September 09, 1996 12:00 PM

I WAS NEVER A DING DONGS, TWINKIES girl,” says Oprah Winfrey. “I’m into salty, crunchy foods. Caramel and cheese popcorn sends me over the edge.” She still lives, daily, with temptation. “The other night I roasted a whole chicken [for steady beau Stedman Graham] and had to watch him eat it while I ate my green beans,” she says. “But I can take it. I’m a big girl.”

Not, however, as big a girl as she was four years ago, and that’s the point. The 5’7″ talk show host, 42, whose weight had fluctuated as much as the Dow Jones industrial average—and had been covered by the media almost as passionately—reached a lifetime high in June 1992 of 237 pounds. Just four years earlier, after going on the Optifast diet plan and zealously promoting it on her TV program, she’d slimmed down to 142, only to gain back the lost weight—and more. Somewhere along the way, Winfrey tried virtually every diet-of-the-moment, including the Atkins, Scarsdale and Nutri/System plans, all with the same result: She would lose weight, gain it back—and wind up feeling guilty and weak.

That changed in 1992, when she met trainer Bob Greene. Until then, Oprah worried about what she ate; Greene encouraged her to exercise more regularly and, equally important, to think about why she ate. Winfrey says Greene helped her realize that, for her, food offered much more than nutrition: It was the solace she turned to whenever she felt anxious or insecure. “For me, food was comfort, pleasure, love, a friend, everything,” she says. Now “I consciously work every day at not letting food be a substitute for my emotions.”

That philosophy—combined with sensible eating and rigorous exercise—is the basis of Greene’s approach to fitness. “You need to go much deeper than just getting off the weight,” says the 5’10”, 170-lb. New Jersey native. “It’s hard work, but it’s one of the most rewarding things you can do.” Greene, 38, has gathered his ideas into Make the Connection: Ten Steps to a Better Body—and a Better Life, due to be published next week (see excerpt, page 82). Connection includes a candid and heartfelt introduction by Oprah, bringing to mind the last such book to carry her imprimatur: 1994’s In the Kitchen with Rosie, by her then-chef Rosie Daley, which sold 6 million copies. Obviously her latest partner in print is hoping lightning will strike twice.

Greene, who has a master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of Arizona, met Winfrey while working at a Telluride, Colo., health spa in 1992 and was hired as her personal trainer the following year. His healthy, five-figure deal calls for him to work out with her at least 10 hours a week, and their exercise regimen—squeezed around Oprah’s hectic production and taping schedule—includes daily 6 a.m. weight-training sessions and one-hour runs along Chicago’s lakefront every other day. She also occasionally boxes with Bob to spice up the routine and rarely misses a workout, though she sometimes stalls for time. “I’ll decide to move some furniture, hang a painting, take my time tying my shoes,” says Oprah. Adds Greene: “We argue a lot about the procrastination factor.”

Otherwise they are in sync. Greene recently accompanied Oprah on a monthlong vacation in Scotland and Italy, where the two went for runs up the Spanish Steps in Rome and through the Boboli Gardens in Florence. Fortunately, Greene, who is single, gets along nicely with Graham, 45, who has noticed big changes in his girlfriend. “She’s a different person now,” says Graham. “The most important thing is that she’s satisfied with herself.” With Greene’s help, notes Graham, Oprah “does the day-to-day stuff she needs to do.” Like sticking to low-fat, small-portion meals—and banishing junk food from all kitchen cabinets.

More important, she has adopted a steady diet of self-awareness—and this latest attempt at getting in shape seems well past the fad stage. Since starting with Greene, Oprah has run marathons, maintained a healthy weight and, she says, become a happier person who can handle stress just fine. “If you’re angry, be angry and deal with it,” says Oprah. “Don’t go eat a bag of Ruffles.”


BONNIE BELL in Chicago

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