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The Final Push: Dieters Find a Reason To Lose

 By Nanci Hellmich
USA Today


Tiffany Drahonovsky, 30, of Milwaukee always wanted to
get her weight under control. But it wasn't until she
had to fit into a bridesmaid's dress that she was
motivated to shed 100 pounds.

Jean Simmons, 53, of Littleton, Colo., was earning a
degree in elementary education and was so big she
realized that ''if I walked between the desks, my body
would brush all the students' papers on the floor.''
So she lost 80 pounds in a little over a year.

For Cliff Fuhs, 63, of Marlton, N.J., losing weight
was a matter of life or death. He was diagnosed with
type 2 diabetes before he got really serious and
dropped 100 pounds. ''In retrospect,'' he says, ''I
look back and say, 'I was stupid. Why didn't I do this
years ago?' ''

Most people need a reason to shed the pounds.
Motivation is a key factor in weight loss, and for
many people there has to be a concrete, important
trigger: a class reunion, desire to look more
attractive, concern for health, fear of dying.

Millions of Americans have resolved to lose weight
this New Year. They say they're going to eat less,
make more healthful food choices and exercise more.
Some will accomplish these goals with approaches as
diverse as diet drugs, weight-loss programs and
gastric bypass surgery. But most make promises they'll
break by Feb. 1.

All those blown diets add up to a major national
health problem. More than 120 million people are
overweight or obese, which puts them at an increased
risk of diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, liver
disease and other health problems.

''When you boil it all down, motivation is probably
the most important factor in weight loss, but it's
probably the least understood,'' says Kelly Brownell,
director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight
Disorders.

Motivation varies dramatically from person to person,
he says. Some people are really motivated for a few
days or weeks, then enthusiasm wanes. Others maintain
momentum for months.

Anne Fletcher, a registered dietitian in Minnesota,
surveyed 208 ''masters of weight control,'' people who
lost an average of 64 pounds and kept it off an average
of 11 years. ''The thing that motivated these people
and kept them motivated is they wanted to be thin more
than they wanted to stay stuck where they were,'' she
says.

''They flipped the switch. Their desire to be thin
outweighed their desire to engage in the behaviors
that kept them from being thin: that is, eating too
much and exercising too little,'' says Fletcher,
author of Thin for Life.

MOTIVATION CHANGES WITH TIME

At first, people are generally motivated in two ways:
They are either aiming for positive goals such as
wanting to look or feel better, or they are trying to
move away from negative circumstances such as fear for
their health or prodding by a spouse, says Tom Wadden,
director of the Weight and Eating Disorders Program at
the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in
Philadelphia.

Whatever the initial motivation, it can change over
time, he says. People might start out with the goal to
lose weight for an event such as a graduation or a
birthday, but as they progress they can't believe how
much better they are sleeping and feeling. Those new
factors sustain their enthusiasm.

Some initial success at weight loss has a dramatic
effect on their desire to continue. Two people may
begin a diet and exercise program. One may drop 2
pounds a week, feel successful and continue trying.
But the other person may not lose much weight because
of metabolic (calorie burning) and biological barriers
and give up.

Some doctors, dietitians and other health
professionals are using a technique called
motivational interviewing to inspire people.

They help patients generate positive reasons to change
(they'll feel more in control of their lives, they'll
feel more spiritual, they'll be a better parent)
instead of focusing on negative consequences such as
diabetes and heart disease, says Ken Resnicow, a
professor at both the University of Michigan and Emory
University in Atlanta.

NEVER FORGET THE PAST

To stay motivated when losing weight, Fletcher
recommends keeping a journal of the positive things
that are happening in your life (sleeping better,
seeing your blood pressure drop, being more energetic)
and the positive things you're doing en route to the
goal (walking 20 minutes during the lunch hour, eating
enough fruits and vegetables, turning down the
coffeecake at the office).

But how do some people keep the weight off once
they've lost it?

The masters of weight control say they stay motivated
by never forgetting the past. They keep a vivid
picture in their minds of what their lives were like
when they were heavy. One person told Fletcher that
she remembered ''her gut hanging over her waistband.''
They also appreciate the many benefits of being
thinner and are grateful for how much better their
lives are now.

Sometimes it takes drastic events to motivate people
to make changes and stick with them.

Cliff Fuhs, a retired high school guidance director in
Marlton, N.J., had a heart attack at 41 that persuaded
him to quit smoking but not to control his weight.
Although he tried dieting, he always regained the
weight.

He weighed 266 pounds when he was diagnosed with type
2 diabetes in 2000. He was so afraid of the
consequences of the disease -- blindness, loss of
limbs, even death -- that he went to Weight Watchers.
Now, two years later, he weighs 170 pounds. He's
5-foot-7.

Fuhs says that when he started to lose weight, he felt
so much healthier and better about himself that it
motivated him to continue, Plus, there was peer
pressure from his fellow dieters in the program. ''I
felt guilty if I came in and hadn't lost weight,'' he
says. On top of that, he got positive reinforcement
from friends who told him he looked 15 years younger.

He has gone from taking 13 pills a day for his
cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and heart to
taking three. He watches what he eats very carefully
and bikes 8 miles a day. ''Now that I lost all this
weight, I feel so good,'' he says.

A few years ago, Simmons was in college to become a
teacher when she realized she wouldn't be a good role
model for her students. ''I couldn't talk to them
about taking care of themselves, because I wasn't
taking care of myself.''

So in April 2001, she signed up to work on weight
training with a personal trainer. She went to a local
club three days a week at 5 a.m. She also starting
doing daily cardiovascular exercise (treadmill,
stationary bike) -- starting with 20 minutes a day and
working up to her current hour a day.

The trainer also encouraged her to revamp her eating
habits. She reduced portions, stopped slathering her
food with butter and quit eating so many chips and
peanuts. She ate small portions every two to three
hours, or about six or seven times a day, and chose a
protein and a carbohydrate at every meal. She started
writing down everything she ate and limited herself to
1,500 to 1,600 calories a day.

In a little over a year, Simmons, who is 5 feet 6,
went from 230 pounds to 150, and she has kept it off
for about eight months. She still gets up to go to the
gym at 5 a.m.

She lost a significant amount of weight twice before,
but she says that this time her motivation was
different. First of all, she gave herself a year to
lose the weight. Secondly, she says, she hit on the
right formula of being serious about exercise and
eating right. Plus, she was motivated by close friends
and her workout buddies.

She has traded her ''muumuu clothes'' for more trendy
wear, colored her gray hair and feels like a new
person. ''Today, I feel like I've uncovered the person
I was really meant to be.''

SMALL CHANGES ADD UP

The time also was right for weight loss for
Drahonovsky of Milwaukee. She spent years in denial
about her weight, refusing to look at herself in
full-length mirrors. She was up to 255 pounds when she
and a friend decided to join Weight Watchers in fall
2000. The friend was getting married, and Drahonovsky
was going to be in the wedding.

Over the next 13 or 14 months, she changed many
behaviors. She dropped about 100 pounds from her
5-foot-6 frame, and she has managed to keep the weight
off for more than a year by keeping those habits. For
instance, she:

* Doesn't nibble on food at the office, and she puts
exercise ahead of other activities. She takes two
brisk walks a day for 1 miles.

* Keeps low-fat granola bars in her car, at her desk
and in her purse so she has something healthful on
hand when she gets hungry.

* Has replaced sweets with fruit and vegetables.

Drahonovsky believes the keys to her success were
having the support of a friend and making weight loss
a priority.

She says she has made these changes for good. ''Once I
understood that to be a thin person I needed to walk
every day and be conscious of what I chose to eat, it
was simple. My only regret is that I didn't figure
this out and make it a priority sooner.''

 

 

 

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