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‘I’m proof that it’s okay to be vulnerable’: Former Idahoan appears on ‘My 600-Lb. Life’


IDAHO FALLS — A former Idaho Falls man who recently appeared on a popular reality TV show is opening up about the journey that led him to where he is now.

David Nelson, 30, is a participant in season 10 of My 600-Lb. Life, where morbidly obese patients strive to lose weight through diet and gastric bypass surgery. He currently lives in Texas but spent time living in eastern Idaho when he was younger.

“For the first time in a long time, I feel good,” Nelson told “I lost weight. I gained weight. I was approved for surgery … then I got denied surgery because I gained weight so I have to lose weight again.”

Nelson’s weight has been one of the many hardships he has faced during his life. Nelson’s mother was a cocaine addict who had him when she was 13 years old. Nelson was taken away from her after he was born, and he “bounced around” from home to home until the age of 3.

A family that was living in California — the Nelson’s — eventually took him in but not long after moving in with them, Nelson’s biological dad said he was sober and took all his children back. The kids were discovered a few weeks later in a motel, but Nelson’s dad was nowhere to be found.

“I went back in the system and went to a group home at six years old, and the Nelson’s found me. I hadn’t seen them in three years,” Nelson said. “They adopted me at six and they took me until I was about 14.”

The Nelson family moved to Rexburg when he was 14, but Nelson was kicked out of the house after throwing a 10-day party while the parents who adopted him were out of town. Once again, Nelson returned to foster care.

Although he was upset about being kicked out and hid his depression from others, one thing he wasn’t quiet about was taking advantage of food when it was available.

“Growing up in foster care, I had a lot of families that would punish you by taking away food, or you go to bed hungry,” he explained. “(Some) families were just in it for the money so they wouldn’t … feed you all the time. You get this feeling like … I should eat it all (when there is food) because I don’t know the next time a meal is.”

The summer before his senior year, Nelson was placed in a group home with nobody wanting to take him in. This is when Nelson realized he couldn’t be the only one going through this type of situation and it inspired him to help create and become president of Foster Youth of Idaho, an organization for foster kids to support each other.

During one of the organization’s events held at Tautphaus Park, Nelson met Idaho Falls local Robin Villarreal, who he said, “started putting me back together.” Villarreal’s home was considered a treatment-level foster home, meaning she took in kids who had mental health issues, and oftentimes, juvenile records.

“I called the state and said, ‘I want David to come live with me.’ They’re like, ‘Nope. You don’t. He’s awful. He’s blown two placements. He got kicked out of school. He’s put his previous foster parents through the wringer,'” she remembers being told. “I said, ‘No. I want to have him come.'”

David Nelson and Robin Villarreal in Texas
David Nelson and Robin Villarreal, the woman who took David in his senior year of high school. | Courtesy Robin Villarreal

Nelson, who was 350 pounds at the time, moved in with Villarreal for his senior year at Idaho Falls High School. She got him a gym membership and over time, his weight dropped to 270 pounds. He got his grades up, graduated high school and was accepted into the University of Idaho.

“I didn’t do too good on my own,” Nelson said about going to college. “Depression came back. I partied. I ate whatever I wanted to and felt like trash for years.”

He ended up getting his CDL and driving trucks, but his depression continued to get worse and suicidal thoughts flooded his mind. He then developed a cellulitis infection that led to him being admitted to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center for two months. He weighed 820 pounds when he arrived at EIRMC and by the time he left, he was 740 pounds.

“I made the decision in the hospital that I wanted to live … and I don’t want to feel like this anymore,” Nelson explained.

He reached out to My 600-Lb. Life for help because he knew the show helped others and he thought it could help him too. Nelson wouldn’t give a specific number but said his weight is now in the 600s and he’ll continue to work on reaching his goal weight of 600 pounds to qualify for weight loss surgery.

“My life hasn’t been easy and that’s life. I learned at a young age that no matter what happens, you got to keep going,” Nelson said. “For years and years, I didn’t have any help. I thought (you were) weak if you needed it. That’s what was shown to me, that you’re by yourself so you got to figure it out. I’m proof that it’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to ask people for help.”

Nelson is currently in Idaho Falls but his van broke down while visiting. He started a GoFundMe to raise funds to fix his van so he can drive back to Texas for surgery. To donate, click here.

Our attorneys tell us we need to put this disclaimer in stories involving fundraisers: does not assure that the money deposited to the account will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries.

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