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Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Dian Thomas shows how she has her refrigerator organized with portions of food ready to pull out and cook.

Many people remember Dian Thomas for her "Roughing It Easy" books and appearances on NBC's "Today" show back in the '80s.

She inspired people to camp, cook and craft with their families. Today, the 64-year-old Thomas is inspiring for another reason: She's lost nearly 125 pounds.

Six years ago, the 5-foot-8-inch Thomas topped the scales at 326½ pounds; quite a jump from the 170 pounds she weighed when she first appeared on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show."

Today, Thomas' weight hovers at around 200 pounds, with just 20 more to shed to her final goal. She can bike for miles at a time and is planning to bike across Iowa this summer. She walks, works out at the gym and does water aerobics.

"Now I move like I'm young again," she said. "Before, if I ever got down on the floor, I couldn't get back up,"

Instead of a quick fix, the latest celebrity diet or gastric bypass surgery, Thomas took a slow, methodical approach. It's taken six years to shed the weight, "But it stayed off. It works, and that's what I care about."

Thomas aimed for a half-pound loss per week.

"What I have learned is it is not the speed but the direction, and that it is not a diet — it's a lifestyle change."

And there's no one "magic bullet." Instead, it's a matter of consistently incorporating a number of steps that include exercise, eating right and accountability.

"It's like leading a symphony: You've got to have all the instruments playing together at the same time, or you don't get the results," Thomas said.

"It's not just the food or just the exercise, that's just one instrument. The challenge is playing all the instruments together at the same time. And, you have to keep doing it long enough to make it a habit."

Thomas' "instruments" include sticking to 1,600-1,800 calories a day, consisting of three meals and three snacks.

She eats eight fruits and vegetables a day, and the only carbohydrates she eats are complex. She also gets two tablespoons of oil a day and eight cups of water. Exercise, controlling stress and getting a full night's rest are the other keys to her success.

It's a far cry from the heady-but-hectic, food-filled lifestyle that Thomas used to lead.

In 1974, the home-economics-teacher-turned-author published a book titled "Roughing It Easy," a guide to camping and cooking outdoors. Her appearance with Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show" helped propel the book to the New York Times Best-sellers list. Thomas became a familiar face on TV, with an eight-year stint as lifestyle editor for NBC's "Today" show, followed by six years with ABC's "Home Show," and numerous guest spots on talk shows from Merv Griffin to Sally Jessy Raphael.

She became a national spokesperson for divisions of Kraft Foods, Procter & Gamble, Dow Chemical and others. There were plenty of food industry junkets, media dinners, and lots of testing and tasting recipes.

She would sometimes be on the road 360 days of the year.

"I traveled around the world learning and tasting the most incredible foods, and I wanted to try them all," she said. "I'm not the kind of person who can take just one bite."

And in a stress-filled life, food became a reward and comfort.

By 2000, Thomas realized she needed to slow down. She helped care for her aging parents until they passed away in 2003 and 2004. She also began teaching public relations seminars, sharing some of her wisdom gained after 25 years in the media spotlight.

In the fall of 2003, after speaking at a seminar in Santa Monica, Calif., she was approached by a woman, Jackie Keller, who told her, "I can help you lose weight."

"Usually in Utah, when people say that, it has something to do with herbs and multilevel marketing," said Thomas. "So I just thanked her and took her card."

Keller is actually a wellness coach and co-owner of Nutrifit, which delivers customized healthful meals to Southern California clients. Keller is also an author of several books.

Thomas' real wake-up call came a few months later, during a trip to New York City with a friend. Her knee ached from trying to walk, so they had to take cabs everywhere they went. She also had high blood pressure, acid reflux, difficulty swallowing and a heel spur, all due to excess weight.

"At that point, I decided I wanted to have health more than eating all the delicious food that crossed my path every day," said Thomas.

She called Keller, who became her weight coach. "She started me out with really simple things, such as planning my food, and getting some activity."

Thomas started out with water aerobics and swimming, which she still does once a week.

"I believe you move in ways in the water that you don't on land," she said. "I like the saying that motion is lotion for the joint and body."

Then, remembering how much she loved riding bikes as a child, she bought two bicycles. That way, if a tire went flat, she could ride the other one until she could get it fixed. Since then, she has cycled thousands of miles.

She bought a pedometer to gauge how many steps she takes. She aims for a total of five miles per day, or 12,000 steps, five times a week.

She also does four strength-training workouts per week at a gym. After the weight began coming off, Thomas was able to return to the ski slopes for the first time in more than 15 years.

Thomas usually does an hour of exercise, six days a week. But since she's trying to lose that last 20 pounds, she's stepped it up to two hours.

Thomas keeps a food journal of what she eats each day and e-mails a copy to Keller. On Sundays, Keller "coaches" her over the phone. The accountability factor has made a huge difference for her, Thomas said.

"Jackie has been an angel in my life," said Thomas. "If a coach isn't in your budget, find a friend who will hold you accountable."

"Dian was able to come to a point in her life where she could make a commitment to a plan, and it speaks to her perseverance and her ability to remain relatively focused over time," said Keller in a telephone interview. "That's a critical part of long-term success."

Keller said that she has seen both a mental and physical change in Thomas.

"Dian has evolved into a different person. She's definitely come to an understanding of the role of food in her life. She doesn't feel deprived at all. It's such a joy to work with her because you see a new person who transformed herself in more ways than just physically."

Thomas' meals are about 350 calories each; snacks are 150 calories. She avoids processed or fried foods, and she sticks to lean meats, complex carbohydrates, and fruits and vegetables.

Thomas assumed she already knew about nutrition because of her home economics degree. "But Jackie really got me into portion control. For instance, I can have peanut butter, but only one tablespoon, and reduced-calorie. I measure it out."

In fact, Thomas weighs or measures just about everything she eats. Her refrigerator and cupboards are lined with plastic cartons and zip-lock bags of portioned foods: 4 ounces of meat or seafood, half-cups of cooked pasta; 10 almonds plus 2 tablespoons of dried fruit for a snack, and so on.

Because she's portioned and prepped most of her food in advance, she can put together favorite recipes quickly.

"I can make myself a meal in 15 minutes; that's less time than it takes to drive down to a fast food place and order it."

Nowadays, Thomas stays busy with public relations seminars and leading travel tours to China with Dick Jensen & Alan McKay Tours. The China tours came about because a travel executive noticed she was always out riding her bike and suggested she would be perfect for leading biking tours. Although the biking tours didn't pan out, Thomas now does four China tours per year and finds it fascinating.

"In China, health is top of mind. In America, taste and convenience are top of mind; that's why we have so many fat people," she said.

Even on her tours, she comes prepared with prepackaged snacks and is careful about her meals.

When she goes out to eat with friends, she orders a chicken salad and takes her own low-fat dressing. She likes Newman's Own sesame ginger.

Once in a while, the opportunity arises to get back into television, especially since food and cooking programs are expanding. "But I need to be careful not to get back into a stressful situation, because that's where I gained all my weight," she said.

For those who are struggling with weight issues, "Start now and never look back," advises Thomas.

"Take a small step day by day, and enjoy the journey. I look for ideas, foods, and activities that help me be successful. Losing weight is a change of habits and lifestyle. It is the most challenging experience of my life and also the most rewarding."

RED CABBAGE AND SAUSAGE

Prep time: 10-15 minutes

1 small onion, diced

1 lean link sausage

2 cups shredded red cabbage

½ cup chicken or vegetable stock

1 tablespoon mustard

Brown onion. Add sausage. Then add cabbage and sauté. After cooking for a few minutes, turn off the heat and cover pan with a lid to finish the cooking process.

To serve, top with mustard. Serves 1.

Options: 4 ounces of lean pork or dark turkey burger could be substituted for sausage.

— Dian Thomas,

PHILLY STEAK

1 small onion, diced

4 ounces lean steak

5 small sweet bell peppers or ½ large bell pepper

1 cup sliced mushrooms

3 tablespoons hard grated cheese

Brown onion in skillet. Add steak and brown. Add pepper and sauté, then add mushrooms. When dish is cooked, serve with grated cheese. Serves 1.

Options: Serve on a slice of toasted whole wheat bread.

— Dian Thomas,

Mexican Soup

1 small diced onion

4 ounces lean roast (such as skirt steak)

1/2 cup diced celery

1/2 cup hominy

1/2 cup medium-hot picante sauce

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

3 tablespoons hard cheese, such as Parmesan.

Brown onions, then add steak and brown. Add diced celery, hominy and picante sauce, and simmer. Add cilantro and cheese to serve.

Note: Hard cheese, like Parmesan, is more flavorful than soft thus you do not need as much.

— Dian Thomas,

For more information, check Dianthomas.com and Nutrifitonline.com

e-mail: vphillips@desnews.com