How to lose 266 pounds : together, these three women have not only lost hundreds of pounds —they’ve kept them off. Read on to find out how they’ve done it, plus their favorite healthful recipes – or even just 20 – 459, to be exact – Weight-Loss Special

Mary Ellen Strote

Losing weight is hard. Keeping it off is impossible. So goes the frequent-dieter’s myth, and like many reports from the weight-loss rumor mill, it’s false. Granted, most dieters who lose weight will regain it. “But some do win the battle,” counters weight-management expert James O. Hill, Ph.D., director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Colorado Springs. In fact, about 20 percent of those who drop 10 percent of their body weight will keep it off for at least one year.

It’s been just over a decade since Hill and his colleagues established the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) to examine how successful dieters manage to keep weight off. The 3,500 men and women who’ve signed up for the study have lost an average of 67 pounds and maintained a minimum weight loss of 30 pounds for an average of six years–and they’ve been a gold mine for research on weight control. “Almost all our registrants report using diet and exercise, both to lose the initial weight and to maintain the loss,” Hill says. “We’ve learned that physical activity is absolutely key.”

For the NWCR’s 10th anniversary, Shape asked three of its participants to share the whys and hows of their permanent victory over fat. Following are their stories–and their secrets.

Renee Fornelli’s story

It was the start of the second semester of her sophomore year in college, and Renee Fornelli was tired of not fitting into chairs. At 19, she was aware she was closing in on 300 pounds, though she’d stopped weighing herself and so never knew her maximum weight. “The heavier I got, the more depressed I’d get, and then I’d just eat whatever,” she says, “until I realized that no one was going to lose the weight for me.”

Fornelli went to the university gym, where she rode the stationary bike for five minutes and walked two laps around the track. “If I can do two, I can do three,” she told herself. She kept returning to the gym, competing with herself to ride and walk more; she lost a few pounds, gave up fast food and lost additional weight. By summer, Fornelli was working out six days a week and had become “the queen of substitution.” If she drank milk, it was skim; if she ate chicken, it was breast meat. She started reading food labels and wouldn’t buy what she couldn’t pronounce. All of a sudden, weight loss seemed easy, she remembers, “like someone was holding my hand.”

Today, married and an elementary-school art teacher, this upbeat, positive-thinking woman controls her weight with the same six-days-a-week exercise routine she devised that summer: 30 minutes of weight training and 70 minutes of cardio, alternating between the stair climber, stationary bike, elliptical trainer and an outdoor run. To keep from getting overly hungry, Fornelli carries with her protein-packed snacks like turkey meat or nuts. And she avoids foods that might trigger overeating. “I know I can have a candy bar once a week,” she says, “but I don’t. That cloud of obesity still hangs over me. I remember: ‘That’s how I was when I was eating candy bars.'”

Pam Foley’s story

Back when she weighed 178 pounds, Pam Foley had a job that now seems ironic: She worked for the American Heart Association (AHA), measuring the body fat of health-fair attendees. Among the perks of her job were free cholesterol tests; when she herself took one, the result shocked her: It was 310 (under 200 is the healthy ideal, according to the AHA).

Like the rest of her family, Foley had always been big. “We weren’t huge, we just ate a lot and didn’t exercise,” she says. “After I married, my husband and I would go to Costco and buy those buckets of cookie dough and eat all of it.” Looking back, she says her over-the-top cholesterol was an impetus to lose the weight, “but it was also just time to do it. I was over being fat. That chapter was finished, and I wasn’t looking back.”

Never a joiner, Foley took the weight-loss plunge solo. She didn’t use commercial weight-loss products or count calories, but she did lower her fat intake by becoming a vegetarian. “I never used the word ‘diet,’ because diets hadn’t worked for me,” she says. Instead she called her new regimen “a lifestyle change.” She lost weight slowly and without depriving herself of anything. “I’m not a denial kind of person,” she explains. “I still enjoy sweets. It was more of a change in portions.”

Foley’s biggest challenge was taking up exercise. “I knew I had to move to lose weight,” she recalls, “and this is pathetic to admit, but I started by running in place for eight minutes [a day] inside my apartment.” After she lost about 20 pounds (and her shyness about exercising in public), Foley began walking five days a week on the treadmill in the workout room of her apartment complex, gradually building up to a 30-minute jog, then to outdoor runs at an 11-minute-mile pace. Today, her formidable weekly routine includes two Spinning classes, two three- to four-mile runs, one six- to seven-mile run, a yoga class and two 20-minute strength-training sessions. A stay-at-home mom with a law degree, Foley channels her competitive spirit into the occasional sprint-length triathlon, a sport she took up to lose pregnancy weight. “I had two babies in two years,” Foley says. “With the first, I gained 65 pounds; with the second, 25. Both times I was at my regular weight within 10 months. I may have setback days, but I don’t have setbacks.”

Karen Arnett’s story

When Karen Arnett showed up at the emergency room in the middle of the night complaining of leg pain, her weight was wildly out of control. Heavy since the age of 4, she had managed to lose as much as 60 pounds several times, but now she was up to a staggering 416. Arnett’s life was so limited, she remembers, “that I wouldn’t even let my son play T-ball because it was too much effort to sit and watch him.” That night in the ER she must have felt particularly vulnerable because, at 2 a.m., she found herself listening to an overweight nurse talk about a “fat-counter” diet. When Arnett went home the next day, she began counting every speck of fat she ate, limiting herself to 20 grams daily.

“I still ate pizza,” Arnett says, “but I’d order thin-crust veggie pizza and say ‘easy on the cheese.'” Over the next six months she lost 68 pounds. When a friend at church invited her to a Bible-based, nationwide weight-loss group called First Place, she hesitated because the program was so strict, but then committed herself to it, including a diet founded on the lowfat American Diabetes Association (ADA) regimen, and she started keeping an “awareness journal.” She soon realized that she binged out of boredom while watching TV, so she gave up watching and started reading.

The program also requires exercise, so Arnett began walking not quite a mile down her street. “Soon I was going three miles five or six days a week,” she recalls, “and the pounds came off fast.” Toward the end of her weight-loss journey, she took up strength training and now uses her weight bench and free weights three times a week, walking 3 1/2 miles on alternate days. “My workout is one hour plus 20 minutes of stretching,” she says. She doesn’t even count as exercise the 30 minutes she spends on school days walking her daughter to the bus stop. “I call that getting fresh air,” she says.

Arnett remains on the ADA-based eating plan and is no longer tempted by unhealthful foods. “Believe it or not,” she says, “I work for a bakery, delivering items to a local grocery-store chain–and I never eat any of the sweet stuff.”

3 recipes from the ‘pros’

One of the most important lessons from the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) has been just how individual weight loss and weight maintenance are: Each person needs to find what works for him or her. Here, the women we profiled share three of the delicious, satisfying recipes that have helped them stay on track.

Renee Fornelli’s Grilled Korean Chicken

“The taste of this dish is unique, but the recipe is simple. There’s no need to go to specialty stores for ingredients.”

Serves 4

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 10-12 minutes

4 tablespoons light soy sauce

3 tablespoons white wine

3 tablespoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons Splenda (granulated sugar substitute)

2 tablespoons dried onion flakes

2 tablespoons minced green onions

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1- to 2-inch


4 kebab skewers

4 cups broccoli florets

1 cup brown rice

Mix first 10 ingredients together well in a large glass or ceramic bowl. Add chicken chunks to the marinade mix. Allow chicken to marinate for no longer than 30 minutes. Place the marinated chicken onto skewers. Start the grill or turn on the broiler and, once it’s heated, put the kebabs on the grill or under the broiler until chicken is fully cooked, about 5-6 minutes on each side, turning once. Meanwhile, steam broccoli florets and cook brown rice according to package directions. Serve each kebab over a bed of rice and broccoli.

Nutrient note This filling dish supplies more than 100 percent of your daily need for niacin (thanks to the chicken) and vitamin C (broccoli adds that powerful antioxidant), as well as a slew of B vitamins, which aid nerve and brain function.

Nutrition Score per serving (1 kebab, 1 cup broccoli, 1/2 cup cooked rice): 335 calories, 38% fat (14 g; 2 g saturated), 24% carbs (20 g), 38% protein (32 g), 4 g fiber, 75 mg calcium, 3 mg iron, 1,130 mg sodium.

Pam Foley’s Cream Sauce With Pasta

“I created this lowfat recipe when my husband and I were craving Alfredo sauce. It’s been a warm winter staple for us ever since!”

Serves 4

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 12 minutes

1 small red onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

1 pound asparagus, zucchini or broccoli, chopped into bite-sized


1 12-ounce can evaporated skim milk

1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped

2 teaspoons garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 16-ounce box of pasta (bow-tie works well)

4 tablespoons grated Asiago cheese

Soften onion and asparagus (or other vegetable) in skillet over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes in 1/4 cup water. Add evaporated milk, basil, garlic, oregano and salt and pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove 1/4 cup of the milk mixture from skillet and whisk together with cornstarch in a small bowl. Add cornstarch mixture to skillet and stir. Meanwhile, prepare pasta according to package directions and serve sauce over cooked pasta. Garnish with cheese.

Nutrient note A serving of this dish supplies more than half of your day’s requirement for folate, a B vitamin essential in the prevention of heart disease and cervical dysplasia (a precancerous condition of the cervix), as well as ample amounts of other B vitamins.

Nutrition Score per serving (1 cup cooked pasta, 1/2 cup sauce, 1 tablespoon cheese): 574 calories, 7% fat (5 g; 2 g saturated), 74% carbs (106 g), 19% protein (27 g), 10 g fiber, 427 mg calcium, 4 mg iron, 164 mg sodium.

Karen Arnett’s Lemon Icebox Dessert

“This simple, tasty dessert meets the requirements for my diet and is good when I’m craving something sweet.”

Serves 9

Prep time: 8 minutes

Cook time: none

6 3-inch graham cracker squares

1 1.5-ounce box vanilla sugar-free instant pudding, dry

1/2 tub Crystal Light Lemonade mix, dry

2 cups skim milk

1 8-ounce container fat-free Cool Whip, thawed

Line the bottom of an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with graham cracker squares. In a mixing bowl, stir pudding and lemonade powder together, then add milk and beat with a hand mixer on low until blended. Add 3/4 of the Cool Whip to mixture and fold in. Pour mixture over crackers, top with rest of Cool Whip. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Cut into 9 slices to serve.

Nutrient note This sweet, very lowfat treat has one nutrient to recommend it: nearly as much calcium in a serving as is found in a glass of milk.

Nutrition Score per serving (1 slice, 1/9 of dessert): 208 calories, 3% fat (<1 g fat), 91% carbs (47 g), 6% protein (3 g), 301 mg calcium, 398 mg sodium.

If you’ve lost at least 30 pounds, kept them off for a year or more and are 18 or older, you’re eligible to participate in the National Weight Control Registry. For more information, call the registry at (800) 606-6927 or visit

RELATED ARTICLE: Lost 150 pounds in 18 months


FAVORITE WORKOUT “A nice long run on a crisp autumn morning.”

SPLURGE FOOD Atkins’ Endulge Super Premium Ice Cream in butter pecan

WEIGHT-LOSS PHILOSOPHY “Our society makes weight control easy. There are gyms on every corner, salads in every restaurant. We’re never far from healthy choices.”

RELATED ARTICLE: Lost 43 pounds in 10 months


FAVORITE WORKOUT “Spinning class, a kick-your-butt type of exercise.”

SPLURGE FOOD “Chocolate! I wouldn’t waste calories on anything else.”

WEIGHT-LOSS PHILOSOPHY “Keeping weight off is not rocket science. You just have to make a decision to put down the fork and get off the couch.”

RELATED ARTICLE: Lost 266 pounds in 2 years


FAVORITE WORKOUT “Walking. It’s free; all I need is a good pair of shoes.”

SPLURGE FOOD “No-sugar, nonfat ice cream or a smoothie. If I overeat, it’s something like carrots.”

WEIGHT-LOSS PHILOSOPHY “Trust God and take one day at a time. You only need to concern yourself with living in this day.”


No one knows more about keeping weight off than the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR). The NWCR has spent 10 years studying just that, and researchers there have learned a few things. For starters, successful losers report that as time goes on they’re more confident they’ll keep the weight off, and they know that each year that passes without a return of the fat boosts the probability that it never will come back. “Most [of the study’s participants] had failed at previous weight-loss attempts,” says James O. Hill, Ph.D., director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, “but once they realized there was no easy fix, they figured out the right way and just did it.” While the NWCR does not prescribe a diet or weight-maintenance program, following are the seven ways most participants keep the weight away:

1. Follow a lowfat diet.

2. Eat breakfast every day.

3. Weigh yourself regularly (but not too often).

4. Exercise at least an hour a day.

5. Eat five smaller meals a day rather than three big ones.

6. Accept setbacks and move on.

7. Add bits of activity to your daily schedule to burn extra calories.

Los Angeles-based freelance writer Mary Ellen Strote’s weight-maintenance secret: keeping her kitchen cookie- and chip-free.

Photography by John Mark Sorum

COPYRIGHT 2004 Weider Publications

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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