A weight is lifted

Former Nashville resident Dana Baker, 45, was recently featured on ABC's Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition. Topping out at 516 pounds, the social worker and

special education teacher now living in San Diego was also carrying a secret that only compounded his physical problems. During his appearance on the show, Baker acknowledged that he was gay.

Sharing his internal struggle with a national audience, not to mention his family and friends, freed Baker to pursue his weight loss goals. He's now lost over 20 inches and 200 pounds since he began his mission, an incredible transformation for a man who has dedicated his life to serving others through music.  In his spare time, Baker has sung the National Anthem at various sporting events including Nashville Predators home games, and regularly performed at local churches.

In an interview with Out & About Newspaper, Baker describes his unlikely journey.

How has your coming-out process influenced your weight loss?

I've seen countless therapists and one of the many finally got it right. He said "You won't be able to move on with your life until you get this out and until you start talking about this." Then of course I was storming out of his office. I'm a very religious person, and from the get-go I said, "Lord if I get on the show, this is one thing I don't want to." I had no intentions of losing weight. I would try to overeat on purpose. And God said "No, I'm gonna bring this guy Chris into your life." So I battled God back and forth, and I believe he downloaded this into my mind. He said, "Remember when you were 15, 16, 17 years old and you were running to food. There are kids out there and they need to stop doing the same thing. I got sick and tired of the producer asking me about it. As soon as I said it , I didn't run to food anymore. I've received thousands of emails and people appreciate the honesty. It was a good thing. I'm still losing the weight, and I don't have anything to hide. I did what I believed God wanted me to do, and He has given me so many opportunities now. 

What's the reaction among your family and friends since your appearance on the show?

They couldn't be happier for me. Three days before it aired, I showed them my audition tape. I told them that I needed everybody to come over to my sister's house, and that something is going to come out on this documentary that they needed to hear from me. I told them and the reaction was, "Yeah, we knew." (laughs) I told my dad in 1982 and he said what a good Christian man would say: "I love you anyway." My theater friends and other people knew, but between the church and the rest of the world, no one did.

What would you say to those who believe you can't be gay and Christian?

Being gay doesn't define me. I'm not a mistake; God doesn't make mistakes. I'm Christian and I'm living proof. I'm going through the same things. God made me different. So I want to get my story out to people and tell others there's nothing wrong with them. I'm gay, I'm Christian, and I'm going to heaven. I'm not trying to seek others' approval. My relationship with God is closer than ever. He's holding my hand and blessing me.

What sort of insight or advice could you give to people who are struggling with their own weight, whether that be because of issues with their physical or emotional health?

Running to the gym is not the answer. The first thing that you need to do is talk to a good therapist and talk it out, as many sessions as it takes. Otherwise you're going to continue to kill yourself with food. Food did exactly what it was supposed to---it numbed the pain, it didn't argue back with you. The second thing would be to go to a local OA (Overeaters Anonymous) meeting. There you can say what you want, and 9 times out of 10 there is someone who's going what you're going through. What's said there stays there, so you can get it all out of your system. And if you give yourself an hour a day to exercise, that will help. Join the local Y. I worked there and they helped me a lot, too.

What does the future hold for you as an out gay man?

What I'd like to do is what I'm doing now, which is getting out my story. I have speaking engagements come up: my manager Kathy Dixon is setting up some and GLAAD is wanting to book me for some speaking engagements. Not every obese person is gay. Maybe it's because they had a traumatic childhood or maybe a parent said something to them they can't forget.

I don't know what the future looks like in terms of a relationship. You know, I love my freedom and my football and my TV. But if I meet someone who's Christian, who loves children, and I really care about, then I do.

The cameras left March 4, but the true test of a man is what he does when no one's watching. But there are still a lot of people still watching me. I eat every three hours. I go to the pool four times a week. They gave me all the tools I need. I've learned so much about food and reading labels. I'm equipped to handle it. It's still a struggle. I know what I'm doing, and a lot of people are watching and keeping me focused. I look forward to living the rest of my life free. A college professor once told me "Begin with the end in mind," and that's what I live by.

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