'Dateline' diet challenge: Reunion time

/ Source: Dateline NBC

Ah, the memories. When you hear them laugh, you can almost imagine them back in high school. But 25 years have passed since these five graduated from Edison High in Minneapolis, and now they have more than memories in common: ice cream, chips, pizzas and other indulgences.

So we got to thinking. With their 25th high school reunion on the horizon, a time when many might worry how they measure up, we wondered if there was anyone who might want to lose a few pounds.

We sent a letter to the class of 1979 at Edison High School in Northeast Minneapolis looking for volunteers. They could select one of five weight loss methods. Each had to weigh in and set a weight loss goal. So which diet will work best? Who among these 40-somethings is going to look great the night of the reunion?

And now our starting line-up:

Name: Jim Wentland
High School: Star athlete
Height: 5’9”
Weight: 229 pounds
Loss goal: 30 pounds
Diet plan: USDA Food Pyramid
Link: USDA Food Pyramid information

High school couldn't have been better for Jim. He lettered in three sports and was popular all around. Today he's a carpet layer, the father of six and at age 42, the former star athlete is facing some extra pounds. Jim picked the USDA Food Pyramid diet, the government's low fat food plan that emphasizes portion size. He also has an extra incentive. If he loses the crown, he says the guy who beat him out for homecoming king has promised to crown him at the 25 year reunion.

Name: Carrie Newman
High School: Band member
Height: 5’6”
Weight: 314 pounds
Loss goal: 60 pounds
Diet plan: South Beach
Link: South Beach Diet information

Well liked in high school, Carrie was on Student Council, the swim team, pep team, speech club and pretended to play the flute in the band. She says she was so nervous when they marched, that she didn’t really play. Carrie married her Edison sweetheart. They have two children and over the years, her weight kept going up. She developed diabetes, but was so in denial she couldn't see what was obvious to everyone else. She's decided to re-invent herself. Carrie entered law school, and now she says she's ready to tackle her weight. Carrie selected the popular South Beach diet, based on eating the right fats and the right carbs. With it she also hopes control her diabetes and take on her nemesis -- chocolate.

Name: Lorri Pecoraro
High School: Wallflower
Height: 5’7”
Weight: 204 pounds
Loss goal: 50 pounds
Diet plan: Bob Green, personal coach

Lorri has bitter memories of Edison High. She was called names for her weight. But 25 years later, Lorri is the heaviest she's ever been, even on her scale. She says between the demands of motherhood and working full time, she's been last on her list of priorities and is determined to turn it all around. Like so many women, Lorri was inspired by Oprah Winfrey's successful weight loss with the help of famous weight loss coach, Bob Greene. Lorri will have Bob Green himself as her very own personal coach.

Name: John Memorich
High School: Quiet kid
Height: 5’6”
Weight: 197 pounds
Loss goal: 40 pounds
Diet plan: Train to climb mountain

Back in high school, John was a quiet skinny kid in the AV club. Today he's a Russian Orthodox priest. The Russian church allows its priests to marry, and Father John married an Edison girl. They have four kids. Why the diet challenge? Well, believe it or not, his job has occupational hazards. He's offered food almost everywhere he goes. But he now says there's too much flab under those robes. Instead of dieting, Father John is going try to exercise his weight off and train to climb one of the greatest mountains in the U.S. -- Washington State’s 14,000-foot high Mount Rainier.

Name: Dawn Singh
High School: Student council president
Height: 5’6”
Weight: 182 pounds
Loss goal: 30 pounds
Diet plan: Become vegetarian
Link: Mollie Katzen information

After high school this straight a student moved to Jamaica where she married a local man with whom she had two children. She remains an island girl at heartland a long way away from her Edison days as student council president. Today Dawn is single and a working mom. To support her girls, she cleans houses for a living, but her domesticity ends there. She can't stand to cook. But Dawn's going to have to get creative. The lady with dreadlocks has chosen the vegetarian diet. She says the Dateline Challenge is just what she needs, a rut buster.

Let the Dateline challenge begin. The date was March 15, deep into Minnesota’s cold and sometimes dreary winter. In the end, all the dieters agreed that exercise was critical and they had all managed to find time for it. And one other thing -- no one stayed on his or her diet 100 percent of the time. So how did they do?

Jim's weight loss story
To lose weight on the Food Pyramid Jim had to cut his calories to 2,500 a day, eat smaller portions and pay attention to food content. He would also have to drop his worst habit – six cans daily of sugary pop. And he got what turned out to be a great advice -- just follow the rules 80 percent of the time. Instantly it worked. His weight began falling off. After just two weeks, Jim had lost 14 pounds. Feeling confident one month in, Jim went for broke on Easter.

After two helpings of everything, it cost him. He gained a pound back.

Still, at his 43rd birthday this June, Jim could see that the Food Pyramid diet may have saved his life. No one was more grateful than his mom who lost her husband to heart disease at age 60. Even with five months to go until the reunion, Jim was sure he had the homecoming king's crown in the bag. But on their annual fishing trip the king didn't bite. And sure enough, Jim's confidence didn't last.

After more than three months of dieting, he saw a blueberry pie in the house and the Dateline diet was on ice. The proof was in the scale. He was up nine pounds from his lowest weight.

By the fall, with three months until the reunion, our star athlete on the Food Pyramid was back in the game. Yes indeed, all was well again. He'd lost eight pounds since his summer setback and found a way to recharge his battery – lifting weights, what he loves to do best. By September he was actually below his goal weight. Come October, with one month to go, Jim even surprised himself. He was down 38 pounds eight past his goal. Now he was certain the crown was a done deal.

The star athlete on the USDA Food Pyramid had a weight loss goal of 30 pounds. Jim started off at a husky 229. He blew away his goal and dropped a total of 42 pounds. He got that crown at the reunion.

Dawn's weight loss story
Former student council president Dawn Singh wanted to lose 30 pounds on a vegetarian diet. Though she hates to cook, Dawn had to come up with new healthy recipes. She also added exercise, but out of the gate this single mom was all tripped up, feeling discombobulated with the change of routine. But by taking white flour and junk food out of her diet, the scale was going down.

By Easter, one month in, her old habits were fading. This year she had just one chocolate egg. And by two months, her discipline had paid off. Dawn had dropped 12 pounds.

By summertime, the vegetarian's oldest daughter was moving up to high school, while mom was going down in pounds. She lost 22 in three months, and suddenly Dawn was in demand.

In July our slender vegetarian was on a radio show, talking up the diet challenge. By late July, Dawn was even thinner. She was down 24 pounds and overall, much happier. And that was the story of Dawn's summer, a lifestyle change.

By the fall our vegetarian was a new woman. Now her meals were always light and healthy. By mid-September, after six months of dieting, we found Dawn at the annual blubber run, in full bloom, manning the beer stop. By now she was great shape, eating 1500 calories a day and still working out. She was just one pound from her goal. Her only complaint was that she no longer had clothes that would fit. But that soon changed. The lady with the dreads got some new threads, including an outfit for the reunion.

The student council president wanted to lose 30 pounds with a vegetarian diet. She started at 182 and finished at 52 pounds lighter, beating her own personal goal by two pounds.

John's weight loss story
Father John Memorich wants to lose 40 pounds with intense exercise. At the start of the diet challenge a fatigued Father John showed up at Midwest Mountaineering, for his first training session with us, with stunning news. The night before, his healthy mother had suddenly died of a brain aneurism. Father John, who had been up all night, thought about canceling his training session, but then he and his family thought, no. he was going to get up that mountain for mom. Three days later he would preside at his mom''s funeral

So, Father John began his diet challenge in the midst of a deeply painful time. And yet, he carried on, walking five miles a day with weight on his back and he hit the gym five days a week. Though he was not formally dieting, he said he cut back on carbs and cut out junk food. Two weeks in, something was working

By month two, Father John had a new kind of workout, the stairs at the Cleveland Browns stadium. By now all the exercise had opened his eyes. He discovered that he had been almost drowning in his work responsibilities. Meanwhile, the workout caught him off guard, how steep the stairs were. And he got another surprise that day. His weight hadn't changed.

In June, we arranged for our man training to climb Rainier to workout at the Metrodome in Minneapolis -- and now he refused to be weighed. Turns out he'd been having a field day for three weeks on vacation, with hot dogs, s’mores, beer and other bad stuff. His trainer, who'd been trying to keep him on track, was starting wonder if he was taking this seriously enough. But by the fourth month of the diet challenge, Father John was named member of the month at his health club. The Orthodox priest said he was ready for Rainier -- until he had a frightening fall where he injured himself during a practice climb on Mount Baker.

By September, Father John had lost 16 pounds, 24 short of his goal. After a final check with a doctor he had to face the challenge of a lifetime, for mom and for himself. Could he climb Washington's formidable Mount Rainier? With a 40 pound pack on his back, he was pumped and ready. He started at what's known as paradise at 5,000 feet. The climb itself was another nine thousand feet up. We put him in good hands. His lead guide for the climb was Peter Whitaker, son of James Whitaker, the first American to summit Mount Everest. On this climb, Whitaker set a beginner's pace, steady and slow. This will be their pace for the next two days.

On day one, they hiked for six hours to reach their high camp. Here they would eat and sleep before their 1 a.m. wake up call. Only Father John had one question – about the clouds circling above them. If he only knew what he was asking.

The quiet moon gave no clue of what was to come. The day’s plan included six hours to the summit, through rock, snow and ice. From here on out, Father John and his guides were tethered together. Almost immediately the day was harder. On their first break at 11,000 feet Father John couldn't eat. He was sick from the altitude, something that's not uncommon, and he still had 3,000 feet to go.

But now the real issue was not the altitude, it was his attitude. Father John was in a world of his own and his nausea did not improve. And there was another problem brewing. Those wispy clouds he had worried about turned into a major weather front. Soon it was a full blown blizzard, with 50 mile an hour winds. It wasn't long before Father John was completely spent. But somehow he continued. The AV club geek, turned Russian Orthodox priest, who lost his mother this year and had been sick to his stomach in a blinding snowstorm for seven straight hours had reached the top.

Back at the reunion, though he'd only lost 16 of his 40 pound goal, his classmates loved his story.

Lorri's weight loss story
High school wallflower Lorri Pecoraro hoped to lose 50 pounds with the help of Oprah's famous weight loss coach, Bob Greene – who does not like the word diet. His approach requires exercise a minimum of five days a week. He also told Lorri to stop eating 2-3 hours before bed, drink at least six glasses of water daily and alcohol and caffeine were forbidden. For now he did not want her to weigh herself. But that's just the start. The focus would also be on self esteem issues.

Lorri first met Bob on his turf, Santa Barbara, where he told her that often overweight people believe they don't deserve to be a thin attractive person. So he and Lorri will dig deep to explore the core truths of her life. Back home, Lorri immediately took to the exercise, and dropped her late night snacks. After two weeks her clothes were fitting better. As time went on she made some more changes. In fact, the wallflower went on strike, forcing her husband to pitch in around the house. But the new order had taken a toll. Her husband, Rich, said her new focus was taking time away from him.

Meanwhile Lorri was on a tear. Exercise was becoming a way of life. At a party with friends from the diet challenge, despite her coach's advice, Lorri couldn't resist weighing herself. After two months she'd lost 19 pounds and three dress sizes.

But at her second meeting with Bob, she dodged his questions. Bob gently reminded her that just losing weight is not enough. He warned that even if she loses lots of weight, without her becoming happier, she won’t have the motivation to continue.

This summer, Lorri donned a bathing suit for the first time in 10 years. When she met Bob Greene again, she told him she was on her way to a new life and began to revealher most painful truth -- that she and her husband were not in sync. By August, this woman on a mission was down 36 pounds and was getting compliments from everyone.

By September our lady with the celebrity coach was in Hawaii, doing something she never dreamed possible. She finished a three mile road race. Once again, Lorri was on Bob's turf for a final meeting with her coach. Confident with herself and her weight loss, she'd found a new peace. And this time the wallflower finally opened up. She could now admit that long before the diet challenge her marriage was in trouble and for years, she had been depressed. And when Dateline first contacted her last February she said she ready to change every aspect of her life. As her husband showed us the clothes that no longer fit his wife, he said he initially thought all she was trying to do was lose weight. But he quickly realized this was not about appearances, and to help his marriage, he had to face their problems, too.

And speaking of change, by October Lorri was five pounds from her goal, working out in the morning and running at night. She said that the last five pounds were proving harder than the first 45.

Next, was the woman with the celebrity coach who wanted to lose 50 pounds. Lorri started the diet challenge at a hefty 204. After eight months, she was at exactly 154. She reached her goal, dropping a whopping 50 pounds. No one was more proud than her husband.

Carrie's weight loss story
Former band member Carrie Newman wanted to lose 60 pounds with the South Beach Diet. The idea behind South Beach is to eat good fats, like olive oil and canola oil and the good carbs, such as ones with fiber. To give her support, Carrie's family was doing South Beach with her. And for the first time in nearly 20 years, Carrie started to exercise. Early on it all felt like torture. Yet after two weeks she was starting to see results. She'd lost six pounds.

But a month into the diet challenge, exercise had stopped and she was obsessing on the weight of her clothes.

Wearing her lightest outfit, after two months on South Beach, she'd lost just 12 pounds. She confessed that her law school finals had taken over and soon, Carrie and her daughter gave up.

After a three day binge she said she got it out of her system. She started all over again. Now six weeks into the diet challenge, with law school behind her, she was back on track. And one other thing. She stopped weighing her clothes.

By June, after three months on South Beach, incredibly, Carrie’s diet alone had brought her diabetes under control. She was no longer on her medication. It's a major benefit of the South Beach diet. But a month later, Carrie had not lost any more weight. It turns out that the summer was full of temptation for Carrie, wearing down her resistance until finally she gave herself a sugar fix. But there were still three months to go until their 25th high school reunion, and still time for a breakthrough.

This September, Carrie, who'd been struggling on South Beach, revealed something about herself. She hadn't given up. Feeling renewed, she even shed her glasses after 30 years, and though she was back in law school, unlike before, now she found time to exercise. In October we found our South Beach girl giddy. She had lost 30 pounds and was somehow holding her sugar demon at bay. And she'd reaped the rewards of her renewed disciple. In her front hall, she piled bags of old clothes.

In the end, band girl Carrie Newman, who hoped to lose 60 pounds on South Beach, started at 314 and finished at 283 pounds. She didn’t reach her goal but it's the least Carrie's weighed in 18 years.