Myra Blundetto and her daughters, Lisa Mueller and Caren Frech, lived to eat. It had always been that way — the aroma of something cooking pulling them to the table to fill their stomachs beyond full.
It seemed normal and proper, Myra told Ann Curry on TODAY. When her daughters were girls, food fixed everything.
“I thought I was doing the right thing,” Myra said. “You soothe children with food.”
Myra, who is now 68, once tipped the scales at up to 245 pounds, but both her daughters outdid her. Caren, 47, eventually reached 246 pounds, while younger sister Lisa, 44, topped out at 339.
Myra blamed herself. “I probably should have been more conscious of what they ate,” she said. “It was very difficult to see my daughters overweight. I felt personally responsible for it. I felt maybe if I had raised them differently, they wouldn’t be overweight. A mother always feels responsible for her children.”
But Caren and Lisa said it wasn’t her fault.
“I don’t blame her. My being overweight — I don’t think it had anything to do with her. I just think it was the fact — we all can agree — we never really ate because we were hungry ... we wanted something to taste, and we never felt full.”
Without the before photographs of what they once had been, it was hard to imagine. They sat with Curry in the TODAY studio, three trim and vibrant women talking about what it was like to be among the one third of Americans classified as obese.
They have lost a combined 350 pounds — the equivalent of two fully grown men or three supermodels. And they’ve kept it off.
In search of weight loss solution
It started five years ago with Lisa, the heaviest of the three. She had two small children, a one-year-old and a four-year-old, and she wanted to be around to watch them grow up.
Like so many other Americans, Lisa, along with her mother and sister, tried all the diets, took all the pills, drank all the weight-loss concoctions. While the pills and potions and regimens worked for a while, the weight that had been lost always came back, along with a few pounds extra.
Lisa had a friend who was also grossly overweight. Together, they went to a seminar about gastric bypass surgery. Her friend underwent the risky procedure and started dropping weight.
Lisa said her friend “turned into this beautiful, confident woman ... I felt I wanted to be healthy. I wanted to use this as my last-ditch effort. I’d tried everything.”
After researching the procedure, she went to Dr. Rafael Capella, who performed the surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.
Caren was so worried about losing her sister to possible complications, she stopped speaking to Lisa for two months. But as Lisa began losing 170 pounds, Caren came back and started thinking about doing the same.
In 2005, Caren was ready to join her sister, whose husband also underwent the procedure.
“The hardest person for me to tell was her,” Caren said. “She never pushed me. She was my biggest inspiration.”
A year later, Myra signed up, choosing Capella to do the surgery, as her daughters had done.
Like her daughters, Myra had health issues related to her obesity. “Being overweight is a burden, besides on your body, it’s a mental burden,” she said. People avoided contact with her, but looked at her and said things behind her back.
Gastric bypass surgery or stomach stapling isn’t for everyone. There can be complications, and, as Curry pointed out, people sometimes die from it. Anyone considering it, she said, should “make sure to check with your doctor and understand the risks.”
“It wasn’t something we did on a whim,” Myra said. Caren agreed, saying, “That was a very hard decision, to be able to decide to help yourself.”
But in the end, for her and her daughters, it was the only one left to make.
Said Myra: “I can’t tell you how much better we feel.”