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How Al Roker Lost 135 Pounds and Gained Faith in Himself

PARADE Published: December 30, 2012

Chris Christie has talked about that.
Chris Christie did an amazing job during Hurricane Sandy, and everybody talks about him as presidential material. But in the same sentence, they say, “But he’s going to have to lose weight,” because the general feeling is that if you’re overweight, you’re out of control. Although during Hurricane Sandy, you couldn’t have seen anybody who was more in control than Chris Christie.

Why do you think being overweight still carries such a stigma?
Fat people, overweight people, the morbidly obese—it’s the last acceptable group to make fun of. Throughout media, the heavy guy is the funny guy, the easy laugh ... [and] when you’re overweight, you see that as your role.

You write in the book that “food became the third person” in your marriage to Deborah. How so?
It was this cloud hanging over us. Deborah is very healthy, exercises, eats well. For all the right reasons, she wants her significant other to be in terrific shape, too, and I was ­thwarting her at every move. She was frustrated. [For her part, Roberts says the big challenge was “keeping my mouth shut. … You don’t know what to do. You love this person. I felt it was a reflection on me that I couldn’t help.”]

So you got into secret eating?
Because you’re fat, you feel that everybody’s watching every bite you take. So, you closet-eat, and you think because nobody sees you eating, then you’re not eating. You know, if you’re eating a Big Mac in a closed car, can anybody hear you nosh? If I ate only what people saw me eat, I would’ve probably been about 170 pounds.

Roker in 2000, two years before his bariatric surgery (left), and with his wife Deborah Roberts in 2012 (right).
In 2002, you went through bariatric surgery. Why did you decide to have that procedure?
After my father was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2001, he was at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, and I would go in every day. We’d talk and joke, and then one day he got serious and said, “Look, we both know I’m not going to be here to help you with my grandkids, so you gotta promise you’re ­going to lose weight.” Seven days later he was gone. A few weeks afterward, [Deborah and I] found out we were pregnant with our son Nicky. I said, “Okay, I’m going to have to do something.”

After the surgery, you lost 100 pounds. Then five years ago, some of the weight came back on. What happened?
My mom got really sick, and unlike my dad, who was gone before we knew it, her illness dragged on for months. I was out of my routine, commuting [to Long Island] to see her, and feeling guilty—­either that I wasn’t spending enough time with the kids and Deborah, or that I wasn’t being there enough with my mom. It was this ­perfect storm, and I consoled myself with food. I got blindsided and, I think, to a ­certain extent, I got cocky. It’s like an alcoholic who’s been sober for 10 years and has a drink and says, “Ah, but I can handle it. Just one or two, I’ll be okay.” But no, you won’t. [He had regained 40 pounds by the time his mother died.]

After the psychological up, down, up, down, how did you make this latest push to lose the weight again?
About four years ago, I ran into an old friend, and he said, “Hey, dude, I just lost 40 pounds.” I decided to meet with his nutritionist, and I think it was fate that she crossed my path at the exact moment that I was ready to hear what she had to say. For the first time, I realized that I had to change not only the quantity but the quality of food that I was eating. Even more ­importantly, exercise has finally become a big part of my life.

How do you fight off those old temptations?
As I write in the book, I’ve learned to identify those ­triggers that caused me to binge-eat in the past; for ­instance, I used to use travel as an excuse to eat poorly. Now I don’t go anywhere without my scale; I literally pack it with me. … It gives me permission to have a bad day, or even just a bad ­moment. In the old days it was “Well, I’ve blown it; I may as well just go hog wild.” Now it’s “Okay, I made a mistake, let’s get back on the wagon.”

So it’s not about being ­liberated from the scale?
In Never Goin’ Back, I revealed that before my bypass, I had stopped getting on the scale or even watching myself on television. It was too difficult to face, so I hid my head in the sand. But now, I look at the number every morning, and it tells me what I’ve achieved. I know I’m more than that number, but I like what the number represents.

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