Lives in Los Angeles
Would like to lose 15 pounds
Barbara Adelman, 48, wants to lose 15 pounds. It's not much, and in a way that's what makes the challenge so difficult. "I can fit into an airplane seat, nobody's laughing at me," says Adelman, a freelance writer in Los Angeles who, at 5 feet 1, weighs about 125 pounds. "But I struggle with my weight. I feel bad, and when I try to explain it to people, they say, 'Oh, you're fine.'" What really bothers her is the way food controls her life. "I'm constantly thinking about it, worrying about it. It's my drug," she says. "I just want to throw a wrench into the machine." Adelman has tried weight-loss programs, but the "carnival atmosphere" of the group sessions makes her feel that her "intelligence is being insulted." Having a mentor who (a) takes her problem seriously and (b) offers support in vulnerable times will be, Adelman imagines, "incredibly helpful."
Mentor: Rande Brown
Lives in New York City
Has kept 30 pounds off for two years
Rande Brown, 51, a translator of Buddhist texts who lives in New York City, can easily relate to Adelman's story. Two years ago Brown decided to lose 30 pounds that had crept onto her 5-foot-1-inch frame during her forties. Finding the idea of a diet group unappealing, she did her own research by polling friends with weight problems about their greatest pitfalls and reading Dieting for Dummies for basic advice. Then she just dove in, using the equation all weight loss hangs on: Burn more calories than you take in. For the "burn" part, she put herself on a nonnegotiable 45-minute-a-day treadmill routine. For the "take in" portion, Brown, who's "not into deprivation," loaded up on fruit and protein in return for eliminating dairy fat and remembered that, calorically, "one hunk of cheddar is the same as a lot of arugula." In six months she shed the 30 pounds and has kept the weight off since. "I feel quite triumphant," she says.
Follow Up with Barbara and Rande
Simply signing up for the O project motivated Barbara Adelman to immediately go from weighing 125 pounds to weighing 118. But in truth, the 5-foot-1-inch freelance writer in Los Angeles never had much trouble shedding weight; her struggle was more about breaking free from obsessive thoughts about food, followed by binge eating of "garbage" (cookies, chips, ice cream) and, after that, a lot of self-flagellation. Often, in a kind of caloric penance, she'd skip dinner entirely. Eager to "throw a wrench into the machine," Adelman listened carefully when her partner Rande Brown encouraged her to be mindful of her eating. Mindfulness would require her to become acutely aware every time she reached for food, paying attention to whether she was truly hungry or responding to some other cue, such as stress or boredom.
Following Brown's advice, Adelman started grabbing a book and heading out for a brisk walk whenever she found herself wanting to munch on cookies at her desk—an action that often made clear how much she'd really needed a break from work, not sweets. Observing her cravings this way, Adelman began to feel her food obsession losing its grip. She also got practical tips from Brown, who was the same height and had lost 30 pounds. (A favorite suggestion of Brown's was bringing air-popped popcorn to baseball games to preempt her usual four-hot-dog snack attack.)
Eventually, Adelman got down to 113 pounds—a weight her doctor told her was just right for her age and height. When she reported the accomplishment to her partner, Brown sent back an e-mail saying, "Bravo! Here's an idea: What would happen if you really let go of the concept of losing any more weight and instead decided that 113 was perfect—shift the focus from up or down to maintaining? This shift was very freeing to me." Adelman says reading that note was an "aha! experience," because it allowed her to see—suddenly—that someone short and curvy like her wasn't really meant to weigh 110 pounds. Before, people had scoffed at her concern about being slightly overweight, she says, but Brown really got the fact that she still battled daily with food.