.0. Their demeanor was calmer than most people Dr. Now treats and there were no sabotaging family members to get in the way. Except for one period of a few weeks, they never wavered from going from eating thousands of calories per day to 1,200. They were focused on the goal and accepted what came with that: conquering their fears, losing food as a coping mechanism and saving their own lives.
In an interesting twist to the usual advice doled out by the good doctor, was the warning that they were too dependent on each other. Nowzaradan recommended they learn to do things separately, which was alien to them. It just so happened that circumstances dictated it begin quickly, after Kandi’s heart was too weak to sustain the procedure at the same time as Brandi.
After losing more weight to get her heart in shape, Kandi underwent the procedure, which like her sister’s the sleeve technique rather than bypass. In a scary sequence we watched her rushed to ICU after she threw a clot and stopped breathing. It took a week in a medically induced coma for her to heal and despite fears of brain damage, she sustained none.
Brandi lost 32 lbs. in the month after her surgery, for a total weight loss of 139 lbs. since she got to Houston and said:
“It’s weird not having the cravings. It makes me feel a little lost at times. The hardest part is feeling disconnected from her (Kandi). Part of me feels like I shouldn’t have had the surgery without her.” Habits of a lifetime for the girls.
Kandi was able to do well while she took care of Brandi, but not as well as Brandi. Her big step to reclaim her momentum was to go to a gym without her sister, beginning the process of acting as an individual. Kandi commented:
“I know I have to do things on my own right now to lose enough weight to get my heart healthy. All my life I’ve had my sister by my side, but that isn’t an option now. We both have to learn how to experience things on our own. We have no choice if we both want to make progress.”
Then it was time for Kandi’s operation and of course, the emergency situation that brought her mother back to their side, as well as grandma. When she awoke she told her sister, “I wasn’t going to leave you. I remember her saying, ‘Kandi please don’t leave me'”. After discharge Dr. Now set a goal for them to lose 30 lbs. a month and set them up with a therapist. The scene of the girls and their mother under the gun was emotional and real. Mom is still an active drinker, although we learned she abstained during Kandi’s post-surgery recovery.
Without food to drive down their feelings old fears bubbled to the surface, but with the help of the counselor, they found a way to address things with their mother they had left unsaid for years. Brandi accused her mother of making believe none of it happened, which her mother denied. Much of it she can’t recall and the rest she never knew how to express in words.
A year from the day they began the journey Brandi lost 228 lbs., coming in at 360. Kandi was down 220, at 384 lbs. Extraordinary results for young women that lacked the ability to join the rest of the world for fear of ridicule and became recluses. Their ability to sustain the eating program was phenomenal, especially after seeing seasons worth of patients who kick, scream and resist. A heartwarming story.
TLC airs episodes of “My 600 Lb. Life” Season 5, Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT beginning January 4, 2017 Image/video credit: TLC, used with permission