What is the #1 resolution for the New Year? To eat healthier and lose weight. And it’s also the most elusive for many people. But how many people have actually done that? And what has made them keep the weight off?

“My knees hurt,” says Vicki Vaisvila matter-of-factly, when asked what the turning point was to improving her health. She is now 115 pounds lighter. Vaisvila has been a waitress at the Cozy Corner Restaurant on Marion Street in Oak Park for more than 20 years. “My doctor has been telling me for years to lose weight but I never listened,” she said, waving her hand dismissively. “I had Type II diabetes, and he was always changing my medication,” she said, but it never inspired her to change her ways. Working around food and having constant access to it didn’t help.

Vaisvila readily admits to having had all the stereotypical “bad habits” that contribute to obesity. “Susy Q was my best friend,” she said, laughingly referring to the popular chocolate and whipped cream treat. “I would eat one or two every day or some other kind of snack cake along with cheeseburgers or whatever I felt like eating. I was always picking at something,” she said. “I would go home from work and take a nap, then go out with my husband and eat a whole meal again at a restaurant.”

A surgical jumpstart

For Nancy Keller it was the desire to live an active and positive social life in middle-life. Keller has lost more than 100 pounds”130 to be current. The 20-year veteran with the Oak Park Post Office never felt overweight. “At 6-feet-3 inches, being tall to begin with, I carried the weight pretty well,” she says. “And I knew how to dress so it wasn’t like I was hiding in muumuus.”

In October 2003, Keller successfully had elective gastric bypass surgery performed by a River Forest surgeon. One month later, she joined Curves on South Boulevard in Oak Park. “I knew I had to exercise to make sure the weight didn’t come back,” she said. “I go to Curves three times a week and the weight keeps coming off.” Keller is credited by the Curves’ staff as a role model for many who go there. “Everyone knows her and sees how great she is doing”when she’s here, she works hard,” says Curves manager Karla Sliwka. “She is very outgoing and friendly; she participates in all the special programs.”

Mind over matter

Diane Cummings, resource teacher at Whittier Elementary School in Oak Park, has experienced weight-loss success and also the typical weight-loss re-gain. She is still searching for the ultimate final solution. “I’m stronger,” she says of her health regimen. “I have more muscle.” In addition to diet and exercise, Cummings takes an intellectual approach to bettering her health. “I believe you have to look at what is causing you to over-eat,” she says.

Like Keller, Cummings finds success by routinely going to Curves exercise classes. She particularly likes reading the inspirational quotes posted around the facility. “One I like is something like ‘start the New Year not by listing all the things you did wrong and need to change but by celebrating the things you did right.’ After achieving a significant weight loss, Cummings found herself suddenly experiencing a block in progress. Mystified, she turned to her family medical history and has learned that there is a legacy of intestinal troubles which she also shares.

That led her to Gina Orlando, a hypno-therapist and wellness consultant at Gottlieb Hospital. “People are at their most receptive when they are in an almost sleeplike-state of hypnosis,” says Cummings. “That’s when the messages are the most impactful.” She is finding that Orlando’s positive, self-affirming messages when she is in this state and Orlando’s program to overcome obstacles and achieve desired results is beneficial. “As women, we never accept ourselves, no matter what weight we are,” she says. “I am working on that.”

Healthy habits pay off

For Vaisvila, a healthy routine is important. She now eats three meals a day”breakfast is usually a fresh grapefruit and low-sugar cereal like shredded wheat, Cheerios or Special K with skim milk “I said I would never drink skim milk,” she says emphatically. “Now I can’t stand 2 percent.” Black coffee.

Lunch is a salad. “I eat lots of salads”with whatever dressing I want”and lots of vegetables” and dinner is the same with chicken, fish or a hamburger patty two or three times a week. “Smaller portions,” she recommends. “I still eat at Burger King, Taco Bell, but I eat healthier and smaller portions,” she says. If she gets hungry, she will have popcorn and a Diet Coke or “Del Rey tortilla chips” but maybe eight chips, not a large amount.

“Don’t get me wrong. I could eat three cheeseburgers with French fries dipped in mayonnaise right now,” she said, referring to her love of fried food and salad dressing as a condiment. “I just choose not to”self-control.”

Vaisvila is quick to give Weight Watchers kudos for her success. “I am a lifetime member,” she says proudly. Lifetime status is achieved when a member achieves goal weight and keeps it off for one year. “I had a leader who really helped me; she didn’t get on people if they couldn’t lose weight.”

After losing 10 pounds, she joined a gym. “My husband has been a member for two years and was always after me to come with him,” she says. She started on the treadmill and has kept up the routine.

“Hey, Jean Harlowe, how ’bout the check?” says one of her customers. “Look at the weight she lost,” he says appreciatively.

Vaisvila loves the extra energy she feels. “With the first 10 pounds, I felt immediately better,” she says. Instead of a nap and plopping in front of the TV on the couch at the end of the day, she keeps busy. “My closets are organized, I got new hardwood floors,” she laughs. Her newfound energy also led her to come back to work after a brief retirement from the restaurant.

But the change hasn’t been all good. “I have friends and relatives who tell me I’m too thin,” she says. “I’ve heard rumors that I was sick, had cancer, was anorexic”not true!” she says. “I just went to the doctor and got a good check-up.” Thanks to her 115-pound weight loss, she is no longer on medication for diabetes.

Her customers at Cozy Corner cheer her on. “One always brings me a little bag of sugar-free snacks and candies,” she says. “Another turned me on to chocolate-covered soybeans from Trader Joe’s to help get a healthy chocolate fix.”

“I want to see five pounds back on her,” says boss and Cozy Corner owner Georgia Dravilas. “I go to give her a hug and there’s nothing there!” says Dravilas, giving her friend an enthusiastic squeeze, pulling her to her. Dravilas has actually been credited by Vaisvila for helping her keep weight off. “Georgia makes me her Greek food”her spinach-rice is the best,” she says. “And all the salads and vegetables”you gotta eat healthy.”

“I have never been hungry,” she says of her long-term weight-loss plan. “I actually crave healthy foods now.”

Vaisvila says the weight loss has had some surprising effects. “My shoe size has gone down two sizes and my watch and bracelets are really loose.” Longtime customers
often don’t recognize her and at least one male customer now pays too much attention to her.

A happy ending

For Keller, the weight loss has been all good. “I had a friend who took a little finger swipe of frosting off a birthday cake and got really ill,” Keller says. “I have to have my sweets. I can eat cake, cookies and not get ill.” The only thing Keller says that gives her trouble is Chinese food. “White rice is fine, fried rice no. I don’t know if it is the oil or what,” she says. Keller’s weight loss has led to a renewed participation in life. She regularly goes to a tanning bed, travels to beaches on vacation and has a steady boyfriend whom she met through her church. “We exercise together”we’re crazy about each other,” she says with obvious affection. Keller was a clothing size 26/28 and is now a size 16, well within the “healthy” range for her height and age. “I’d like to lose about 20 more pounds and get under 200,” she says. “But I am happy with how I look.”

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