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Watching Their Weight ... Disappear

Weight Watchers members take different paths to weight loss

January 10, 2013
By BETSY BETHEL - Associate Life Editor , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Everyone has a breaking point. For J.W. Johnson Jr. of Bellaire, it was when, at age 26, he started exhibiting potential signs of type 2 diabetes.

Thirty-three-year-old Tricia Bailey of Bellaire said enough is enough when she tried on a size 4X pair of pants ... and they were too tight.

Cadiz resident Doug Whitecotton chanced to glimpse himself in the mirror after a shower at age 40 and realized: "This is not who I want to be."

Article Photos

J.W. Johnson Jr. of Bellaire after one year on Weight Watchers Online — he went from 270 to 195 pounds.

But even when a person reaches his breaking point, he doesn't always know where to go from there. These three individuals, through different avenues, wound up joining Weight Watchers, the pioneering weight-loss organization that is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2013. And all three are now celebrating success.

Bailey and Whitecotton will share their stories at the Wheeling location's "One Amazing Day" 50th anniversary open house on Saturday. The event is open to the public and includes speakers, smoothies, door prizes, a free meeting and a question session.

"I am hoping to raise awareness that Weight Watchers is a lifestyle change, not a diet," said Wheeling Weight Watchers leader Becky Castilow. "It's about changing your spaces and routines and helping you have a more active lifestyle."

Fact Box

'One Amazing Day' Weight Watchers Open House

The Wheeling* open house will be held at the Elm Grove Weight Watchers meeting place in Elm Terrace Shopping Center from 8 a,.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

8 a.m. - Doors open

9:30 a.m. - Free meeting

12:30 p.m. - Guest speaker Doug Whitecotton

1-2 p.m. - Smoothie demonstration, hors d'ouevres and punch

2-3 p.m. - Weight Watchers Q&A session

3 p.m. - Success stories: Tricia Bailey and Keith Zoeckler

4 p.m. - Raffle drawings

* Open houses will take place in Steubenville and Washington, Pa. Weight Watchers stores, as well. For information, visit

The Weight Watchers formula - based on the latest science about the way people think and feel about food, as well as what they consume and how they consume it - has worked for millions.

The basic formula involves a personalized point system. Each member is assigned a total-points-per-day number based on his or her weight, activity level and weight-loss goals, among other factors. The points are derived through a formula of a food's protein, fiber, fat and carbohydrates. In general, the higher the fiber and protein in a food, the lower its point value: fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins are lower in points than cookies, chips, macaroni and cheese, etc. Through combining point-tracking with weekly weigh-ins and support meetings, people like Bailey and Whitecotton have successfully shed pounds.

Weight Watchers also has a popular online program, in which members who don't choose to attend meetings can keep track of everything online or on their smartphones. That's the route that Johnson chose to follow, and it has been life-changing.

Single and working erratic hours as a reporter for The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, one year ago J.W. Johnson weighed 270 pounds and ate fast food meals at least twice a day. He ignored his lack of energy and how the food made him feel sick. He avoided going to the doctor because he knew he would be told to lose weight. He was uncomfortable meeting new people or engaging in social functions, which he realized could become a hindrance to his career.

At a 2011 holiday gathering, he mentioned to his mother, a nurse, that lately he had been thirsty constantly. With a family history of type 2 diabetes, his mother knew that could be a sign of the disease.

"That was the nail in the coffin," Johnson said. He wasn't sure how he was going to lose the weight, but then he discovered he knew people who had been successful through Weight Watchers. He figured if they could do it, so could he.

Since then, he has begun counting points and eating three meals a day plus a healthy snack. He drinks only water and coffee, and he chose to cut out red meat. A picky eater who never liked vegetables, "all I eat" is salads and fruit, he said. Now 27, he has lost 75 pounds and is 10 pounds away from his goal.

Johnson said he has made his first doctor appointment in years and is excited to go. He doesn't miss fast food "because I don't miss feeling sick." He loves it when someone he hasn't seen in awhile doesn't recognize him. He feels good about himself, and he has helped others get started on Weight Watchers.

"It's so great and it's cool because at least four or five people who have started now check in with me. Their 'weekly meeting' is sending me a text and telling me how they're doing." He also found people at work with whom to share.

Setbacks? "None," he said. "Until you are absolutely 100 percent ready and you have a big motivator, it'll be hard to do. But once you hit that point, it didn't feel challenging at all."

Tricia Bailey wouldn't say it has been easy, but the 34-year-old's 117-pound weight loss has made her happier than she's ever been in her life.

"I've always been the heaviest person in my family. I've always been heavy, heavy, heavy, and they have always been on my case (about it)," said Bailey, who weighed 321 pounds when she joined Weight Watchers on May 4, 2011. "I thought I'd be heavy the rest of my life." She was uncomfortable in social situations and even avoided Weight Watchers meetings because she thought: "I'll be the only fat person in the place."

One day while trying on clothes, she discovered a size 4X was too small. Her stepdaughter, Melissa, was with her and said: "It's OK. You look beautiful in anything you wear."

"That right there, it clicked. I was done," Bailey said. She swallowed her pride, joined Weight Watchers and started to go to meetings in St. Clairsville and then Wheeling, where she found nothing but encouragement and support.

"I've had to overcome a lot of challenges. It's a struggle. I went from a size 28 to 18, and for the first Christmas since I can remember, people bought me clothes and they all fit," Bailey said. She notices that when she goes out in public, people don't stare at her and appear to be judging her. Before she could barely walk, and now she can walk three miles.

At 204 pounds, she has hit a plateau but is soldiering on. She thinks her body is "stuck" because she hasn't weighed less than 200 pounds since junior high. She has 35 pounds to go to hit her goal.

"This year will be the year," she said.

Her biggest enemy is sodium, so she keeps chips out of her house and out of sight. Her family, including Melissa, Melissa's twin Matthew, and her husband Harold, are all supportive, and all have changed their lifestyles to include healthier foods and more activity.

Support is what it's all about for Doug Whitecotton - getting it and giving it. After he saw that person in the mirror whom he didn't like, he prayed to God for help in finding a way to lose weight. "I said, 'You need to do something, Lord, because I can't.'"

Two weeks later, he received an email at his workplace, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe in Wheeling, announcing the start of a Weight Watchers at Work program, for which a weekly meeting would be held on site. He responded immediately. That was September 2011 and he weighed 337 pounds. He has lost 55 pounds and gained a new outlook on life and himself.

"I love our meetings because we laugh together, we cry together, we truly support and help and encourage one another," he said. "And it's not only weight loss, it's body image, self-confidence, activity, lifestyle. For a lot of us, it has truly changed our lives tremendously."

The biggest change he has noticed is in his self-confidence level. He is less self-conscious about speaking in front of people. In fact, according to Castilow, Whitecotton is a charismatic and enthusiastic speaker, which is why she asked him to address the open house.

"I think people see that in you, as well," Whitecotton said. "They see a happier person."

But Weight Watchers isn't only life-changing for people who have dozens of pounds to lose. Phyllis Sigal of Wheeling initially had only 20 pounds to lose, weight that she had gained from taking the steroid Prednisone. She joined Weight Watchers 14 years ago; it has helped her reach her goal and - even better - maintain it.

"A lot of people look at me and say, "Why would you go to Weight Watchers?" And I tell them because it keeps me in check. I think Weight Watchers is an incredibly healthy way to eat and live your life."

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