Can a politician really learn to love losing? Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson says he can, and his constituents are prepared to believe him. The reason? Once a blubbery symbol of caloric enthusiasm, Jackson, 39, is less than two-thirds of the man he used to be, and he is brimming with self-satisfaction. As His Honor reports, “My 69-year-old mother says to me, ‘Boy—and I can call you that even though you’re grown up and the mayor—Boy, I’ve never seen you so happy.’ ”
Maynard, of course, has been doing his share of winning as well. Last month, in a single momentous week, he was elected to a second term in a landslide, and got married to Valerie Richardson, 28, of Richmond, Va.
Still, Jackson’s most visible accomplishment involves the disappearance over the past 14 months of 122 of the 315 pounds that used to upholster Atlanta’s governing body. This week he tips the scales at an astonishing 193. For the first time in his life, Jackson (who is 6’2″ tall) conforms to what doctors regard as the normal weight-height ratio.
The thinning of Maynard Jackson was achieved through a grueling regimen of on-and-off abstinence from any solid food whatsoever. He won’t reveal all his secrets just yet because he’s going to write a book—”not to make money,” he insists, “but to share my success with everybody.” Essentially, though, he worked out a no-nonsense diet of vegetables, chicken and fish and “ate one meal a day—no sweets, no starches.” He punctuated this routine with a series of 15 fasts, the longest lasting nine days.
The mayor’s crusade was undertaken with the advice of a nutritionist and the consent of his doctor. It was coupled with a torturous physical fitness program that found Jackson celebrating the dawn, at least three mornings a week, at the Athletic Center of Atlanta. Donning wine-colored shorts and a yellow T-shirt bearing the message “Atlanta We Live You” (a message aimed at luring suburbanites back into the city), he began with 50 inclined situps with a 25-pound weight on his chest. Then he submitted himself to machinery that pushed, pulled and kneaded him into a shape that was the stuff of his dreams.
Jackson’s battle against flab began at birth in Dallas, Texas. “I was a fat baby, 10 lbs. 7½ oz.,” says Jackson, a minister’s son. “I’ve always lived in terror of tripping and rolling to my death.” Over the years he claims he tried every diet imaginable, and shed a cumulative total of 2,000 pounds. “I always gained it back,” he says. “I used to think that maybe I was big-boned.”
A precocious student unhindered by his flab, Jackson graduated from Atlanta’s Morehouse College at 18 and earned a law degree with honors at North Carolina Central University. At 35 he was elected Atlanta’s first black mayor—at that time the youngest man ever to become mayor of a major American city.
Divorced from his first wife in 1976 (they have three children), Jackson met his current bride soon afterward while she was working in New York City as a marketing executive. “Valerie swears she doesn’t remember me being fat when we met,” chortles the mayor. “Anyway, you don’t lose weight because of what people think about you. You lose it because of what you think of yourself. I was disgusted with myself.” How does he feel now that he no longer resembles the Goodyear blimp? “Eventually I will come to the point where I can eat any food I want, but I’ll never be able to eat as much as I want,” he says with a sigh. “It’s been painful, rewarding and joyful—in that order.”