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Subway's Biggest Loser

By Sally Squires
Tuesday, April 1, 2008

He's known simply by his first name -- Jared -- and his claim to fame is being a loser, in fact a super-loser.

Meet Jared Fogle, who, as a college junior, shed a whopping 245 pounds on a self-devised diet of Subway sandwiches and became a spokesman for the fast-food chain in the process.

Now he has reached another milestone: maintaining that weight loss for 10 years.

With a rising obesity epidemic, the number of people who need to shed triple-digit pounds is also increasing. A growing number try to meet that goal surgically with stomach stapling or gastric bypass. That makes Jared's accomplishment all the more important.

"It's fantastic that he's done this, because weight-loss surgery is taking on such emphasis," says Brown University psychologist Rena Wing, co-founder of the National Weight Control Registry, a group of 6,300 "successful losers" who have shed at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year.

"Jared supports our findings in the registry that it is possible to achieve and maintain triple-digit losses using behavior changes," Wing says. He lost his weight the old-fashioned way, by eating less and gradually moving more.

At his peak of about 425 pounds, Jared figures that he consumed about 10,000 calories daily, roughly five times the intake of the average adult.

How does a person consume that much? Easy. For breakfast, Jared ate two bacon-and-egg sandwiches with greasy hash browns and washed it down with coffee with cream and plenty of sugar.

Lunch was often an entire large pizza with extra meat and cheese. Bean burritos with cheese were his favorite afternoon snack, followed by an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet for dinner with ice cream for dessert and a bedtime "snack" that was a meal in itself of burgers, fries and more dessert. Not surprisingly, Jared says, his weight increased "exponentially."

Like many, his weight battle began in childhood -- although no one else in his family is overweight. His father is a family physician; his mother, a preschool teacher. None of his siblings have struggled with added unwanted pounds.

"I grew up knowing what was healthy and not healthy to eat," Jared says. "My parents always cooked fairly healthy food, and they didn't buy a lot of junk food."

Even so, he piled on pounds beginning in about the third grade. "From that point, food slowly but surely consumed me," says Jared, who has started a foundation to help prevent childhood obesity.

Despite concern from his parents about his increasing girth, he resisted all their attempts to help him. "I even refused to go to the doctor," he says. "I knew the doctor would tell me to lose weight." As a rebellious teenager, he simply ate more.

"I ate lots of fast food and was always super sizing," he says. "I always wanted the biggest portion. I always wanted to be in a state of constant fullness."

It took his worried college roommate at Indiana University to persuade Jared to make changes. "He was a pre-med major and very concerned about my health," Jared says.

The roommate slipped a tape recorder under Jared's bed to capture the sounds that Jared made while sleeping. He played the tape for Jared and told him that he probably had sleep apnea.

Closely linked to obesity, sleep apnea causes brief interruptions in breathing during sleep and is a major risk factor for heart disease. Jared already had edema, or swelling, in his feet and ankles, often a symptom of heart problems. Plus, he was sleeping for 12 hours a day, "waking up and being completely exhausted," he says. "To be that heavy, that morbidly obese, affects every part of your life. After years of denial and not accepting that I had a problem, I had developed both sleep apnea and edema. I thought, 'Wow. Enough is enough. I need to make some changes.' "

His first attempts at weight loss were unsuccessful. Then he stopped in the Subway outlet adjacent to his apartment building. While waiting for his order, he read a nutrition brochure and looked at the low-fat sandwich section. This was his weight-loss eureka moment: He realized his "diet" could be composed of two of those sandwiches a day.

"It was sort of a crazy idea, but I thought it was worth a shot," he says.

As a college student who liked to sleep late, Jared decided to eat his first meal at midday. He ate a six-inch turkey sub with plenty of vegetables but no mayonnaise, oil or cheese, plus a small bag of baked chips. He also switched from regular Mountain Dew and orange soda to diet soft drinks. "That was very tough," he says.

For dinner, he ate a foot-long veggie sub with another bag of baked chips and more diet soda. The two meals added up to about 1,500 calories per day, about the amount recommended by many weight-loss programs.

When he felt hungry, Jared reminded himself that he was probably losing weight. The first month, he lost about 30 pounds but told no one of his efforts. By three months, he had shed 94 pounds. Friends and family started to notice. "Everyone was skeptical about it," he says, especially his father, who insisted that Jared have his blood tested regularly to make sure that nothing was going wrong. "Once they saw the weight was really coming off, they were really happy for me."

After he lost 100 pounds, Jared began to walk 30 minutes daily. It took him nine more months to shed the remaining weight. "The rate of weight loss slowed the more I lost, but it never stopped," he says. "At the end, I almost lost a little too much weight." He added back about 15 pounds the first year but has maintained his weight at 190 ever since.

Jared's story was featured in the university paper. Local radio stations picked it up. Then Subway contacted him to become the company's spokesman. He has since made more than 50 commercials and travels more than 200 days a year for company appearances.

Although Jared still dines frequently on Subway sandwiches (sweet onion teriyaki chicken with baked chips is his favorite meal), he has learned to eat other healthy food. "I read more nutrition labels and pay attention to what is a healthy way to prepare something versus not a healthy way," he says. "I'm not a calorie-counter per se, but I have learned to know what is a decent size of food for me."

He works out regularly with a personal trainer when he's at home in Indianapolis. On the road, he walks regularly for exercise.

"I think the reason why I have been around for nine years is that people can relate to my story," Jared says. "I'm not some buff jock or famous actor. I'm just sort of like everybody else."

In short, he's trying to eat smart and move more one day at a time.

Check out the growing gallery of Lean Plate Club Successful Losers at http://www.leanplateclub.com, where you can also subscribe to the free Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter, and join me there online from 1 to 2 p.m. today.

Take the National President's Challenge with me, other Lean Plate Club members and the Misfits athttp://www.presidentschallenge.org, group No. 69734. Registration continues through Thursday. It's free and fun, and the challenge runs until May 15. E-mail me atleanplateclub@washpost.com.

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