CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There's no doubt that Americans are struggling to lose weight -- and with some of the highest obesity rates in the nation, West Virginians are struggling more than the residents of a lot of other states. But there are plenty of people -- right here in West Virginia -- who have succeeded, people who have somehow managed to lose significant amounts of weight and keep it off for the long term.
Any number of discouraged dieters might chalk those success stories up to luck, or good genes, a secret magic potion or something else far out of their own control. After all, it's about this time every year that the millions of people who resolved to lose weight begin to lose not their weight but their momentum.
By year's end, only 8 percent will have kept the resolutions they made with such determination, and only a fraction of those will ultimately keep the weight off -- somewhere between 5 and 10 percent, according to studies by the National Weight Control Registry, researchers at Harvard University and the Penn State College of Medicine, among others.
With discouraging statistics like that, you might well as yourself, "Why bother?"
Before you decide to throw in the towel and reach for the ice cream, let's hear from those who have literally walked this path before. Today we begin the first in an occasional series on "successful losers" -- how they overcame past dieting failures, what made the difference this time around, what programs they followed, and what advice they have for others.
'I felt bad, physically'
With a name like Candy, how could you not have a weight problem?
Candy Douglas began gaining weight shortly after high school, and continued piling on the pounds through stressful times with family health problems or during intense classes in nursing school.
It wasn't that she didn't try to lose the weight. In fact, it felt like she was trying all the time.
"I lost the same 30 pounds three times," she said in a recent interview. "There would be a crisis and I'd gain it all back and more."
When she was at her heaviest all-time weight, somewhere around 194, she was diagnosed with asthma, which made exercise programs more complicated -- not that she was exercising much at the time.
"I pretty much hit a bottom point. I felt bad, physically. I just wasn't about to do things like I used to. I'd get out of breath walking up a flight of stairs," she said.
"Every time I'd gain the weight back, I'd think, 'What am I not doing right? Why do I keep gaining weight?'"
A cardiac nurse, she took a hard look at her health. What she saw frightened her.
"It wasn't just my weight. When I hit 50, my cholesterol was the highest it ever was. After a really stressful meeting, my blood pressure was 160 over 90, the highest I'd ever seen it," she said.
"I realized my dad had his heart attack at 55, and I thought, if I don't make some changes, I'm going to be in serious trouble."
Two different health professionals recommended she take part in a stress management program, but she wasn't able to find such a program at the time anywhere in the Kanawha Valley.
Finally, her husband pointed her to some information about the Ornish program offered through Charleston Area Medical Center.
Designed by Dr. Dean Ornish in the late 1970s as a cardiac disease reversal program, it requires a year-long commitment and aims to help patients make healthy, sustainable lifestyle changes through stress management, group support, diet and exercise.
"They never once said, 'Oh, you're going to lose this much weight in this period of time.' They didn't emphasize that. They look at healthy lifestyles."
But the weight did come off, Douglas said.
At 5-foot-6, she dropped from 194 to 130 pounds, and went from clothing so large she's not even sure what size it was to the size 4 she wears today. It took roughly a year, and three years later, she's maintained the weight loss.
"There was nothing left in my closet that I could wear -- I had to get a whole new wardrobe!" she said.
Her husband is proud, but, "More than that, he knows I'm going to be around for a while," she said.
As for advice to others, Douglas says, "Don't give up. So many people think they can't lose the weight because they haven't done it yet. If one thing doesn't work, try something else when you're mentally ready. There's not one thing that works for everybody. Just don't give up."
'Every diet you can imagine'