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How Al Roker Lost 135 Pounds and Gained Faith in Himself

PARADE Published: December 30, 2012
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In a new book, Roker opens up about his lifetime struggle with weight and how he finally broke the yo-yo cycle—for good. Watch behind-the-scenes video from Roker's cover photo shoot and read his full interview with PARADE below.

It’s 9:45 a.m. and Al Roker bounds up the stairs from the Today show studio at ­Rockefeller Center to his second-floor office. His energy is striking, considering that the short climb once left him winded. Over the past decade, viewers have watched the 5-foot-8, 58-year-old Roker transform himself: After tipping the scales at 340 pounds, he underwent bariatric surgery in 2002 and within eight months had dropped 100 pounds. Then, five years ago, a family crisis plunged him back into his old eating habits, and he regained much of the weight. But, as Roker describes in his new memoir, Never Goin’ Back: Winning the Weight-Loss Battle for Good (out tomorrow), he has ended the yo-yo cycle at last by revamping his entire way of life and has trimmed down to 205 pounds.

“My kids don’t know me as the fat guy,” says ­Roker, photographed with his ­tailor, Tullio ­Giannitti, at Richards department store in Greenwich, Conn., on Nov. 30.
Winning that battle has not been easy. Roker, an avowed foodie, has wrestled with his weight since childhood. Still, he was laid-back about his size until age 15, when Bill Cosby’s “Fat Albert” character appeared on TV. “It was the embodiment of me: a fat black guy who is the center of attention and the butt of jokes.” The mortification launched him into a “vicious cycle” of emotional binge eating, followed by bouts of self-loathing. “[I’d eat, then] I’d get into a funk, so I’d eat more,” he says.

No longer. Four years after embracing a healthy lifestyle, Roker is confident he has found a sustainable routine, which he shares in his new book, along with funny, brutally honest stories of his sometimes difficult journey. PARADE spoke to Roker about how he’s finally transformed his body—and his state of mind.

PARADE: Your mother cooked for a growing family on your father’s salary as a bus driver. What were your meals like when you were a kid?
ROKER: All middle-income families use carbs to stretch meals, across any ethnic group—whether it’s kugel or rice and beans or macaroni and cheese. I remember having pancakes for dinner. But as kids, we thought, “Breakfast for dinner? This is great.”

In the book, you talk about your love of food, especially the comfort foods your mother made for you—grilled cheese sandwiches, ­vanilla layer cakes. Do you still eat those things?
On occasion I will. My old modus ­operandi was, if you’re going to have a grilled cheese and bacon sandwich, don’t have one, have two. If you’re going to have vanilla wafers, you have the whole box. Now it’s two or three. You learn the secret of most normal-weight people, which is I’m full.

From the outside looking in, what people see is a successful guy with a wonderful family. So why the need to binge?
I’ve thought about that a lot. Despite having a loving wife [ABC News correspondent ­Deborah Roberts], three terrific children, and a great career, there were times when I ­perhaps didn’t feel that I was good enough. If I was having a bad day, eating was like self-­medicating. But if you abuse food, you still have to use that substance that you abuse every day. You have to learn to use it responsibly.

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