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Joy Fit Club vets reveal weight-loss secrets

With advice like "diets don't work" and "exercise is the key factor," a trio of Joy Bauer's weight-loss leaders aim to inspire others who are facing the battle of the bulge.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

There’s a watermelon patch of unwanted woman gone from the forms of Vivian Dimmel, April Wood and Jodi Davis — the three women watched with wide smiles as Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb unveiled a three-foot high pile of watermelons on the TODAY set Monday that represented the collective 530 pounds the women have lost and never gained back.

Dimmel, Wood and Davis are members of the Joy Fit Club, headed by noted nutritionist and TODAY correspondent Joy Bauer. And while Bauer vacationed from the show, the trio of weight loss leaders happily took her place Monday to provide encouragement to others facing a battle of the bulge.

For Dimmel, 59, of Liverpool, N.Y., fighting obesity turned into a fight for her very life. One of the Joy Fit Club’s major success stories after losing 263 pounds and keeping it off for the past two years, Dimmel faced serious health issues that had once cost her job as a schoolteacher and put her in a wheelchair.

"I tried to hang onto a life I had known and grown accustomed to,” Dimmel told Gifford and Kotb. "I finally just decided that it came down to that I wanted to live — it was that basic." Dimmel plunged from a high-water weight mark of 435 pounds all the way down to 172.

For Davis, a 42-year-old Michigan homemaker, losing 163 pounds was as easy as going back to basics — and saying, "Never say diet!"

"Most of us are taught it in elementary school, three meals a day, a little bit of snacking here and there," Davis told TODAY, adding she hates to use the word diet because "basically diets don’t work."

Davis, who slimmed from 300 pounds down to 162 pounds in 16 months and has kept the weight off for six years, says she tries to stick to an intake of 1,200 calories a day, but more importantly, motivates herself to get off the couch. "I make sure to walk every single day — exercise is the key factor in weight loss. I did it every day, no excuses."

And for Wood — who became so exercise-enthusiastic after losing 105 pounds that she became a certified personal trainer — doing battle with her own mindset proved to be the biggest hurdle in laying claim to the body she had always wanted.

"Before, it was always a vanity issue — I want to look this way, I want to wear this size clothes,” Wood, 40, told Gifford and Kotb. "It had to finally come down to, 'This is my health, I don’t feel well and something has to change.' You just have to find the power within yourself, because when you say, 'I can’t do that,’ you’ve already defeated yourself.”

While the plucky trio showed obvious pride at their accomplishments at the weight scale, all three stressed they were appearing on TODAY to spur others on. "We’re trying to help people,” Davis told Gifford.

To that end, the ladies took e-mail questions from TODAY viewers. Angie of Ray City, Ga., said she has lost 55 pounds but had hit a weight loss plateau. Dimmel advised that it may be time to rethink her game plan.

Dimmel said she hit a plateau after losing her first 100 pounds, then "sat down and examined what I was doing. It was at that point I gave up night eating. I was a night eater — you save all your fruits at 7:30, 8:30, 9:30 that you should have eaten during the day, so I cut myself off. I stopped eating at night and I never do that anymore.”

Wood stressed the power of positive thinking to viewer Yvonne of Pennsylvania, who asked how to take the first step toward weight loss and then stay on track. "When you feel these negative thoughts coming you have to catch them in the midst and say, `I can do this,’ and maybe not even think about how far you have to go, just take it one step at a time.”

Davis empathized with Amy of Dallas, Texas, who stated she knew what she needed to do to lose weight, `but changing how I think is a completely different issue.”

Davis said she was an emotional eater who used food to battle sadness, depression and boredom — and even the disappointment of a failed diet. "This cycle continued for me for 25 years,” Davis said, adding she had weight problems since elementary school. "I finally realized I had to change my life and my style of living.”

Ironically, Dimmel says all three women are now friends, but the subject that was once nearest and dearest to their hearts isn’t even discussed.

"We were out with each other last night, and never once in the course of four hours did we ever talk about food or what we eat,” Dimmel said. "It was all about your heads and our life. People are missing that picture — and they just get too possessed by numbers and scales and following this and following that. For us, it was making a change.”

And as for the watermelon pile Gifford and Kotb unveiled, Dimmel laughed and said she was "glad it wasn't marshmallows," adding that watermelon is not a foe of weight loss. "That's nutritious produce!" she said.