"I didn't know how to go shopping. I was too embarrassed to try clothes on in the store."
Having shed a total of 235 pounds—cutting her weight by more than half—Prescod maintains the kind of dedication necessary for such a life-changing weight loss. Since she arrives home from work late and tired, she cooks on weekends, making enough healthy and reheatable food to last a week, including lunches at her desk (gone are the days of ordering from a thick stack of takeout menus). Filling salads and soups such as lentil or split pea are favorites, and she enjoys scanning cookbooks for recipes that add big punches of flavor without much fat, like chicken breasts rubbed with ancho chili powder or low-sodium soy sauce, ginger, and garlic. For breakfast, after a half-hour of exercise, she has high-fiber cereal with ground flaxseed, fresh fruit, and light soy milk. "I try to eat every three to four hours, and I try not to count calories," she says, estimating that she consumes between 1,200 and 1,500 a day. "I always carry something like a protein bar or trail mix so I don't get too hungry, but I'm not often tempted to eat it—I keep it in my bag so long that the packaging gets battered. If I'm going to a restaurant, I look up the menu online so I have some idea of what I will order, and I automatically ask for a take-home container. It's about choices: If you're going to have the potato, make it a sweet potato, or if it's a white potato, make it baked, not scalloped or au gratin."
For her last birthday, Prescod put two candles on a Kashi bar. At a barbecue with friends, she turned down the "lite" beer bought specially for her in favor of club soda, but she's learning how to incorporate an occasional indulgence—a policy endorsed by Waitman. "When you look at data about who is successful at keeping weight off," he says, "you find the diet that works is the diet that someone can stick with. She came to us extremely motivated, and she embraced a lifestyle change, not just a fad diet that she would do for two weeks or two months."
Prescod's odyssey is not complete, still 14 pounds away from her personal goal of 160. Yes, she's wearing orange instead of black, buying off-the-rack, walking the length and breadth of New York City, even wondering if it's too late for a medical career, hoping to defy F. Scott Fitzgerald's adage that there are no second acts in American lives. But her new body is marred by the loose excess skin that is often the vestige of dramatic weight loss, and the only remedy is undergoing a panniculectomy, a plastic surgery procedure that is expensive and not covered by her insurance. She is plagued by fluid retention and swelling in her legs due to compromised lymph nodes—a painful condition related to years of obesity that requires compression bandages and physical therapy. And at times her weight loss feels fragile, as if her body could revolt and resume its former shape. But there are also thrilling reassurances. When Prescod, known as the office mama, stopped ordering lunches for herself and her friends, the delivery boy who used to bring them greasy fried chicken stopped by with a free meal. "I hadn't seen you for so long," he said, "I was worried."
Ginger and garlic instead of butter and breading? A pretty good trade-off for health and life.