So I am going to share an incredible and improbable story that has been almost a year in the making. It started surreal, and ultimately ended up spectacular.
Last May, I was in Los Angeles for the “Weight Loss Boss” book promotion tour. For reasons that I still don’t completely understand, I got booked on Extra. I look nothing like Matt Damon, yet they still had me on. Go figure.
I showed up for the taping at the Grove (a shopping mall in LA), prepared to do an exercise demo with our fitness expert, Jennifer Cohen. In my mind, this made the taping already a little odd as I had to wear shorts and a t-shirt and then do something that looks a bit like a burpee on national TV. What can I say? There isn’t much that I wouldn’t do to get the WW message out into the world.
When I arrived, I was told that the Extra producer (Tammi Fuller — a veritable force of nature) had something extra (no pun intended) in mind. They were going to grab a person off the street, have them join Weight Watchers and then ask me to be their mentor. I was completely caught off guard and bewildered, but I impulsively agreed.
OK, that’s my story, but here is how it looked for my new mentee (not a word I realize). A nice woman by the name of Sheila was minding her own business at the Grove shopping for lipstick. She happened to notice that someone was giving out free vouchers for Weight Watchers at the mall. She stepped forward and asked for one, and she was then pulled aside and asked if she would like to be mentored by the CEO of Weight Watchers and have her progress followed on TV. I cannot for the life of me imagine what this must have felt like for her. Were it me, I would have started to scream “fire” and run for the nearest exit. Sheila took the other path, and simply said: ”sure, I guess.”
So try to imagine being Sheila, having been pulled off the street, asked to join Weight Watchers and then have her progress followed by over a million people. Sheila and I were taken upstairs to a filming area above a restaurant at the Grove. There, we were met by Sheila’s Weight Watchers Leader-to-be, Alicia. Sheila was asked to stand on a scale and get her starting weight from Alicia. Just like a regular Weight Watchers meeting except for the itty-bitty-minor-little addition of having a giant video camera trained on her and her number. 290 pounds. Not exactly a confidential weigh in. Frankly, I almost passed out in sympathy for her. She then got her Getting Started Session (GSS for those in the know), and just like that, she began the Weight Watchers program. The filming crew disbanded, I went to catch a flight and Sheila was probably wondering exactly what she had just stepped into.
The Extra! episode that I came out to tape was aired, but the material including Sheila didn’t make the cut (Extra! is only a 1/2 hour show and their segments are usually 1-2 minutes, so they have my full sympathies!). My assumption was that the show changed its mind, and I didn’t have any expectation that there would be any future mention of Sheila on TV. However, I felt that a deal was a deal, and I wanted to uphold my commitment to be Sheila’s mentor. And so I did…
Over the next eight months, I would get an update from Alicia, Sheila’s Leader, on her progress. I would usually send Sheila a quick email with an encouragement or congratulations of some sort. She and I started corresponding on email, and I would try to offer useful advice whenever I could. We also did a couple of Skype sessions along the way.
Sheila was going to her meeting pretty much ever week without fail. She loved Alicia’s meeting. None of the other members knew of the arrangement — in their eyes, she was just another member. In truth, that was actually true. Sheila was tracking all the time, she started to clean up her “spaces” at home, and she started working on her new “routines”. She also started to exercise for the first time in a very long time. It was hard at first, but it all started to take. Sheila was losing weight regularly, by simply following the program and sticking with it.
There were definite moments of trepidation in Sheila’s journey as there are for all of us. One of her first was a 10 day trip to Memphis, the land of eating big. She was going to be with family and in an environment that she could not control. Sheila first talked to Alicia, and she then spoke with me. We both gave her the same advice: try to stick to your new routines, meals, exercise patterns whenever and wherever you can. Lo and behold, she came back from vacation and discovered that she had lost over three pounds. She couldn’t believe it.
Over time, I noticed a lot of changes. Most significantly, I watched her confidence grow and grow. I would try to give her advice, and she would tell me, “Dave, I’ve got this.”
Sheila started the program on May 17 of last year. I got word in January of this year that Sheila was getting ready to hit the 70 pound loss milestone. I then received word that the producers of Extra! wanted her on the show. I agreed (eagerly) to come out to celebrate her success on national TV. Sheila was introduced to the world having lost 77 pounds in nine months. She had become an entirely new person in less than a year. The woman who never cooked was now regularly making her own healthy meals. The woman who never exercised was now working out every day. Sheila has now set the goal of running a half marathon this fall.
Sheila told me the story of how she used to dread seeing her doctor, who she loves, because she would be confronted with the fact that she was “morbidly obese”. 70 pounds later, and she was understandably eager to now see her doctor who was amazed by her progress. She was rewarded further still when her doctor told her that she no longer needed to be on blood pressure medicine. As someone who lost three loved ones to heart disease, Sheila could not have hoped for a bigger gift.
What I love about this story is that Sheila is exactly the kind of person that many people would have counted out. Many would have said she was beyond help. Instead, Sheila chose to make her own destiny. She is now a healthier, stronger, more confident person for it.
I am indebted to Alicia for guiding Sheila in the way that only a Weight Watchers Leader can. I am indebted to Sheila for showing me once again the possibilities of the human spirit in action.
Here is the tape from the Extra! show this week. Watch and be amazed and try not to mock the stiff in the suit.