Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Few "No" Diets

In my last post, I told Fred Schenck's weight loss story. His "avoid the whites" eating plan was a do-it-yourself project. Yet this is a commonly used approach to weight loss, actually. Probably the most popular of these plans is  Dr. Gott's No Flour, No Sugar Diet

Dr. Gott is a retired physician and syndicated newspaper columnist who for many years has urged patients and readers to try his approach to weight loss. As with many of the home remedies he champions—Vicks VapoRub for toenail infections, bars of soap under the sheets for restless leg syndrome—Dr. Gott’s diet is simple and inexpensive. You need not count anything, but you must read labels. If flour or sugar is there, it's off limits.

The plan's simplicity is appealing: “It is a wonderful diet that was easy for me to follow,” says Joan Petrillo, who lives in the next town over from me and used it to lose 20 pounds.

In Dr. Gott's plan, though, avoiding flour means not just white flour, but any kind of flour, including rice, wheat or corn. Sugars on the banned list include cane sugar, glucose, sucrose, beet sugar, honey, maple syrup, high fructose corn syrup and molasses.

Dr. Gott replaces these foods with whole grains such as brown rice, and starchy vegetables like corn and potatoes; and for sweets, fruits and sugar substitutes. In addition, he includes lean meats, legumes, low-fat dairy products and fresh vegetables, emphasizing nutrient-dense foods that satisfy hunger.

The whole idea of this grand switch is to cut your daily calorie intake. "The key to weight loss is simply to burn more calories than you take in," he says. "I have found, and my patients’ successes have verified, that eliminating flour and sugar from your diet is a simple way to cut calories instantly. "

In my next post, though, I'll talk about two camps of weight loss: those who totally avoid certain foods (like Dr. Gott) and those who swear by moderation. I've had comments from people who believe moderation is the way to go, because they see it as an approach they can maintain for life. Others, though, find success only through avoiding their "addictive" foods. Both approaches can work!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Fred Schenck: "Avoid the whites"

Fred Schenck, a retired human resources executive for Cunard Line, was cruising along in retirement.

He had enjoyed a high-profile career working for Donald Trump, New York City mayor David Dinkins and the Kennedy administration. Yet now, Fred was enjoying his life on the West Coast of Florida. An avid golfer, he and his wife Quinta also liked to travel, particularly enjoying—what else?—cruises.

So, he was a bit dismissive a few years ago when his doctor suggested that to lower his blood pressure, Fred should take off some weight.

“I ignored him,” Fred admits. “I was married to Mrs. Haagen Dazs and I couldn’t see myself changing. I just thought that high blood pressure was a fairly typical complaint.”

At 5-foot, 10-inches, Fred’s top weight was 228 pounds. He dealt with the situation by making sure his clothes fit well and flattered his frame. Yet even his tailor had something to say. “He'd tell me, ‘Schenck, take off the weight,’” Fred says. But still, he thought nothing of downing a half pint of ice cream every night.

Fred’s penchant for sweets had its roots in childhood. “There was a drugstore on my newspaper route," he recalls. "Every time I earned an extra 35 or 40 cents, I’d stop at the soda fountain for ice cream sodas or milk shakes.”

As Deputy Undersecretary of Commerce for President Kennedy, Fred mingled in the Beltway’s social circles. And, his career in high-end leisure and travel businesses did nothing to curb his appetites. “In the hotel business I had free reign in five different restaurants. I could eat anything at any time,” Fred says. “You develop bad habits that way.”

In March 2007, Fred’s doctor spoke up again. Fred’s glucose levels indicated that he might be developing diabetes. This time, Fred listened.

At his then-current weight of 216 pounds, not only did Fred “divorce Mrs. Haagen Dazs,” but he went a step further. Humorously, he calls his approach “avoiding the whites.” Here’s what disappeared from his diet: white flour, white rice, sugar and some dairy. It took a little re-education. After all, Fred reasoned, isn’t “enriched flour” good for you?

Fred and his wife substituted higher fiber, whole grain “brown” products—brown rice and whole wheat flour. Fortunately, Quinta enjoys cooking this way. “She loves these kinds of challenges,” Fred says.

And, Fred curbed his appetite for sweets. “We have a number of lovely candy dishes, and they’re all empty,” Fred notes, with both pride and wistfulness. In addition, Fred began to walk in his golf community 40 to 45 minutes a day.

Over eight months, Fred brought his weight down to 188 pounds and lost two inches off his waist. “I made my tailor happy,” Fred says. “I sent two jackets back to have them altered for my new size.”

Not only that, but by grounding his diet in high-fiber whole grains, he has moderated the sugar rushes of white flour and sugar. He takes a low dose of blood pressure medication, but his doctor hasn’t mentioned diabetes again.

These days, Fred gets his rushes from a different source—compliments. “I was at a function recently and someone said to me, ‘Fred, you look 15 years younger,'” he says. “That feels good. ”

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Good Will shopping

Ha! Here I thought my sister would take all the clothes I no longer fit since losing weight. Of the five dresses and eight pairs of pants I brought her, she only took three items! The rest were too BIG for her. She's doing great!

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, we went shopping at Good Will. I know... not too glamorous. But we had a great time trying on clothes and judging each other's choices. I bought a royal blue blouse with an interesting neckline of loose knots (still trying to draw attention away from the hips!), along with a black skirt and a pink and black three-quarter-sleeve sweater. The sweater is form-fitting with a line of color at the waist. Great to be in the market for something like that! And, I must admit to buying flannel jammie pants and a hoodie. My sister bought, among other things, a suede teal dress with diagonal seams across the front. Very flattering for her new size!

She beat me... she spent $36 and I spent $32. And our money went to a good cause. Can't beat that!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Weight loss is contagious!

I've been talking with my sister a lot on the phone recently. Our family is getting together for Thanksgiving, so there are some culinary logistics to work out. I thought ahead and bought lots of local New Jersey sweet corn this fall, cooked and cut it off the cob and froze it to take to New York with me. I made applesauce, too, using my grandmother's recipe. (You leave the skins of the apples on when you cook them, so the applesauce has a nice rosy pink color. I use half Macs and half Cortlands.) My parents are making our family's favorite, a broccoli and bleu cheese casserole... it wouldn't be a holiday without it!

Add all that to the usual menu -- turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, glazed carrots, etc. -- and this is going to be one groaning table. But, you know what?! I am DETERMINED that I will NOT be groaning! I can't even say that bounty like this tempts me to overeat. This is partly because I just don't have the capacity anymore, after losing 30 pounds and three sizes. But, strangely, I find myself overwhelmed by an overabundance of food now, and it makes me eat less. It's like grocery shopping... one whole AISLE of cereal??? My eyes glaze over.

But what I'm really looking forward to is seeing my sister. It's been about four months and in that time, she's been working at losing weight. I was dumbfounded when she told me she's already lost 36 pounds! She was talking about how it doesn't make sense to run out and buy all new clothes when you're still heading downward. A light went on in my head! I ran to my closet and began pulling out all sorts of shirts and pants, chinos and jeans mostly, in the sizes I'd gone down through. I washed and ironed everything -- eight pairs of pants in all. I can't wait to give them to her! Oh, and a beautiful black dress with a scalloped hem trimmed in a red floral pattern. Sigh. I loved that dress.

I know you're supposed to empty your closet and get rid of the large sizes, so you're not tempted to go back there. But I just couldn't stand the waste! I'm way too frugal. I'm so glad these clothes will have another life. And I'm SURE it won't be long before my sister's handing them off to someone else. I am so proud of her!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Roni Noone: A new mom's plan

Most women plan for a healthy pregnancy. Roni Noone had a plan for after her pregnancy.

Two weeks after giving birth to her son, Roni walked into her local Weight Watchers meeting, baby in tow. She weighed in at 206 pounds, but she wasn’t discouraged. "I knew what to do. Everything was in my corner. I was confident, even looking forward to it," she says.

From her teen years on, Roni remembers being heavy. One childhood moment haunts her. "I was 12 and I weighed about 150 pounds," she recounts. "A very tall male family member said to me, ‘We weigh the same.’ I was devastated."

Roni began skipping meals, lying to her mother about having eaten, hiding food to eat later by herself. At 14, she took a job at a McDonald's, where she made her own concoctions, grilling huge burgers in sausage grease, making sundaes with strawberry and chocolate toppings.

Alternating with bouts of sporadic dieting, Roni's weight yo-yoed. She graduated from high school a size 12. But leaving college, she weighed in the 180s, and in graduate school, 210. She wore a size 16 suit to her graduation, a size 18 while job interviewing.

Roni decided in January 2000 to try again. She tried zero-calorie diets, a weight loss clinic, diet pills. She had the most success with a low-carb diet, getting down to 155 pounds, but she was miserable. “I was obsessed. I agonized over every decision,” she says. “I just couldn't eat that way long term.”

In 2004, Roni and her husband began to talk about starting a family. Roni knew she had to find a healthy way to lose weight. Weight Watchers fit the bill. "For someone like me, it's perfect," she says. "I love keeping statistics, plotting my progress, going to meetings and weighing in."

In fact, Roni loved the supportive atmosphere of the meetings. "I was glad to have people to ask questions of, somewhere I could go for reputable answers," she says. "Before, it was always me just popping pills by myself, just me trying to make it work."

Roni lost 11 pounds over the next four weeks on the Flex Plan. But then, she discovered she was pregnant, and the deal was off. "I did eat healthy foods throughout my pregnancy, but I ate excessively," Roni admits. "I ate entire cantaloupes, banana smoothies, fried foods, burgers. I ate for eating's sake. I felt it was my last hurrah."

Not surprisingly, Roni gained 70 pounds in her pregnancy. Coming home from the hospital in June 2004, she weighed 225 pounds. But this time she knew what to do. Adopting the Weight Watchers plan for nursing mothers, Roni began to steadily lose weight, most often just two pounds a week. By January 2005, she had reached her goal weight of 149.

In Weight Watchers, portions of food are awarded points by their nutritional value, and Roni welcomed the challenge. "The plan appealed to my creative side. I was excited about figuring out how to eat the biggest portions possible for the lowest amount of points and still eat foods I enjoyed," she says. "I make the best burger ever, on an English muffin, with spinach and pickles, and it has only four points."

Roni began walking with Ryan on her back, dancing around the house with him. She shut off the television and took the stairs instead of the elevator. In 2007, she joined a Y and began using a treadmill and reclining bike. She graduated to cardio, cycling and step classes and, eventually, 5K races.

Today, at 5-feet, nine inches, Roni weighs 144 pounds and wears a size 6. Although she doesn’t consciously count points, her eating habits are ingrained. She makes meatballs with ground turkey, weighs the cheese for a baked ziti, divides meals and snacks into rough point estimates. Roni blogs about her weight loss success, which she says keeps her on track. Ultimately, though, Roni gives her son all the credit for her success.

"I didn't want to be an afraid-to-have-fun mom, a mom who sits out, who won't put on a bathing suit because she's ashamed of her body," she says. "My son gave me all the motivation I needed. He has given me a renewed sense of life and purpose."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Feed a cold, starve a fever?

Feed a cold, starve a fever? Or is it, Starve a cold, feed a fever? I think I may have it mixed up. I have a raging sore throat this week and am not all that hungry. But I have one bad habit when I'm sick that ensures I don't starve anything.

When my husband has a sore throat, he doesn't want any food touching it. He'll spritz on bottle after bottle of Chloraseptic to numb it. I hate Chloraseptic! It gets on your tongue and the inside of your cheeks, and then you feel like you just came from the dentist.

Instead, I go for the blanket approach. I want to coat that throat and cover up the hurt. So... instead of tea, which I probably should drink, I make huge mugs of hot chocolate and wash down spoonfuls of peanut butter. I don't like plain chicken broth, but I do make a great egg drop soup, with a chicken broth base, but I stir in some fresh lemon juice and finely shaved parmesan. When I do get hungry, but it still hurts to eat, I make a big pot of mashed potatoes. That's my ultimate comfort food.

When I was growing up, boxed "pre-fab" mashed potatoes were all the rage. Remember those magic flakes? Well, I hated them. Of course you can tell the difference. But my mom, even though she hated cooking, never bought convenience foods because of the expense. Her mashed potatoes were always the real thing. Well, we ruined them by using margarine. (Butter was too expensive, too.) When I'm sick now, I do it right. Real mashed potatoes made with real butter, and topped with a pool of melting butter.

My son, on the other hand, wants whipped cream when he's sick. I'll give him a bowl of Jello and whipped cream, and he'll just skim the whipped cream off the top and leave the Jello. I don't have that same craving for whipped cream (luckily!), though I do love it when I'm not sick. Good thing, too. I'm probably already consuming as many calories as when I feel healthy, and yet not exercising any of it away. I guess if it's a cold I have, I'm doing a great job of feeding it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Gwen Mergian: A Numbers Gal

Numbers are powerful. Just ask Gwen Mergian. The first number to slap Gwen in the face was the number 50.

“When I reached my 50s, I felt like I was living on borrowed time,” says Gwen. “My father died at age 49 from a massive coronary and my grandmother had a sudden fatal heart attack in her 50s.”

The second number that stopped her cold was 303.

"My diet was fairly healthy, even though I didn’t really exercise. I had no chronic disease, but I was maybe ten to 20 pounds overweight,” says Gwen. “Still, a routine blood check came back showing that my total cholesterol was 303."

That number put Gwen in the American Heart Association’s highest risk category. The AHA says that having total cholesterol of 240 milligrams per deciliter of blood or higher presents a person with twice the risk for coronary heart disease as someone whose cholesterol level is 200 mg/dL or below. Gwen’s doctor recommended she start on a cholesterol-lowering statin drug. Trained as a nurse, Gwen didn’t like that idea. She decided to bring the scientific method home.

“I read up on all everything that is supposed to lower cholesterol and I thought, I could conduct my own experiment. I could be the subject, the researcher and the reporter,” she says.

Gwen proposed to her doctor that she try to lower her cholesterol herself. If at the end of six months, her numbers weren’t good, she would go on the drug. Moldering in Gwen’s basement was an old copy of Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease. It is a low-fat diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes.

Gwen’s goal was ambitious—and it involved another number. She targeted her LDL cholesterol, the so-called “bad cholesterol,” which can be a more accurate gauge of risk. Her LDL was 193—again in the AHA’s highest risk category—and she set a target level of 130.

“I was committed, but I didn’t really think I could do it,” she admits. “I am a very stubborn person, though, and when I put my mind to something I’m like a tenacious dog.”

Gwen says pizza was the hardest thing for her to give up. She also liked meat and cheese, eggs and omelets, and had ice cream about three times a week. But the real hurdle was a big one: she didn’t really like vegetables.

Nevertheless, in March 2007 Gwen switched to a plant-based diet. She gave up meat, except salmon a few times a week, for the omega 3 fatty acids. She ate huge salads and tried grains like kasha, quinoa and cous cous. She loves to bake and adjusted recipes to cut down on fat and sugar.

“I wanted to see what I could do,” she says. “I didn’t want to cheat. If you do, you have to think about it: Well, I cheated yesterday, so today maybe I’ll… I cheated only twice in six months, once when a very kind woman made a pie and I couldn't refuse a piece.”

After six months, Gwen's total cholesterol dropped to 177, well below the 200 mg/dL benchmark. Her LDL cholesterol came in at 96, almost 100 mg/dL below her starting number and 34 mg/dL below her target of 130.

In addition, Gwen lost about 20 pounds. At her highest weight, Gwen had been 140 pounds, and at five-feet, five inches tall, a size 14. Gwen is satisfied with her weight now, even though she has regained five pounds.

Gwen continues the Ornish plan. She takes a multi-vitamin and red yeast rice and flax seed, which are said to lower cholesterol naturally. She drinks white or green tea, and a drink she mixes from apple cider vinegar, pomegranate juice and grape or apple juice. Three or four times a week she has a scientific dose of red wine, about 30 millileters.

Gwen admits that exercise has not been a priority. She will sometimes walk the two and a half miles home from work. At the gym, she works out two or three times a week, usually speed walking on a treadmill. Gwen bought a bicycle that reminded her of her mother’s 1970s chestnut-brown five-speed bike. She began biking around her neighborhood, and eventually worked her way up to an 11-mile ride suggested by a friend.

“I was going to say no, but then I thought, You can try, Gwen,” she says. “I had to stop four times and walk my bike up the hills, but I did it.”

Gwen has also tried means of lowering stress, such as tai chi, mindfulness meditation and yoga. Focusing on making change fun, she has tried activities said to stimulate the right side of the brain, such as writing with her left hand or sketching upside down and left-handed.

What started as an experiment has turned into a lifestyle, which Gwen blogs about for the Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union. She's grateful for the opportunity she’s had to expand her horizons.

“This experiment took me in directions I wouldn’t have expected. It brings me such joy and pleasure,” she says. “As you age, it’s easy to get into a rut and experience things as diminishing. I find myself embracing new things and as I look ahead, I want to be healthy and I feel like there are good things to come. That’s the blessing and the bounties of this way of life.”

Friday, October 9, 2009

I'm Over the Moon with my Over the Top award

It was so nice to log on this morning to my blog and find a little "award" from my fellow blogger, Leah. What makes me feel even better is that she says on her blog that she finds the success stories that I write about here motivating for her in her weight loss journey. That's what it's all about! Thank you, Leah!

Monday, October 5, 2009

It's in the bag!

A fellow weight-loss blogger, Leah, recently posted her weight loss as she visualized it in bags of sugar. What a great idea! Congratulations on your success, Leah!

Looking at those bags, it made me think of my own ah-ha moment last New Year's Eve when I bought a 10-pound bag of flour for a party game (go ahead... ask!). Looking at it, I realized that I had lost the equivalent of three 10-pound bags of flour. Thirty pounds doesn't sound like a whole lot to me, especially since I've interviewed people who have lost up to 220 pounds. But, looking at it in terms of pounds of sugar or flour -- and hefting those heavy bags! -- helped me see the accomplishment as the huge deal that it really is.

So... here's my success, in five-pound bags of flour. (Couldn't find 10-pound bags. Besides, it looks way more impressive this way!)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Success on a large scale

Americans have a reputation as highly independent souls who like to do things their own way. It’s a notion that is certainly borne out in the realm of weight loss.

In 1994, two well-respected researchers founded the National Weight Control Registry to track people who have lost weight. Dr. James O. Hill, a noted obesity expert, and Dr. Rena R. Wing, a professor of psychiatry, wanted to find out how people lose weight. But even more so, they wanted to know how people keep it off.

To date, about 6,000 people have logged their weight loss stories into the database. To qualify, a person must be at least 18 years old, have lost at least 30 pounds and have kept it off for one year or more. Participants have reported losing up to 300 pounds and keeping it off for as long as 66 years.

Almost half of the registry members—45 percent—designed and followed their own weight loss program. I'm not surprised by this at all. In looking for people to interview, it was far easier to find people who went solo. When I asked why someone would go it alone, more than once I heard, “I’m just not a joiner.”

While people in the NWCR study may have struck out on their own, their avenues to success have been pretty much the same. Ninety-eight percent of participants modified their eating habits, and most people report eating a low-calorie, low-fat diet in order to maintain their weight loss. Similarly, 94 percent of people said they increased their level of physical activity, mostly walking. On average, people report exercising one hour a day. And where do they find the time, you might ask? Sixty-two percent report watching fewer than 10 hours of television a week.

So... I'm ready to post my success. I've lost the 30 pounds and kept it off for a little over a year. How about you... will you join me?!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lose a job, gain some weight

Recently, I wrote an article about our family's experience of my husband's layoff. You can read it here. My husband was laid off in 2005 and out of work for six months. It was our first experience of a layoff, and it was a hard time, both emotionally and financially.

Well, that column hit a nerve. I got more response to that article than I ever have to any of my writing. People found me through my website, my e-mail, this blog and through other web searches. All of them were families whose primary job-holder was laid off. I began to think I should have a job loss blog, not a weight loss blog!

As I thought about the relationship between joblessness and weight struggles, I remembered how depressed my husband became as the weeks went by, losing hope by the day. He began to eat for consolation and perhaps through boredom, something he'd never done before. It worried me, and I bit my tongue many times. Any comment I made would be cruel and rooted in anxiety about our situation, but it's hard to watch a loved one self-destruct.

At the time, I hadn't lost all my weight, so that fact also kept my mouth shut. Who was I to tell him what to do or not do? Yet I recognized emotional eating for what it was then, and it was the start of recognizing it in myself. Today, I'm aware that the minute I have the house to myself, my mind wanders over to the refrigerator and pantry, thinking about what might be in there for me. I've traced that to my childhood, when I would stay up long past everyone else and watch late-night movies, just to have the house to myself. I would sneak food while I watched, but I had to hide my tracks so I wouldn't give myself away and get in trouble. (My parents considered snacking to be almost sinful.)

I guess childhood habits die hard. The pull of the quiet house and the promise of food still works on my psyche today. I'll bet that the pull of the quiet house is working on many job-seekers today, too. But you might want to take it easy on your spouse. My husband got a job after six months, and today has lost all the weight he gained then. We're grateful for both his job and our health!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Jimmy Moore: Livin' La Vida Low-Carb

Jimmy Moore is Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb. That’s the name of his book, and it’s the theme of his life.

At age 32, Jimmy weighed 410 pounds. He was being treated for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and labored breathing. He had no hope for his life.

“I believed that was just the way I was supposed to be,” he says. “My family was fat, and I had been fat my whole life. My mom was a single mom who had to feed three growing kids, so she bought what she could afford, which was pretty much junk food.”

Over the years, Jimmy tried many diets, all of them low-fat. But even when he dieted, he piled on the sugar. “I was addicted to Twizzlers—a naturally fat-free food!” he says.

In 1999, he lost 170 pounds on a zero-fat diet. But he was grumpy and "psychologically messed up,” he says. And, ultimately, he couldn't stick with it. After one slip-up with a McDonald's meal, he quickly gained back all 170 pounds.

In the fall of 2003, Jimmy attended a church festival that featured a climbing wall. He thought that at 6-feet, 3-inches tall, getting to the top would be a breeze.

“I started up and on the first step, my foot slipped and I fell,” he says. “I tried again, and again I fell. On the third try, I slipped again and this time, I sprained my ankle.”

At that moment, the defeated climber thought to himself: “Jimmy, you are out of control!”

Jimmy knew two people who had succeeded on the Atkins diet. On January 4, 2004, he began. Right off, he ran into trouble. “That first day, I thought I was going to die. I had the worst headache, my body ached. I pleaded with my wife to just kill me,” he says.

Within a few days the symptoms subsided, and in two months, Jimmy lost 70 pounds. Some of the loss was undoubtedly because Jimmy started using a treadmill, but obviously, he was thriving on a diet comprising about 60-70 percent fat, but just 20 grams of carbohydrates a day, including two cups of low-carb vegetables.

In a little over a year, Jimmy lost 180 pounds. Today, he continues with Atkins, limits carbs to 30-35 grams a day, engages in aerobic exercise and works out with weights.

Succeeding at the Atkins diet has literally changed Jimmy Moore’s life. In 2005, he self-published Livin' La Vida Low-Carb: My Journey from Flabby Fat to Sensationally Skinny in One Year. He is at work on his second book, 21 Life Lessons From Livin' La Vida Low-Carb: How the Healthy Low-Carb Lifestyle Changed Everything I Thought I Knew. He blogs, writes for nutrition and health-related websites, and creates podcasts and YouTube videos for the low-carb cause. Read Jimmy's blog here and tune into his podcasts here.

Jimmy pleads with others to take control of their lives, no matter what weight loss plan you choose.

“Do it like you’ve never done anything before,” he urges. “It’s not about will power; it’s about steadfast resolve. Commit to it, even when it hurts. It is so worth it.”

Friday, September 11, 2009

Politics, religion and the Atkins diet

We’ve all been warned not to mention politics or religion at the dinner table. You might want to add a third caveat: Don't bring up Robert Atkins either.

Atkins is, of course, the famous doctor and author whose diet advice turned conventional wisdom on its head with the publication in the 1970s of Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution, updated today as Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution

At the time, almost every doctor, dietician and government researcher preached, “Eat less sugar. Eat less fat. Bread and potatoes are where it’s at!”

Dr. Atkins’ revolutionary thought was that it wasn't fat, but refined carbohydrates and starches that were making us fat. Most experts of the time—and still today—consider that fats, being calorie-dense, lead to obesity, and the name of the game is to cut calories. Dr. Atkins believed that carbohydrates are more directly linked to obesity because they stimulate the body’s production of insulin and cause it to store fat tissue.

I think that even before I knew about the Atkins diet, I tried it. One summer I had a job slinging hash on a steam line at a GM parts factory, hair net, scratchy uniform and all. I rebuffed the pressure from my fellow cafeteria workers to have a smoke, but when they talked up a diet that allowed me to eat the bacon, cheese, eggs and fried chicken we were serving up, I couldn’t resist. Hand me a tray fast, someone!

Apparently, I didn’t get the full Atkins memo, because while I happily mounded up my plate, I somehow didn’t get the message about cutting out the carbs. I came back for seconds on the French fries, bread and pieces of pie, too. Neither did the idea of lean sources of protein occur to me. Needless to say, my so-called diet didn’t work.

Today, the debate about the Atkins diet rages on. Does it work? Does it damage your heart? Yet without Dr. Atkins we probably wouldn't look at the nutrients in our food the way we do now. Virtually every diet in existence today suggests limiting your intake of refined sugars and flours.

Within the next few days, I'll be posting the story of one incredible Atkins dieter who lost 180 pounds -- and maintains his loss -- on the Atkins diet. He's one inspiring guy.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Healthy Eating: A First Lady's Cause

I must admit I'm fairly cynical about politics. Among the things I usually scoff at are the ubiquitous "First Lady causes." Lady Bird Johnson beautified the highways, Laura Bush read to children. Worthy causes, but how much impact do these initiatives really have?

Well, when I read an AOL article today on the White House Garden, Sowing the Future from Seeds of the Past, I must say I wished Michelle Obama well.

Not only is the First Lady using heirloom seeds from Thomas Jefferson's Monticello garden, but she also says that by planting a garden, she wanted to encourage her family -- as well as the nation -- to eat healthy meals and to eat meals together. It's about time someone in the limelight took the cause of healthy eating, and by extension overeating and obesity, seriously. Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee lost weight and wrote a book about it, Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork: A 12-Stop Program to End Bad Habits and Begin a Healthy Lifestyle, but there's nothing like a politician clad in jeans and wellies, digging in the dirt, to bring the message home!

The White House garden has already produced 400 pounds of vegetables! In the future, Mrs. Obama says she might sell produce from the garden at a farm stand outside the White House. While I think that would be a hoot -- how much would a Presidential Pepper go for? -- I think they ought to donate the produce to a local shelter or food bank. Two causes at once!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Atiya M: A winner, bar none

When Atiya M. started practicing law, she spent big bucks on new clothes for court appearances. Although she weighed 240 pounds, she thought that she had finally made peace with herself and accepted her weight.

As a child, Atiya remembers that her busy parents routinely used food to engender momentary good feelings. She binged for the first time at age 7, after her parents separated. At age 10, she and her sister lived with an aunt in Nigeria for a year, a wonderful experience, but one that increased her feelings of anxiety and insecurity.

Atiya's father died when she was 13. She quickly gained 70 pounds. At 5-foot, 10 inches, she weighed 220 pounds. In her late teens, a friend introduced Atiya to purging. “A friend and I went out to lunch. Afterward, she said she knew how she to get rid of the food,” Atiya says. “It was like manna from heaven! I thought, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’”

Atiya tried undereating, too. For her senior prom, she cut back to 500 calories a day, exercised and smoked. Within a month, she lost 30 pounds. Over the years, Atiya went through periods of intense exercise, what she calls “exercise bulimia.” Her bulimia waxed and waned, but she resisted seeking help. “I didn’t want people to think I was crazy,” she says.

In her late 20s, Atiya stopped exercising for six weeks while she studied for the bar exam. Her weight shot up from about 230 to 260 pounds. She joined Weight Watchers and lost 63 pounds, but later regained the weight and then some. She no longer suffered from bulimia, but she continued binge eating.

Searching the internet one day, Atiya happened on Overeaters Anonymous. “Something just clicked,” she says. “It was the start of God doing for me what I couldn’t do for myself.”

“At my first meeting, I heard one woman share her story. She talked about things I had done in secret that I had never shared with anyone,” she says. “That night I knew that I was home.”

By her third meeting, though, Atiya was in agony. “I cried through the whole meeting,” she says. “I realized that food had always been my best friend and I knew I’d have to surrender it to God.”

The next morning, December 7, 2006, Atiya called a local OA contact. From that day, Atiya has followed her own plan of eating, abstaining from her addictive foods. Adhering to an OA tradition, she prefers not to talk about specific foods or habits. She does say that she's found it surprisingly easy to adopt new patterns.

Over 2 ½ years, Atiya lost 92 pounds. "I now wear a size 6," she says, "but the biggest joy is the freedom I have from food obsession."

Atiya is in daily contact with her sponsor, does her 12-step work, uses OA tools, such as writing, sponsoring, and service to others, and starts each morning with prayer and meditation. Combined with her involvement in a supportive church community, Atiya feels happy and free for the first time in her life.

“I no longer pick up food in response to emotions or life circumstances,” she says. “Every morning I wake up with the beautiful gift of abstinence and for that I am grateful.”

NOTE TO MY READERS: I would dearly love to show you a photo of Atiya, but OA's tradition of anonymity prevents me from doing so. I will just say that she is a beautiful woman and, as I've gotten to know her, a beautiful person!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Six years later...

A while back, I posted my "before" photo. It's the one that made me realize I needed to do something about my weight. In it, I'm heading down the sidewalk with my son on his first day of kindergarten six years ago.

I never took a real before photo. I started my weight loss journey with the decision not to do what I'd done on other "diets." No setting timed goals, no tracking my progress. I just decided to start exercising moderately and eating moderately and see what happened. What happened was that over five years I lost 30 pounds.

I still haven't taken a real after photo. But I was delighted to see this photo taken in the same spot, on the way to my son's fifth-grade graduation. Look at the smiling mom! Although she's not showing any skin, and pretty much hiding her waistline with a sweater, she's clearly a shadow of her former self. (And to prove that, I guess I've got to post the before photo, too. Ah well.)

I must say, though, that I don't obsess about how I look. It's how I feel. Those 30 extra pounds weighed more heavily on my mind than on my body. I'm still astounded at how free I feel, how comfortable in my own skin (well, at least when I have clothes on). I don't have to think about how to stand to look less heavy, or dress to "hide" those extra pounds. Such a relief. I still could use a personal shopper, though ... clearly, I haven't got the least idea how to dress at a normal weight!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Why did I wait so long?

When I think about why I waited so long to do something about my weight, I can come up with a lot of reasons. I had my own business. I was caring for our son, volunteering at his school, all while trying to remain viable in my profession. To keep up, I reasoned, I needed to read widely and write every day, not be checking in at the front desk for a spin class.

But, to be honest, my biggest hindrance was myself. I denied the truth; I didn’t want to admit I looked and felt as bad as I did. For the longest time, the mirror lied to me. It lies to most of us, in fact. Very few people see themselves as others do. One Pew Research Center study found that while nine in 10 people believe that most of their fellow Americans are overweight, only four in 10 see themselves as overweight.

Even when faced with the truth, I firmly believed that I could take care of the situation, if and when I wanted to. After all, I was my own boss. Nobody was going to tell me what to do. Ultimately, though, I was humbled to realize that I was guilty of one of those old-fashioned, outdated Seven Deadly Sins. No, not Gluttony, but Pride.

I didn’t want anyone’s help, even though it was obvious I wasn’t helping myself. I was doing just fine by myself, thank you very much. It’s nonsensical that just when I was feeling the worst about myself, I was the most prideful, but there it is. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” the Lord observes in the book of Jeremiah.

I thought people who paid money for gyms were frivolous, that people who bought prepared meals from weight loss programs were lazy. That these morally defective people were just going to give up anyway, so why were they even bothering? Inwardly, I scoffed at those hyper people who ran, biked, walked, or worked out at home. Surely, I make better use of my time, I crowed to myself.

When my day of reckoning came, it was a huge hurdle to admit that I needed help. For me, the solution was to join a gym. Still, I’m pretty much anonymous there. I go in, swim my laps and leave. I like to go during the day with all the seniors, when all is calm and they haven’t cranked up the music yet for the after-work muscle crowd.

Anyone who decides to act will face the same question: How much personal attention do I want—-or need—-from others to succeed? It helps to know yourself: Are you a person who will exercise only in a class setting? Or are you a private person who would rather die than show up in spandex at a jock gym? Could meeting one-on-one with a personal trainer keep you motivated? Or would you thrive with the encouragement of a support group? You're in this for the long term, so it pays to make a good decision upfront. Or, to change direction quickly when you find something isn't working for you. So, what's holding you back, and how do you think can you overcome it and get going?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Christina Chapan: In it for life

Many a diet has begun with the goal of fitting into a bridal dress. For Christina Chapan, though, it was the role of bridesmaid that started her down the aisle to fitness.

Chris says that as a child she hated physical activity. “I wasn’t coordinated at all,” she says. She always loved to eat, a passion she allowed to flourish in college. At 5-feet, 4 inches and her heaviest weight of 156 pounds, she wore a size 16. Her moment of truth came when her younger sister announced she was getting married.

“I didn’t want to be a fat bridesmaid,” Chris says, “especially as the older, spinster sister!”

Chris went on a low-fat diet, a program she found easier to follow than other “counting” programs. “Counting calories is hard,” she says. “Counting fat grams, you just stop at 20 and you’re done for the day.” In six months, she lost 30 pounds and fit into a size 6 dress.

After her sister's wedding, Chris took a teaching job and got married. Within a year of her marriage, she went back up three dress sizes. Over the years, the stresses of her job caused her to fall into some bad habits that led to more weight gain.

“When you’re working until 7 or 8 o’clock at night and you’re tired, those salty chips and jelly beans look awfully good,” she says.

In 2002, the youth pastor at her church recommended Bill Phillips’s Body for Life program. The 12-week exercise and nutrition challenges appealed to Chris. She relished the discipline of writing down the details of what she ate, her exercise regime and her progress. Within a year, she completed four challenges, losing 20 pounds and toning up her body in a way she had never experienced before.

Since then, Chris has remained on Body for Life, although by now it’s simply her way of life. She exercises and weight trains, and runs with her running club buddies on the weekends. She has become a certified personal trainer and leads after-school fitness programs. She has completed 17 half marathons, 4 full marathons and 3 ultra marathons. Recently, she has taken up sprint triathlons and competed in two. At 134 pounds, she wears a size 4-6. (In the photo, Chris is pointing to her name on the roster of her first marathon.)

Chris revels in her job as a special education teacher in a Chicago suburb, and maintains her conviction that a person has to carve out time for her passions, especially fitness. “You have to say, ‘This is my time, and this is my way of dealing with stress,’” she says.

Chris appreciates that Body for Life allows for a little cheating. “You eat in a very healthy way for six days, and then you can have one day, or three meals, that are not what you’d call healthy,” she says. For her, that means that on Friday mornings when the teachers and school staff host breakfasts, she can enjoy herself. And, on a recent cruise, she says she didn't restrict any foods but ate in moderation.

In the past year Chris has learned the importance of enjoying time with her husband and friends. "You can make time for what you want to, and fitness is a priority for me," she says, "but balance is the key."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Make just one decision

My son is a passionate baseball player. I'm certain he'll be the next Jorge Posada! We'll be the proud mama and papa sitting in the stands at Yankee Stadium some day.

I'm continually astonished that season after season Evan wants to get back out there and play again. The game is so brutal on a child's psyche. In this great American game, there are so many opportunities to fail... strike outs, errors, pass balls, wild pitches, humiliating losses in spring ball, fall ball and tournament ball.

At the beginning of his tournament season this year, Evan struggled at bat. He had never faced this frustration before. He tends to get on base most of the time, either with a single or a walk. As a batter, he's got great patience at the plate. He makes us nervous... we call him Full Count Kennedy.

But now he was striking out just about every game, and he was getting down on himself. We didn't seem able to help him, no matter how much time my husband had him out there taking pitches. What was going wrong?

I mentioned his struggle to his coaches and asked if someone could help him with his swing. One of the coaches said he knew what the problem was and how he could help. I was so relieved!

But, you know, it wasn't a mechanical fix the coach had in mind. No. He thought Evan's problem at the plate was mental. Here is what was going on in Evan's head. When he got to the plate, he'd be thinking: Should I swing or shouldn't I swing? Is it a strike or a ball? Should I let it go or go for it?

Instead, his coach said, Evan should go to the plate with just one thought: I'm going to swing. He should be ready to swing at every pitch. At the last second, if the pitch looks like a ball, just lay off it. Heading to the plate with just one thought in mind clears all the clutter and focuses the batter on one objective... to get a hit.

I've thought of that advice as I've been maintaining my 30-pound weight loss. Every morning, I get up with just one thought: I'm going to eat for my health today. Every other time I've tried to lose weight, I've always had this never-ending internal dialog: Should I eat this or shouldn't I? Can't I just have it this once and then tomorrow I'll start again? Why can't I have this when everybody else can? Maybe just this time.

So, to maintain my weight I've found the key is to clear the clutter in my head. Make my resolve to eat healthfully first thing in the morning. I can decide at the last second to allow myself a treat, but I make it a single, not a double or a triple. For me, that's a home run! (And, do you know what? Evan's hitting again, too!)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Summertime and the swimmin' is easy

In July and August, I freeze my gym membership and swim laps in our local swimming hole, The Quarry. It's a spring-fed quarry (you guessed it!) on beautiful camp-like grounds. We began going there when Evan was just a few years old and could play in the shallow pool.

The first couple of days there always make me feel like a beginning swimmer. It's entirely different to swim in a lake than in a pool. You can't put your feet down (60 feet of murky water below me!) and you're not pushing off the sides of a pool, fooling yourself into thinking what a great swimmer you are.

It's tiring! Fifteen minutes at the quarry is probably like a half hour in a pool. But it's beautiful and if I get there first thing, no one's arrived yet and it's peaceful. One time, it started to rain when I was in the middle of the quarry. Level with the water, I was surrounded by the pings of millions of raindrops all around me. I didn't want to leave when the lifeguard blew his whistle!

The best part of the quarry is that it's just 5 minutes from my house, instead of 15 minutes to the gym. So easy to get 30 minutes of laps in. I've lost a lot of my fear of gaining back my weight because of the quarry. If I gain a pound or two over the winter, I know I'll work it off in the summer because I swim almost every day. The only downside is having to wash my hair every day. It would be so much easier to be a runner! But boring, no?!

P.S. That's not me jumping off the high dive!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Let the laps begin

Once I decided it was time to tackle my weight problem, I joined a gym and started swimming laps. It's so easy to write that, but I still can't believe I actually did it. Join a gym? Me? The word itself conjures up visions of that tortuous place where you donned horrible mustard-yellow "gym suits" and failed miserably at scaling those blasted ropes and poles.

I don't part with money easily -- just ask my husband... frugal is the kind word for me! -- so to plunk down $500+ upfront and agree to $60/month was a huge commitment for me. I was ready, though, and mentally I agreed with myself to swim three times a week.

At first the going was slow. I dragged myself to the gym. Once there, I swam in fits and starts, bored, easily tired, in a constant argument with myself. Seniors in surrounding lanes passed me easily. Lifeguards made for the nearest chair, equipment at the ready. Once, a friend knifing through the water in full Speedo regalia shouted over, "Don’t give up!" just when I thought I was doing pretty good.

For almost a year, I saw little progress. A year! I guess swimming isn't the most effective means of weight loss. Well, at least if you're more like a barge in the water than a skiff. Not only that, but no one else really noticed any difference either. I wasn't buoyed by the encouraging comments of an admiring horde.

Yet I was ready. I was determined. Now that I've talked with many people about their weight loss, I can tell when someone has gotten to that point. You hear it in their voice. It's time to act and there's no going back.

And, guess what? Those 30 minutes, three times a week slowly added up. Today, almost five years later, I'm 30 pounds lighter. I know, five years. Rome obviously wasn't dismantled in a day in my case. But I'm happy as long as the needle on the scale is going in the right direction.

Today, many thousands of laps later, I weigh 127 pounds and have dropped three sizes. Buying my latest swimsuit, I felt almost dizzy taking size 10s into the dressing room. (Okay, if it's humid and sticky, I can barely hoist the thing onto my body, but it's a 10!)

The lightness extends to my mood, too. I have a new relationship with food. I neither crave it nor fear it. It’s not the enemy anymore. Neither am I the enemy. I don't hate myself every time I pick up a fork. The enmity with my body is over, too. My debilitating back troubles are gone. And my stubbornly high blood pressure has dropped back to normal.

Although William Faulkner once said that the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself, I'm happy to write about the end of my battle. I hope you'll know the joy of ending this one monstrous inner conflict once and for all, too.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My moment of truth

It's so easy to post someone else's before photo! So hard to post your own. But here goes.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned a "triggering event" that made me realize I had to do something about my weight. It was this photo. My husband took it of Evan and me heading down the sidewalk on his first day of kindergarten.

I thought that I would cherish this photo forever. That it would go into a photo album that we would leaf through with pleasure. That through the years it would call up memories of sweet times with our son.

NOT! When I saw this, this is what I thought: How can this possibly be me? The shock of it is so great, I don't even see my beautiful son, can't remember my thoughts on that walk. It's a moment that is forever lost to me. It makes me sad.

But, ultimately, this photo does document a turning point. Not the one I was expecting--a rite of passage for my son--but one that changed the direction of my own life. It took me another year to act, but eventually this photo provided the punch in the gut (or really, the butt) I needed to take charge of my health and weight.

Maybe one day, I'll be able to look at this photo with pride, both for myself and my son. It's been almost six years, though, and I still can't bear to look at it. I haven't really taken an after photo yet--certainly not one from behind! But I've lost 30 pounds so far and have just 5 to go. I'll post a true after shot soon. Maybe I'll actually be able to look at that one!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Chips: How to eat just one (or two)

I read a fascinating article on Salon this morning about why food is so addictive. For the article, Why We Can't Eat Just One, Katherine Mieszkowski interviewed Dr. David Kessler, a San Francisco Bay Area pediatricion who has written a book titled The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite

Dr. Kessler says that that it's not a simple lack of willpower that causes us to overeat. The brain, he says, creates strong neural pathways that make it nearly impossible to resist our cravings. Every time we face an addictive food -- mostly loaded with fat, sugar and salt -- we have an internal dialog that strengthens the pathways. Something like: "Yow. That would taste good. But, no, I shouldn't. But I really want it. Maybe just a little."

Add to that the stimulus that is created by alluring food packaging and advertising, restaurant decor, lighting and music, easy access on every corner, the linking of food and entertainment and you're battling an entire environment, not just a food. And most food, he says, is "adult baby food." It goes down so easy we chew only two or three times, gulp it down, and reach for the next chip.

Chips! Why did he have to mention them?? My one weakness. After reading Brian Wansink's book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More than We Think, I've adopted his suggestion that you set "food rules" and "food prohibitions" for yourself. Rules mean you regulate the addictive food in some way, prohibitions mean you can't eat it at all.

When it comes to chips, here are my rules. I can have chips, but I can't buy them. If I have chips, I can't have dip. (That makes me eat more, plus dip has mucho calories.) If I have dip, I have to dip with veggies. When I have chips, I can't drink anything. (Thirst makes me stop sooner.)

How about you? What rules or prohibitions help you curb your cravings?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Karen Freberg: An athlete in transition

My Freberg Fest continues!

Mom Laura and Dad Roger had their say in my last two posts. Together, this family has lost about 275 pounds. Daughter Karen got the ball rolling.

Karen is a powerful athlete. In college, she was a four-time All-American shot-putter, earned four national power lifting records, and was a finalist in the 2004 Olympic Trials.

On graduating from the University of Southern California, six-foot tall Karen weighed 285 pounds and wore a size 26 pants. This is not an unusual weight for a woman of her sport. But after her track and field career ended, she wanted to lose her "thrower's weight."

"Since I was retired, I knew that I had to lose the weight," Karen says. "The habits I had after 10 years of eating with the football players just weren’t working."

In October 2006, Karen and her mom signed up at their local Jenny Craig office. Karen likes the simplicity of the system, one that she believes is great for athletes in transition.

“I would recommend Jenny Craig to any athlete who has finished their athletic career,” she says.

Lately, Karen has added exercise classes into her day, including spin and kickboxing, and last year she competed in her first 5k -- a feat she finds amazing because for a thrower, she says, a lap around the track is a long-distance run.

To date, Karen has lost 85 pounds and she wears a size 8/10. She wants to lose another few pounds while she pursues her doctorate in communications and public relations at the University of Tennessee. She'll celebrate her three-year anniversary on Jenny Craig in November.

"I am extremely thankful to Jenny Craig for helping me with my weight loss. I feel healthier, more active, and I get to wear fashionable clothes in sizes that I always dreamed about!" Karen says. "It’s been one of the best decisions that I have ever made for my health – and it's been great having my family on it as well."

You can follow Karen's adventures at Congratulations, Karen!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Roger Freberg: The chef slims down

In my last post, Laura Freberg shared her weight loss success story. She lost 80 pounds using Jenny Craig.

But Laura isn't the only person in her household with a story to tell. Look at this photo... left to right, that's Roger (Laura's husband), their daughter Karen and Laura in 2006, before their weight loss. Look back in my last post at Roger and Laura's after photo. Amazing!

Roger is a former pro-football player. He was an athlete at UCLA and drafted in 1974 by the Los Angeles Ram as a defensive lineman. After his playing days were over, Roger admits to carrying over his eating habits. "I estimate I consumed about 10,000 calories a day," he says. In this photo, the 6’4” tall Roger is about 325 pounds.

Roger’s career as a product manager for Nestle and Mars, and then his retirement hobby as the family chef, furthered his predicament. At one time, he weighed over 400 pounds and was diagnosed with diabetes. He managed to bring his weight down to 325 pounds on an exchange plan.

One day in December 2006, he happened past the kitchen table, where Laura and Karen were having Jenny Craig cupcakes.

“I said, ‘What’s that?’ I didn’t realize I could have something like a cupcake and still lose weight,” Roger says. He became the third family member to sign up.

It’s ironic that one of the Frebergs’ most passionate shared hobbies is cooking. About once a week, they take a Jenny Craig break, and the Freberg kitchen turns out the likes of seafood gumbo, lasagna, crab quiche, prime rib dinners, stuffed bell peppers, raisin-blueberry cinnamon rolls, raspberry chocolate truffle cake and strawberry-amarula cheesecake.

To counterbalance the damage their hobby could inflict, the family freezes leftovers in appropriate meal-size portions. “We have about a thousand freezer containers,” Laura says.

For exercise, Roger and Laura walk about two miles a day. With this routine, Roger maintains a loss of about 80 pounds. You can follow Roger at

Stay tuned for more stories from the Freberg family!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Laura Freberg: Celebrating an anniversary

Weddings, graduations, the Fourth of July... this is the time of year we enjoy celebrations of all sorts.

Laura Freberg has her own reason to celebrate. This summer marks her first anniversary on the National Weight Control Registry.

The registry tracks people who have lost weight and kept it off over time. ( To qualify, you must be at least 18 years old, have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for one year or more. People have reported losing up to 300 pounds and keeping it off for up to 66 years.

To date, more than 6,000 people have logged their weight loss stories. Laura is one of them. A psychology professor at California Polytechnic State University, she and her daughter Karen signed up at their local Jenny Craig office in San Luis Obispo. While her daughter wanted to lose the weight she had needed as an All-American shot-putter, Laura wanted to gain control over her 5’9”, 210-pound, size 16 frame.

Once Laura and Karen received their first shipment of meals, they discovered that portion control would be a challenge for them, even with healthy food on their table.

“California is all about fresh fruit; bananas, grapes, you name it. We ate good food, just way too much of it. We’d sit down to eat a bowl of cherries that was about four times what we should be having,” Laura says.

Controlling portions and calories, the women’s weight loss was almost immediate. Karen lost 11 pounds the first week, Laura lost six. From then on, one to two pounds a week was standard.

For Laura, the decision to use a delivered meal program made weight loss almost automatic. She recalls reading Brian Wansink’s book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, and being struck by his finding that people make more than 200 decisions a day about food. To her, that meant 200-plus opportunities to make the wrong choice.

“What I like most about the Jenny Craig system is that no decisions have to be made,” Laura says. “I prefer to use my time, energy, and neural activity on my work and hobbies, not thinking about food.”

Today, Laura maintains a goal weight of about 130 pounds (an 80-pound loss) and wears size 4 “Barbie-doll suits.” Congratulations, Laura! (That's Laura and her husband Roger in a 2007 photo.) To read more about Laura, check out her website at

In another post, I'll tell you about the rest of Laura's family. Jenny Craig quickly became a way of life for the Freberg family. Together, they've lost about 275 pounds. Now, that's reason to celebrate!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Starting with a splash

A few days ago, I talked about "triggering events," those moments that slap you in the face with the reality of your weight problem. I had one -- a photograph of me from behind -- that struck me with cruel force.

If you take your triggering event to heart, you're more likely to begin your weight loss journey with conviction. So, did I do that? Use my momentary glimpse as a stepping stone?

After seeing that shocking photo, I did... absolutely nothing. Even with this heartache, I let another year go by. My son was in a half-day kindergarten that year. Those three hours a day don't allow you the freedom to do much of anything for anyone, let alone yourself.

But with the coming of first grade—full days of school!—a friend offered me a two-week pass to her gym. Instinctively, I begged off. I was sure that I wouldn’t be able to maintain a long-term interest in fitness. I was eager just to get back to work; it had been five long years with Elmo and Little Critter.

But my friend persisted. And, miraculously, a niggling idea wormed its way to the fore. I thought: What if I just go? Just go, with no expectations. Ignore the scale. Nix the daily progress check. Just go. See what happens. Commit myself to the ragged, uneven—but possibly upward—path. Could it all add up? I wondered.

And, besides I had an inkling of how I could exercise without sweating. I HATE to sweat. It makes me miserable. And, no matter how many times I heard people say you could walk, jog, or run your way to fitness, I knew I wouldn't. I was well into my 40s and hadn't walked my way to weight loss yet.

My solution? The pool! I took my friend up on her offer and dove in. I had begun!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Heidi Bylsma: Her Goal Was a Harley

One of the first people I talked with about weight loss was Heidi Bylsma. Heidi lives in Cool, Calif. She's a mom, a writer and a horse enthusiast, among many other things.

At her heaviest, Heidi weighed 250 pounds. Over the years, she had lost as much as 100 pounds on several programs, including Weight Watchers and Weigh Down. But the stresses of her life -- including homeschooling two children and parenting an autistic child -- brought back the pounds. In 2002, the family moved to the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, but soon the move seemed senseless.

“We had moved to the country so we could have horses, and now I was afraid to ride them for fear of hurting them,” Heidi says.

As a writer, Heidi had once worked with Judy Halliday, the author of Thin Within, a faith-based weight loss program. Although her weight struggles continued, she loved the Thin Within concept of listening to your body's cues of hunger and satisfaction -- eating when you're hungry, and stopping before you're full.

When her scale read 250 pounds, Heidi went back to this simple concept and she started losing weight again.

“No obsessions! No gimmicks! God freed me of 100 pounds by the simple method of listening to hunger and satisfaction and running to him for everything else I need,” she says.

Heidi did reach a low weight of 150, but in time realized she couldn't maintain that weight without indulging an obsession with diet soda. Today, she maintains a weight of about 167 pounds, which you can see from her after-photo is a good weight for her as a 5-foot, 7-inch woman.

For Heidi, the high point of her weight loss journey came one day when she was able to once again hop on her horse.

“In May of 2007, I rode my horse Harley for the first time in three years! He was the horse I always dreamed of having,” Heidi says. “Riding him bareback with a halter—gosh, riding him at all—was a lifelong dream come true. I was free! Free from all the extra weight, free from fear of my horses, free from the fear of dying young.”

To read more about Heidi's life and her weight loss journey, read her blog at

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sympathy: wanted or not?

I just got back from BookExpo at the Javits Center in New York. Two days of hiking the aisles, adding book after book to my shoulder bag until I was probably once again lugging those 30 pounds I've lost and more. I was exhausted!

At one point, I stopped for a cup of soup and sat down on a high round stool at a counter overlooking the convention. Next to me sat a woman much younger than me, but far heavier. We began talking and within minutes, I could see that she could not keep her balance on the stool. Not being able to put her feet on the floor, and unable to bend her knees enough to plant her feet on the rungs of the stool, she teetered and had to grasp the edge of the table to remain seated.

My heart went out to this woman. I wondered why she chose to sit at this counter rather than at a table where her feet would touch the floor. I wish I had known what to say or do. Could I have said anything to put her at ease? Or would saying something have only increased her embarrassment? I don't know. I just wish she knew I sympathized. What would you have done?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The moment of reckoning

The moment when you realize you can't go on living the way you have been -- when you realize you have to do something about your weight -- is so universal an experience that it has a name. It's called a "triggering event."

For some people, it happens when they catch sight of themselves in a shop window, or, as I did, in a photograph. For others, it's a health scare -- the doctor says the dreaded word diabetes, or you have a struggle for breath so fierce it feels like a heart attack. One person told me she was struck by the outrageous numbers her doctor reported when he checked her blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Many people told me that it was the comment of another person -- whether well meaning or not -- that moved them to action. One person told me he was startled into action when a woman said to him, "You have such a handsome face, if you could only lose that weight." Another woman was cut to the quick when her publicist told her bluntly that she was losing business because of her weight.

I felt horrible asking people about these experiences, these moments that humiliated them, or terrified them, or left them in despair. I know how these moments feel, because I've had my own. But these defining moments, although painful, give you the courage to make the move you've long wanted to make, and provide you with the motivation you need to succeed.

What I learned from asking this question is that the people who succeed are the ones who don't ignore their triggering event. The ones who take it to heart and spring into action. So that's the advice I would give to you. Have you had a triggering event? When your moment of reckoning comes, don't ignore it. It's the start of something good.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Beginning at 16

Five years ago, I had a closet full of size 16s. Although I didn’t have a scale then, I suspect I was about 160 pounds. Standing only 5-foot, 2-inches, I was more than chunky. Sometimes, I had to buy 1X. At that size, I needed a little extra fabric when I sat down.

Funny. I never really saw myself as that big. But, unfortunately, photographs don't lie. In fact, I suspect that family photographers secretly work for the diet industry.

My husband took a photo of our son Evan and me the day he entered kindergarten. That morning, we walked hand-in-hand down the sidewalk to the school, the crisp September light virtually igniting Evan’s blond head as he shouldered his Thomas-the-Tank-Engine backpack. Needless to say, it was I and not Evan who wept like a baby when he pushed his way into the swarm of milling children on the playground that day without so much as a wave or a backward glance.

When we got our photos back (still using film!), I impatiently tore open the pack, eager to relive that poignant mother-and-son moment on the sidewalk.

But when I got to the photo, I felt sick. The warm feelings I had anticipated turned sour. In the photo, my backside blotted out everything - almost literally it seemed to me. It was all I could see. How can that possibly be me? I thought in disbelief. I tore up the photo, as if it were that easy to destroy a memory.

Although the photo is gone, I'm going to go looking for that negative. If I find it, I'll post the picture here. Weight loss success stories always start in humiliation, but - thankfully! - end in elation. That's the story I want to tell to you.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Make a new plan

The reason I'm here? I've lost 30 pounds.

To celebrate, I thought I'd ask 30 people who have lost weight how they did it. And, do you know what? There ARE 30 ways to lose the blubber! (Sorry about that, Mr. S.)

In fact, here's a statistic to cheer up all of us who are keeping stats on our weight. In 2004, a group of researchers placed 160 people on four different weight loss plans—the Zone, the Ornish Diet, Atkins and Weight Watchers—and asked them to stay on it for a year.

Do you know what? Everyone who completed the study lost weight. It didn't matter which plan they followed. At the one-year mark, 25 percent of participants who stuck to their plan lost more than 5 percent of their body weight; ten percent lost more than 10 percent. It wasn't the diet, but sticking with the diet that worked. The researchers went on to suggest that choosing a plan that matches your food preferences, lifestyle and medical requirements may dramatically increase the likelihood of success.*

So, take heart. Something can work for you. I'm going to post stories and photos here of 30 people who have lost anywhere from 20 to 220 pounds and have kept it off. I want to show you how many ways there are to reach your goal weight and make it yours for life. Along the way, I'll share my story, and I hope you'll share yours in response to my posts.

Thirty ways? It's just the beginning!

* Comparison of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone Diets for Weight Loss and Heart Disease Risk Reduction.” By Michael L. Dansiger, M.D., et al. Journal of the American Medical Association,Vol. 293 (Jan. 5, 2005): pp. 43-53.)