04/27/2012 10:18 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

It Ain't Over Till It's Over: She Lost 60 Pounds Despite Eating For A Living

One of the reasons I started my website,, is that I wanted a place for women to come together and dream. Women should know that they don't have to hang on to an old dream that has stopped nurturing them -- that there is always time to start a new dream. This week's story is about one woman who successfully achieved a healthy lifestyle despite the temptations of her very unusual job.-- MT

By Lori Weiss

When Barbara Jordan was a child, she was forever experimenting with her Easy Bake Oven. If two little light bulbs could turn an envelope of ingredients into a scrumptious little cake, her mind danced with delight at what they might do with French fries, or the crispy skin of the leftover turkey, wrapped around the browned edges of the stuffing.

And more than 40 years later, she still marvels at the same ideas. As Vice President of Research, Development and Quality Assurance for Reser's Fine Foods, a company that produces comfort foods like macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes and gravy, Barbara is paid to develop new food concepts -- and to eat -- all day long.

"Have you ever tried working 20 feet away from browning cheese?" Barbara asked, breaking into laughter. "There is always someone in my department who is browning cheese over some sort of casserole.

"I promise you," Barbara continued, "someone, right at this moment, is thinking our artichoke parmesan cheese dip might make a good sauce for corn dogs, and is about to turn up the fryer and try it out. And it's my job to taste it! I once calculated it: If I swallowed everything I sampled in a day -- without spitting it out into a little cup, like tasters typically do -- I'd be taking in an extra 1500 to 4000 calories! And I'm not one to skip lunch!"

When she was in her twenties, Barbara could get away with a little more sampling and a little less spitting. Back then, she could just stop drinking soda and the extra pounds would slip right off. But as she got older, she discovered that the weight wasn't willing to go away so easily.

And overeating wasn't just an occupational hazard. To have a job like Barbara's, it's a given that you kind of like food. And Barbara does -- the texture, the scent, even just the thought of the many sumptuous creations that could be served alongside.

"But I'm a great dieter," she said. "I know how to lose the weight. I'm just not on friendly terms with a scale. So I've lost it and found it several times. It begins with five or ten pounds. You think, I can take that off -- kind of like an alcoholic -- I can quit anytime. And then you have a piece of pie. And once you've had the pie, you think, Well I've already had the pie, I’ll just have the chocolate cake."

"We begin to believe our own fiction," Barbara explained. "I dressed in the back of my closet for a year and convinced myself that those skirts had always been a little tight. I slept in the same bed with my husband but I was sure he couldn't tell that I'd put on 60 pounds. But then someone shows you a picture -- a sideways picture -- and you’re like, Aaahh!!!"

But it wasn't a recent picture of herself that got Barbara's attention. It was a framed photo of her father at age 50. He was overweight and unhealthy, a condition that led to his premature death at 61. Barbara could see herself in the reflection of the frame's glass and suddenly there was no more hiding from the truth. She was six months away from turning the same age her father was in that picture and she was equally out of shape.

"My husband and I had a conversation about it," she said sadly. "He'd always told me I was beautiful, bless his lying little heart. He's really fit and he takes all kinds of supplements. He's planning to live into his 90's and he kind of thought we'd do it together. But now, with this picture in front of us, I could see the impact my weight was having on him. I thought, If my father died at 61, am I going to leave my husband a widower?"

And that was the point at which Barbara decided that the extra pounds were more baggage than she could carry.

"Food was like a drug to me," she said. "So I needed to take a vacation from it. I went on a diet plan with controlled portions. For a full year, I didn't eat anything that didn't come out of a freezer case, along with all the vegetables I could hold.

"I stopped driving through McDonald's," she continued, "and I kept entire heads of romaine lettuce in my car. One day I was eating one -- holding it from the stalk and literally chomping down as I drove. Suddenly a truck driver pulled up next to me -- inching up, eyes wide open. I can only imagine what he thought I was doing!"

But for Barbara, it was about more than just the food. She also needed to become nicer to herself.

"I had gotten to the point where I would call myself a disgusting cow," she explained. "I'd tell myself I didn't deserve pretty clothes. That's when I realized that I needed to become less of a critic and more of a coach. Instead of telling myself I just needed to work harder, I began asking myself why something wasn't working. I'd ask the same questions I'd ask a friend: Okay, you’re putting a lot of effort into this -- you’re working out three times a week -- but you’re not losing weight. Let’s talk about what else you need to do."

That's when Barbara hit on the answer: "You don't gain weight overnight," she said, "so you're not going to lose it overnight, either. You just have to accept that. But there are rewards along the way that keep you motivated. For example, after I lost 30 pounds, I decided I'd buy a few new things for a trip I was taking to see my sisters, who hadn't seen me since I started taking off the weight. So when I got to the store I brought a handful of larges into the dressing room and a few mediums, just in case. And the mediums fit! I sat in that dressing room and cried."

Today, Barbara has been at her goal weight of 135 pounds for nine months. And while she's no longer eating pre-packaged foods, she's holding on to some of the lessons she discovered along the way.

"It took me 18 months to get this weight off, and that's plenty of time to become your own psychotherapist," she said with a smile. "I've learned how to talk myself through things. Sometimes the Shake and Bake on the chicken breast works. But other times, you just have to have the fried stuff. So I might have a breast and a wing, but I'll run five miles that night. Think of it like buying an expensive lipstick. You may wear Chapstick most days, but every once in awhile you need to indulge."

Although Barbara's strategy for losing weight seemed to be working, she knew her weaknesses and enlisted a little help in her efforts. "I'm at an age where I can admit I'm not the strongest person all the time," she said, "so I hired some self-control. I hired an inexpensive weight-loss cop. I don’t need pep talks or someone to tell me what to eat, but I need someone to put me on that scale. I avoid that the way other people avoid old boyfriends and doing their taxes. My friends can lie to me. My husband can lie to me. The scale doesn't like me enough to cut me a break."

With the weight off and her confidence well intact, Barbara no longer feels the need to get dressed in the darkness of her closet -- which is good, because now it's packed with all the pretty clothes she dreamed of.

"I used to stumble over the weight as a problem," she remembered. "I'd have a business meeting and I'd worry about being the fattest woman in the room. And, of course, the only skirt I could wear was the one with the broken zipper -- the one I wore to the last meeting. It took up so much room in my mind.

"I feel like I've been let out of prison," she said softly. "What I didn't realize is that I always had the key."

You can learn more about Barbara’s journey and the way she keeps the weight off, by following her on Facebook.

It Ain't Over: Barbara Jordan

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