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LOST: 816 pounds // Dieters weigh in with the secrets of their success.

When Times columnist Jan Glidewell recounted his battle to lose 85 pounds last year, dozens of readers came forward with similar _ and even more dramatic _ success stories.

Some were motivated by health or fear, others by love or the search for it. Some weigh themselves religiously, some not at all. A few found support groups essential, many spurned organized regimens.

Most followed similar common-sense plans: switch to low-fat or non-fat foods, start getting some exercise, drink water.

The one essential diet secret common to each success story was personal commitment _ for life. Some eventually lost 100 or 200 pounds; some have just started. All are thrilled.

In this time of resolution, read on and take heart (and save to read again):

Paul Dombrowski, 8, Dunedin, who lost 35 pounds in 8 months (from his mother Karen):

Paul is 8 years old. He very much wanted to play youth football this year. However, in order to play in his age level, he needed to lose over 35 pounds. He started last January. He lost about 15 pounds between January and July. He needed to still lose 20 more and did so by the beginning of September.

There was no magical way he did this. It was only through determination and hard work. He counted fat grams, watched what he ate and exercised. He looks great and feels great. He has more confidence as well as self-esteem. He was an inspiration to us all. He's kept the weight off, too!

Alberta "Bertie" Wilcox, Spring Hill, who lost 75 pounds in 10 years, going from size 20 to size 8 or 10.

I took a small salad dish for my plate and I eat everything I have been eating all my life _ only what fits on the plate.

(I watched) a little squirrel eating a peanut. He took 10 minutes to eat that single nut and I thought "He's smarter than any of us."

I weigh myself every morning and write it on my calendar. I watched it go from 195 to 121.)

Edwin A. Lade, St. Petersburg, who lost 200 pounds in two years and a total of 220 pounds, dropping from 470 pounds to 250:

It is up to the person to do the job. You can go to these classes and get help, but you and only you can keep control . . . I have one picture of me when I was big. That's all I want around. I would laugh. When I lost all my weight, people where I worked asked where the big man was. I told them he was still working here . . . A lot of people could not believe that I was the same person.

It takes willpower and I believe that a person can take off weight and keep it off. I did. I think there are a lot of people who would like to try but are chicken to try to take weight off. I feel better. I have to buy smaller clothes now. And I make my doctor happy.

Jeffrey W. Hodaba, Lutz, who lost 134 pounds, dropping from 309 to 175 pounds in 18 months and maintained it for 18 months:

I used to eat a lot of candy and cake snacks. Now I eat pretzels and fruits. There are a lot of products on the market now that are great-tasting and low in fat. If I want to eat hot dogs, I buy fat-free. If I want cheese, I buy fat-free. I will also eat some foods that are high in fat, but I limit the portion and do not eat these meals every day.

When I go to the movies, I also bring my snacks in with me because the theaters do not have any healthy alternative that I feel is good enough. I do not exercise on a regular basis, but I try and do little things to help. I do not take elevators; I walk up the stairs when I can. I go mall shopping with my sisters, etc.

I also keep pictures and clothes of me when I was heavy because when I need to, I will look at them and say, "Never again will I be that fat." I brought a pair of pants to work one day, and I and a co-worker were able to fit in them. To this day, I cannot believe I let myself get that way.

I guess what I really want to stress is that anybody can do it and lose the weight, no matter how much they have to lose. And don't give up _ a lot of us have been there.

Sandy Pleshko, New Port Richey, who lost 33 pounds in six months:

The most important part of a successful weight loss is to be ready to do it. If you cannot make the commitment or see losing weight as a deprivation, you will not succeed and will look forward to finding reasons to quit.

The motivation? Men stopped flirting with me. I didn't know if it was my age or my weight. My weight was something I could do something about _ and being fat was the reason. The winks and sidelong glances are back again and it feels good!

Kathy Hurry, Largo, who went from 258 pounds to 114, from size 22 to size 3 in two years, then stabilized at her goal weight of 130 and has maintained it since 1989:

I finally realized that I couldn't lose the weight on someone else's diet, and needed to invent my own weight-loss program . . . quit eating high-content-fat foods, create a more active lifestyle and increase my fluid intake, especially water.

One of the first things that I did was to create a list of all the high-fat-content items that I normally consumed. I called this my "offender" list. From that day forward, I eliminated those offenders from my diet. I faithfully kept this list with me everywhere I went.

Another list that I carried with me was a fat gram counter. I limited myself to 20 fat grams per day, and faithfully recorded every item I put into my mouth and how many fat grams were contained in what I ate. Once I reached my maximum amount, I did not consume another item that day except clear fluids.

I tried not to eat anything after 6 p.m. and did three 15- to 20-minute workouts per day, making sure that I always did one workout prior to bed.

As a single, working mom, I had very little extra time to fit in the workouts. I became very inventive in creating the time, including running up and down flights of stairs at work, jogging around the grounds at work during breaks and lunch, and always volunteering for any extra running between departments. I found that as I lost weight, I had increased energy and could increase my activity level even more.

Whenever I have an urge to indulge in something that I know is not healthy for me, I take a look at a picture of myself when I was at my heaviest and ask myself if it's actually worth it. By that time, I usually don't want it anymore.

I have shared my diet program with others who have also been successful in taking their weight off. I stress the need to be creative in making the program uniquely theirs, and that only they have control over it and can make it work, but only if they perceive it as a lifetime commitment.

Pepper Van Beest, Largo, who lost 60 pounds in 1987 and has gained back only 7 pounds:

I walk every day a minimum of 3 miles/45 minutes.

I roll out of bed and onto the sidewalk before I do anything else _ every day.

I eat low-fat _ aim at 20 grams a day but don't fret about it.

I only weigh at the doctor's office once a year.

I eat a lot _ snacking whenever I feel like it, but only on low-/no-fat stuff.

Alice Vandermeir, Pinellas Park, who lost 45 pounds since September 1994:

The hardest part for me was not the exercise or the new meals. It was the shopping! I now had to read and understand the labels on all foods, and I think for the first two months I spent more time in the grocery store than I did walking the 3 miles daily. However, as time went on, it got easier. You soon realize that fresh, raw fruits and vegetables are not only good for you but actually good, save time shopping and preparing. I invested in a small kitchen scale and an extra set of measuring spoons and cups because I always seemed to need one more clean one.

Adam Locascio, Tallahassee, who lost 60 pounds, dropping from a 42-inch waist to 34.

My secret was cycle dieting. I ate 5 grams of fat or less Sunday through Thursday. On Friday and Saturday I ate what I wanted, but in moderation. I worked out on a schedule of "two days on, one day off," training the back and triceps, the chest and biceps, and the legs and shoulders together.

I have balanced out at 202 pounds and have kept the weight off by continuing to exercise, keeping my fat intake below 10 grams a day and staying active by Rollerblading, playing football and basketball. It works. It just takes the dedication to make a lifestyle change.

Frank M. Gallagher, St. Pete Beach, who lost 30 pounds and maintained for 35 years):

Moderation is the key.

Eat and drink moderately.

Exercise and play daily.

Keeps you going for another day.

More success secrets

Matti Forss, Espoo, Finland:

A little over 30 years ago, I was _ at least in my own opinion _ overweight, fat, sloppy, whatever terms you want to use. Not enormously so, but the main thing is I did not like what I looked like or how I felt about myself.

I looked at the mirror and said to myself: "Never again." I know never is a long, long time, but so far I have kept my promise _ a promise I gave myself. There is a big difference in making promises. You promise your wife, husband, fellow worker, neighbor, etc. And then they do something, say something which may give a person an escape route, a loophole, not to keep his/her own promise. But when you promise yourself, there is no way out, so to speak. All this babbling means that the real motivation comes from our own head and heart _ as in everything we do!

Just look into a mirror _ real or imaginary _ and say to yourself: "Never again!"

Lidia R. Walters, Clearwater:

Rule No. 1: Before I go grocery shopping, I eat a big meal. Then I enter the store with no appetite _ not hungry at all.

Rule No. 2: Make a list of items as you need them. Stick to that list; do not let the presentation of items, not necessary on anyone's diet, sway you in their direction. A little treat now and then will not hurt anyone, but if you avoid purchasing "junk" items, you will not have them in your house to eat.

Rule No. 3: The amount of needed daily calories depends on your sex, size, lifestyle. I do not consume more than 800 calories a day.

Rule No. 4: Breakfast should be substantial, but not a meal in itself. I take my vitamins with orange juice, coffee, cereal and/or fruit. That is all.

Rule No. 5: Dinner is my next and last meal of the day, preferably around 4 p.m., no later than 5 p.m. No breads or dessertstwo or three vegetables, fish or chicken or some kind of meat (variety is the best road to take), all accompanied by one glass of wine (not three).

Rule No. 6: Brush your teeth at the end of your 5 p.m. meal. It helps to avoid the temptation of eating a cracker or a cookie.

Rule No. 7: Have the discipline to follow up on all these points and you will find it easy to maintain your weight.

Albert P. Johnson, Zephyrhills:

Weighing a minimum of several times a week is a must as it reminds you of your purpose and gives an early indication of any gain. If there is any secret, it is only the personal determination that living free of medical drugs and doctors' visits _ in fact, living _ is worth the so-called sacrifice.

For years, I have eaten food without adding any salt or sugar. Avoiding red meat is a must, and eat very little of anything that is fried. I have lived on chicken and turkey for years with occasional fish, but it became difficult to buy fresh fish at one time, so we no longer buy it. More than 12 years ago, we gave up smoking and alcohol. There also has to be physical activity of some type in your daily life. Fifteen years ago, my hypertension was so out of control that a doctor in Largo referred to me as "a walking dead man." I fell victim to glaucoma and found my blood sugar was so elevated I was determined to be diabetic.

My motivation: In 1979 I met the lady who became my wife in 1980. It also occurred to me the Nazis failed to kill me off in World War II, as did the Red Chinese in Korea and the Viet Cong in two assignments to Vietnam. Why then would I be so stupid as to self-destruct by not doing those things that would help keep me alive longer? Easy? No! But then, no one ever said life would be easy.

Edda Bragdon Zepeda, Palm Harbor

About 10 years ago, I started jogging to get in shape and lose weight. I would run during the week and "reward" myself by pigging out on the weekends. All I succeeded in doing was toning up my leg muscles and seesawing on my weight. Whatever weight I would lose during the week went back on during the weekends. After five years, I decided to get serious and lose the extra weight once and for all.

I gave up red meat, cut fat, eliminated alcohol and sugar. My diet consisted of chicken, fish, vegetables and fruit. Oh, and yes, lots of water, water, water. I would "treat" myself weekly to some non-fat yogurt and once in a great while I would have a dessert.

I have kept my weight off by running 4 to 5 miles a day, five days a week, bicycling on the weekends and continuing to watch what I eat. And yes, I weigh myself daily and set a weight limit. Without that, the weight has a tendency to creep back very quickly. My motivation comes from those who never seem to let me forget how much weight I have lost and how "good" I look now. That and my size 7 dresses!

Mark R. Kolman, St. Petersburg:

The secret, or really common-sense approach, to weight control is not to let yourself get so hungry you lose control over your eating pattern.

Eating foods like fruits, seasoned vegetables, low-calorie soups and low-fat snacks throughout the day, while keeping a running estimate of your calorie intake, is the most sensible way to maintain control over your weight.

Long walks and moderate exercise help hold your weight in its desired shape.

Marian Corell, Clearwater:

Your story regarding weight loss has so inspired me that your picture and story are now on my refrigerator!

So happy you are now in size M shorts. Such small things are glorious. People don't realize what a difference going down in size means to self-esteem.

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