began struggling with weight-gain after giving birth to my two
children: I was 29 years old, stood 5'4", and weighed 165
pounds. In the early eighties I went through a divorce and other
emotionally challenging periods and started eating as a way to
comfort myself. In a matter of just a couple of years, I was 100
pounds overweight. I was now 37 and weighed 235 pounds.
In 1990, at age 40, I joined Weight Watchers and ended up
losing all my extra weight in about 18 months. I ate the
standard American diet but restricted my calorie intake by
eating small portions at each meal. I ended up taking a job with
Weight Watchers, and the environment of constant reinforcement
enabled me to keep the weight off for five years.
However, I was often hungry because the allowed portions were
so small, and this often led me to break the rules. I was seldom
satisfied and often on the verge of going over my weight limit
(if you go over your weight limit for a long stretch of time you
can lose your job!). My view of dieting at this time was not
"What is healthiest for my body?" but rather, "What can I get
away with eating and not gain weight?"
When I eventually left my job at Weight Watchers, gone was
the constant reinforcement to keep my weight down. My perpetual
hunger led me to regain of all my lost weight. I was now back at
my original high weight of 235 pounds.
Due to the extra weight, I developed asthma, pre-diabetes (my
blood glucose was 103 mg/dL), and I began to feel hopeless.
Gaining back the extra weight at age 50 took a much greater toll
on my body than it had the first time around. I had little
energy, was short of breath with minimal exertion, and my back
and knees hurt. Believe it or not, my doctor at the time never
even mentioned that I should lose weight. His explanation was
that it was all due to my genes.
In January of 2003, I decided to try to get things under
control yet again. I did not rejoin Weight Watchers, but instead
created my own portion-controlled calorie-counting regimen based
on what I had learned at Weight Watchers. I also joined a
Jazzercise class, the first form of exercise I had ever enjoyed
during my previous weight loss. However, the weight came off
much more slowly since I was now older.
During the first year I lost 45 pounds, the next year I lost
30, and then my progress came to a halt. At this point I weighed
160 pounds, which was still 25 pounds from my target weight.
Worse yet, despite having lost a total of 75 pounds, my
cholesterol was 281 mg/dL (far more than the 200 mg/dL many
doctors say is desirable) and on a good day my blood pressure
was 145/90 mmHg. My doctor suggested I begin taking blood
Clearly, my calorie-controlled standard American diet was not
having the positive effect I had hoped for. Not wanting to be
tied to medication for the rest of my life, I decided to decline
my doctor's recommendation for pills and instead began reading
about how I could reduce my blood pressure naturally.
Discovering the path to permanent weight-loss
My research led me to seriously cut back on my salt intake,
which eventually led me to the work of Dr. McDougall. I
remembered reading some of his books in the eighties, but
rejected his recommendations of a low-fat, plant-based diet as
being "too extreme." But now in 2005, while facing a future of
declining health, they no longer seemed so extreme.
I didn't really care for meat, but my dairy and cheese
consumption was driving my cholesterol through the roof. I began
to wonder, "What's so extreme about oatmeal and bananas for
breakfast, boiled potatoes and green salads for lunch, and baked
sweet potatoes and broccoli for supper?" So I began, and soon
discovered the McDougall plan was quite simple, the foods were
delicious and, most importantly, the meals were filling!
no longer had to count calories and control my portions. I went
on to discover hundreds of recipes in the McDougall books,
newsletters, and on the website. I have since lost my last 25
pounds, and have reached my target weight of 135 pounds. My most
recent cholesterol reading was 142 mg/dL, my blood glucose was
78 mg/dL, and my blood pressure on a typical day is 115/75 mmHg.
My husband, Tom, also decided to adopt the McDougall
lifestyle along with me in 2005. He has since lost 80 pounds and
is a Star McDougaller in his own right. My oldest son and
daughter-in-law have adopted the McDougall diet and have had
excellent results. My youngest son, who is a sous-chef in an
upscale restaurant, does not follow the same eating style as we
do but is supportive. (I'm trying to persuade him to add some
McDougall-friendly items to the menu, or at least when Mom comes
Today, at age 56, I exercise daily, doing Jazzercise five
days a week, as well as occasional walking, running, and biking.
My friends at Jazzercise have witnessed my entire weight-loss
process, and they applaud me. When newcomers hear about my
history, they will often ask how I achieved such success, and I
am always happy to share my story with them.
I have also stopped drinking alcohol, coffee, and caffeinated
beverages. Now when I get out of bed I feel very awake and my
energy stays level throughout the day. I love the way I look,
but even more I love the way I feel: light, energetic, strong,
and confident that I can do this for the rest of my life and
never have to worry about portion control and weight gain again.
I look forward to a long and healthy life while continuing to
follow the McDougall diet. I am not an overnight sensation. It
has taken persistent effort to get where I am today. But as the
old fable says: Slow and steady wins the race.
Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Dr. McDougall's Comments
On the first day of each 10-day live-in McDougall Program in
Santa Rosa, California, I begin my first lecture by telling
participants that those people who have "failed" repeatedly at
dieting in the past are the ones who are almost certain to
succeed this time, because they have, over the years, put the
work in required to finally make changes permanent. Now the
staff members of The McDougall Program are going to add the
finishing touches. Karen's learning experiences from Weight
Watchers were essential for her success with us. Without these
"failures" The McDougall Program would have amounted to no more
than one of the beginning steps in her journey for better
Many people also come to our program with stories of having
"failed" with the Pritikin or Ornish Programs, and I try to
explain to them that these educational experiences were
necessary steps and I remind them that when they look back they
must give deserved credit to these excellent programs.
More than half of the people who attend our live-in program
have previously tried to follow our recommendations from the
McDougall books and DVDs. Fortunately, most of them had
experienced sufficient benefits to understand the value of our
low-fat, starch-based diet and exercise. But, because permanent
changes require time and effort they "fell off the wagon," as
the saying goes. Many experimented, before and after their
McDougall experiences, with completely opposite,
low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets (Atkins, Zone, etc.). They
received painful lessons from these diets. Finally through
persistence they decided, as Karen did, to commit to the
McDougall Program—and that commitment was the turning point.
(She recently dedicated 10 days to focusing on her health at our
One comment I enjoy making to people is, "Those of you who
have known me for many years will notice that I (Dr. John
McDougall) am looking trimer, stronger, and handsomer than the
last time you saw me. And the reason is that I take better care
of myself now than I did in the past—and it shows." Few people
follow a perfect diet, exercise ideally, and have pristine
habits. But, as we get older we take better care of ourselves.
My sincere hope is that our rate of learning stays ahead of our
development of serious disease and disability. We also want to
live life looking, feeling, and functioning at our best.
Perfection is not required—just steady progress.
So if you feel like an "incurable failure," think again. A
worthwhile education is an ongoing, difficult, and sometimes
painful process. There is no reason to give up and every
reason—since life is good—to seek experiences that will make us
better persons, capable of getting more of what we
deserve—health, prosperity, and happiness.
Star McDougallers in their own words...
Click video once to start.