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Posted 1/2/2006 10:19 PM     Updated 1/3/2006 7:31 AM
2006 Weight-Loss Challenge
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Pros send dieter on extra mile
FARMINGTON, Pa. — Stanley Jones, 49, spent a weekend living a dieter's dream.

He received one-on-one advice from a nutritionist, got a customized exercise program from a personal trainer and learned how to cook healthful fare from a gourmet chef. And he did it all during a stay in November at a luxury hotel at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in southwestern Pennsylvania.

"This weekend has really invigorated me," Jones said at the end of the two days. "When you are dieting alone, it's hard. Sometimes you need someone to pump you up and give you a boost."

A teacher from Centreville, Va., Jones was chosen for the spa weekend because he lost 67 pounds last year on USA TODAY's Weight-Loss Challenge, dropping to 295 pounds. The challenge is an annual series that profiles dieters and offers menus, recipes and fitness advice from professionals.

Like many dieters, however, Jones hit a plateau at 290 pounds that interrupted his losing streak. The goal of the spa weekend was to help him jump-start his weight loss so he can reach his goal of 185 pounds.

And it worked. Six weeks after his retreat, Jones weighs 280 pounds.

And he shares what he learned with USA TODAY readers. To give New Year's resolutions an assist, the newspaper traditionally begins each year with stories on nutrition and exercise.

Jones has gone a significant distance, but he hasn't finished the race. For years, he overate, sometimes consuming as much as 10,000 calories a day.

  Meet the dieter

"I was out of control," he says. "There is no need to sugarcoat it."

He weighed 362 pounds in August 2004 and had diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. His doctor told him he had to change the way he lived or he would die.

Jones ditched high-fat, high-sugar foods and limited himself to about 1,200 calories and 60 grams of carbohydrates a day. He ate three meals a day and no snacks. He drank only water.

And he exercised in three 20-minute segments daily, doing step aerobics, walking and weight training. He practiced his three-C philosophy: "Commitment, consistency and control."

After a year, he had lost the 67 pounds and was down from eight medications a day to three: one for cholesterol and two for high blood pressure. He no longer takes any diabetes medication.

But in the fall, Jones started working two jobs and couldn't find time to exercise. Four days a week he teaches astronomy at an alternative high school in the morning and works as an adult-education program specialist from 1 to 10 p.m. On the weekends, he takes college classes (he has earned his doctorate) and volunteers as a tutor.

It's no wonder his scales were stuck. After dieting on his own for so long, Jones was ready for professional help.

Flavors from the chef

On his arrival at the spa, Jones is whisked off to the kitchen of the Aqueous restaurant in the Falling Rock hotel for a cooking lesson with chef Dave Racicot and nutritionist Jim Barnes.

Jones eats salmon several times a week but says he often cooks the fish until it's dried out.

Racicot suggests baking 6 ounces of salmon at 150 degrees for 30 minutes on a bed of fresh thyme, rosemary and parsley. The slow-roast method keeps it moist.

"You can cut down the salt because you get flavor from the herbs," Racicot says. "If you are only going to have 12 bites of salmon, each bite has to be as good as the first.

"And since you don't want to use a lot of butter and cheese, you need to add different flavors to your foods in other ways."

  What does it cost?

To do that, Racicot whips up a purée made with roasted beets, chicken broth and olive oil. He also makes a butternut squash soup with similar ingredients and tops it with crabmeat. "This is another way of eating your vegetables without chewing them."

Racicot puts an artistic swirl of the beet purée and butternut squash to the side of the salmon along with plain yogurt and a handful of walnuts to add crunch and texture.

Jones gives the fish, soup and sauces rave reviews. "This is exactly what I need to know," he says. "Sometimes I really miss the butter and sugar. I do need to find ways to add flavor.

"I don't go the whole distance with preparing food, but I want to go part of the way. This is another way of eating beets."

Beets are known to help with digestive problems, nutritionist Jim Barnes adds.

Jones pats his stomach and jokes, "Let me get this right: If I eat beets, it will fix my stomach. No Pilates. No exercise. I just eat beets. The South Beets Diet."

At the end of the cooking lesson, Jones says to the chef: "The most important question for you, Dave, is this: What are you doing for the next six months? If I had somebody like you at home, I'd be set. I see how Oprah does it now."

Trainer weighs in

Next, Jones heads to a private session with personal trainer Susan Claar. She shows him a variety of Pilates floor moves, including abdominal exercises, leg lifts and waist twists, explaining they will strengthen his abdomen and lower-back muscles to build a stronger midsection.

Pilates can improve posture, ease minor back discomfort and increase strength, Claar says. And the floor exercises can be done anywhere: "If you go on a road trip, you can do it in your hotel room."

She recommends buying Stott Pilates DVDs to use at home.

Claar does a 20-minute step aerobics routine with Jones to show him ways to vary his routine at home, and then she demonstrates about a dozen strength-training exercises using free weights. "I recommend you have a personal trainer once a month to update your regimen," she says.

At the end of almost two hours, Jones says, "we should have stopped with the salmon recipe, but this is what I need."

"If I had Susan for my personal trainer, I probably wouldn't be able to get out of bed in the morning. She would work my tail off, but that's what is needed. You can do exercises night and day, but if you don't do them correctly, they don't do you much good."

Jones spends several hours with Barnes, the nutritionist, discussing the value of different foods and navigating a Sunday brunch buffet filled with high-fat and high-calorie landmines.

They pass up the pasta and potato salads, processed meats, bacon, French toast and desserts and load up two-thirds of their plates with vegetables and fruits and a third with salmon, shrimp, pecan-crusted trout and lean beef.

Choose variety

Barnes estimates the calories for the meal Jones has chosen at about 400. "A small portion of several things is probably better for you than a big portion of one thing because you get a wider variety of nutrients," Barnes says.

Still, both men agree it's probably best to stay away from buffets when you're trying to lose weight. The problem with buffets, Barnes says, is that people think they need to get their money's worth, so they overeat.

Jones says his biggest obstacle is finding time to exercise. Barnes' solution: Move the treadmill in front of the TV and walk while watching the news at night.

The two take a short walk, and Barnes asks Jones whether he has thought about running a marathon one day.

"As determined as you are, you could accomplish anything, and running a marathon is more mental than physical," Barnes says.

He believes Jones will reach his goal because he's strong-minded and is doing both parts of the weight-loss equation: diet and exercise. "It'll be a cakewalk."

Jones laughs. "Let's not say cakewalk. It's a salmon walk."

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