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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Chris Line: FFRF attorney tips scales back in his favor

FFRF Attorney Chris Line’s dramatic weight loss can be seen in the two photos. The first is when he had just graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 2017 and the other was taken in 2020.
Chris ran a half-marathon in November 2019 after FFRF co-workers signed him up.
Chris’ chart.

By Chris Line

I was morbidly obese.

Weighing in at 438 pounds, I knew something had to be done to save my life. This “revelation” came to me just as I was hired full-time as a legal fellow for the Freedom From Religion Foundation in June 2017.

So, as my legal career began to take off, I decided to take off the pounds, too. I was tired of making excuses for my weight.

Being over 400 pounds doesn’t happen overnight. I grew up on fast food, soda and, really, any high-calorie food that I could get my hands on. Any fitness effort was always eclipsed by the massive amount of food I ate. By the time I graduated from high school, I was well over 300 pounds and growing.

The weight gain continued during my first couple years of college before I was finally able to stem the tide, temporarily, at least, for the first time in my life.

It was during this period that I discovered a love of playing ultimate frisbee. I also realized I enjoyed long walks while listening to audiobooks. It was during these walks that I first listened to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens. I had been an atheist since high school, but it was books like these that really solidified my beliefs and made me feel like I wasn’t alone.

Within the secular community, I finally found a place where I felt like I belonged. I became heavily involved (no pun intended!) in the Secular Student Alliance group at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. I considered attempting to get an internship at FFRF, but, ultimately, I took one closer to home.

During this time, the weight seemed to melt off. I lost more than 80 pounds, going from around 350 pounds to 270.

Unfortunately, the weight loss didn’t last long. I graduated college in 2012 with a political science degree and no clear career path. I found a job in my hometown, working on cars for minimum wage.

Gone were the days of discussing philosophy, politics and the meaning of life. I lived with my parents and saved what I could, which wasn’t much. My weight skyrocketed. I was over 400 pounds during this time.

I knew I had to do something, anything, because the path I was on was leading toward total self-destruction. I quit that job and started studying full-time for the LSAT. During college, I had taken that test to get into law school, but I really didn’t do that much studying.

This time, however, I put in the effort. I studied for months, worked through multiple LSAT programs, took every practice test available and achieved a score that allowed me to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison on nearly a full-tuition scholarship.

Things were looking up and, before starting law school, I was able to lose a little bit of weight. But the stress of law school led me back to my old ways and I quickly started to gain weight again.

Law school was especially hard for me because I wasn’t passionate about being a lawyer. My real interest was in atheism and secularism, but there is no such thing as a professional atheist. This time, I applied for and was accepted for a legal internship at FFRF during the summer after my first year of law school.

Within my first few weeks at FFRF, I knew that I had found my home. I spent the summer working with an incredible group of attorneys, protecting the separation of church and state and generally advancing the idea of a more secular society.

I interned at FFRF for more than a full year, which made my law school career advisor worry about me. She believed I was making a big mistake by only interning at one organization. But I had faith, so to speak.

Toward the end of law school, I applied to be a full-time legal fellow at FFRF. I was a bit worried, but optimistic, given my years of experience. Happily, I was offered the fellowship and, on June 1, 2017, started working at FFRF full-time.

With this new job now locked in, I knew it was time to make a change, a real change, in my health. I started with small adjustments to my diet — like removing fast food — and just kept eating less and less as my weight dropped. I went from drinking soda to low-calorie lemonade to flavored water. A typical day included a breakfast sandwich or wrap, a protein shake for lunch, and then chicken and vegetables for dinner. I didn’t count calories, but ate things that were lower in calories and low in carbs.

It wasn’t easy, sometimes I was hungry but my body was able to adapt to my new lifestyle pretty quickly. I made sure to allow myself to indulge when necessary, especially when my coworkers would bring in eclairs, candy, or various baked goods. I also had to give in whenever our amazing supporters would send pizzas, or other treats to the office for our staff to enjoy. It’s all about balance.

Within a year, I lost 180 pounds, going from 430 to 250 pounds.

When I first started my weight-loss program, I would walk a lot — two to three hours on workdays and five to eight hours a day on the weekends. At some point, I transitioned from just walking to running. My FFRF co-workers signed me up for a half-marathon as a “reward” for my hard work and progress. I only had six weeks or so to prepare. I started trying to run as far as I could without stopping. I ran my first half-marathon on Nov. 11, 2019.

Since then, I have been running every day. I’m now down to 170 pounds, meaning I’ve lost more than 250 pounds from my highest weight. With my new lifestyle that I am enjoying so much, I don’t expect that I will have to worry about becoming obese ever again.

And when my two-year legal fellowship ended, FFRF kept me aboard and hired me as a full-time attorney — a dream come true.

I have so much more left to achieve in my life and career, and I can now do so with a tremendous weight off of my shoulders.