A 345-pound man jailed for driving with a suspended license was freed nine days early thanks to a Lake County, Fla., judge's "lose-a-pound, gain-a-day" deal.
George McCovery, 37, dropped 25 pounds in 20 days -- a feat he credited to bland prison food and the judge's weight-loss challenge.
"She gave me a chance to prove myself, and I didn't want to let her down," he told the Orlando Sentinel.
Judge Donna Miller, whose courtroom proceedings are replayed in the TV show "Lake Courts," is famous for her unusual sentence deals. In her 17 years as a judge, Miller has ordered defendants to start jogging, take a dance class, tutor math and write Christmas cards, according to the Sentinel.
"I do what I do to try to change the person in front of me," she said, acknowledging that her self-improvement sentences won't be doled out to everyone. "If the person needs jail, they get jail."
Miller said she would check McCovery's weight after 20 days. And to her surprise, he had already shed 25 pounds.
"It's not easy to lose weight," Miller told the Sentinel. "I thought he'd lose 5, maybe, 6 pounds -- not 25."
Carrying extra pounds can raise the risk of chronic, debilitating and even life-threatening medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. And if waistlines keep expanding at current rates, experts predict half of the U.S. population will be obese by 2030.
McCovery, who takes medication for high blood pressure, said he wanted to lose weight during the trial. But it isn't easy. Obesity treatments, such as bariatric surgery, are effective, but many people are reluctant to undergo such an invasive procedure. And a dearth of drugs approved to treat obesity leaves few options for extreme weight loss short of strict diets and intense exercise programs.
But the benefits of weight loss are well worth the effort. According to an August 2011 report, if every obese person decreased his or her body mass index by just 1 percent (a loss of 2 pounds for a 200-pound adult), as many as 2.4 million diabetes cases, 1.7 million cases of heart disease and stroke and 127,000 cancer cases could be prevented.
Although McCovery lost more than a pound a day, experts say slow and steady weight loss is the best way to shed the pounds for good.
"There's a lot that goes on between losing that first pound and losing that 100, 50 or even 20 pounds," Lisa Cimperman, a registered dietitian at University Hospitals Case Medical Center, told ABC News. Aiming to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week can help you stay on track and power through the inevitable weight loss lulls.
Along the way, McCovery was encouraged by his detention deputies, the Sentinel reported.
"Studies have shown that support groups or just having someone else encouraging you will help make you successful," said Lisa Cimperman.
That encouragement and the promise of making it home in time for Thanksgiving was enough for McCovery, who earned a note of praise from Judger Miller on his release order that read, "Good job, Mr. McCovery!"