Jenni Phomsithi
June 7, 2004

“I can cross my legs now!” Brenda Housley loudly, proudly announced. Not a feat most consider worth broadcasting, but Housley hasn’t been physically able to snake one thigh over the other in 20 years.

In March, at her husband’s urging, Housley made the drive from Hector to the Saint Mary’s Annex to attend the first of 10 weekly Simply Fit for Life courses led by Lindsey Hale, registered dietician – courses which would change the quality of her life, and the size of her thighs, in just more than two months. Housley slowly gained weight over the course of 30-plus years. As with most slow gains, at some point she realized it was harder to breathe, harder to walk. Housley laid blame on the considerable extra weight she didn’t think she’d ever lose after a series of failed diets that spanned decades. When Housley, a teacher’s aide, married her husband James in 1969, she weighed about 130 pounds. In 1973, following the birth of her first child, she weighed in at 170. Her weight continued to balloon throughout the 1980s, and she enrolled in Weight Watchers, tried MedFast (a liquid diet) and eventually, she just stopped thinking about it. By the time Housley had enrolled in Simply Fit for Life 20 years later, she was at 218 pounds and wore a size 20.

To say Housley’s husband encouraged her to lose weight doesn’t paint a fair portrait of the man. There is a bit of history and a lot of love that needs laid out for consideration. James had noticed it took Brenda longer to do things, had noticed she was breathing harder and getting increasingly uncomfortable in her body. Brenda, with a giggle, relayed her husband’s worry: “He wanted me to lose weight because he needed me to be around a long time to take care of him. He said no one else would.”

ames was so concerned that he signed his wife up for an EKG at the Heart Healthy Heart Happy health fair sponsored by Saint Mary’s in February. Reluctantly, she went. Her EKG was normal, so she started perusing other vendor and hospital booths. When Housley spoke with Hale, she was taken with the way Hale imparted information and hope. She said Hale is “so good at explaining,” and the diet “easy to follow.”

The diet is the American Heart Association diet. The diet helped Housley go from 218 pounds to 187 pounds in 10 weeks. The diet put Housley in her old size 14 clothes. The diet helped Housley cross svelte thigh right over lean thigh left.

Housley arrived early for her first Simply Fit class and weighed in. Seven days later at class two she weighed six and a half pounds less; and two weeks later she was at 207 pounds. Housley said the diet was actually very easy. There are tips some Americans are no longer familiar with, and Hale imparted them with regularity.

  • Tip one: It takes 15 minutes to feel full … but we can eat a lot in 20 minutes.
  • Tip two: Eat breakfast and eat snacks. The trick, according to Hale and Housley, is to never be hungry.
  • Tip three: Make a food pyramid template. A template helps guide your choices. Essentially, it’s a rough plan that will save time later – no need to count calories. When Housley joined Simply Fit for Life, she did have some reservations about the program. After all, she hadn’t even tried to lose weight in two decades, and she hadn’t succeeded then. Housley was afraid that cutting portions and fats and reading labels may not leave her with food choices she enjoyed. For example, Housley used to eat the following at Taco Johns, her favorite restaurant: salad, refried beans with cheese, a taco, a burrito, a chalupa, nachos and a large Coke. Now she eats a single taco and a Diet Coke.

Housley had some long-standing issues with Diet Coke, and she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to keep to the diet because of her fondness for the “real thing.” Before she opened her first of many Diet Cokes, she looked skyward and said, “Lord, you’ve got to make me like this.” And she did. Housley participated in the second Simply Fit for Life program offered by Saint Mary’s, and the third is in session now.

Thirty-four people have graduated from the local program, shedding a total of 761 pounds. For more information, or to sign up for a class, contact Lindsey Hale of Saint Mary’s at 479-964-5495. Hale reminds that anyone beginning a diet or changing the way they eat should consult with her physician prior to starting.