Oprah's Weight Loss Confession
In 1992, Oprah met personal trainer Bob Greene. At the time, she weighed 237 pounds, the heaviest she says she's ever been. She made a commitment to her health, began to lose weight and even ran a marathon...but the weight loss roller coaster continued.
When Oprah turned 50 in 2004, she seemed to have her health and weight under control. For years, she maintained her figure with diet and exercise. She says she thought she had it all figured out, but in 2007, as Oprah dealt with emotional and medical issues, the number on the scale began to creep closer to 200.
To begin living her best life, Oprah's speaking candidly about what she calls "the brown elephant in the room"—her weight gain.
As the Las Vegas audience cheered, Oprah kept a smile on her face and hid her true feelings. "There I am during the Tina and Cher show feeling like, 'How in the world did I let this happen to myself again?'" she says. "I was embarrassed, and I wanted to be anyplace other than there. Tina Turner and Cher are American icons. They still look great. So the anxiety of, 'Okay, now I've got to put myself on a big stage and stand between Tina and Cher and try to make myself not be as big as I am.'"
When Oprah found out Tina wanted her to come onstage and sing along to "Proud Mary," she says she told a producer she didn't want to do it. "I was standing on the side, perfectly happy and thinking, 'This is going well,'" Oprah says. Then, Tina spontaneously called her onto the stage. "I thought, 'God, help me now. How can I put myself between them? Can I put half of my body behind Cher's? Well, Cher's body is half of my body, so that's hard. How can I hide myself here on this stage and not have to be up here?'" she says. "I felt awful. I wanted to just disappear."
Oprah says money, fame and success don't mean anything if you can't control your own being. "It doesn't mean anything if you can't fit into your clothes," she says. "It means the fat won. It means you didn't win. ... I am mad at myself. I am embarrassed."
After all these years, Oprah says she can't believe she's still discussing this topic. "With all the other things that I know how to do and all the other things that I'm so great at and all the other accomplishments, I can't believe I'm still talking about weight," she says.
Four years later, Oprah, who now weighs 200 pounds, says the role of "cover girl" was much less appealing. "This past year's been really difficult because I didn't feel like being a cover girl," she says. "I wasn't proud of my body and, therefore, didn't want to show my body and didn't really want to be seen."
Oprah says she dreaded the moment each month when she'd have to try on clothes in front of a team of 20 people. When a pair of pants didn't fit or a shirt was too tight, Oprah says she felt embarrassed. The solution? Throughout 2008, Oprah says she's worked with magazine editors to camouflage her figure. "All this year, I've been hiding my body because I didn't want you to see it," she says. "Here I am, one of the most visible people in the world, trying not to be seen on the cover of my own magazine."
"I couldn't sleep at night. I started to have heart palpitations and some leg swelling," she says. "My doctor said, 'You need to get off of salt.' And I instinctively knew that it wasn't salt, and so I went from that doctor to another doctor to another doctor. By the time I'd been to the fourth doctor, I was on heart medication, I was on blood pressure medication and [medication] for heart palpitations."
Doctors didn't recognize that Oprah had a thyroid problem...but the viewers did. "Nobody showed me the e-mails until I started talking about this, but I had e-mails from viewers saying, 'Tell Oprah to check her thyroid because I think she has a thyroid problem,'" she says.
When she was finally diagnosed with hypothyroidism, Oprah says she fell off the weight loss wagon. "It was a fat sentence because I thought, 'Well, now it doesn't matter. I've got a thyroid problem. If I don't embrace hunger, everything I eat is going to make me fat anyway, and my metabolism isn't working, so I might as well just eat whatever I want. Okay. Fat wins,'" she says. "I felt completely defeated."
Watch Oprah's candid confession.
When Oprah gains weight, she says it means her life is out of balance. "It's not about the food. It's about using food—abusing food," she says. "Too much work. Not enough play. Not enough time to come down. Not enough time to really relax."
Over time, she discovered what she was really hungry for. "I am hungry for balance," she says. "I'm hungry to do something other than work."
Oprah's thyroid issue also made the process more difficult. "Does she use that as an excuse or did she? Absolutely," he says.
No matter who you are, Bob says a food addict can't conquer his or her addiction completely. "This is a problem in your life that's probably going to be a problem in your life for the duration of your life," he says. "Your results are simply about how you manage that problem."
Though he's never discussed it with Oprah, Bob shares a theory about his friend. "She didn't really learn how to be happy. I think she learned more survival tools and not how to be happy," he says. "That's where Oprah has a lot of work to do."
Oprah remembers the moment very clearly. "I said, 'What? Me? Depressed? I can't be depressed. I know what depression is. I'm not depressed,'" she says. "He said, 'I don't know. Something's off. Your movements are slower. Your responses are slower. There's a dullness about you. If I were you, I'd look into what that is. I think there's something going on.'"
When Bob looked into Oprah's eyes, he says she wasn't really there. "She was somewhere else. She was very vacant and distracted, and it was alarming to me," he says. "I think I felt she was losing her zest for life, and that was one of the saddest moments."
Though Oprah doesn't think she was depressed, she does know she was exhausted. "I let the well run dry. That's what happened when I started to get unbalanced, when I started to not take time for myself, when I started to go unconscious."
If you don't feel fulfilled and you're not taking of care of yourself, Bob says food becomes much more attractive. "It's a way to comfort yourself in hard times," he says.
Photo: Matthew Rolston
Oprah's says her new goal isn't to be thin. "My goal is to be the weight that my body can hold and be healthy and strong and fit and be itself," she says. "One of the things I had to learn to do is to embrace this body that I have and be grateful for what this body has given me. ... God blessed me and this body. I mean, I could weep right now thinking about the love and appreciation I have for this body. For that, I am truly grateful."
When times are tough, Oprah remembers a lesson she learned from author Marianne Williamson. "She was saying that your overweight self does not stand before you craving food. It's craving love," Oprah says. "It's about extending yourself in so many different directions that you literally become unconscious. You're just trying to get through it all and not giving back to yourself. When you love yourself enough, you take care of yourself."
Oprah wants everyone who's struggling with weight to make themselves a priority this year. "Look at falling off the wagon as I am—not as a weight issue, but a love issue," she says. "Like all of you, I'm really good at giving love to other people and my happiness ... really comes from giving to other people. But we all need to make 2009 the year we give ourselves as much love and support as we give to others."
Watch Oprah walk through her new plan.
Novona, one of Oprah's personal assistants, explains how a typical day looked last year. "The day usually starts at 6 a.m. This day we had three tapings, so back-to-back tapings—second show and a third show. And then pre-production meetings with the teams who have upcoming shows. And then you probably got lunch and dinner, I hope, in that day," she says. "And then you go home and it's been a 14-hour day."
Where did that leave Oprah? "If there was enough time in the week left over from everybody else's appointments with me, then I would take it for myself," Oprah says. "As it turned out, there was never any time left over."
Now, Novona says, Oprah's schedule specifically sets aside time for personal things like workouts, manicures and meditation. "Back on the list," Novona says.
Get Oprah's weekly meal schedule and recipes.
Instead of eating a big meal at night or unconsciously snacking throughout the day, Oprah's weekly meal plan emphasizes small, healthy, satisfying meals. "I have scheduled meals that I plan out every week and generally just repeat them," Oprah says.
Get Bob's "back to business" fitness plan.
One thing to keep in mind when you are doing a cardio workout is that it has to be hard enough that you actually get a benefit from it. How will you know when you're there? "You can talk, you can carry on a conversation, you can sing," Oprah says. "But you really don't want to. It'll be uncomfortable after a few minutes."
While cardio is still a major part of her workout, Oprah has altered her workout balance to include more resistance training and weight lifting. "The older you get, the more muscle mass you lose," she says. "Resistance training has proved to be really fascinating because, even though the weight isn't dropping the way I would like it to, I can see actually that my shape is changing—it's getting firmer and the clothes are getting looser. And that's all because of the weights."
"We all seek pleasure," he says. "How do you get that pleasure or happiness or joy? And when it's not readily available in the real areas that you want—relationships, family, fulfilling career—food is a hundred times more attractive and it's readily available. It's there, and it is the drug of choice for most people."
In 1999, Carnie underwent a very public gastric bypass surgery and showed off her smaller self—down to 146 pounds—on The Oprah Winfrey Show. But Carnie says she slipped back into bad habits in 2008, and her weight jumped back up to 220 pounds.
Now, Carnie is expecting her second child and has gotten her weight—and life—under control. "I am at a very grateful place. I weigh 168 today," she says. "I'm in a beautiful, way more balanced place."
Since that realization, Carnie says she's lost 50 pounds in six months. "It was practically effortless," she says.
Carnie attributes her new changes to more than her new healthier diet and exercise program. "It's more about going to a place inside of me as a woman who knows that I'm never going to have perfection," she says. "And that I deserve to be healthy and feel healthy."
Start by answering these five questions. Log on to our Best Life workbook to complete this exercise and get back on track!
- What are you hungry for?
"The weight is always representative of something other than what it looks like," Oprah says. "You don't have a weight problem; you have a self-care, self-love problem."
- Why are you overweight?
"It's not because you like a certain food," Bob says. "Get deep into it."
- Why have you been unable to maintain weight loss in the past?
"This one is really more about 'Why have you failed?'" Bob says.
- What in your life is not working?
"You're going to find the answers in those areas that you say are really important to you," Bob says. "But they're not doing well."
- Why do you want to lose weight?
"If any part of your answer hints that you'll be happy at a certain size or weight, you're setting yourself for failure because [there are] two outcomes," Bob says. "You never reach that size or weight and you're never happy. And even worse, you reach that size and weight and realize it has nothing to do with your happiness."