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The Magic Bullet

Weight-loss strategies have fattened magazines for years. The latest fads become fodder for desperate women.


Correspondent Susan Spencer reports on two women with vastly different approaches to their large bodies: One is determined to win the war against her body fat once and for all. Another, after years of trying, proudly embraces and accepts all of herself. For years, Houston real-estate broker Glenda Schindler, now in her 40s, has been in a passionate love-hate relationship with food.


"I love What-A-Burger," she admitted. "I love taquitos in the morning. I grab a Snickers bar real quick," she said. "Yes, it is so hard to pass up some of these place(s)."


And when Schindler talked of biscuits and cheese omelets, her whole face lit up. "That is breakfast, baby!"


Plainly put, Schindler was obese. In her 20-year battle with the bulge, she has racked up some big losses and some really big gains. "I got up to my Levi's size 42," she said. "I haven't worn these in about 10 months because they are too little."


"And I have them in 34, 36, 38 and 42," she added. "This one here is a double XX, and I couldn't even wear it," Schindler said. "But I will."


So, once again, she wanted to try another diet. "I have to get my life," Schindler said. "I don't look good. I don't feel good."


In San Diego, Sandee Sabo and her friends would tell Schindler to forget it. Don't diet and don't worry; revel in your size.


"I think there is a whole lot more value to a person than the number on the scale," Sabo said.


A spokeswoman of the National Fat Acceptance Association, Sabo is convinced that genes largely make her who she is and how much of her there is.


"It's OK to be fat," she asserted. "This is who I am; it may not be something I can change."


And it's not that she hasn't attempted dieting. "Oh, my God! I have been on every diet there is," Sabo said.


"Ninety-five to 98 percent of all diets fail over a three- to five-year period," she asserted. "Clearly every doctor has the information that diets don't work."


But don't tell that to Schindler in Houston. In September she weighed 291 pounds.


She decided to pin her hopes on chemistry and one of the latest diet drugs: Xenical.


This latest round has her slightly scared. "It keeps coming back to me that I had been so successful before and then I gained weight again, and it's that; that really bothers me a whole lot," Schindler admitted.


Having watched her yo-yo for years, Dr. John Foreyt, an obesity specialist at the Baylor College of Medicine and Schindler's psychologist, suggested Xenical.


"It is completely different from the drugs of the past," Dr. Foreyt said. "One third of the fat that a person eats simply isn't digested; it passes through the gut."


But Xenical is hardly cheap. One pill before meals, to help dispense with fat, costs about $1.20, and it's not covered by insurance.


It seems a new magic pill crops up every 10 minutes. First there was Redux, Phen-Fen nd Meridia. In a society always looking for the magic answer, consumers have been offered yet another pill.


Dr. Foreyt cautioned, however, "There is no magic answer. The bottom line is: Eat less and exercise. For people who have trouble doing that there may be a place for Xenical."


On the market for more than a year, Xenical has shown no dangerous side effects.


Taking Xenical, however, requires some discipline. "You have to stay on a low-fat diet," Dr. Foreyt explained. If not, "you are going to experience the need to go to the bathroom."


Given that rather strong incentive to not eat high-fat food, Schindler readied for war. "I took out the old and put in the new. Low-fat turkey, fat-free dressing," she explained, while going through her refrigerator.


Upon taking her first pill, she said, "Let's see if I can keep it off. God, I hope it works."


Two months later 48 Hours checked in as Schindler was weighed. "Thirty pounds," she said. "I am so excited!"


"I was reallhoping for 30 pounds in 60 days," Schindler added. "I feel so much better," she said. "I can't believe it. It has made a difference in my energy."


But unlike magic bullets of the past, Xenical doesn't reduce appetite. Schindler still has to fight the urge to overeat. "That was a very bad war that first three weeks," she said.


"She is a compulsive eater not because she is bored but because she is stressed out," Dr. Foreyt explained.


The real estate broker lives on the run, showing houses to prospective buyers.


"If I wasn't on a diet, I would have had powdered doughnuts, white powdered doughnuts," she admitted at one point.


But Schindler stuck to that low-fat diet religiously.


"It doesn't have to look good, doesn't even have to taste good," she said while downing Quaker Instant Oatmeal. "I don't want to think about it; I just do it."


By contrast, in Sabo's kitchen, fat is seen as fate. At nearly 400 pounds, she has had early warning signs of diabetes. But she still has no interest in Xenical or any diet drug.


In her kitchen, she'll fry up bacon and eggs for breakfast. "I eat what I consider be a relatively low-fat diet, with the exception of that bacon I ate this morning," she said.


"Seriously, I don't eat a lot of fat content in my diet. And yet here it sits," Sabo said. "There's obviously so much more to this than we have a clue."


Does she consider herself healthy?


"I think I am very healthy, because the numbers say I am healthy," Sabo says. "Every time I dieted, I ended up gaining afterward another 20, 30, 40, 50 pounds. What I'm saying is this: Not everyone gains weight by overeating," she adds.


So according to this school of thought, some people are heavier than others are, and so what?


Schindler doesn't buy this reasoning.


"Fat is not beautiful," she declared. "And it is not healthy, period. I have many people tell me I've got a beautiful face. And I thank them because it is from the bottom of the heart. But a fat face inot beautiful."


When 48 Hours checked in January, Schindler had lost 43 pounds. And now 10 months later, she has lost a total of 62 pounds.


She's lost so much weight the company that makes Xenical took her picture for one of its ad campaigns.


There's a Glenda Schindler that she hopes she will never see again. "We need to lose that tape," she said, looking at a video of a heavier self. "That is not beautiful.... That would be the best thing I could do is tell that lady goodbye."

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