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How Al Roker Lost 135 Pounds and Gained Faith in Himself
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In a new book, Roker opens up about his lifetime struggle with weight and how he finally broke the yo-yo cycle—for good. Watch behind-the-scenes video from Roker's cover photo shoot and read his full interview with PARADE below.
It’s 9:45 a.m. and Al Roker bounds up the stairs from the Today show studio at Rockefeller Center to his second-floor office. His energy is striking, considering that the short climb once left him winded. Over the past decade, viewers have watched the 5-foot-8, 58-year-old Roker transform himself: After tipping the scales at 340 pounds, he underwent bariatric surgery in 2002 and within eight months had dropped 100 pounds. Then, five years ago, a family crisis plunged him back into his old eating habits, and he regained much of the weight. But, as Roker describes in his new memoir, Never Goin’ Back: Winning the Weight-Loss Battle for Good (out tomorrow), he has ended the yo-yo cycle at last by revamping his entire way of life and has trimmed down to 205 pounds.
No longer. Four years after embracing a healthy lifestyle, Roker is confident he has found a sustainable routine, which he shares in his new book, along with funny, brutally honest stories of his sometimes difficult journey. PARADE spoke to Roker about how he’s finally transformed his body—and his state of mind.
PARADE: Your mother cooked for a growing family on your father’s salary as a bus driver. What were your meals like when you were a kid?
ROKER: All middle-income families use carbs to stretch meals, across any ethnic group—whether it’s kugel or rice and beans or macaroni and cheese. I remember having pancakes for dinner. But as kids, we thought, “Breakfast for dinner? This is great.”
In the book, you talk about your love of food, especially the comfort foods your mother made for you—grilled cheese sandwiches, vanilla layer cakes. Do you still eat those things?
On occasion I will. My old modus operandi was, if you’re going to have a grilled cheese and bacon sandwich, don’t have one, have two. If you’re going to have vanilla wafers, you have the whole box. Now it’s two or three. You learn the secret of most normal-weight people, which is I’m full.
From the outside looking in, what people see is a successful guy with a wonderful family. So why the need to binge?
I’ve thought about that a lot. Despite having a loving wife [ABC News correspondent Deborah Roberts], three terrific children, and a great career, there were times when I perhaps didn’t feel that I was good enough. If I was having a bad day, eating was like self-medicating. But if you abuse food, you still have to use that substance that you abuse every day. You have to learn to use it responsibly.
Chris Christie has talked about that.
Chris Christie did an amazing job during Hurricane Sandy, and everybody talks about him as presidential material. But in the same sentence, they say, “But he’s going to have to lose weight,” because the general feeling is that if you’re overweight, you’re out of control. Although during Hurricane Sandy, you couldn’t have seen anybody who was more in control than Chris Christie.
Why do you think being overweight still carries such a stigma?
Fat people, overweight people, the morbidly obese—it’s the last acceptable group to make fun of. Throughout media, the heavy guy is the funny guy, the easy laugh ... [and] when you’re overweight, you see that as your role.
You write in the book that “food became the third person” in your marriage to Deborah. How so?
It was this cloud hanging over us. Deborah is very healthy, exercises, eats well. For all the right reasons, she wants her significant other to be in terrific shape, too, and I was thwarting her at every move. She was frustrated. [For her part, Roberts says the big challenge was “keeping my mouth shut. … You don’t know what to do. You love this person. I felt it was a reflection on me that I couldn’t help.”]
So you got into secret eating?
Because you’re fat, you feel that everybody’s watching every bite you take. So, you closet-eat, and you think because nobody sees you eating, then you’re not eating. You know, if you’re eating a Big Mac in a closed car, can anybody hear you nosh? If I ate only what people saw me eat, I would’ve probably been about 170 pounds.
After my father was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2001, he was at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, and I would go in every day. We’d talk and joke, and then one day he got serious and said, “Look, we both know I’m not going to be here to help you with my grandkids, so you gotta promise you’re going to lose weight.” Seven days later he was gone. A few weeks afterward, [Deborah and I] found out we were pregnant with our son Nicky. I said, “Okay, I’m going to have to do something.”
After the surgery, you lost 100 pounds. Then five years ago, some of the weight came back on. What happened?
My mom got really sick, and unlike my dad, who was gone before we knew it, her illness dragged on for months. I was out of my routine, commuting [to Long Island] to see her, and feeling guilty—either that I wasn’t spending enough time with the kids and Deborah, or that I wasn’t being there enough with my mom. It was this perfect storm, and I consoled myself with food. I got blindsided and, I think, to a certain extent, I got cocky. It’s like an alcoholic who’s been sober for 10 years and has a drink and says, “Ah, but I can handle it. Just one or two, I’ll be okay.” But no, you won’t. [He had regained 40 pounds by the time his mother died.]
After the psychological up, down, up, down, how did you make this latest push to lose the weight again?
About four years ago, I ran into an old friend, and he said, “Hey, dude, I just lost 40 pounds.” I decided to meet with his nutritionist, and I think it was fate that she crossed my path at the exact moment that I was ready to hear what she had to say. For the first time, I realized that I had to change not only the quantity but the quality of food that I was eating. Even more importantly, exercise has finally become a big part of my life.
How do you fight off those old temptations?
As I write in the book, I’ve learned to identify those triggers that caused me to binge-eat in the past; for instance, I used to use travel as an excuse to eat poorly. Now I don’t go anywhere without my scale; I literally pack it with me. … It gives me permission to have a bad day, or even just a bad moment. In the old days it was “Well, I’ve blown it; I may as well just go hog wild.” Now it’s “Okay, I made a mistake, let’s get back on the wagon.”
So it’s not about being liberated from the scale?
In Never Goin’ Back, I revealed that before my bypass, I had stopped getting on the scale or even watching myself on television. It was too difficult to face, so I hid my head in the sand. But now, I look at the number every morning, and it tells me what I’ve achieved. I know I’m more than that number, but I like what the number represents.
Get Al Roker's Weight Loss Tips and Recipes
Listen to Al Roker Reading an Excerpt from 'Never Goin' Back'
Al Roker on Food, Family, and What Ticks Him Off
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