'Masters' of weight loss fight anxiety with attitude


May 03, 1994|By Colleen Pierre, R.D. | Colleen Pierre, R.D.,Special to The Sun

Anne Fletcher got tired of all the negative talk about the impossibility of losing weight and keeping it off. So she set out to find the "masters" who have lost significant amounts of weight and kept it off for three or more years.

Her interviews with 160 real people, intertwined with scientific research, yields "Thin for Life: 10 Keys to Success from people who have Lost Weight and Kept It Off" from Chapters Press.

Of the people she interviewed, seven out of 10 have lost 40 pounds or more. More than half have lost 50 pounds or more. The weight loss for the entire group averaged 63 pounds. Twenty people have lost 100 pounds or more. More than half have maintained at least a 20-pound loss for five or more years. More than one-third have maintained their weight loss for over 10 years. And 12 people have maintained the loss for over 20 years.

They used either self-styled plans or more traditional programs including all those that others have used, lost on, then regained after. Most of her masters had lost and regained several times themselves. What turned things around was attitude.

In fact, personalization seems to be the key to their success. All started the final successful effort realizing they owned the problem. Each decided on a plan, but shaped it to fit their own lives and needs. They found ways to indulge occasionally to keep from feeling deprived.

One of her masters started Weight Watchers 20 years ago (at the age of 64) when the food plan was much stricter. "I attended meetings quite regularly and usually lost at least a pound or two. I did not fully comply with Weight Watchers suggestions. Also I am a 'chocoholic,' so every day I ate three chocolate chips!" She lost 57 pounds which she never regained.

They also tuned in to reasonable weight goals, instead of trying to become cover-girl waifs. One woman, for instance, at 5-foot-1 is quite content at 117 pounds. She has maintained a loss of 38 pounds for 11 years.

And finally, all came face-to-face with reality. There is no cure for being overweight, just management. After the thrill was gone, and all the weight was lost, they had to deal with maintenance. Here's how some dealt with high-risk situations:

* Tim (40 pounds, 6 years) -- "I don't berate myself when I eat less than healthily. I just eat better next time."

* Jean (49 pounds, 5 years) -- "I don't feel guilty if I overeat one day. If you let yourself feel guilty, you will eat more."

* Bob (250 pounds, 21 years) -- "When I 'goof,' I just begin again."

Most developed healthy eating practices, and some way to monitor weight regain. They set very short turn-around times for dealing with relapse. Some had a 5-pound regain limit, others tolerated 10. Some judged by the way clothes fit. But each knew when the time had come to cut back on food or increase exercise to restore target weight range.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.

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