Several years ago I began collecting weight loss stories, hoping to glean additional insights to add to my own diet/fitness toolbox. Not surprisingly, some of the people I interviewed eventually regained the weight they’d lost. In one unfortunate case, the person actually died not too long after we spoke.
None of this is to suggest that those people were failures. If anything, it shows how hard it is to maintain weight loss.
Over the past year I interviewed half a dozen people who lost nearly 1,000 pounds between them for my “Adventures in Food and Fitness” newspaper column. Recently I found myself wondering how many of them will become Weight Loss Masters – dietitian Anne M. Fletcher’s term for people who maintain a loss for at least three years. In her book Thin for Life, she argues that maintaining a loss of at least 20 pounds for three years seems to be the dividing line between those who “stick” with their new lifestyles and those who retrench to their old ways.
Of the six people I interviewed, I would argue that three of them already “earned their master’s.”
•Brittany Horton, who lost 208 pounds (and went on NBC’s Harry Connick Jr. Show earlier this year to talk about it), has already made it to the three-year mark.
Brittany Horton before and after her 208-pound loss. (Note: Apparently stories in the newspaper’s archives did not translate well to the new website when the paper went all-digital in October, so I apologize in advance for any garbled headlines or missing photos. At some point I will create a cleaner version of these articles, complete with photos, on a separate page on the blog.)
•Longtime Fort Wayne Weight Watchers leader Debbie Powers lost 100 pounds as a high school student back in the mid-1970s. Though she had to contend with the “freshman 15” in college and some maternity weight after having three kids, she’s basically maintained ever since becoming a leader in 1983.
Debbie Powers, left, along with her aunt, who first took her to Weight Watchers when she was a teenager.
•Though technically Annie Giddens only made it to her goal weight in early 2017, her journey to a 225-pound loss took seven years. In that time she did have one period of slippage where she regained 50 pounds. But she lost that weight – and much, much more – several years ago. I don’t think she’s going back.
Annie Giddens at a CrossFit competition in August 2016.
Of the other three, only time will tell. I would put my money on Phillip Brenneman, who lost 200 pounds in 2015-16. For one thing, he worked hard to create his own diet and fitness regimen rather than merely following a program. He also has much more incentive than being able to fit into his skinny jeans: He has type 2 diabetes. Cutting his body weight in half helped him get off meds entirely after his health was in serious risk. It was the fear that he wouldn’t live long enough to see his young daughter grow up that motivated him in the first place. (Phil’s mother died when she wasn’t much older than he is now.)
Phil Brenneman cut his weight in half, going from 400 pounds to 200 in about 15 months.
Quinton Horton, who lost 80 pounds in 2016, still has a couple more years to go before he could qualify as a master. (He also was wanting to lose more weight when I last spoke with him in spring 2017.) But he has the same incentive as Phil – type 2 diabetes that was getting way out of control and young kids he wants to see grow up. He also has incredible support and accountability, considering that he gets weight loss coaching from his sister Brittany Horton.
Quinton Horton and his sister Brittany. Her 208-pound loss inspired him to drop 80 pounds when he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
Matt Wilson, the 2016 champ of Fort Wayne’s Smallest Winner
That brings us to Matt Wilson, winner of the 2016 Fort Wayne’s Smallest Winner competition. When I last spoke with Matt, in December 2016, he’d lost 147.8 of the 452 pounds he started out at. Because he was signed up as a coach for the 2017 season, I’d guess he lost even more weight, though I haven’t been in contact with him. Even if he’s met his goal, Matt still has three years to go. If he sticks with the program – I believe people can continue to work out with fellow contestants after the competition, if they choose – he’s got a good shot at it. Fort Wayne’s Smallest Winners provides incredible motivation and support. (One of my relatives was the program runner-up several years ago, and she continues to look fit and fabulous, at least in part because she’s maintained those relationships.)
Being reminded of Anne Fletcher’s book has been encouraging for me personally, because I’m constantly aggravated with myself for having regained 10-15 pounds of the original 90 I lost in 2010. (After sticking at my goal weight through early 2014, it was, ironically, training for my first marathon that got me off track for my monthly Weight Watchers weigh-ins.)
I still hope to get back to my goal, but I guess in the meantime I should be more thankful that I’ve kept most of the weight off.