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Very Obese Dieters Shed Pounds with Dick Gregory’s Help

November 1, 1988

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ Ten tremendously obese people are dropping weight steadily since they gathered in June under the wing of comedian-turned-activist Dick Gregory to shed the hundreds of pounds that threatened their lives.

Ron Miller, 25, of Marion, Ind., can touch his toes, now that he has dropped 199 pounds from his 624-pound frame. And 15-year-old Jonita Mitchell of Biloxi, Miss., lost 98 pounds, down to 414 pounds; now she can walk for 45 straight minutes instead of stopping every few feet, as she did when she arrived.

Gregory, 57, brought 15 people in June to his health center, where dieters participate in a strict regimen that begins at 5:15 a.m. Five have since left due to family and economic problems, Gregory said, but he says the remaining five men and five women ″give fat people a good name.″

Their losses have meant adjustments - like clothing that is now too big.

″I always feel my underwear slipping now but I don’t mind,″ Miller said.

Gregory announced Monday that his group has bought the 117-room Beachmark Inn in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., for $10 million and plans to move the program’s participants there in the next few weeks.

The clients don’t pay for the treatment; Gregory’s program is funded through retail sales of his diet drink.

The Florida resort will allow him to provide better care for more people than he can at his center in Newark.

″We didn’t have enough space to walk them. Now we’ll have a beach. When you’re walking on the beach, it’s not like walking through a neighborhood where people can look at you and stare at you,″ said Gregory.

His clients know what it’s like to be stared at.

Miller recalls the day he wanted to end it all and hooked up a hose to a car exhaust pipe while his family was on vacation. ″I was sad but happy because I couldn’t wait to get out of the pain,″ he said.

But he didn’t go through with it.

″I thought of how the neighbors would gather around the garage and wonder what device was going to be used to move a 624-pound man,″ he said.

Mickey Steidl, 22, a 497-pound man who used to weigh 641 pounds, said his day in Medina, Ohio, began with a half-dozen eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits. The day would be a ″continuous meal″ with lunch of three or four hero sandwiches plus a visit to McDonald’s and then dinner with the family followed by a tour of the town’s fast-food restaurants. A late night pizza might cap off the day.

Under his current schedule, the day begins with two glasses of water followed by a 45-minute walk, and then two more glasses of water followed by breakfast of half a grapefruit and half an orange.

There are personal and group activities until noon, when lunch is raw vegetables or fresh fruit. The afternoon is devoted to personal time punctuated by servings of Gregory’s Bahamian diet drink, a multivitamin powder mixed with fruit juice. Dinner is a repeat of lunch.

Dieters say they lost their appetites within a month after starting the program, but still may suffer depression.

Nancy Gray, a 48-year-old mother of seven from Duxbury, Mass., remembers a weekly weigh-in on a scale with a capacity of up to 2,000 pounds.

″I had gained two pounds. I was devastated,″ said Mrs. Gray, who weighed 295 pounds Monday, down from 366. ″I thought it was the end of the world. I panicked and cried for two hours.″

Her 16-year-old son Joe has made some of the most dramatic progress. He’s shed 115 pounds and now weighs 223 pounds, the closest to the 190-pound goal that most group members set.

Some dieters say they can’t wait to return home and show off.

″Everybody looks at you and says ‘Look at that great big ol’ girl,‴ says Miss Mitchell, who has suffered two heart attacks. ″They’re going to faint now when they see me. I won’t have to hit anybody.″

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