Before he has even settled into a rear booth at the Outback Steakhouse here, let alone looked at a menu, Jared Fogle orders a Bloomin' Onion, the enormous deep-fried blob that allegedly got its start as a vegetable.
As diners begin to whisper at the sight of a celebrity, Jared inhales his dinner salad. And by the time a bevy of waitresses queues up for autographs, he is tackling a plate of Chicken on the Barbie and a baked potato with sour cream and butter. It's all washed down with a Big Bloke Draft, Outback's signature 22-ounce beer.
No dessert, though. Jared the Subway Guy is watching his weight.
On a four-day swing from the Gulf Coast of Biloxi, Miss., to the heart of Birmingham, Ala., the man made famous by his quirky eating habits ate portions of steak, eggs, a croissant, hash browns, French toast, a Chinese chicken salad, chips and homemade salsa, mini barbecued ribs, mango shrimp, pork medallions, a few glasses of wine, a couple beers, several diet sodas and a Chinese birthday feast, complete with gooey chocolate cake.
The one thing he did not eat was a Subway sandwich. Perhaps he's had his fill.
For nearly one full year in college, Jared Fogle ate nothing but Subway sandwiches -- and lost 245 pounds. Today, at age 26, he is the world's most famous hoagie huckster and a slender beacon of hope to millions of overweight Americans, who sweat and starve and staple their stomachs in a never-ending quest for svelte.
Before Al Roker's tummy tuck or Katie and Dr. Phil's prime-time special, before there was a South Beach Diet, there was Jared and the Subway Diet. His bizarre weight loss plan has catapulted him to the set of "American Idol," where he talked to the contestants, and the campus of Harvard University, where he gave the keynote address at an obesity conference. He has carried the Olympic torch and appeared on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" telling the talk show diva how he escaped the weight roller coaster that plagues her.
Jared knows firsthand what it means to struggle with obesity -- the cravings, the depression, the humiliation -- and he has emerged thinner and richer than he ever imagined. And he did it by eating subs! No gym memberships or personal trainers, no pills or powders. He just ate sub after sub after sub -- 700 of them, give or take a few.
"I ate the six-inch turkey for lunch and the 12-inch veggie for dinner, no mayo, no cheese," he says at every stop, the spiel tumbling automatically from his tongue. "I had a bag of baked chips and a diet soda."
It is a quintessentially American success story, in which the formerly shy, fat kid from Indiana has attained near rock-star status as Jared the Subway Guy. He's not George Clooney sexy or Tiger Woods athletic. It's a more subtle thing, an off-the-rack, couch-potato allure that any one of us could possess.
The look is as all-American as Wal-Mart: khaki pants, checked shirt, white athletic socks, close-cropped curly hair and wire-rim glasses a size too small for the face. And he, Mr. Ordinary, is rich and famous.
Jared Fogle is our attainable dream.
Some 250 days a year, he is on the road, earning a very good living simply being himself. First-class plane tickets, hotel suites with sunken tubs, goody bags, drivers, publicists, adoring fans.
Not a bad life, if it weren't for the darn QSR clause.
"I'm not allowed to go into other quick-service restaurants," he explains wearily. It is barely 6:30 a.m. and Jared has been up for two hours, having pitched the upcoming American Heart Walk on the local "Good Morning Mississippi" TV show, and he desperately needs a coffee fix.
"There's a McDonald's just down the road," heart walk organizer Becky Ginn chirps. But the Golden Arches are a giant no-no for the Subway Guy. Imagine the tabloids!
"There has to be someplace else," Jared says, as the car pulls away, leaving Ginn standing in an empty parking lot.
Here, just a few miles inland from the Gulf Coast's tourist strip, the search for a decent cup of coffee presents true challenges for a man prohibited from setting foot on the competition's turf.
There's a Checkers. No-go. And a KFC. Definitely out. Wendy's. Pizza Hut. All forbidden. "It's amazing," he says in bleary-eyed amazement. "They've got every fast-food place."
With just a few minutes to go before he is due at the radio station Kicker 108, Jared surrenders. This morning it will be Quik Mart coffee. He sprinkles some of the pink stuff into a tall plastic cup. No milk or sugar. Every calorie counts when a guy gets paid hundreds of thousands of dollars just to stay trim.
Back in the car, in the blur of strip malls, one building stands out: "Another friggin' McDonald's."
The Hunger Inside
Jared Fogle wasn't born fat, but he got started at an awfully early age.
"When he was a baby, we'd always say, 'What a wonderful eater,' " Adrienne Fogle says, describing the eldest of her three children. "He ate with great gusto. People would say, 'Oh, it's so wonderful to watch Jared eat.' Little did we know as time went on he would have a weight problem."
Thin and athletic, the Fogles were initially puzzled by Jared's insatiable appetite.
"Food kind of took over his life. It was a way to retreat from social obligations," his mother says in an interview from the home in north Indianapolis where the family has lived since 1989. "His life revolved from meal to meal to meal."
Jared remembers eating binges as early as third or fourth grade. "I didn't just eat a bowl of ice cream, I ate the whole container," he says. "I didn't eat a slice of pizza, I ate the whole pizza."
Even now, as a successful, trim adult, he is not particularly introspective about his years of overeating. When pressed, he speculates that the out-of-control eating was a form of rebellion. It is a tidy explanation: the more his father, a family physician, harped on the need for a sensible diet, the more he ate.
By age 16, armed with a driver's license, Jared discovered a whole new world of eating opportunities, and his parents felt utterly powerless.
"There was no way I could regulate what he was eating," his mother says. "There was a lot of sneaking around. He knew we were upset and concerned about his weight so he ate that stuff when he wasn't around here. It was tough watching him."
Jared puts his high school weight at about 300 pounds. It's impossible to know precisely because he studiously avoided the doctor's office and scales. College meant more freedom -- the freedom to eat more.
"I didn't have to deal with my dad anymore and the confrontations," he says. "I only cared about where I would get my next Chinese buffet or what I was going to order on my next pizza."
His father, Norman Fogle, does not disagree. "Some kids become promiscuous, some drink a lot, Jared just ate more and more," he says. But Jared's eating went beyond youthful experimentation.
"Oh, of course it was an addiction," Norman Fogle says, choosing a word Jared never utters. "Food became all-encompassing."
Though Jared's story is extreme, it is not uncommon. About 1 in 5 adult Americans are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The epidemic is rapidly spreading to children. About 15 percent of children in the United States are classified as overweight. Studies show that obesity often leads to serious, even deadly, medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. As a physician, Norman Fogle knows the statistics and can cite them with textbook accuracy. "You learn in my business: Obesity is the killer," he says. And he had no trouble spotting his son's symptoms: denial, isolation, inability to control urges. But nothing in medical school could prepare him for the fear and anxiety he felt over his own son's addiction.
"I know all about the health dangers," Fogle says, shifting from a physician's tone of clinical detachment to one of fatherly worry. "But it's more than that. Employers aren't crazy about hiring people that heavy. How would he get health insurance?"
Every few months, Jared would come home for a holiday or school break, and he had gained 25 or 50 pounds, Adrienne Fogle says. She remembers the scenes when she or her husband suggested Jared cut back and he would angrily storm out.
Friends and family members seemed to blame Jared's parents. "They'd say, 'Why can't you do something about Jared?' " she recalls. Her husband warned her that "at the rate Jared was going" he might not reach age 40.
For Jared, discomfort and a touch of terror over his swollen body finally drove him to face his demons. Fluid built up in his ankles and wrists, a condition called edema. And for years he was afflicted with sleep apnea, constantly awakened as the fat around his windpipe cut off his air supply. His blood pressure was ticking up.
Jared's body was buckling under its own weight. "All those things my father warned me about were happening," he recalls.
After listening to a tape recording of himself snoring, Jared told his father in late 1997 that he realized that he really was sick. Father and son went to Fogle's office but Jared was too big for the scale. They found one at the endocrinologist's office that went to 500 pounds.
"He was over 400 pounds," Fogle recalls. Jared was stunned and depressed -- but not quite ready. "The first thing he did was he went across the street and ate."
The following March, while his classmates frolicked in Florida on spring break, Jared Fogle sat in chilly Bloomington, Ind., pondering his future. At the age of 20, he weighed 421 pounds. He could hardly sleep, walk or fit under a standard desk. He worried that no one would ever hire such a grossly obese young man.
"I finally just had enough," he says. "I thought to myself, 'Wake up and smell the future, if you're gonna have a future.' "
After failing at several other diets, Jared noticed a sign in his local Subway shop touting seven sandwiches with less than six grams of fat apiece. Though he had long been a Subway customer, his selections had tended to the meatball or steak and cheese sandwiches.
"Before I knew it, I came up with this idea, 'What if I eat two of these low-fat sandwiches every day,' " he says. "It's a crazy, nutty idea but who knows."
In the beginning, it was virtual starvation for Jared. Instead of his usual 5,000 to 10,000 calories a day, he was subsisting on about 1,400. In the first three months, he dropped 94 pounds and began walking to class.
"He was hungry all the time," his father says. "That's what makes him a hero in all of this."
Norman Fogle worried about such a drastic approach but felt losing the weight was such a high priority it was worth other potential health risks. After 11 months, his son had shed 245 pounds, making Jared a respectable 190 on his 6-foot-2 frame. He has maintained that weight since March 1999, making him a rarity in the diet world.
"I never thought he'd keep it off," his father says, referring to an overwhelming body of evidence that shows most mortals put the pounds back on. "Never in a million years did I think he would keep it off."
Today, many of Fogle's patients ask him about the Subway Diet and he always cautions against following his son's miracle cure.
"It's not a well-balanced diet," he says. "It's a fad diet." But if the choice is between a Subway sandwich and a Big Mac and fries, try the hoagie, he adds.
Finally, the Fogles can smile -- even tease -- about Jared's fat-to-famous saga. At least he has a steady job, Norman Fogle says with a laugh. Jared, on the other hand, could lose his job in the time it takes to eat a pizza and shake. The Subway contract contains a fat clause: If Jared goes over a certain weight (which he will not divulge), the deal is off.
Setting the Pace
It is shortly before 8 a.m. on what is shaping up to be a blistering Saturday in Birmingham. Though he was out carousing the night before with a group of Subway franchise owners, Jared is at the starting line of Birmingham's American Heart Walk.
He is in standard Subway Guy attire -- long khaki shorts, plaid short-sleeved shirt, white socks and sneakers. Women melt at the sight.
"We're so proud" of him, Connie Christophel says as she and a girlfriend approach the weight-loss god. "We're both trying to lose weight. I'm just amazed he took the initiative to lose a whole lot of weight. It's hard for me. He's just an ordinary person who did this."
Being ordinary has made Jared extraordinarily successful. Like other high-powered celebs, fans identify him by first name only. "Right up there with Madonna and Prince," he tells one school group.
Life as the Subway Guy is a whirlwind of television appearances, school visits, ribbon cuttings and autograph signings. On his travels for the sandwich chain, he has visited all 50 states and collected 1 million Delta frequent flier miles. He has met people like Robin Williams and Sandra Bullock -- "and the funny thing is, they actually know who I am!"
For the skinny among us, the food snobs and advertising illiterate, Jared the Subway Guy remains a commercial success that does not compute. But to the growing portion of folks who just keep growing, Jared is the classic American archetype.
"These people have an image of what they want to be and it's Jared," says his father. "He looks like them. He's just a regular guy and he's done it. What he says to this country is that it can be done."
Jared attended his first Heart Walk at the Summit shopping center in Birmingham three years ago and has returned each year since. The event now draws more than 3,000 walkers, local television celebrities, a dozen Lycra-clad Jazzercise instructors and a rock band of aging bankers named Total Assets. It is one of 30 charity walks Jared joins each year.
As he begins the one-mile loop, Darylene Rose and Reba Johnson are the first to catch him.
"Did you have a sandwich and salad every day?" asks Rose, to which Jared offers his standard turkey-for-lunch, veggie-for-dinner reply. She wants to know more. What about dressings? All that bread?
No question is too trivial or too intrusive to ask the Subway Guy. Total strangers want to know if he ate breakfast on the Subway Diet (nah, college kids sleep until noon), if the woman in the commercials is his wife ("she's real, the house is fake"), if he goes to the gym (nope, just walks), how he afforded Subway every day (didn't buy any other groceries), his medical status (fine), and always, how much weight he lost.
"Two hundred and forty-five pounds," he tells Johnson.
"OH MY GOD!" she blurts out. Jared doesn't bat an eyelash. He's used to that sort of reaction.
Part of Jared's appeal is he never set out to be the Subway Guy. It just happened. When a story in his campus newspaper made its way onto the wires in 1999, Subway called, suggesting he cut a test commercial. Since then, Jared's ads have run an average of 2,500 times a year.
After he completes the mile loop at the Summit, Jared stations himself in the shade of the Subway booth. Above his head, an enormous banner proclaims: "Meet Jared Here Today."
On the table in front of him is a two-inch stack of the photo that touched a nation. It is the new, slim Jared holding a pair of fat, old Jared's gargantuan pants. The waist: a whopping 60 inches.
Nowadays, Jared eats what he likes. "I still eat at Subway two or three times a week," he tells one woman who wants to know how he stays fit.
For Jared, however, the issue has never been what he eats, but how much he eats. His solution is to leave food on the plate at every meal. When a waitress delivered three slices of French toast one morning in Biloxi, he ate half. The Bloomin' Onion at Outback Steakhouse was shared, as was his chocolate birthday cake. He does not snack, and drinks plenty of water and diet soda.
"I still love cheeseburgers, I still love pizza," he admits. "What sucks is, fat tastes good."
The Next Meal Ticket
This past summer, Subway rolled out new low-fat commercials. On airwaves across America, viewers look in on a heartwarming family reunion, where relatives marvel over the astonishing results of the Subway Diet.
"I used to have to guard my cake," says Cousin Charlie, reminiscing about the bad ol' days of bulge.
But Charlie isn't a Fogle, he's a Smith. And the star of the ad isn't Jared the Subway Guy. It's two twins named Herman and Sherman.
At the ripe old age of 26, Jared Fogle may soon face forced retirement, eclipsed by two cuter, younger, African American thin men. They've been on Oprah, too.
When he is asked about Herman and Sherman -- which is often -- Jared is gracious. "Oh, I've met them. They're good guys."
But speculation about future Subway ad campaigns featuring more Herman and Sherman and less Jared prompts a more thorough self-assessment. "One thing I have going for me is I'm the first guy to do it," says Jared. "Second, I've been around a while, and third, the amount of weight I lost."
Jared and his handlers note that he has just cut several new Subway commercials. But, as his father teases, his 15 minutes was up long ago.
"I want to do as much as I can with Subway right now," he says. "I know this is not going to last forever."
Fame may be fleeting, but it is also fungible and Jared is busy contemplating his next reinvention. Think diet guru-turned-lifestyle coach.
He is already rehearsing his next act as a motivational speaker. Standing in the gymnasium of Martha Gaskins Middle School in Birmingham, Jared begins with a question for the sixth-graders.
"How many of you have seen my commercials?" Virtually every one shoots a hand in the air. In short order, he recounts his experience as the boy who went from slim to chunky to fat to obese. To prove the point, he has brought his favorite prop: a pair of his old pants with the 60-inch waist.
Some youngsters gasp, others reel back in their seats. Then comes the happy part of the fairy tale. The ugly fat kid eats subs. Gets a life and a wife. Fame and fortune and all that really cool stuff follow.
"I want to make sure none of you guys ever have to wear those pants," he says, now in the moral-of-the-story phase. "Life is too short."
This isn't really a story about losing weight. It's about overcoming adversity. It's about inner strength. It's about hope, dreams and happiness.
It's about America!
"If you believe in yourself and you're willing to work hard, you can do anything," he says.
Soon, there will be a book filled with the inspirational words of Jared Fogle. And possibly other endorsement opportunities.
"You've seen me on TV. Now you realize I'm a real person," he tells the class. "You can do anything you want -- grades, college, relationships. If people say you can't, just say, 'Jared said I can.' "