Grand Forks woman loses 164 pounds
GRAND FORKS, N.D. - In December 2006, Linda Conneran weighed 308 pounds.
Eighteen months and 164 shed pounds later, she's a supermodel ... with an offer to pose in a bikini.
OK, the 47-year-old Grand Forks woman is not willing to accept herself portrayed as a supermodel. And the bikini request by People magazine?
"No way -- not at my age," she said. "It's a mental thing. My kids have never even seen me in a bathing suit. And I don't even wear shorts yet. Capris are as far as I'll go."
But she's always camera shy. She's one of the featured women in a 30-minute Jenny Craig infomercial that recently began airing nationally in the wee hours of the morning on cable channels. The time slots are the version of running off-Broadway to work out the kinks. Once the test phase is done, Jenny Craig officials say, the infomercial will be seen in prime time.
While working on the commercial for the weight-loss franchise in San Diego, Conneran was approached by People. Before she left home, she had received an indirect endorsement for bikini modeling by her four children who range in age from 16 to 21, who raved: "Mom, you have abs! You have a six-pack!"
But, her reluctance came from many years of camouflaging her body, such as when she'd envelope herself in a beach towel preceding and immediately following a swim. Besides, being a television endorser was head-spinning enough, to say nothing of being one-half of your former self.
"It finally clicked that I needed to do something if I wanted to be around much longer," she said. "I decided I wanted to be here to see my girls and boys get married and see my grandkids."
So, she started on her own, shedding about 14 pounds. After a month, however, "I was close to eating someone's arm off. I was craving things again."
She sought help at Jenny Craig, partly because it provides low-calorie food, partly because it provides support, partly because it provides accountability with weekly weigh-ins and partly because it is across the street from her job at Red River Imaging.
Even now, about half of her diet is Jenny Craig food. And the other half isn't celery. She'll steal a few French fries from her children's plates. She'll commandeer a spoonful of a Blizzard. Just this week, she ate two chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven.
"I don't deprive myself; I eat well," Conneran said. "But now, I just have to taste it, not devour it. If I have cookies, I either eat less later or add to my workout."
It takes more than fruits and vegetables to drop 164 pounds. Conneran's workouts began in the back row of the fitness room at the Y Family Center. At the start, the hardest part was the embarrassment, she said. Three days a week, she'd work out for 30 minutes. Then it became four days for an hour. Before she knew it, it became six-seven days a week for two hours.
And then, it became two months without missing a day. At 144 pounds, she's only four pounds shy of her ultimate goal.
When she started her weight-losing crusade, she wore a size 4X top. When she posed for a photograph in San Diego, the advertising people shoe-horned her into a size 4 junior blouse.
"I actually wear a size 6 in ladies, so that top was skin-tight," Conneran said. "But that was something to go from a 4X to a 4."
Steven Bellach, the senior director of branding, advertising and media analysis for Jenny Craig, said "the sheer volume of pounds lost," was one reason Conneran received a healthy chunk of the infomercial's time. The other reason was the videotaped phone conversation with her husband, John.
John had written a letter to the company praising his wife's dedication. He was asked to repeat his thoughts while the cameras rolled. It made for good TV. "They got very emotional, which was a good thing," Bellach said.
Said Linda, "John's letter was so sweet. I got a little weepy, but they caught the real me."
Signs of a new real Linda are everywhere. Her wedding ring, having been resized bigger twice before, has been downsized once and still wobbles on her finger. The necklace she wore Monday used to be a choker. When the family went to Canada, she brought along a newspaper ad featuring her before-and-after photographs because she doesn't resemble her driver's license image.
Then there was her TV shoot and the "bizarre, yet cool" way her makeup, hair and wardrobe were fussed over by the television minions.
"They took lots of footage," she said. "They said they probably weren't done with me yet."
People magazine probably hasn't given up, either.