Lives in Myrtle Beach, SC
Would like to lose 41 pounds
Melissa Sargeant, 28, has weighed more than 200 pounds as far back as she can remember, but a diagnosis of lupus (an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the joints and organs) two years ago kick-started her resolve to do something about it. Getting motivated to exercise—which would help strengthen her weakened lungs and joints—is her biggest problem. Every time she thinks about working out, all the other things she has to do suddenly come to mind "and I'll push it to the back burner," says the assistant high school principal in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Currently 5 feet 11 inches and 236 pounds, Sargeant would like to see 195 on the scale and is "ready to meet someone who has lost weight and lived through the struggle—someone who can say, 'This worked for me. This didn't.'"
Mentor: Lisa Erspamer
Lives in Chicago
Has kept 90 pounds off for over a year
It's hard to imagine that Lisa Erspamer's enthusiasm for fitness won't rub off on Sargeant. Erspamer, 33, a producer for The Oprah Winfrey Show , lost 90 pounds a year ago, largely through exercise—and her life was transformed. She went from feeling extremely alienated (thinking nobody would get past her big size to know the real person inside) to becoming so socially confident that she can now reach out to others. Erspamer says she had "tried every possible diet you can imagine" before teaming up with Oprah and five other Spa Girls for daily workouts, and she's currently training for her second Chicago marathon. Erspamer is a big believer in the power of exercise to untangle the complicated emotional relationships that serial dieters tend to have with food. If you're an athlete, you eat to fuel your body, so the choice is simple: Select a healthy diet. Excited to share with Sargeant what she has learned, Erspamer says, "I think it will help me stay motivated and inspired."
Follow Up with Melissa and Lisa
Melissa Sargeant got her wake-up call to lose weight two years ago when she was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the joints and organs. Lisa Erspamer listened to Sargeant's self-sabotaging tricks—turning off the alarm clock in the morning because another hour of sleep was more pressing than exercise, or picking up high-calorie takeout on the way home after working late. But Erspamer didn't buy them. Having lost 90 pounds by exercising with Oprah and five other women and then having kept the weight off with long—even marathon—runs, Erspamer was convinced that Sargeant would find it easier to choose healthier foods once she started moving. When Erspamer sent a video of herself showing her before and after the weight loss, Sargeant says something clicked: "I'd seen those kinds of pictures before, but watching that video and seeing how large Lisa was and how hard she worked at losing the weight, that really helped me get inspired."
Sargeant didn't feel up to much activity at first, so Erspamer encouraged her to begin walking for as long as she could, gradually adding more distance. "I reminded her," says Erspamer, "that when I started, I couldn't run an eighth of a mile." Eventually Sargeant was able to walk two and a half miles every evening (a more realistic time for her than mornings) and ride her exercise bike indoors when the weather got bad. At Erspamer's suggestion, she also joined Weight Watchers for two and a half months to pick up food strategies and local support. The idea paid off: Sargeant started snacking on yogurt at work instead of reaching for the chips and began adding more fruit, vegetables, chicken and fish to her diet.
By the end of their three months together, Sargeant had lost 15 pounds—all the more impressive because one of the medications she takes tends to cause weight gain. To keep Sargeant going, Erspamer is making plans for both of them to do a 60-mile breast cancer fundraiser walk this summer. "I'm totally proud of her," Erspamer says. "She's done good!"