Weight Loss: Three Success Stories


Meet some local folks who used different strategies to achieve the same goal: loss of unwanted pounds.

Gluttony is unhealthy and can lead to sexual promiscuity. That’s what the Rev. Sylvester Graham preached in the 1830s, gaining a following with his call for a vegetarian diet devoid of caffeine and alcohol but rich in whole grains.

(In fact, the Presbyterian pastor’s good name is immortalized in the graham cracker.)

A few decades later, a London carpenter published Letter on Corpulence, billed as the world’s first diet book and one that eschewed fats and sugars. Other experts called for excessive masticating or chewing to help shed pounds. Cigarettes, too, were briefly touted as a calorie cutter.

We continue to toil away, from eating fat-free to protein-rich, low-carb to high-fiber. Elk Grove engineer Gerard Murdock knows a bit about the struggle, having maintained a 250-pound weight loss since the 1990s. The one thing is, you have to find a program. . . . You have to find the one that works for you, he says.

Murdock’s is one of three weight-loss success stories chronicled below. May they inspire you in the New Year!

Gerard Murdock

Gerard Murdock’s 430 pounds were working against him, with his weight-triggered diabetes, high blood pressure and other perilous conditions. But even living in the extreme, it took an intervention by his boss&emdash;and more than a year on a liquid fast&emdash;to help Murdock turn his health around.

I saw a guy who was highly intelligent, highly motivated at doing his work correctly, and I was concerned for his life, says Gerardo Calvillo, who has known Murdock since the two pursued master’s degrees in structural engineering at Stanford University in the 1970s.

Neither man can recall the exact pretext that got Murdock out of the office and into Calvillo’s car 13 years ago. But both remember vividly that Murdock was none too pleased when the two pulled up at the Obesity Treatment Center, a local multidisciplinary program that combines behavioral therapy with a medically supervised diet.

He kind of took me in, kicking and screaming, says Murdock, who lives in Elk Grove with his wife, Carolyn.

It helped that a co-worker had gone through the center’s regimen, which includes weekly classes, regular weigh-ins and other support. Murdock spent more than a year on a liquid diet, starting with chocolate-flavored protein drinks followed by fruit flavors. After a lifetime of weight issues, this was the first time Murdock dedicated himself so fully to turning things around.

Once you get past that first two weeks, you stop having the hunger pangs; you just find other ways to stay occupied, he says.

For Murdock, that included walking. He also joined a health club. One personal success led to another, which kept him motivated. During the 14 months he followed the liquid diet, Murdock lost three to five pounds a week&emdash;bringing his weight-loss total to 240 pounds. His diabetes corrected itself after the first 60 pounds came off, he says, and his blood pressure improved almost immediately.

These days, Murdock, 50, carries a trim 180 pounds on his six-foot frame. He cycles and plays tennis regularly and aims for no more than 2,000 calories a day. Breakfast is often a low-fat bran muffin and a cup of coffee, lunch a bowl of frozen yogurt from a nearby shop. He’ll snack on canned chicken or nonfat cheese before exercising, then enjoy a salad and grilled salmon at dinnertime.

Murdock definitely knows his limits. He no longer indulges in fried chicken or pizza for fear that he would not be able to stop. He stays away from sweets and baked goods for the same reason. And he and his wife make sure not to cook more than one portion per person at a time.

I’ve had hiccups along the way, Murdock says. That was the case about three years ago when Murdock stopped going to his weekly weigh-ins and also quit exercising&emdash;using his busy work schedule as an excuse. He regained nearly 70 pounds and began to retreat. When he didn’t show up at the courts for the start of the tennis season, his teammates came to his home to get him.

That Murdock returned to the Obesity Treatment Center has been a critical piece of the puzzle. I’ve tried going without the OTC for a period of time. It’s difficult. For me, I have to be accountable, he says.
Maintaining his weight loss has come at a price, between the program fees and the cost of healthful foods such as fresh fish and vegetables. Then again, Murdock’s bulk didn’t come cheap either, especially when it came to tailor-made suits and other specialty items. And there were emotional costs. Unfortunately, you are treated a lot differently when you are overweight, as I was, he says.

Emily Barth Webber

It took four trash bags and limitless amounts of certitude for Emily Barth Webber to become a vegan four years ago. On that day, she purged her kitchen of butter, cheese, ice cream and other unmentionables&emdash;and exchanged them for nothing less than a new lifestyle and a passionate code of ethics.

It was not impulse that prompted Webber to cut fish, meat, dairy and all other animal products from her diet and wardrobe. In truth, she had been moving toward redefining her eating habits for years.
For one, Webber’s mom raised her on healthful foods, such as whole wheat bread and split pea soup. She didn’t taste steak until she was 16, and soda and other junk foods were always off-limits.

The Ohio native&emdash;who oversees cooking classes and other special events at Sacramento’s Whole Foods Market&emdash;had been an avid cook since childhood. In her college dorm, she prepared chicken Parmesan and fettuccine Alfredo while her peers cobbled together nachos. She considered culinary school, but couldn’t stomach the notion of butchering meat.

After college, Webber began to put on weight, a byproduct of her epilepsy medication and the long hours she put into the event-planning business she shared with her mother. When the scale hit 168 pounds and the once-willowy Webber realized she was up five pant sizes, she began to explore options.

Webber joined a gym, but wasn’t inspired by exercise. She tried macrobiotics, a mainly vegetarian diet that focuses on the energetic qualities of foods, but eventually gave it up. Then she read Marilu Henner’s Total Health Makeover, signed up for one of the Hollywood actress and author’s online courses&emdash;and found the vegan approach to be a sensible match.

Milk, cheese, all forms of sugar and other processed products went in the trash. Things like brown rice, soy, kale and quinoa (a protein-rich grain) became staples for Webber and, to lesser extent, her husband.
I had to relearn to cook. But rather than looking at it as, ‘Oh no! We can’t have this; we can’t have that,’ I looked at this as an exciting adventure, says Webber, who’s 34. Oh, my gosh. There are so many foods here I never realized.

Giving up cheese has been the toughest part for Webber, who lost 45 pounds the first year on a vegan diet and was back in sizes 2 and 4 until she became pregnant this past year. She admits she was militant in the early days, especially on topics like the treatment of dairy cows, but now shares her strong views only when asked.

If people knew all of the things that vegans know, we’d all be vegan. But people don’t want to know, she says. If you actually knew the truth, you’d have to change your life. People think it would be a lot more inconvenient than it is.

Sarah Castro

Sarah Castro had watched her weight pile on throughout the years. After her third child was born in 2002, the scale shot up to 265 pounds and refused to budge. The West Sacramento woman joined a gym and took seven step-aerobic classes a week. She also tried a variety of commercial diets.

The most Castro lost? Eight pounds in nine months’ time. Her knees and hips were sore from the added heft. She began to choke on her saliva at night, and her arms would often go numb. When she did the math on her steady weight gain, Castro predicted she’d top 400 pounds by her 40th birthday.

Once gregarious, Castro says she began to retreat. She pulled out of scouting activities with her husband and three sons, went AWOL when cameras came out and refused to join her family on any outings that called for bathing suits. Her low point came at home, in front of her closet, when she was forced to pick out an outfit for a close friend’s wedding.

I was able to squeeze into something, but I looked like a tank, says Castro, co-owner of an area paper-crafts boutique, the Scrapbook Addict. I was self-conscious the whole time. I just wanted to shrivel up and die.”

Castro consulted with a couple of doctors. The first suggested portion control and exercise through Weight Watchers, a program she says she had tried in the past with little success. The second recommended bariatric surgery or gastric bypass&emdash;removing a portion of the stomach to limit its capacity.

A friend had recently undergone the procedure with good results, Castro figured. And while her own weight was barely high enough to qualify for coverage under her health insurance plan, she says she was admitted to the program in large part because of her fragile emotional state.

My husband thought it was the lazy way out, recalls Castro, who’s 5 foot 5. Her mom also voiced concerns, wondering if she had fallen short of teaching her daughter to accept herself the way she was. Still, Castro felt she had run out of options. I didn’t feel I was living to my potential, and I didn’t think I was a good role model to my children, she explains.

To demonstrate her resolve, Castro had to lose 25 pounds before doctors would agree to operate. She had her surgery in August 2005 and lost 100 pounds that first year. But what some see as a quick fix has actually been a major lifestyle change for Castro; it still involves a fair amount of self-control, she says.
People think it’s so easy. But you’re basically signing up for a new stomach. You don’t know what you’re going to get, says Castro, who no longer has much tolerance for sugar.

Castro’s daily caloric intake is 900 to 1,100 calories. She eats one-cup servings and, per her doctors’ advice, always starts with proteins. She is not allowed to drink fluids with her meals for fear of filling up her stomach too fast. Without true hunger pangs, one of Castro’s biggest challenges is remembering to eat at all.

At the same time, she says she is well-aware that her stomach can stretch out again, especially if she becomes a grazer, or one who snacks throughout the day. I’m so afraid of losing that feeling of being full, she says.