It's hard to like a guy who springs out of bed at 4: 30 a.m., never misses a daily workout, and has a hard time remembering the last time he ate fattening food.
But Bob Greene, Oprah Winfrey's personal trainer, has become the homecoming king of fitness gurus.
The book he co-wrote with Oprah, "Making the Connection," is No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list. At the Towson Town Center yesterday, Greene's appearance for a book signing and mall walk drew a flock of adoring, sweat-suited women clamoring for an autograph, a picture -- even to have him hold their babies.
It was a chance to get a piece of the next best thing to Oprah, whose very public and painful struggle to lose weight has endeared her to millions of fans.
"Oprah is my god," said 33-year-old Karen Paris of Catonsville, who had begged her boss at the YMCA for the day off so she could see Greene. "And he is the godmaker."
But Greene's appeal transcends his close personal relationship with a national celebrity. For starters, there's his common-sense approach to diet and exercise. There's his down-to-earth manner. And, oh, yes, his Ken-doll good looks. The 38-year-old Greene is tall and lean, with thick brown hair, blue eyes and dimples.
"He looks even better in person than he does on TV," cooed 65-year-old Juanita Boyd of Baltimore. "No stomach."
Greene has spent the past 15 years helping people lose weight (( in Arizona, Florida, Colorado and Chicago. He has a master's degree in exercise physiology, which means he knows a lot about fat: which foods have it, how to lose it, how to keep it off.
His personal philosophy is simple, but tough. "I don't negotiate exercise," says Greene, who did an hour on the Stairmaster at his hotel before the mall event. "I value my health above almost everything else."
Greene's appearance at the mall, the fifth stop on a 25-city publicity tour, was almost poetic, considering that Oprah first started gaining weight 20 years ago at another Baltimore-area mall.
Winfrey was 22 and not yet a god when she landed a job as co-anchor at WJZ-TV. After every 6 o'clock newscast, she noshed at the food court at the Columbia Town Center.
"They had some of the best food stalls known to womankind," Oprah writes in the book. "A whole booth sold nothing but potatoes, any kind you could imagine. And you know I love me some potatoes."
She went on to try every diet known to womankind: the Atkins diet, Scarsdale diet, Weight Watchers, Diet Workshop, Nutri-Systems and the Beverly Hills diet. Still, she gained 35 pounds during her eight years in Baltimore.
She continued to put on weight after moving to Chicago and rising to stardom with her talk-show. Then she tried Optifast, a fasting and diet supplement program. Her weight plunged from 211 to 142 in just four months, allowing her to fit into a pair of Calvin Klein jeans she'd saved from her slimmer days in Baltimore.
But the weight came back -- and back. When she won her first Emmy in 1992, she weighed more than ever at 237 pounds.
The very next day, she met Greene at a spa in Telluride, Colo. Later, she hired him to be her personal trainer. Under his guidance, she lost 87 pounds, hiked the Grand Canyon, completed a marathon -- and kept the weight off.
"Oprah is my inspiration," declared Janice Thaxton of Baltimore, quickly pacing around Towson Town Center with Greene and about 60 other mall walkers. "I figured if she did it, I could do it."
It helps, of course, to have a personal chef and trainer. But Oprah attributes her success to following the 10 steps detailed in the book. They include intense aerobic exercise at least five days a week, a low-fat, balanced diet, lots of fruit and vegetables, little or no alcohol, and six to eight glasses of water each day.
"The tough part," Greene writes, "is finding the discipline, inner strength and willpower to carry out the ten steps."
The 240-page book is a quick read. Most of its recommendations are common sense, unless your primary exercise consists of channel surfing and the only vegetables you know are the lettuce and tomato on a hamburger. Its pop psychology isn't new either. Be aware that we eat when we're stressed out, Greene reminds us. Duh.
What distinguishes the book are the funny and poignant anecdotes from the country's most famous dieter. Like the time Oprah refused to run in the rain because her hair would get wet. "You don't understand," she told Greene. "It's a cultural thing."
Or the time she gave Greene the finger when he teased her for drinking too much wine the night before. Or the time she finished her first marathon with tears in her eyes.
The book's color photographs are also entertaining. Pictures of fat Oprah, skinny Oprah, marathon Oprah, Oprah on in-line skates, Oprah in a canoe.
Greene acknowledges that the book wouldn't be the same without her.
"Oprah is in a whole different category from other celebrities, and I can't think of a better client to have run into," he said. "She is certainly a ringing endorsement."
If Oprah can do it ...
Pub Date: 10/05/96