Downsizing took 4 years, but she revels in results

January 08, 1998|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Look at her: She's running through the streets of Towson at 4:30 in the morning, defying every instinct to sleep later, every urge to snack indefinitely, every eating habit that once made her tip the scales at 292 pounds.

When Crystal Phillips used to go food shopping, people would look into her grocery cart and snicker. When she went clothes shopping, the saleswomen turned her away at the door. When she made her pharmaceutical sales rounds, she'd be soaking wet merely from getting out of her car.

Look at her: It's a new Crystal Phillips now. You think the corporations know how to downsize? At 37, Crystal's downsized 157 pounds over the past four years. She's lost two shoe sizes, three bra sizes, a ring size and a hat size.

She's lost so much weight, she's shed not only an entire person, but a personality, trading every lonely-night depression and every suicidal instinct for a new life. She's teaching behavior modification courses in Woodlawn, she's giving inspirational speeches all over the metro area, and she's featured across three pages and in six before-and-after photos in the new issue of Ebony magazine.

"It's a dream," she was saying this week.

This being the early days of the brand new year, millions of Americans need no explanation. This is the season where all of us swear we're going to lose weight and, so far, between all 250 million of us, we've managed to lose maybe a combined 6 ounces before reaching for the Cherry Garcia and telling ourselves, "I'll start fresh - first thing tomorrow morning."

But Crystal's not only lost the 157 pounds, she's kept it off and - in the past six months, since this newspaper did a feature on her - she's found a personal trainer, Carroll Roberts, owner of Signature Fitness, in Woodlawn. There, Crystal works out every evening, and she's turned layers of flab into muscle and turned her life into previously unimaginable success.

Look at her: That's Crystal standing next to Roberts in the new Ebony. He and Crystal are standing inside her old size 24 pants. He's standing inside one pants leg, she's inside the other.

"She's a remarkable woman," says Roberts. "She's got energy, she's got confidence. She gets in front of a class, she's a person on a mission.

"But it wasn't just weight loss. She had to learn why she was overeating, the things that triggered it. And she had to remove people from her life who said she couldn't do it."

There were a lot of those. Crystal started thinking about her earliest days of overeating. What had prompted it? And she began keeping a daily journal, writing down what she'd eaten, why she'd eaten it, and what she'd done to lose weight that day.

By New Year's Day 1995, she'd lost 47 pounds, but she was still terribly overweight.

"I'd go grocery shopping," she said, "and people would look in my cart and then look at me and say, 'No wonder she looks like that.' Right out loud, people are so cruel.

"One time I was walking around Towson Town mall, and I was daydreaming about going into a ladies clothing store for some normal-size clothes. I walked in, and these two sales ladies laughed at me. They said, 'We don't carry your size in here.' I mean, I could have been buying a gift for someone else. But I didn't say anything. I just went to the food court and ate my anger away."

There was more heartache in her life, as well. She'd moved here from Detroit in 1984, to be near her brother Kevin, who'd come here to attend Johns Hopkins Medical School. Kevin contracted AIDS, and Crystal was tending to his needs.

"If it hadn't been for that," she says, "I would have taken my life. I was definitely serious about suicide, but my brother needed me, and I couldn't let him suffer alone."

She would bathe him, put on his pajamas, and put him to bed. Then she would go to the grocery store, and eat all night long: steaks, peach cobblers, several pints of ice cream, bags of potato chips.

Specifically, she changed her weight by eliminating high-fat, high-sodium and high-sugar foods and focusing on fruits, vegetables and water, plus low-calorie ways to make her favorite foods.

Also, exercise. This wasn't as easy as it might have been. She went to a gym, and a woman saw her, turned to a friend, and said, 'If I ever get that big, shoot me.' Crystal walked out, humiliated. She began walking through the streets of Towson. She could do only 10 minutes a day at first, but she kept extending it. And now she's running those streets.

Look at her: She's out there at 4:30 in the morning, accompanied by her black Labrador, Heru, and then in the evenings she's in Woodlawn, at Signature Fitness, still thrilled at this new life she's created.

"It feels so good to be out of that dark depression," she says. "Even my work's much better. It used to be, they'd say, 'Are you really a pharmaceutical sales person?' I'd come in huffing and puffing, blouse wet just from walking from the car to the doorway. They didn't want to talk to me. They thought I was stupid because I was fat.

"My business has tripled since I lost the weight. Also, men are holding doors open for me. When I first noticed men looking at me, I ran to the bathroom. I thought something was hanging out."

Nope. The only thing showing is her pride.

Pub Date: 1/08/98

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