When People magazine says that this is one of its hottest-selling editions of the year, you know they must be tackling a weighty issue. And that’s certainly the case with the magazine’s annual “Half Their Size” special, on newsstands now.
The issue spotlights people who have lost at least half their body weight the old-fashioned way: through diet and exercise, without the aid of surgery. And that, said People senior editor Galina Espinoza, is why their stories resonate.
“We get used to seeing reality television versions of how to lose weight where people go and spend time in a special camp and they have trainers and nutritionists. For most people, it’s not realistic,” Espinoza told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Wednesday in New York. Of the half-size stars featured in People, she added: “These are people who in their everyday lives spent years figuring out how to eat again, how to exercise — reprogramming themselves. And if they can do it, anyone can.”
In many cases, it took the featured weight losers years, not months, of dogged effort to shed the equivalent of an entire person.
340 minus 177 pounds
Two of the women featured in the issue joined Espinoza on TODAY. The first, shapely 25-year-old Brandy Blackburn, spent two years losing 177 pounds from a starting weight of 340 pounds. “I’m a totally different person since I got the weight off,” Blackburn told Vieira as she showed off her new form.
In her People profile, Blackburn confessed, “I was a fat kid in kindergarten.” She hit 200 pounds in the fifth grade, and when she entered high school, she was bending the scales at 300. By graduation, she weighed 340.
“I had awful eating habits. I never learned good nutrition. I never worked out,” she said. “I’m from the South, and eating is a way of life and we all enjoy it. I never learned those really good core values of how to eat well and work out.”
She found a support system in an online group, Sparkpeople.com, which has an iPhone app that allows her to track her calories and get positive reinforcement by chatting with fellow dieters. “That helped me keep going,” Blackburn said.
The effort she put in paid off when she went to a company dinner party. “One of my husband’s co-workers walked in and thought my husband had remarried because I looked so different,” Blackburn said.
From 333 pounds to 142
Joining Blackburn on TODAY was Diana Cantu, a 51-year-old director at AT&T Labs, who had topped out at 333 pounds before losing 191 pounds to get down to a slender 142. With her was her 16-year-old son, Michael, who had ballooned to 270 pounds before joining his mother in seeking his inner skinny person. Michael lost 108 pounds in less than a year.
Cantu told Vieira her wake-up call came when she couldn’t fit in a conference room chair at work. “It was very disconcerting and depressing,” she admitted.
She said she gained her weight partly because she doesn’t cook and lived on junk food and eating out at restaurants.
“I’m not a cook. I ate 5,000 calories a day. That’s the equivalent of what two grown men eat,” Cantu said. “Jenny Craig worked for me, because the food is so good and easy to prepare. I needed the support system. The hardest thing for me was humbling myself and asking for help.
She said she used to be “totally sedentary” but now takes long walks around her hometown of Austin every day.
“I feel fantastic,” she said. “I can do so many things that I’ve always wanted to do. I’m a golfer, so I can golf. I can walk. I was rock climbing with my boys. They were astounded: ‘Mom, are you really going to try this?’ ‘Why not? I can do it now.’ ”
More dramatic stories
On Dec. 30, three others featured in People’s “Half Their Size” issue also showed off their new bodies on TODAY.
They were Jaime Stovall, 27, who lost 155 pounds from a starting weight of 290 pounds; David Keenan, 26, who lost exactly half of his starting weight of 360; and Cristina Taveras, who lost 178 pounds from her starting weight of 326.
Stovall, a mother of two, told People she became determined to slim down after going through a divorce.
Keenan said that every school has a fat kid — and he was it.
“The day in early 2003 I decided to change my life, I went to the doctor for an earache and he told me I was too fat. I felt such an immense sense of shame. I was only 19 years old,” Keenan told People. His sister put him onto the Power 90 workout tapes. He traded burgers and fries for turkey on whole-wheat.
Taveras, the mother of a 10-year-old son, turned to Ediets.com to lose her weight. “I started with Ediets.com in 2007 because I was trying to prove to my sister that I could do it,” she told the magazine. “I had to count calories and change the way I ate. The first week was really hard, but when I saw that I had lost eight pounds, I stuck with it.”
All the while, Taveras was driven by a vision: “My ultimate goal was to be able to look good in jeans, and now I own 25 pairs! Wearing them is the best feeling ever.”