Andersen: She’s fit, not fat

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

My cousin Joan’s picture in her family Christmas letter made me do a double take. In place of puffy plumpness was a svelte, trim woman who looked years younger. I thought it was Photoshopped. It wasn’t.

Joan is not fat anymore. She lost a third of her weight, down from her heaviest at 200-plus pounds, having shucked off more than 70 pounds. Her cure: adjusting her diet and getting regular exercise.

While she now fits “junior” fashions instead of her previous size 18, what she no longer fits is the cultural norm of complacent couch potatoes. Joan has effectively declared her independence from “comfort” foods that were sapping her vitality.

Time reported last week that over 900 million people in the developing world are obese, a 400 percent increase since 1980.

Weight loss for Joan began a few years ago when her sister, Carla, read an article about the ills of drinking wine.

“At the time,” Joan explained, “we were both drinking copious amounts of wine just cheap stuff out of a box. My sister stopped drinking it and immediately noticed an improvement in mood. She also stopped having a specific pain in her stomach. I quit drinking wine, too.”

Then came an article about food sensitivities that listed a myriad of health problems. “Both of us had about every problem listed,” Joan realized. “It was hard to believe that food could cause all of those things.”

They both dropped wheat, despite a love for home-baked bread, and discovered immediate benefits. No more indigestion, heartburn, reflux and skin problems.

“We were both stunned by the impact it had on so many different aspects of our health. And as a pleasant side effect, the weight started to fall off.”

Joan sent me “fat pictures” of herself that, next to her new look, were shocking. She was facing knee replacements because of joint pain, something that abated with her next dietary shift.

“I decided to try another thing from the list — sugar — that was beginning to be connected to inflammation. Within three days my knees and hands stopped hurting, and they have not hurt since. And did the weight fall off then!” she said.

Joan attributes her new life to experimentation. She and Carla simply tried going without certain traditional foods. The results were immediate and reaffirming. Choice became the currency on which they bought their personal freedom.

“We are continuing to experiment,” Joan said. “Carla dropped caffeine this summer and noticed huge benefits — better sleep, less anxiety. I followed suit and have had a big improvement in my speaking voice, which has been quite bad for years. We’re now working on alcohol. Carla’s been off it for three weeks and is sleeping better than she ever has in her adult life.”

They have eliminated soda, which has no food value and is mostly chemicals, and they also gave up artificial sweeteners. “We are down to a very low level of irritants. It is immediately obvious if we ingest any of this stuff what actually happens in our bodies and brains.”

These sisters have embarked on a path that challenges an epidemic in contemporary American life — overindulgence leading to health problems. Two and a half years after turning that corner, they have revolutionized their lifestyles, along with their bodies and minds.

“The prevailing attitude,” Joan said, “is that giving up desserts and bread and pasta is such a huge sacrifice and that we must be just miserable eating nothing but good food. But the truth is I don’t miss any of that in the slightest. Once you break the habit of eating all that stuff, you truly stop wanting it. That’s another benefit — no cravings.”

Joan noticed an added bonus. “When I was eating all the other crap I honestly didn’t have much of a sense of taste, but without the carbs and sugar I am tasting more wonderful flavors that I ever have before.

“I am willing to bet that 80 percent of what plagues our population is completely preventable and even reversible by a simple change in diet. If only people were of a more experimental mind, … but old habits die hard.”

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Monday. He can be reached by email at