It all started with a simple conversation on Facebook. That’s where John Goodman, 37, first encountered Kayla Green, 24—a stranger who would change his life forever.
The next thing John knew, he was walking down the runway at the Christiana Care mall in Newark, Delaware, posing for countless selfies with fans and people who had watched his YouTube videos, trying on outfits he had never envisioned himself in, and eating whatever he wanted.
More than a year later, John now calls himself a “different person.” Not only has he lost over 100 pounds, but he also feels energized and fulfilled in a way he never had before. He credits a lot of that to Kayla Green, whom he met on Facebook and later invited to speak at his church.
Kayla, on the other hand, had her own personal reasons for reaching out to John. She’s a native of Columbus, Ohio and has suffered from anorexia for as long as she can remember. The first time Kayla tried on one of John’s weight-loss outfits, she knew she had to have it. Luckily for both of them, Twitter had just launched its direct messaging feature, which Kayla used to invite John to connect with her on Facebook.
“I felt that there was just somebody out there who could relate to my experience and who could offer advice and guidance,” Kayla said. “I did a lot of research into him and found that he was somebody who had lost a lot of weight successfully and was well-known for his work in health and fitness. I just thought there was a connection there, and that was pretty exciting.”
An Unlikely Friendship Breaks Down Traditional Barriers
When John first laid eyes on Kayla, he was struck by her bubbly, outgoing personality and the fact that she didn’t fit the stereotypical “beauty” mold he was used to. After they started chatting online, John invited Kayla to come speak at his church in Newark, where he serves as the senior pastor. At first, she politely declined, citing scheduling conflicts. But John persisted, and eventually Kayla agreed to come and give the sermon at the same time John was being interviewed on stage about his weight loss.
As she walked down the aisle during the service, Kayla’s heart raced, and she prayed that her appearance would have some sort of positive impact on the men in the room, even if it was just one man. She had a feeling her weight might be the key to breaking down some of the biases she had internalized as a child. Still, she didn’t expect to have such a personal connection with the audience she was addressing. She had prepared a 15-minute talk about dealing with body image issues, but the last four minutes of her speech were dedicated to discussing John’s experience in losing weight and how she related to it.
Though they came from different backgrounds and walked down different paths, Kayla and John eventually found common ground. They both adored Jesus and regularly prayed together. And most importantly, they both wanted to live life to the fullest and not let any obstacle get in the way of them enjoying themselves.
“I think what connected us was just our will to do whatever it takes to make sure that we can be the best that we can be,” Kayla said. “I think that’s what Jesus would want us to do, is be the best we can be, regardless of the situation.”
The ‘New John’ Has A New Purpose
Before Kayla’s invitation, John’s primary focus had always been on helping others. He had founded a nonprofit called the Goodman Family Foundation, which provides clothing and travel grants for disadvantaged kids, and had previously served as a Youth Pastor at a Southern Baptist Church. His sermons focused on helping those in need, and he often cited the parable of the good Samaritan as having far-reaching applications for today’s society.
After his appearance on stage with Kayla, John decided to step out of his comfort zone and do something he had never done before: speak about his experience losing weight. He started a podcast, ‘The New John,’ and began doing Q&As with various speakers and experts in the health and wellness space. Through these interviews, he built a following of over 160,000 people and began to get invited to speak at various conventions and leadership summits.
What drew John to this new path wasn’t the recognition he might receive or the fame that comes with being a ‘grammer.” He wanted to share his story with anyone who was willing to listen. Having lost over 100 pounds since his appearance on stage with Kayla, he now has a new mission: to inspire and empower as many people as possible to live life to the fullest, no matter their size.
“One of the problems that people have when they’re trying to lose weight is they focus on the food and don’t focus enough on the lifestyle changes that they need to make,” John explained. “So what I’m trying to do is to show people that you can lose weight and be healthy without having to give up everything that you love about your life.”
Since John’s appearance on stage with Kayla, he has started a non-profit organization called The Inspiration Project, which provides free self-help groups for people who are trying to lose weight. The number of people seeking support through the group has doubled, and John attributes that to people wanting to follow his lead.
“When I first started this weight loss journey, I looked at people with weight issues in a negative light, because I was taught to think that way,” John said. “But then I started to see how amazing people with weight issues can be, and how much they contribute to society. So now, when I see someone who is overweight or obese, I don’t say ‘that’s a problem,’ I say ‘thank you.’”
While John’s personal journey has centered around food and weight, his platform now focuses on helping people find the healthiest and happiest versions of themselves possible. He frequently preaches about the “Eagles’” diet of “always eating protein, vegetables, and fruits” and encourages his audience to “follow your heart, not your head.” As he puts it: “Don’t listen to the naysayers or the haters. They might make you feel bad about yourself, but if you want to be happy, keep your chin up, and eat what makes you feel good.”
In an effort to inspire people to take the good advice he gives, John started the #InMyBasics hashtag on Instagram and encourages his followers to share their everyday outfits in the hopes that it will spark an “Instagram fashion moment” that will encourage others to get their clothes off too.
“I think that social media in general has done a lot to help bring people together and show that we are all human and we’re all in this together,” John said. “I think that social media has done a lot to tear down the barriers and break down the stereotypes that we as a society have about each other.”
John’s story is one of triumph—and he credits a lot of that to Kayla. The two met through a mutual friend and eventually bonded over their shared Christian faith. As her connection to John grew stronger, Kayla’s connection to and dedication to her hometown team, the Ohio State Buckeyes, grew along with it. When she heard that the Buckeyes were making a comeback after a rare defeat, and were looking for a new head coach, she felt compelled to reach out.
“I love my school and I love my team,” Kayla said. “I watched them grow up, and now that they’re back, I wanted to do my best to help get them back on track and back in the championship game.”
Kayla saw a similar bond develop between John and one of her favorite players, Sheldon Richardson, when she went to a recent game between the Seahawks and the Broncos. After the game, a group of fans stood near the escalators that take you from the lower deck up to the field level and started chanting John’s name. As she walked up to them, they kept chanting, ‘We love you, John! We love you!’ and ‘We want you to coach our team!’ It was then that Kayla knew just what to do.
“I had been praying for the best for John and his team, and when that moment happened, I just knew that God had answered my prayers,” she said. “I was very scared to death that something would happen to him, so I wanted to thank God for answering my prayers in such a way that gave me the opportunity to speak to John about this job.”