Dateline NBC
Dateline NBC
updated 3/17/2004 11:38:05 AM ET 2004-03-17T16:38:05

By the time they reached their 25th high school reunion, the hard work had been already been done. In nine months they all had lost a boatload of weight. At their reunion last October, their classmates raved at our dieters' new look. But the question on many minds is, could they keep it off?

John Larson: “How many of you think this change will essentially be permanent?”   

Everybody thought so, except one: Rick Burnes, our high school football touch guy who went from 328 to 220, losing a 108 pounds on the Atkins diet.

Rick Burnes: “I don't know, I just had the attitude of just, you know, let's do the challenge, see what happens.”

So what happened? Rick planned to take a little time off and then return to his diet, but...

Rick Burnes: “That went a little longer than a little time off.”

He started gaining weight almost immediately. By the end of the football season he'd put on 24 pounds.

Rick Burnes: “I blame that on the Patriots.”

After all that hard work, Rick was now up to 244. But that's not so unusual according to experts.

Lisa Sanders: “Most dieters, fail in this part, not in the weight loss part.”

Dr. Lisa Sanders specializes in obesity at Yale University and is the author of "The  Perfect Fit Diet.” She believes keeping weight off is much more complex than just losing weight.

Lisa Sanders: “It's the difference between dating and marriage. When you think about a diet as aberration, then you're looking for the motorcycle, tattooed guy that's going to be fun to be around. But you're not thinking long term. You have to think of a diet as a long term relationship between you and your body.”

Recent national research is discouraging, showing that nine out of 10 people who successfully lose weight gain it all back within a year. Our dieters did great losing weight with their high school reunion approaching and Dateline's camera's watching. But that was then. This next year may be the most telling of their lives.

Who of our six will best unlock the secrets to long term weight loss?

Marc Merlis, a ladies man back in high school, went from 245 to 210. He lost 35 pounds on hypnosis. When we last left the Merlis family, things couldn't have been better.

Cheryl Merlis: “We had a phenomenal year.”

But within a few weeks, Marc had stopped going to the hypnotist, stopped exercising and started overeating.

Cheryl Merlis: “Once he starts –“

Marc Merlis: “I can't stop.”

Cheryl Merlis: “He can't stop.”

Marc Merlis: “I don't know if you call that binging.”

In just three months, he gained back 20 pounds. It's left the Merlises frustrated and depressed.

Marc Merlis: “I think with me, it's going to be a struggle.”

Lisa Sanders: “It's hard to change. It's hard to replace very old, deeply engrained habits.”

Dr. Sanders says it often takes successful dieters two to three years to change behavior

Lisa Sanders: “Relapse is part of every improvement. You know, we all try to be our best selves. And we have to admit that much of the time we fail to be our best self.  But, we have to keep trying and that's the important part.”

Next, Mark Giordani, the gifted athlete suffering from a back injury, started at 230 and dropped to 210. He lost 20 pounds on Slimfast. Gio, as he was called, was the first to admit he couldn't wait for the diet challenge to end.

Gio: “I'm going to IHOP tomorrow, and I'm getting the whole left side of the menu.”

John Larson: “What did you think when you heard that?”

Lisa Sanders: “I said, well, it's over for him. You know, he did what he had to do for the period of time he had to do it, and now he's going back to his old way. “

Gio: “I did end up going back to McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, PapaGinos.”

And the little exercise he could do has all but disappeared.

Gio: “Once the cold weather came, my back's getting worse by the day. I just stopped walking.”

After three months, he'd put on 13 pounds. But Gio says his on going back problems are his biggest concern.

Gio: “I'm upset about the situation I'm in. I'm upset that I can't go to the gym and work out, I'm upset I can't go to work.”

Then there's class secretary Lynn Frank, mother of seven. Lynn began at 174 and dropped to 139. She lost 35 pounds by training for and running a marathon. Lynn is still running, but there have been some problems. First it was the 16 parties she went to over Christmas where she thought she was eating sensibly.

Lynn Frank: “I really watched what I ate while I was at these different things. And I started to really gain the weight. And that made me really frustrated.”

And she cut back on her exercise, running only 16 miles a week, a third of what she ran while training for the marathon. The bottom line was that our marathoner had gained eight pounds.

Lynn Frank: “Am I beating myself up about it? No. Because I'm still eating properly, I'm exercising and I'm still a pretty healthy person.”

Former high school homecoming queen Kathy Wynters never let us weigh her, but WeightWatchers confirmed she lost 40 pounds. After the diet challenge, Kathy took a break.

Kathy Wynters: “I didn't go to Weightwatchers I didn't go to Curves.”

And she gave herself some long awaited treats.

Kathy Wynters: “The desserts and the chocolates. I had them, I wanted them and I had them.”

And she began putting on weight, but she quickly returned to WeightWatchers and turned things around. Three months after the reunion, Kathy had only gained three pounds.

And finally, there's our math club president Eleanor Talbot. Eleanor went from 300 to 240. She dropped 60 pounds with weight loss coach Jorge Cruise. How's Eleanor doing?

Eleanor Talbot: “I definitely did have a slow down there and then the holidays came, but I still managed to take off 10 pounds since the reunion.”

That's right, Eleanor is the only one of our six dieters to continue to lose weight. In fact her weight loss coach is so proud of her he's put Eleanor's story in his latest book. And Eleanor hasn't missed a day logging onto Jorge Cruise's website for continued inspiration

Eleanor Talbot: “It's like he's in the room. It's so cool.”

And she's kept up with all her e-mail friends and supporters who've given her the strength to keep going.

Eleanor Talbot: “Everybody who's contacted me, it feels like a big huge hug and they're hugging me all the time.”

Lisa Sanders: “I think that it was not a person watching her that wasn't in her corner, who wasn't rooting for her.”

But it's still early. The real test for Eleanor and the others will be over time

John Larson: “How much of their success will likely be a matter of will power?”

Lisa Sanders: “It's not a matter of will power, biology is going to overcome will power every time. Your brain is attached to your body and your body has to eat.”

John Larson: “But, clearly, you’ve got to make decisions, you’ve got to have some stick-to-itiveness.”

Lisa Sanders: “Keeping it off is a hundred decisions a day that help you maintain what you achieved. And that's the hard part.” 

Sanders believes our dieters success will depend on who will consistently make good decisions, and who can figure out  what works best for them over time.

Lisa Sanders: “Successful dieters always say, I started with this system or that system, but finally I did it my way. Because that's the only way to do it. It's your life. It's your diet. It's what you're going to have to live with every single day. It has to be right for you.”

And here's some good news. Almost all of our dieters say they're now are back on track. Rick has returned to the Atkins diet, and most have set new goals for themselves. Even Marc Merlis has recently lost five pounds.

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