Westchester's Own Biggest Losers
Meet Westchester’s Biggest Losers
Weight Loss: 100 Pounds
Method: Weight Watchers
When he tipped the scales at 260 pounds, Jason Topel didn’t worry about his health. “I decided to lose weight strictly for vanity reasons. I wanted to look better in my clothes and have others think I was attractive.” An aspiring actor, the Scarsdale resident wanted to get leading roles. “I would usually end up playing the goofy guy since everyone thinks that heavier people are funnier onstage.”
Topel had been overweight since age 10. He tried many weight-loss programs including eating pre-cooked, pre-packaged meals, popping diet pills, going on crash diets, and joining Weight Watchers, which he says worked best—buthe didn’t stay on it. At 24, however, he returned to Weight Watchers. After a little over a year, Topel had dropped 100 pounds—which he has kept off for the past two years.
“I currently eat more than I used to, but I eat foods low in fat and sugar and high in protein and fiber.” He also goes to the gym three times a week.
His acting opportunities have improved, too. He recently played the lead in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in local community theaters and has a new starring role—as a Weight Watchers’ meeting-room leader. “I definitely feel sexier now,” he says. “I am dating a lot more than when I was overweight.”
Weight Loss: 65 Pounds
Method: Weight Training
Mark Gagliardi recalls the day he went to buy a new suit and fell in love with an Armani. “The clerk gave me a size fifty-eight [Italian size; about an American size forty-eight] and it was tight. He told me, ‘Don’t gain any more weight because we won’t have any clothes to fit you!’”
Gagliardi already was tipping the scale at 250 pounds. The owner of Eclipse Salon in Tarrytown, Gagliardi had struggled with his weight all his life.
“I tried fad diets, NutriSystem, and Weight Watchers, and they all worked”—until he’d plateau. Finally, he found something that really worked. “I took up weightlifting and eventually martial arts,” says Gagliardi, who holds a second-degree black belt in karate.
Gagliardi was doing four hours of cardio a day and got down to 205 pounds. Then he hurt his knee. Without all that exercise, he rebounded within two years to 250 pounds on his 5’7” frame. When he was ready to begin exercise again, he sought the help of trainer Mike Lipowski of Pure Physique in Shrub Oak. “Like most guys,” Gagliardi says, “I figured the more time I spent in the gym, the better.” But, Lipowski says, “the idea is to perform the least amount of exercise to produce significant results.” Gagliardi now does 20 to 30 minutes of cardio five days a week instead of training seven days, but he works with heavier weights. He is now down to about an American size 42. He has replaced his extra-large T-shirts with mediums and his 38 to 40 pants with size 32 to 34s. “And,” he says, “now I actually eat more and train less. Pretty good, huh?”
Isabel Vagueiro and her son Michael Martins
Ages: 44 and 20
Isabel: 90 Pounds
Michael: 70 Pounds
Isabel: Gastric Bypass Surgery
|MICHAEL BEFORE||ISABEL BEFORE|
Isabel Vagueiro always has wanted to ride a Harley, but at 263 pounds, she didn’t feel confident she could handle the bike. Of course, that’s not the only reason 45-year old Isabel, a dispatcher for BMW in White Plains, chose to lose weight and has kept it off for four and a half years. “Hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol all run in my family. I was particularly worried about my children, especially my then-thirteen-year-old handicapped son. If I got sick, who would take care of my kids?”
One of her children, Mike Martins, already was suffering the same fate. Today 20, the Iona College student suffered shortness of breath, lack of energy, and low self-esteem. “I didn’t feel comfortable in social situations because of my weight,” he says.
His mother had struggled with her own weight problem since she was Mike’s age. “I tried Weight Watchers twice, joined gyms, and tried every fad diet,” she recalls. As a last resort, Vagueiro decided to undergo gastric bypass surgery, which was performed by Dr. Philip Weber of White Plains. According to Vagueiro, it cost $30,000 (paid by her health insurance), and required only a week of recovery before she could return to work. “My doctor suggested two weeks,” she says. “But I was back in one.”
Mike, who blames fast food, a sedentary lifestyle, and up to six glasses of soda a day for his weight problem, was happy for his mom’s success, “but I didn’t want to have to go through the extreme measures she did.” Instead, about three years ago, he sought the help of nutritionist Paula Sarrocco, who lives in the same building as Mike in Yonkers. Mike has been seeing her on a weekly basis ever since.
“In the beginning, we would agree on a certain amount of fast food each week. He currently eats it once a week,” reports Sarrocco, who adds that getting her client to eat vegetables was also a challenge. “We started by adding leafy green salads and have added one new vegetable at a time.” And, instead of those eight glasses of soda each day, Mike drinks six or seven bottles of water. He also has incorporated exercise into his daily routine.
To keep her own weight down, Isabel rarely eats red meat, has added lots of veggies and salads to her diet, and keeps the junk food at home to a minimum. “I still battle with food,” she says. I still have to work at keeping my weight down—and will forever.” If she doesn’t, she may end up like her sister. “We had the same operation a day apart, but she gained everything back.”
As a reward for all this self-control and hard work, the slimmer (size 12), more confident Isabel bought herself a 2006, Harley 1200 Sportster Low Rider, on which she can be seen happily cruising the scenic routes of Westchester.
Meanwhile, Mike’s new regimen has helped him slim down to 170 pounds. “I’m much more confident and dating more,” he happily reports. “I went from a size forty-two pants to a size thirty/thirty-two. I made a presentation in speech class at school and brought in my old pants. Everyone was shocked!”
Weight Loss: 100 Pounds
Method: Lap Band Surgery
Five years ago, at age 44, Pamela Kerrigan, a chemistry professor at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, realized that her weight was not only a detriment to her health but to her career. “I had asthma, sleep apnea, and borderline diabetes and could not keep up with my students.” Standing 5’7” tall, she weighed 425 pounds.
Like many overweight people, Kerrigan had tried to reduce many times before, only to “put the pounds back, plus extra weight after going off” whatever program she tried. Finally, the Tarrytown resident turned to Dr. Thomas Cerabona at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla for Lap Band surgery. “I chose Lap Band because there is less chance of mortality and fewer side effects.”
In the hour-long surgical procedure, a band was placed around her stomach. The band allows only small amounts of food to pass through at a time. “It was done laproscopically, so recuperation was fast,” Kerrigan says.
Eight months after her surgery, she’d lost 100 pounds, and she’s managed to keep it off for five years (and counting). “Being a biochemist, I know what the correct diet is, but it’s different when you are doing it for yourself. I never really learned how to control my eating or to change my eating habits before. The Lap Band is forcing me to do both.”
Weight Loss: 60 Pounds
Method: Personal Trainer and Weight Watchers
“I’d always been tall and thin,” says Bob Roth, managing partner of John Meyer Consulting in Armonk. That is until he reached age 40 and found himself
carrying around 210 pounds on his 6’ 1” frame instead of his normal 180 pounds. “My metabolism changed,” Roth says. “I wasn’t exercising, my life became more sedentary, and I was eating too many donuts!”
Roth knew he had to do something, so he turned to Weight Watchers to get back on track. “I actually tried it several times.” And it worked fine each time, but as soon as he stopped the program, the weight came back. Between 1996 and 2006, Roth put on five pounds a year. “Too many chimichangas, tacos, and no exercise,” he says. At his wife’s behest, Roth tried to burn off his weight with exercise. But the exercise, he says, revved his appetite more than his metabolism. “I’d work out and then feel hungry. I was actually eating more!”
By 2006, his weight had ballooned to 235 pounds and, just before Christmas, he began coupling his exercise program—an hour of weight training twice a week, and a half-hour of cardio four times a week—with a Weight Watchers diet and finally found success.
“I’m between a hundred-and-seventy-five and a hundred-and-eighty pounds now and I have a better physique. I’m fifty-four years old now; I should have been in this good physical condition when I was thirty-four.”
Roth credits his success to exercising under the supervision of his personal trainer, Lynne Welling at Club Fit in Jefferson Valley, to attending Weight Watchers meetings monthly, and, most of all, to his wife, Joyce. “I was always just doing half the equation. I’ve proven to myself that I can’t do it by diet or exercise alone.”
Weight Loss: 75 Pounds
Method: Exercise and Weight Watchers
Since she was a child, Stephanie Low has wrestled with her weight. And ironically, she believes, her weight problem was triggered by healthy eating—at home. “My mother was very conscious about health,” says Low, a youth advocate. “We ate well, but sweets were a rarity and very restricted. As a result, I bought things like chocolate bars and snuck them whenever I could. I think this set me up to be a sugar addict.” She would yo-yo in weight dramatically.
Low says she tried everything to break this cycle. The White Plains resident attended Overeaters Anonymous, tried therapy, visited a diet doctor, and took the drug
Fen-phen (before its dangers were known). Her weight continued to yo-yo. In 2005 at 280 pounds, her heaviest, she decided to give exercise a chance—and began working out with a personal trainer, Chris Rose of the New York Sports Club in White Plains. By exercising five days a week and joining Weight Watchers, she started to see steady improvements and eventually lost 100 pounds (though she has gained back 25 pounds).
Low reports she now has more energy but admits she still craves sweets. “But,” she says, “now I try to go for one-hundred-calorie packs of things or eat Skinny Cow ice cream.”
Missy Cohen Pirinea
Weight Loss: 150 Pounds
Method: Gastric Bypass Surgery
When Missy Pirinea, a receptionist for PepsiCo in Purchase, turned 40, she decided to give herself a special present—a gastric bypass operation. “I simply got tired of being me,” she says candidly. That ‘me’ was 341 pounds.
“I have been overweight since I could feed myself,” Pirinea says. “I ate too frequently and had too many snacks. I’m a chocoholic, ate lots of fried chicken, and didn’t exercise. I was so out of control.”
Surgery, she believed, was her best option. On December 1, 2003, Dr. Julio Teixeira performed gastric bypass surgery on Pirinea. “It was the first day of my new life!” exclaims Pirinea.
She changed her diet (she rarely eats red meat, fried foods, pasta, rice, or potatoes), started an exercise routine five days a week at the PepsiCo fitness center, and lost 150 pounds. She recently participated in a duathalon (one-and-a-half mile run, three-mile bike ride, one-and-a-half mile run)—something that never would have been possible at her old weight. And while she still has a soft spot for chocolate, she manages to keep it in check.
“I used to say that the most important men in my life were my father and my husband,” she says. “Now they are my plastic surgeon and my personal trainer!”
Freelance writer Lois Podoshen lives in Yorktown Heights and Florida and has great respect and admiration for the people in this article and their accomplishments.