Health Worries Prompted Oprah's Fitness Plan

Dec. 19, 2002 -- When Oprah Winfrey started having heart palpitations last year and doctors told her to lose weight, the talk show queen herself knew that this weight loss plan had to be for real.

Winfrey's see-sawing weight has been very much in the public view over the years. Winfrey, who turns 49 in January, has been struggling with her weight since she was 22.

Who could ever forget when she proudly showed off the brand new size 10 jeans that she could finally wear after losing 67 pounds on a crash course diet back in 1988?

Her weight problems are no secret. Winfrey has talked about how her weight has fluctuated over the years, hitting its peak at 237 pounds in 1992. But now with menopause approaching, and a recent health scare, Winfrey says it's time "for the battle to be over."

Winfrey, who recently lost 33 pounds, has adopted a strength training program, outlined in the current issue of her O magazine. O's News Director Liz Brody told Good Morning America that Winfrey began her latest diet with a real sense of life-and-death desperation.

"Her heart had begun racing so fast she couldn't sleep, and it scared her," Brody said. "She went to a number of doctors and found out that her blood pressure was very high."

Verdict From Doctors

Doctors concluded that Winfrey's high blood pressure was because of peri-menopause, setting in as she was about to turn 49. She needed to lose weight, doctors said.

After her extreme weight gain, back in the early 1990s, Winfrey enlisted personal trainer Bob Greene to help out. She and Greene worked together for a year. She ran a marathon, and, more or less, kept the weight off for four years.

Greene had quickly hit the nail on the head about why Winfrey kept gaining weight, saying the talk show guru had some personal issues to deal with.

"Bottom line, she didn't love herself as much as she loved her audience," Brody said. "She gave everything to them, but didn't love or respect herself enough to stay healthy, and the bottom line is you have to love yourself to stay healthy."

After managing to stay slim for several years, Winfrey's beef trial (over mad cow disease remarks she made) and her disappointment over the box office on the movie Beloved threw her off kilter. Soon, she ate her way back to 200 pounds by August 2001.

When she woke up sweating, with her heart pounding, Winfrey became seriously worried about her health. Doctors told Oprah she needed to lose weight and she thought "what else is new?" She'd been heavier and never felt palpitations before, but hadn't factored in issues like getting older and hormonal changes.

Iron-Clad Rules

To get herself started on a plan that would ultimately help her lose 33 pounds, Winfrey did several things.

Inspired by a book that she had read about menopause, Dr. Christiane Northrup's The Wisdom of Menopause, she cut out refined carbohydrates including pasta, bread and sugar from her diet, and replaced them with fish, chicken, veggies, fruit, and soup. She also reduced her salt intake, and her blood pressure dropped. Her heart stopped racing, she could sleep, and work out again, with her new-gained strength. Winfrey says she lost 10 pounds almost immediately.

With her trainer, Greene, she signed a contract that laid out some iron-clad rules about food.

She committed to regular exercise, eating healthy foods in good portions, and eating for physical needs, rather than emotional ones. She also swore off eating past 7:30 p.m., when the metabolism tends to not work as quickly.

Regaining Muscle Before Menopause

Though she hadn't enjoyed weight training much in the past, Winfrey started on a strength program.

"As you approach menopause, you lose bone and muscle, so you can't just keep jogging," Brody said. "You have to build up muscle mass to combat that. Oprah was OK with getting up early to go on the treadmill, but couldn't stomach another half hour of weight training. But now she really feels that was the key to getting in shape."

Now, Winfrey spends about 30 minutes on aerobics and 45 minutes on weight training. She does strength moves such as standing flys, lat pulldowns, squats and bicep curls.

To get in shape for this year's Emmy Awards, where Winfrey won the inaugural Bob Hope Humanitarian Award, she woke up early to do 30 to 45 minutes of strength training about four or five days a week, followed by about 30 minutes of aerobics. Before dinner, she would complete another 20 minutes of aerobics. Every sixth day, she did a 75-minute run.

How will she make it stick this time?

"No more expecting to love it," Brody said. "The bottom line is it's all about loving herself enough to take care of herself. She knows that because she has a crazy schedule, she'll gain weight, but it's not about a certain number anymore. It's about staying basically healthy."

(For more details on Oprah Winfrey's new health plan, check out The Oprah Winfrey Show on Jan. 2, or the O Web site,