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Weight-loss program holds members accountable

March 6, 2014 - Andy Flynn
This week: 427 lbs.

Last week: 434 lbs.

Start weight (Dec. 17): 470 lbs.

Total lost (11 weeks): 43 lbs.

The defining moment for “Lifetalk” columnist Roberta Russell happened at the overflowing buffet table in the Lake Placid Hilton, now called the High Peaks Resort.

“To me, it was like Heaven,” said Russell, who lives in Lake Placid and New York City. “I had to taste everything. I was bursting.”

Russell, who recently turned 70 years old, is maintaining weight around 116 pounds after more than a decade since the buffet table awakening. She was 189 pounds at her highest and weighed 187 in 2000, just before losing 65 pounds in a year. Eventually, Russell’s weight-loss journey would lead her to create a website called

“I was frightened because I wasn’t that way all my life,” she said. “I kept going up and down, and the up kept getting higher.”

Russell’s usual remedies weren’t working. They included fen-phen (when it was legal), Weight Watchers and TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly)

“I was obsessed with it because it was a recurring problem,” Russell said, adding that she had to buy special clothes to accommodate her larger body. “It was in the way.”

So Russell turned to brain power and science to help her create a new program for herself that she, in turn, used to help others. She is not a therapist and does not have a license to practice psychotherapy, but she has studied the science of weight loss and shared her findings with the academic world, cable television viewers watching her “Lifetalk” program in New York City, newspaper readers in the Adirondacks, and friends and strangers who have relied on her system of weight loss to achieve their goals.

“Research shows that alliance is the best predictor of a good outcome,” Russell said.

Russell found that sharing the weight-loss journey with others was imperative, so joining a group and eventually founding her own group was a natural progression. But there was no magic formula that seemed to work.

“I know, eat less calories and move more,” Russell said. “Obviously, who doesn’t know that? But to get yourself to do it is a whole other story, or to do it consistently. I would do it and gain back.”

Russell interviewed weight-loss experts on her TV program, including G. Terence Wilson, a psychology professor at Rutgers University who is now the director of the Eating Disorders Clinic. While the information he told her was informative, it wasn’t encouraging.

“I’m fat, and the guy’s telling me it’s a very bad prognosis for weight loss,” Russell said. “He said that most people gain back their weight after five years. ... It was very grim. And you’d think I’d be depressed over this, but I was so happy because I figured I’m not the only failure here. It’s the norm.”

Russell joined the TOPS group in Lake Placid, which helped her lose 30 pounds, but they didn’t have a TOPS group in New York City.

“I was in such a panic that I wouldn’t be able to sustain the loss when I got back to New York City that I started three TOPS groups,” she said.

Russell found that TOPS, as a permanent weight-loss program, didn’t work for her, mainly because the rules were not stringent enough to keep herself accountable.

“If you don’t succeed, it’s OK. You come back,” Russell said about TOPS.

Finally, Russell found a weight-loss group that was more successful than others, a group from Pennsylvania using the Trevose Behavior Modification Program. And she formed her own group in 2001 called the New York Calorie and Exercise Logging Group, a free program that met at the Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake and in New York City.

“I copied what they did,” Russell said of the Trevose group.

Russell’s approach is strict, but that’s what worked at Trevose.

“You need success examples and a standard,” she said. “The Trevose group would kick you out if you didn’t lose on a certain schedule. It was the accountability. Either you are serious or you are not.

The New York Calorie and Exercise Logging Group only meets online now at, but it still has the same rules:

1) Eat a maximum of 1,500 calories a day.

2) Log your food/calories and exercise every day.

3) Walk at least 2 miles a day.

4) Lose at least 1 pound a week.

5) If you miss one day of logging your food and exercise, fail to walk 2 miles a day, or stop losing weight, you’re kicked out of the group.

In order to join the group, you have to be overweight and have less than 100 pounds to lose. It’s for obese people, not morbidly obese people.

“The only measure of success is your weight,” Russell said. “If you stop losing weight, and you don’t correct, you’re out. You can’t plateau and sit there for six months.”

This group is only for the people who are serious about losing weight, people who are motivated, strong, smart and driven to be successful.

“It has to become a priority,” Russell said. “You have to reorganize your life.”

The main key is the support group, people helping people.

“I love being a part of this because everybody who gets helped helps me,” Russell said, calling her weight-loss buddies “kindred spirits in the same struggle.”

While Russell’s approach may sound harsh and too rigid for most, it has merit. I’ve found that in order to lose weight, you must hold yourself accountable, and Russell’s program does just that. Can you hold yourself accountable without her program? Sure. But in order to lose the weight and sustain that weight loss, it’s clear that people must be prepared to adjust their lifestyle and hold themselves accountable for the rest of their lives. That’s why diets don’t work; they’re quick fixes. I’ve learned that losing my weight and keeping it off permanently will require a lifelong commitment, and I’m prepared to do that. The Lake Placid Diet is only the beginning of this journey. I’m ready for a transformation, inside and out.

“I say it’s for life because you don’t get over this,” Russell said.

For more information on the New York Calorie and Exercise Logging Group, visit online at

Next week: Thoughts on socks, extra skin and a new wardrobe.

Contact Andy Flynn at


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Roberta Russell (News photo — Andy Flynn)