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Losing Large

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Lisa and Tim Thompson

Then: Lisa: 282 lbs.
Tim: 275 lbs.

Now: Lisa: 155 lbs.
Tim: 180 lbs.

How: TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly)

The Payoff: No more cow jokes

When Lisa Thompson was 20, she worked at a diner in Eau Claire, Wis. Each time Thompson, then 260 lbs., went to place an order, she says, one of the cooks made fun of her, saying things like, “Oh, here’s a cow at the trough!”

As a 265-lb. factory worker, her husband, Tim, had also been the butt of jokes. “One guy I used to work with,” he says, “would moo and oink when I walked by.”

Weight didn’t stop the two, who met in February 1990, from finding love. “She had a pretty face and a kind heart,” says Tim. Lisa felt the same way. “He was kind and courteous,” she says. “I couldn’t help but fall in love.” When they wed in September 1995, he was 217 lbs. and she was down to 190. But after five years Lisa had added 92 lbs. to her 5’6″ frame, and Tim, 6’2″ with a 44-in. waist, weighed 275 lbs. “When you’re overweight,” she says, “you’re always on a diet. But you never keep the weight off.” In the fall of 2000 they took action. Says Lisa, 31, a computer programmer: “I knew I couldn’t do it alone, so Tim said he’d go along.”

Lisa found a local chapter of TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), which follows the USDA food pyramid. “We eat a lot of chicken breasts and steamed vegetables now,” she says. They also walk, bicycle and go to the gym. In one year Lisa lost 127 lbs.; now, at 155, she wears a size 8. Tim, now 35, is 180 lbs. and has a 32-in. waist. One other plus: At a party in 2001, Lisa spotted the cook who had taunted her. “When he saw me, his jaw fell to the ground,” she says. “Best of all, his girlfriend was fatter than me.”

Lindsey Williams

Then: 400 lbs.

Now: 165 lbs.

How: Overeaters support group

Turning point: The demise of his marriage and his business

New Year’s Day 1998, says Lindsey Williams, was the day he hit rock bottom. His wife of six years — frustrated that his weight had spiraled to 400 lbs. — left him, and a financial backer for a new music label Williams was launching pulled out, leaving him virtually broke. “Being left with nothing,” he says, “forced me to finally concentrate on my weight problem.”

By the end of January 1998, Williams had taken control, joining an overeaters support group and working out six days a week. The result? He shed 235 lbs. from his 5’5″ frame and whittled his waist from 62 in. to 32. “When I tried on size-32 pants and they fit, it was like a dream,” he says. “I couldn’t believe it was my behind in those pants.”

Obesity was a problem Williams, 36, battled since childhood, when he would eat a box of Frosted Flakes while watching TV. At 13, he was 250 lbs. “I never wanted to take my shirt off,” he says. “Kids would say, ‘What size bra do you wear?’ ” His mother, Bedelia, an owner of Sylvia’s, the famous Harlem restaurant, repeatedly sought help for her son, but he always gained back the weight he lost. “Food,” says Bedelia, 53, “was always his first thought.”

Too out of shape to climb the train station stairs, Williams, a vice president at EMI records, couldn’t ride the subway; on planes he had to wear a seat belt extension. “I couldn’t have a normal life,” he says.

After joining the overeaters support group, Williams became convinced he is a sugar and flour addict (“Once you eat one bagel,” he says, “you’re going to eat two bagels”) and deleted those foods from his diet. Now he eats three portion-controlled meals a day: a cup of oatmeal with fruit for breakfast; salad with a turkey burger (hold the bun) for lunch; and grilled chicken with saut ed vegetables for dinner. “I use fruit as my dessert,” he says.

Williams also takes 45-minute spinning classes and uses weights to define his arms, chest and shoulders. In December 2001 he hit 165 lbs., his target weight. Today Williams, a Westchester County, N.Y., resident who is single, runs a catering business. He isn’t worried about temptation. “I have to live with the fact that I cannot eat like a normal person,” he says. “As long as I focus on that, I’m okay.”

Annmarie Santillan

Then: 247 lbs.

Now: 120 lbs.

How: Weight Watchers

Drawbacks: “The only thing I miss is Taco Bell”

Recalling the pain of being called “big as a barn” by her father, Sonia Santillan vowed not to raise a fat child. But when a 1986 car accident killed her husband, Sonia, a program analyst, became an overburdened mom to Annmarie, then 2. “We lived on junk food alley,” recalls Sonia, 48.

By the time she was in 11th grade, Annmarie weighed 247 lbs. “I felt bad about myself, and I would show it when I came home,” she says. “I had tantrums.” At more than 300 lbs. herself, Sonia knew they both needed a change. When a friend mentioned Weight Watchers, Sonia brought up the idea with Annmarie. The only meeting they could make was 6 a.m. on Saturdays, and at first Annmarie was reluctant. “I wanted to sleep in,” she says. “My mom said, ‘Just come to support me.’ ”

After a final fast-food fling (tacos, fries and shakes), mother and daughter began Weight Watchers’ program of assigning points to food and not eating beyond their daily limit. Sonia lost 11 lbs. the first week; Annmarie shed 9. They stocked the pantry of their Sacramento condo with low-calorie foods. In restaurants they ordered plain fish and sprayed it with I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! (“We keep it in our purses,” says Annmarie. “People look at us, but who cares?”) An avid softball and volleyball player, Annmarie continued playing sports, and Sonia joined a gym. By her senior year, Annmarie had shed 105 lbs. from her 5’7″ frame. People noticed — but not the way she expected.

“One of the counselors said, ‘We think she’s sick,’ ” Sonia says. “I said, ‘Have you talked to Annmarie? She’s the happiest she’s been in years! Why didn’t you call me when she really wasn’t happy, when she weighed 247 lbs.?’ ”

Currently a 120-lb., size-6 freshman at American River College in Sacramento, Annmarie, now 19, is delighted with her new look. Recently, she says, “this guy walked by and said, ‘I just want to tell you, you’re a beautiful girl.’ It made my day.” Sonia, who has a goal weight of 160, is thrilled for her — and hopeful for herself. “Annmarie hung in there,” she says. “She’s an inspiration.”