Before leaving Meridian, Oprah meets with Karen, Claudia, Susan and Jeff, residents who have decided to take the Best Life Challenge.
Karen, a 42-year-old mother of two, weighs 512 pounds—and she knows how it happened. "I put other things and other people, other issues, ahead of taking care of myself," she says.
One painful side effect of Karen's weight problem is the reactions of her 6- and 8-year-old children. "It really hurts when they say, 'Mom, you're fat. Mom, why are you fat?'" she says. "It hurts when my little boy…plays ball, and Mom can't go because she can't get to the field."
After several attempts to lose those extra pounds, Karen has realized her health could be at stake. "After my second child, my last child, I acquired high blood pressure, and my health has been going downhill ever since," she says. "It's to the point where I either lose it or I'm going to die."
Karen plans to reprioritize her life in order to take control of her health. "I'm going to take care of me," she says. "I'm going to make myself healthy."
At age 27, Claudia weighs 324 pounds, but her struggle with weight began years ago. "I've dealt with it ever since childhood, actually—always being picked on, always being teased for being the biggest person in my class," she says.
Claudia's problem wasn't just physical—it had emotional ramifications, as well. "I even suffered from depression as a kid dealing with my weight, and even in my marriage," she says. "It started from my childhood, just [my] father not being in my life, mother being a single parent at the time, not having Mom there. So I turned to food."
For 46-year-old Susan, eating has always posed a problem. "I spent my early 20s through my late 20s battling anorexia," she says. Once Susan reached her 30s, she says she began to gain weight, finally reaching her current 216 pounds. "I've never known how to handle food. I'm almost afraid. Either I don't touch it, or I can't control my reaction to it."
With the help of the Best Life Challenge, Susan is ready to confront her problems with food. "I don't want this to be the issue that controls my life anymore," she says.
Thirty-nine-year-old Jeff blames overeating for his all-time heaviest weight of 770 pounds. "I just wouldn't quit eating," he says. "When I'd get upset or nervous, food comforted me. I'd probably take 8,000 or 10,000 calories a day in. I could eat a bucket of chicken just like it wasn't [anything]." Jeff finally had an aha! moment when he realized the toll his weight was taking on his health. "I've got to [lose weight] if I want to live, because I've almost died," he says.
Jeff decided to revolutionize his lifestyle by limiting his food intake and starting an exercise regimen. Instead of chowing down on buckets of greasy, fried chicken, Jeff eats smaller portions of baked or grilled foods. Five days a week, Jeff hits the gym, where he does water aerobics and lifts weights. His hard work has paid off already—Jeff is down to 621 pounds. But he's not done yet! See how Jeff inspires his classmates at the gym.
"Some days, I don't want to get up, but I say, 'You've got to get to that gym,' because I've seen how much I lost so far, and just [think about] what it's going to be like at the end of the rainbow," he says. "I want to get where I can live a long, healthy life and go places where I won't have any limitations."
While Karen, Claudia, Susan and Jeff are just starting their weight loss journey, many others have already accomplished their goals. Growing up in Mississippi in a family of nine siblings, Robin says she was by far the biggest. "In my family, everything we ate was fried—fried chicken, fried fish, and any vegetables were cooked in pork fat and lots and lots of salt," she says.
As her weight increased, Robin says she was miserable. "Even the scales at my doctor's office didn't go high enough to measure my weight," she says. "I was over 400 pounds, morbidly obese and on the verge of getting very sick."
Robin got a wakeup call one day when her hands and feet went numb. Her blood pressure was dangerously high, and Robin says she believes she was one meal away from diabetes. "I knew I could not let this fat become my life sentence," she says.
Four years after her health scare, Robin is healthy, her blood pressure is normal, and she has lost more than 225 pounds! "For so long, I wanted to do something about it, and finally I put the focus on the determination into what I needed to do in order to be successful at it," she says.
While the need to lose an amount of weight equivalent to an entire person was "overwhelming," Robin says she was able to overcome this hurdle by taking smaller steps. "I just set 10-pound goals for myself," she says. "Once I hit that 10-pound goal, I set another one, and I continued until all the weight was gone."
When Robin visits her family, she still nibbles on fried foods—but only in moderation. "When I do indulge, I make sure that I plan that and I make sure that it is only done for one meal for a very short period of time. I go right back to my program," she says. "I realized that it is those things that you do on a long-term basis every day that really determine your health rather than those things that you do just occasionally."
For most of her life, Jennifer says she was addicted to food. Growing up, other kids called her names like "Fatso" and "Miss Piggy," which made her so sad and lonely that she learned to rely on food for emotional relief.
"But the comfort that food gave me never lasted," she says. "And the more I ate, the more depressed and despondent I became." As she got older, Jennifer says she was always on or off some kind of diet, and her weight eventually reached 300 pounds.
Then, four years ago, she hit rock bottom. Jennifer, her husband and daughter went to an amusement park to ride the newest roller coaster. After waiting in line for an hour and a half, they finally made the front of the line. But when Jennifer sat down, the park employees had to ask her to get off the ride—she was too big for them to latch the safety belt.
"They went on and rode," Jennifer says. "I told them [to go], because I just needed a moment for myself just to cry. And I said, 'No, my daughter can't live this way. I can't let her go through life being made fun of.' And she would have. And it wasn't her problem. This wasn't her disease."
After that humiliating moment at an amusement park, Jennifer successfully turned her life around. She's lost 180 pounds, and her story was featured in the "Half Their Size" issue of People magazine.
Before setting out on a journey of healthy eating and exercise, Jennifer says she had other hard work to do. "First you have to set your mind and your heart and just be prepared and get mentally ready. And this time you're going to do it," she says. "And just kind of have a heart-to-heart with yourself."
Not only has Jennifer's commitment changed her own life, it also changed her career. Now she inspires others in her work as a personal trainer. "That's my dream—to help other people realize they can do it," she says.
When 35-year-old Peter saw Bob introduce the Best Life Diet on The Oprah Show in January 2007, he was moved to write in his journal.
"January 15, 2007. I watched Oprah today and heard Bob Greene talking about losing weight and how it's not a diet but a lifestyle change. After years of struggling to lose weight and trying every diet out there, this really hit home for me. At 332 pounds and unable to keep up with my 4-year-old son, I need to make a change.
"I know I need to cut out all the fast food, pizza and soda once and for all. I know I need to get moving. I just hope I have the strength this time."
Just a year after joining Bob's thebestlife.com, Peter has lost 140 pounds!
Peter credits his incredible weight loss to Bob's daily plan of diet and exercise. "It was a four-letter word for me, diet was," Peter says. "And it clicked when [Bob] said, 'lifestyle change.' I was ready to move."
In his new, slender body, Peter says life as a husband and father is simply more fun. "My DVR gets filled up with shows because we're not watching TV anymore," he says. "We're out having fun and going to parks and running around and playing."
While many single professional 29-year-old women are out enjoying life, Christina's weight made her a virtual shut-in.
Then, she says she looked in the mirror and said, "I either do this or die."
A year and a half after that life-changing moment of commitment, Christina is 135 pounds lighter. "I did Weight Watchers, and I exercised a lot," she says. "I changed my diet completely."
If you're ready to join Oprah and Bob's Best Life Challenge, Bob says there are five things that you must start doing today.
1. Get moving.
"That's the single most important thing," Bob says. "Most people cut calories, but you've got to lead an active lifestyle."
2. Stop eating two hours before bedtime.
"That alone is going to translate into significant weight loss," he says. "Build it into your lifestyle of what's your normal schedule."
3. Drink at least six glasses of water.
"Most people are dehydrated, and that hurts the weight loss process," Bob says. "Get your six 8-ounce glasses a day. …But if you're active, you've got to step that up."
4. Eat three meals, including a nutritious breakfast, and a snack.
Bob says restructuring your eating, especially to incorporate a healthy breakfast, is extremely important.
5. Eliminate alcohol (for now).
"You can add it back at a later date," Bob says. "Give it a month or two."
What makes these successful weight loss stories so remarkable is that, according to a UCLA study, up to two-thirds of people who lose weight on a diet will gain it back within five years.
In 1995, Terry was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show for losing 95 pounds. Now he's gained that weight back, plus an extra 20. Terry says that weight loss was motivated by his goal of looking good and getting an Oprah makeover. "Once I achieved that goal, I got home, I kind of dwindled," he says. "Four nights at the gym turned into three, two, one and then none. And then I slipped back into my eating habits—and in Mississippi it's smothered, covered or fried. So it's just easy to gain the weight back there."
Bob says this kind of relapse is common when dieters focus on the wrong thing. "The weight is a symptom of something in your life that needs to change," he says. "It's about your lifestyle; it's not about that weight. And so if you lose the importance of losing weight, ironically, that's the person that has success."
Now that Terry takes high blood pressure medication and is borderline diabetic, he says he's ready to commit to that lifestyle change by signing up for the Best Life Challenge 2008. He even gets Oprah and Bob to be his witnesses!
Are you ready to join Oprah, Bob, Terry, the people of Meridian, Mississippi, and a million others for the Best Life Challenge 2008? This is the year… Join the movement!
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