Elizabeth Cullen and Martin Lilienthal vowed 15 years ago this week to remain together for the rest of their lives. But it was a pledge the Wallingford, Conn., couple made to each other just over five years ago that may have made those lives longer and happier.
Cullen and Lilienthal each weighed about 300 pounds, and they vowed to reduce it. The excessive weight they had carried since they met and fell in love while in college was affecting their health, quality of life and how they felt about themselves.
For Cullen, the last straw came the day before her birthday in October 2001, when she went shopping for a pair of blue jeans.
"They were pretty big. That was it," Cullen, now 37, said during an appearance Monday on TODAY. "We went shopping and they were the largest jeans in the store. It was just mortifying ... I kind of got in the car and said, 'You know what? This isn't the life I want to lead."
Lilienthal, now 38, felt the same way and eagerly agreed that the couple had to make big changes.
But unlike other people who have started diets and failed, Cullen and Lilienthal took it slow and succeeded.
They started losing weight and have been keeping it off. Cullen lost about 120 pounds so far. Lilienthal shed 88 pounds.
"How'd you do it? TODAY host Matt Lauer asked, after congratulating the couple and remarking about how different they look now compared to "before" photos.
"We started with Weight Watchers and just making small changes," Cullen said. "We made changes little by little, and as we went on it was easier and easier."
The couple took up running, and even participated in mini-marathons. A photo from one race shows the pair smiling and appearing to be comfortable as they trotted along the course. As they looked at the photo Monday, both Cullen and Lilienthal said there self-images have not yet synced up with how they actually look now.
"It is kind of hard to describe … We were running the half-marathon. In your head you are like, 'I'm a 300-pound chick; 300-pound chicks do not run unless chased by something big,' " Cullen said. "For me, it's coming up against that mental image always that I am still that heavy."
"I see photos of myself, and that's not how I see myself," Lilienthal agreed.
Ellie Krieger, a registered dietitian, said the couple has a good chance of keeping the extra weight off because they did not crash diet.
"They've done something really dramatic, and they're so inspiring," Krieger said. "Just 10 to 20 [extra] pounds, you can have a risk of some of these diseases and you have your risk of premature death. This is serious health stuff."
For more information, visit Martin's website at www.cookingwithmartin.com.