Oprah Winfrey is antsy and starting to pace. Though it’s only X: 15 on a June morning, the sun is hot and the talks how dynamo is growing bored with the reporters and cameras clustered around her.
Never mind that this is her party–complete with white tents, linen tablecloths, and a jazz band in tuxedos–the grand preview for her new book, written with personal trainer Bob Greene. Never mind that half of the 1,000 booksellers and other guests expected here atChicago’s Soldier Field haven’t arrived yet. Oprah feels things slowing down–and it’s making her crazy.
“Momentum!” she says, rubbing her hands together. “We’re losing momentum. When you lose momentum, you’ve lost everything!”
Oprah leaps over a fence and bounds to the stage. Athletically, she snatches the microphone away from the band leader in the middle of a song and, as the horns fade, begins to work the crowd like a stand-up comic.
“Now I just know all of y’all aren’t wearing sunscreen,” she chides. “You know your mother told you to bring sunscreen.”
Dressed in a navy tank top and sweat pants for a power walk that will follow, Oprah looks less sleek than she’d like. Her weight is in the 160s, above her optimum of 152. But she is not flabby. Her bare arms are muscular, and her bottom does not sag.
“Somebody just asked me what size I am,” she says, sensing the crowd’s interest in her figure. “This is a medium Ralph Lauren, okay?” She then deftly segues to the new book she is here to sell: Make the Connection: Ten Steps to a Better Body–and a Better Life which combines he’ trainer’s fitness plan with her own personal saga. “I love this book because for so many years I struggled and wanted to be Diana Ross,” she continues. “Then I realized no matter what I did I was not gonna have Diana’s thighs! I realized that I just have to settle into what is the best body for me.
“I’m about a size ten now. And I’m going to work out this summer to try to get back to eights, because my closet is full of eights. You know that bad, horrible feeling when you’re trying to squeeze that arm in there, and pretending you’re not feeling all puffed up? So I’m going to work out really hard.”
“Isn’t she wonderful?” asks a woman drinking a low-calorie strawberry smoothie.
“Magic!” says another.
OPRAH’S WEIGHT IS PRACTICALLY AN American obsession. At malls, even in public bathrooms, the richest woman in entertainment says she often overhears people discussing the current status of her body. It has been noted that her TV ratings tend to be higher when she’s heavier Even movie characters have an opinion: In Eddie Murphy’s remake of The Nutty Professor, the corpulent Klump family concludes–over an army-size meal–that since Oprah lost weight her head is “too big for her body.”
We’ve watched Oprah’s size yo-yo since her national TV talk show debuted ten years ago. In 1988, she went from212 poundsto145 poundson the Opti-fast liquid diet, and astonished her audience by pulling a wagon of animal fat on stage, representing the67 poundsshe had lost. As soon as she returned to solid food, however, the weight came back.
Then, in 1993, she began to shed pounds the sensible way, under the care of chef Rosie Daley and exercise trainer Greene. One year later and87 poundslighter, she shared Daley’s low-tat recipes in a cookbook, In the Kitchen with Rosie, which became the fastest-selling book of all time. It has sold 6.5 million copies to date. You might wonder what more Oprah has to say on the subject of health and fitness.
In fact, Oprah now admits that she didn’t lose any weight by just eating Daley’s food. It wasn’t until she also started working out daily with Greene that the pounds began to come off–and not solely from exercise. “The hardest part of working with Bob has been the mind trip,” says Oprah. “Having to face the truth of myself. I can be working out and he’ll slam me with one of those life questions that just knocks me to my knees.”
Overeating, Oprah now concedes, is an emotional problem. “I wasn’t happy,” she says. “I used to play the Whitney Houston song all the time, the `Greatest Love of All,’ but it took me making the connection to understand what love really was.”
Making the connection, as Greene explains it, is primarily about learning to accept yourself–and your body–as well as taking responsibility for your health. In addition to his crash-course in self-love, Greene, who has taken classes in psychology, created The Ten Steps to a better body, with a nod to the 12 steps of self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. They include several time-honored axioms: drink six to eight glasses of water per day, eat a low-fat balanced diet, and exercise in 20- to 60-minute periods. But they also offer new guidelines based on Greene’s work: For example, exercise in the morning for higher effectiveness and exercise five to seven days a week, not three. The goal? A faster, more efficient metabolism. The message is consistency. According to Greene, there’s no such thing as “I’ll try.” He believes, as they say, “Just do it.”
But the bottom line for Oprah, who must work out harder than the average gym hound because she suffers from a low metabolism, is spiritual. “Bob’s plan worked for me because of the hours of counseling sessions we’ve had on running tracks, StairMasters, and treadmills about what really caused me to have the weight issues in the first place. My problem was bigger than loving potato chips and chocolate. I was trying to fill something deeper. And if I had not had Bob in my life, I probably would be back to the two hundred and forty pounds I was when I first met him.”
Looking back on it now, Oprah remembers June 1992 as one of the most miserable times in her life. She had just won her third daytime Emmy Award as a host, but was humiliated at having to “waddle my way up to the stage with the nation watching my huge behind.” Her weight had hit an all-time high–Oprah, the five-feet-six-and-a-half-inch queen of daytime TV, tipped the scales at237 pounds. “I felt so much like a loser, like I’d lost control of my life. . . I was the fattest woman in the room.” So after the Emmys, she retreated to a new spa in Telluride, CO, where she met Greene, an outdoorsy man with chiseled features who would change her life. “He must think, ‘What a wallapalooza. I’m supposed to work with her?’” she remembers thinking. Greene made no such judgments–nor was he cowed by Oprah’s fame. In fact, he didn’t own a TV and knew little about her–a naivete she found “refreshing.”