A Stormy Relationship With the Scale: An Interview With Al Roker

Bonnie Taub-Dix

"Dense morning fog, followed by gusty winds with temperatures soaring to a potentially record-breaking 60 degrees by this January afternoon, followed by drenching rain and a flash flood watch by this evening with temps dropping to the 30s." That's what the morning news reported, and wow--what a perfect day to meet with a weatherman!

For 27 years, viewers have been relying on Al Roker, Today show co-host and weather reporter, to tell them whether to carry an umbrella or leave their jackets at home. What Roker's audiences may not have realized, though, was that his eating habits were as turbulent as his forecasts--laden with erratic weight patterns and unpredictable clothing sizes.

Roker's newest book, Never Goin' Back, uncovers the weight battle he has fought since childhood up until now, when he stopped fighting and learned to compromise through the use of a balanced diet and lifestyle. Here's a slice of the conversation I had with Roker, and a taste of what it's like to get off the roller-coaster approach to dieting:

BTD: We actually have a lot in common. In addition to sharing a favorite childhood memory of dipping into a bowl of bananas and sour cream, I also grew up overweight, and when I dropped 30 pounds in adolescence, I knew in my heart I was "never goin' back." Aside from the pressure of the title of your book, what makes you so sure?

AR: Do I really know for sure? No, but I've never felt more strongly about this than I do now. I know I need to exercise. For some people, exercise is like breathing; for others, like me, it takes effort. Exercising is what I need for my metabolism and for a better sense of well-being.

[See 10 Excuses for Not Exercising, and Why They Won't Fly]

BTD: You often talk about your past binge eating experiences, including "a couple of Quarter Pounders, two large orders of fries, and a vanilla shake," or "a dozen Krispy Cremes." Does this now sound surreal to you, to think that you ate that way, or are these habits something you have to fight every day?

AR: That doesn't even sound like the same person! When you're in the midst of it, whether an alcoholic or a drug addict, that secondary voice inside you is not loud enough. It almost feels like the "devil and angel" sitting on your shoulders, like in a sitcom.

BTD: One of my patients once said that if he wanted to hide a gift for his wife, he'd "hide it in the oven ... because she never looks there!" I cried at the story you told in your book about how you stocked Deborah's previously bare kitchen while you were apartment sitting. I know you love to cook--do you find that you're cooking more or less often since you're following this new way of clean eating?

AR: My cooking habits haven't changed that drastically. I never really got into trouble at home; that was more in restaurants. I always did the cooking at home, and we always tried for balance. We've been vigilant about how and what our kids eat. For example, my son would just as soon go for the grapes as he would the chips ... and the chips are baked. Last night we had sushi, and tonight it's salmon and quinoa.

[See A Romantic, Heart-Healthy Valentine's Day Meal]

BTD: You mention a few times that "the weight started to come back," as if it were alive and coming back to you. I hear that same expression often. Would you say that one of the biggest changes in the way you view your weight now is that it's something YOU are responsible for? You seem empowered now.

AR: I used to look at a pint of Häagen-Dazs and call it a serving size. Now I know that I can have a couple of spoonfuls and I'm done. I'm more in control--and I'm controlling food.

BTD: I love your quote, "Anyone who has ever been on a diet knows that boredom is the breeding ground for bad habits." What do you do now to take the place of eating in those food-centric circumstances, like social situations or watching TV or just hanging out?

AR: Unless there is breaking news, we don't allow TV watching at home while we're eating. I also try not to read and eat, and interestingly, since I stopped that habit, my comprehension is even better. I have not made any 'replacements' for food during those times.

[See 6 Ways to Make Time for Your Health]

BTD: "You can't lose weight for your wife, your mother, your father, or anyone else except yourself. It HAS to be for YOU." Why now? What makes this time different, since YOU were there all along? Has something changed in you that makes you feel more deserving of this self-care and attention?

AR: After gastric bypass surgery they make you go through therapy, but a realization that came to me after writing my book was that I should have gone to the support group they offered. As mentioned in my book, I knew I needed to make some very basic changes in my life ... for me.

BTD: You mentioned an incident when someone who came over to your house put some avocado in your salad and you said, "I didn't want any fats!" I notice that now, in your meal plan, you readily include almonds, avocado, and olive oil. Was it hard for you to make the transition to trusting fats?

AR: When it comes to dieting, I'm the kind of person that likes to be told what to do. I don't like to count points, etc. I don't want to have a lot of choices. After my detox cleanse, my choices were more limited, but now I've expanded my diet to include a variety of healthy foods.

[See Best Diets for Healthy Eating]

BTD: What's next for you? Have you been courted by food companies or popular diet plans?

AR: I wrote this book to share my personal journey and what I went through, and I hope it will be helpful to whoever reads it. I am not advocating gastric bypass surgery; you can eat through a bypass. I did--I lost 140 pounds and gained 40 back. Nor am I promoting going on a detox cleanse or doing slow workouts.

I strongly agree with Roker, who told me that "Most people make the mistake of having the typical dieting mentality-- thinking that the diet has a beginning, a middle, and an end." Although Al Roker may be at his "fighting weight," he's not fighting his weight and this process is far from its end. For those of us who have lost weight by following a plan we could live with, that feeling of well-being and pride is only the beginning ... not the end.

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, has been owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, for more than three decades and she is the author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a renowned motivational speaker, author, media personality, and award-winning dietitian, Taub-Dix has found a way to communicate how to make sense of science. Her website is BetterThanDieting.com.