Roberta Varney: Weight Problems

Updated May 6, 2013

roberta_varney01-2443393I started the 10 Day Live-In McDougall Program on Oct. 4, 2002 weighing 222 pounds.  A year later I now weigh 162.5 pounds, but this really isn’t my accomplishment.  The credit goes to the McDougall Program at Santa Rosa, California for giving me such a rock solid foundation for my lifestyle change and to my family for their support.

I’ve had weight problems going back to fourth grade, when I was given an obesity diet by our family doctor.  I tipped the scales at 110 pounds.  I was fairly trim at 145 pounds from junior high through college in Southern California, due mainly to gym classes and after-school sports activities.

After marriage and two sons, I began to steadily put on weight.  I thought nothing of a large Pyrex bowl of popcorn with 1/3 c. melted butter for a snack, or a pint of sour cream with dried onion soup mixed in and a big bag (or two) of potato chips.

In 1968, I joined T.O.P.S. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly).  I don’t think we quite had the right idea.  We’d starve and exercise all week; then after the weigh-in on meeting night, it was off to Hof’s Hut for a giant slice of strawberry pie with whipped cream.  I did however lose 65 pounds and become that year’s queen of weight loss.  I was down to 140 pounds.

In early 1969, we moved to Seattle and before I knew it, the scale began creeping up.  The next weight loss was in the late 1980s, when I was walking 15 miles per week, including 10K Volksmarches on the week-ends. I even walked two full 26 mile marathons. I maintained at 160 pounds. At the same time, I was on a fatfree listserv on the internet.  We had endless battles between those who Ornished, and those who McDougalled.  I had read Dr. Dean Ornish’s first book and kept my fat below 10%, and it worked for a time.

By the early 1990s, I had stopped walking as much as before, so naturally gained weight.  I saw Dr. McDougall in person at the Seattle Center during The Taste of Health fair.  He was very interesting and made perfect sense.  However, I couldn’t stay on his program for more than several weeks.  I toyed off and on with vegetarianism for the next decade, always eating cheese and butter (for my protein, of course).

roberta_varney02-9888562Finally, I was able to join the McDougall Program at Santa Rosa’s Flamingo Hotel and Resort.  On October 4, 2002, my life changed dramatically.  At the end of the 10 day program, I knew what to eat and why (Dr. McDougall).  I knew how to shop for groceries and convert recipes (Mary McDougall).  I knew how to cook what I bought (Jill Nussinow and alumni Roberta Joiner).  I knew why I ate the wrong food and how not to do that again (Dr. Doug Lisle and his famous art work).  Heather McDougall handled the logistics and nurse Deborah took our weight daily.  A team of exercise specialists took us through varied physical activities.  We spent our spare moments at the Health Club, or at the nearby kitchen shop buying the way cool kitchen tools that Mary and Jill used.  We even learned how to eat out.

In just 10 days I saw my own cholesterol drop dramatically.  I saw Type II diabetics stop using their medicines and keep their blood sugar at a safe level, under the watchful eye of Dr. McDougall.  I saw people barely able to move at first now walking and exercising with vigor and confidence.

I no longer wanted a nightly glass of wine.  Even though I had wine in my truck at Santa Rosa, I completely forgot about it.  Dr. Doug said my subconscious knew the wine was there and this was energy conservation (too lazy to walk out to the truck and get it).

I had several Aha! McDougall moments.  The first came when I tried to go from exercising with a 1.5 pound weight to a 3 pound weight.  I could barely lift the 3 pound weight, then realized that I had lost 3 pounds that day.  If I couldn’t lift the weight, how had I been carrying that extra 3 pounds around for years? The second moment was realizing that if coffee grounds and fat were very bad to dump down my septic tank at home, why would I dump them down my throat?

As the weight steadily came off, there were unexpected side effects.  My right hip and knee no longer ached and kept me awake at night.  Shoes that were either too tight or fit incorrectly became perfectly comfortable.  I could walk normally between the columns of cars on the ferryboat decks without having to turn sideways and hold my breath.  Movie theater and airplane seats fit just fine.

When I am tempted to eat foods off the program, I immediately hear Dr. Doug’s voice in my mind, asking is this “pleasure seeking, pain avoidance, or energy conservation?”  By the time I decide which is the answer, I’ve forgotten the question.  Add to that the disease level of cows and chickens, plus hormones and antibiotics, and animal products no longer have an appeal.

Several things have happened in my life that could easily have triggered unhealthy eating. The clutch on my truck went out the afternoon I left Santa Rosa at the end of the program. I was grounded in Eureka for two days during repairs.  Luckily there was a Chinese restaurant next to my motel, and I had been taught exactly how to order the right food, thanks to Mary McDougall.  Between that and Home Town Buffet, I found plenty of approved food.

Several weeks later, I had an attack of atrial fibrillation due to thyroid medicine that was too strong for me.  There have been several more episodes of varying intensity as the doctors try to control it.  I am now taking a much lower dose of thyroid, plus medicines for the heart.  I’m not happy about having to take the medication, but I know that the McDougall diet is my best chance for good health.  In fact, after the first attack, the doctor said, “Well at least we know your arteries must be squeaky clean–otherwise you’d have had a heart attack!”

Besides the excellent foundation provided by the Program in Santa Rosa, I also am aided by the full support of my family.  For my birthday my older son’s wife adjusted the menu to provide me with a McDougall-legal meal.  My younger son’s fiancee made me a McDougall birthday brownie complete with candle.  Her sister cooked me McDougall muffins for Christmas breakfast and vegan food for Christmas dinner.

A very important McDougall Aha! moment happened regarding my younger son’s recent wedding.  I was telling Mary McDougall that I had bought a pretty dress for the occasion, and I looked great!  Then I suddenly realized that for years I had been using weight as an excuse to shy away from social events.  Now I can enjoy them to the fullest extent.

I also gave another person an Aha! moment recently.  She asked how much I exercised.  Sheepishly I replied that I just line dance twice a week.  She said, “But I thought you’d been at Curves for Women or out walking for miles and miles.  I never dreamed that what you eat could make that much difference.”

I still have plenty of weight to lose, but have the confidence that I can do it thanks to the McDougall Program and my family.  If I can do it, YOU can do it.

Doug Lisle, Ph.D. Comments:

A Golf Lesson from Doug Lisle, PhD – Staff Psychologist at the McDougall Program

I have observed that books – though they have their place and value – are not usually the best way to learn.  My example:  I had read many books on golf, but I was completely frustrated with my game. I never improved no matter how closely I followed their printed tips.  After a frustrating seven years – reading and golfing – I reached a crossroad.  That fateful day was my birthday – supposedly the happiest day of the year – I played 18 holes and had a miserable day.  I walked off the course, my confidence shattered – promising myself that I would either learn how to play a respectable game, or admit defeat and quit forever.

I had taken a couple of lessons over the years, but they seemed expensive, and hadn’t helped much.  Even so I decided to give personal instruction one last try.  I went to a nearly golf club to watch two pros give lessons.  One was a grouchy old guy, I didn’t like him.  The other was a calm, patient, very sensible-sounding lady, named Mary Lou.

I hit a hole-in-one – Mary Lou was the coach I needed.  Within a month I was doing the basics correctly – and the game became fun for the first time.  With a few more lessons, I was playing better than I had ever hoped.  I was ecstatic, and told everyone who would listen about Mary Lou, and encouraged all my friends to take her instruction.  But the more important lesson for me was: there is nothing to replace hands-on instruction – learning under the guidance of a master.  Personal teachers provide individual coaching, experiences, and feedback no book can achieve – no matter how well written and no matter how hard you try.  This is the message I want to tell all of you who feel frustrated about your health:  Now is not the time to give up.  Now is the time to get personal help.

Participants at our McDougall Program in Santa Rosa, California change right before our eyes.  Participants arrive thinking. “I will never get control of my health and weight” and always leave 10-days later confident they can make, with ease, long overdue changes.  Why not?  The sole purpose of the McDougall Program is to change people’s lives for the better – and the unanimous opinion of former participants, like Roberta Varney, is it does just that – in most cases far more effectively and painlessly than they had ever expected.  In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t wasted seven years as a frustrated golfer.  Isn’t it time to admit the same about your health?  Consider this my personal invitation to you to let us help you to end the frustration – please join a McDougall Program in 2004.  You will wish you had done it sooner.

Happy Holidays,
Doug Lisle, Ph.D.