Crash Program in Anti-Aging

How much younger can you get in 40 days? Three women with common health problems added a total of 17 years to their lives by reinventing their diets, exercise routines and stress management techniques.

By Nancy Stedman
Rosa DaGraca after 40 days
Photograph: Sophie Olmsted

And so Renee embarked on a quest to discover new passions in her life. By the end of the 40 days, the scorecard read: quilting, no! guitar lessons, yes! Renee also found a once-a-week meeting for former smokers at a hospital near her apartment. “It’s really helpful to be in a supportive group of people who under-stand what it is like to crave a cigarette,” she said.

While Renee had always walked a lot, her smoking made it hard to see herself as a fitness person. But within a few days of getting off cigarettes, she began walking on her husband’s treadmill for 45 minutes almost every morning. She also started training twice a week with Jeff Young, the team’s exercise physiologist. Young, who says one of the benefits of exercising is that it helps ex-smokers redefine hemselves as healthy people, pushed Renee hard—and she responded. “I realized that I’m capable of doing much more than I thought I could. My name and ‘runner’ don’t go together—but Jeff has me jogging on the treadmill!” Renee said.

After 40 smoke-free days, Renee was stunned by her transformation. “I
can’t believe I’m not smoking!” she said.

HER GOAL: Lose 50 pounds
START: 258 pounds
FINISH: 242 pounds

Growing up in the Bronx, “I was always the largest child in class,” ELISE SABATEL recalls. By her mid-thirties, she weighed in at over 200 pounds. “I’m a stress eater,” Elise told More. “My portion sizes are OK during the day, but at night I go for the cookies and cakes.”

A warm and compassionate woman who works as a school social worker, Elise admitted she often has trouble reaching out to others for support. She gives this example: About 18 years ago, after her daughter, Danielle, then 14, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system, Elise went to work every day and acted as if everything were normal. “People would ask me how I was, and I would say, ‘Fine.’ But I binged at home and gained 75 pounds.” (Her daughter, now 32, is fully recovered.)

A few months ago, Elise, who then weighed 258, decided it was time to take action. “I want to live a long life, and a healthy one,” she said. (Obesity is a serious risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.) Elise set herself an end goal of 200 pounds, and hoped More’s program would jump-start her efforts.

Then, right before the program started, Elise’s 73-year-old mother was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (a different kind of cancer than her daughter overcame). “I toyed with the idea of pulling out,” she said. “But then I thought, this is the perfect opportunity for me to learn how to manage stress.” With a gratifying career, a vibrant church community, a loving husband (Michael, 61), two grown-up children (her son, Gregory, is 22) and five grandchildren, Elise figured she would succeed because she was in a “good place.” She was right.

By the time they reach their forties or fifties, many women are veteran dieters who know how they’ve succeeded in the past. In Elise’s case, Lee suggested she return to Weight Watchers, which had helped her lose 57 pounds two years earlier. Elise had liked the weekly meet-ings and found she could live with the well-rounded 1,600-calories-a-day meal plan.

Another key from the past: Elise had exercised at Lucille Roberts, a chain of women-only gyms. She settled on a routine of taking a 45-minute class followed by 15 to 20 minutes on a cardio machine, three times a week. To boost these weight loss methods, Lee prescribed the OTC supplement glucomannan, a soluble dietary fiber. Elise swallowed a capsule three times a day, 15 minutes before a meal, with a glass of water. “It gives me a sense of fullness,” she reported. Glucomannan is generally regarded as safe, but for some people (not Elise), it can produce unpleasant side effects, including hypoglycemia, according to Brent Bauer, MD, director of the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program at the Mayo Clinic. Use it under a doctor’s supervision.  

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