Weight Loss: Weight Watchers is Chuck Bennett’s Gain

Wiser food choices, exercise, and Weight Watchers are helping him to make the right kinds of gains

Rewind. Mid-1970s. In my early 20s, I was a fashion student at Wayne State University, a copy messenger at The Detroit News, and a house model for Hudson’s, Jacobson’s, and Saks Fifth Avenue. I had a small problem, though. Perfect model size for men was a 40-regular suit with a 32-inch waist. I wore a 38 suit with a 30-inch waist. I desperately wanted to gain weight.

Be careful what you wish for.

Fast-forward. Early 2000s. Now I’m The Detroit News society columnist and a local style watcher. I regularly attend parties and visit restaurants four to five times a week — eating the best food, drinking the best wine, more than fulfilling my early-adult wish to gain a few pounds. The size 38 suit became a size 60; the 32-inch waist was hitting the 54-inch mark.

I’d always go for my regular medical checkups and, through the grace of God, I’ve always been in good health. My doctor, Lonnie Joe, M.D., would warn that, despite my lack of ominous symptoms, he was concerned about my weight.

I remember going to see him and tipping the scale at about 290. I told myself that was OK, but I would never go over 300. Well, just a few months later, at the next doctor’s visit, I weighed in at 312. After that, I stopped counting and the pounds piled on.

Bad habits. My fast-and-steady weight gain was due to much more than my love of good food and having a job that regularly puts me in the company of gustatory temptation. I had really, really atrocious eating habits and made very poor decisions when it came to nutrition. I’ll share a few.

I never let a waiter pass me at a party with a tray of food without grabbing at least two or three of whatever was being offered.

When I did dine at home, I’d fry up enough food to feed a small family, then I’d indulge in my first seating at about 11 p.m., consuming at least two helpings, often three. After that, I’d go to bed, only to wake up between 3 and 4 a.m. for my “midnight” snack, noshing on whatever was left over from dinner: two or three pieces of chicken or pork chops, a big scoop of potato salad, a slice, no, make that a hunk, of Key Lime pie. This little routine became so entrenched that, if I weren’t in the kitchen by 3:30, Seven, my 12-year-old Labrador, would wake me up. Hey, there were great table-scrap benefits for her.

Speaking of Seven, I indulged in no physical activity. I even paid my brother, Paul, to walk my dog. For years, I’ve had an assistant/driver who does all of my errand running and other tasks that would require extra movement on my part. And exercise, well, there was never exercise.

This is a good one: One gallon of Arizona Sweet Tea every day. Those close to me knew the drill. If I was low on tea in the evening, we’d have to do whatever was necessary to get some sweet tea to get me through the night and early morning.  How much sugar was that?

I am what I am. I was one of those happy fat people — content with being full-figured. I’d ask for a seatbelt extension on an airplane with no shame. Without flinching, I’d tell the ride attendant at an amusement park to let me see if I fit in the seat. I admit I was concerned that I might soon be ordered to purchase two seats on a plane, but that concern was more about the money.

I probably was most disillusioned when I went shopping for clothes, though. Being a former model, I was bothered by the fact that I no longer looked great in clothes. I used to snatch anything off the rack and make it look good. Suddenly, I had to search high and low for clothes that looked acceptable.

A new day and good timing. A little over a year ago, I hired a new assistant, Everett Stewart. Having just turned 21 and being full of energy, Everett instructed me that in order to keep up with him, I was going to have to lose some weight. Just to humor him, I sent my friend Florine Mark an e-mail, inquiring about Weight Watchers.

Sitting in my office a few days later, Everett asked what I was going to do about my weight. At that moment, Florine called and said she was thrilled that I was finally going to join Weight Watchers and was willing to do something about my potentially unhealthful situation. Before I knew it, I was scheduled to attend my first Weight Watchers meeting.

Brand-new me. I’ve been a member of Weight Watchers for nearly a year now. I shed 64 pounds in the first seven months. For the last few months, that loss has been teetering between 57 and 64 pounds. Now that the bad practices have been abandoned, the hard work is beginning.

For the most part, I’m simply making better choices, and I don’t like wasting any calories. If I don’t thoroughly enjoy something, I don’t eat it. That’s what I like about the program; you still eat whatever you want, but it’s all about things like portion control and healthful substitutions. And even though fried chicken and mashed potatoes are still dear to my heart, these days I really enjoy a piece of grilled fish and sautéed spinach.

I still drink wine and cocktails. I still eat pizza and banana pudding, but in sensible portions. I go to my weekly Weight Watchers meeting, where I learn so much from my leader, Suzanne Sopfe, and my fellow weight watchers. What works for me might not work for you, so it’s good to hear what others do and how they handle certain situations.

I no longer eat after 9 p.m. I don’t eat the whole pizza by myself anymore. No more sweet tea, no more midnight snacks (unless it’s a few grapes or a couple of orange slices), and Seven and I take a one-mile walk every night. Clothes are starting to look good again, and I just feel better all around.

Another reward from the weight loss for me is the opportunity to inspire others to follow suit. Quite a few of my friends and associates have joined Weight Watchers or at least adopted more healthful eating practices since I’ve been successful in my quest.

And during her last checkup, even Seven’s veterinarian proudly announced that she was remarkably healthy and had lost eight unnecessary pounds.

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