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"Being fat is like being of a different race," says comic Louie Anderson, after trimming off '60 lbs. on the Pritikin program. "In this country people are fatophobic. They're petrified they'll catch your fatness." Phobic is too mild—try paranoid or obsessed. Studies estimate that 50 percent of American women believe they are overweight. Fewer than 30 percent actually are. Some 70 percent of all teenage girls diet, and five percent suffer from eating disorders.

By glamorizing generally unattainable standards of sleekness, Hollywood stars contribute to this unfortunate mind-set. They also pitch weight-loss products and services on which yearning fans spend an estimated $33 billion a year—$1.3 billion on appetite suppressants alone. Yet celebrities may also be victims of their own impossible standards. For every Louie Anderson who can build an act around his avoirdupois, there are countless entertainers who eat themselves out of work. Elizabeth Taylor did just that in her 20s, losing leads in All the Brothers Were Valiant and Young Bess. More recently, Oscar winner Kathy Bates, 43, saw the starring role in Frankie & Johnny, which she 'd created onstage, go to a slinkier Michelle Pfeiffer.

Some celebrities have learned to fight back. Oprah Winfrey plays out a nationally televised cautionary tale about the spurious miracles of crash diets. Roseanne Arnold speaks out about what she regards as a sexist double standard: "A fat man's called a big guy, but a fat woman is always just a 'sexless pig'. On the following pages, they and other stars present instructive case studies of their personal triumphs, fleshly humiliations and diet wisdom du jour. And for the real skinny, turn to page 82 for the latest, surprisingly comforting words from the medical experts.

Susan Ruttan: A slimmer figure has meant a fatter role

Fed up with galumphing about in her one-size-fits-all getups, Susan Ruttan set her sights on size 6 three years ago and has since peeled off 45 lbs. The prod was not her love life—"My husband [Randy McDonald, a boom operator] found me attractive then, and he finds me attractive now." It was vanity. "I wanted to wear short skirts," explains L.A. Law's Roxanne. "Inside, I felt light and bouncy, but outside I moved slowly."

Ruttan, 42, shed her surplus pounds on the Jenny Craig Weight Loss program ($185 to start), which offers weekly support meetings, exercise planning and three daily prepackaged meals. The actress stuck with the diet, in part, she says, because even before she had lost the first pound, the company invited her to be a pitchwoman. "Not only did I put my mind to losing the weight," says Ruttan. "I took on the challenge in public."

Overweight since childhood, Ruttan developed compulsive eating habits as a fledgling actress. "If I did a good job, I rewarded myself with a Snickers bar," she recalls. "And if I did a bad job, I'd console myself with a Snickers."

Learning to stop Snickering—Ruttan avoids fats, eats small portions and walks four miles several times a week—was apparently a shrewd career move too. Noting her newly expanding role as lascivious Arnie Becker's love interest, she marvels, "Would they have put me opposite this handsome lady-killer in love scenes if I was still heavy? Probably not."

Jack Nicholson: On a new liquid, he's sloughing his love handles

At 14, he was a 5'9", 180-pounder dubbed Chubs. Yet despite a lifelong love of sport, Jack Nicholson, 54, has always tended to plump up. (Remember those love handles in 1983's Terms of Endearment?) By 1990 he carried 40 extra lbs., but last year he shed the load on a liquid diet with plenty of H2O. No wonder he's been sighted of late, chugging Evian.

Follow the Bouncing Liz

She's Hollywood 's reigning yo-yo dieter, with her weight changing almost as often as her mate. But in her latest bounce, Elizabeth Taylor, 59, has valiantly retrieved the lush loveliness of her youth. Though she still has her favorite chili from Chasen's expressed to wherever she is in the world, Liz rations it of late. "I eat it once in a while," she says. "I don't go insane." That's the lesson (see following pages) of a legendary roller-coaster life.

Jennifer Holliday: Half the woman she used to be

For R & B singer Jennifer Holliday, best known for her dazzling performance in the Tony-winning Dreamgirls (1981), D-I-E-T Day came on her 30th birthday in October 1990. "My boyfriend [songwriter Billy Meadows] wanted to buy me a new dress, but everything in a size 28 was ugly," laments Holliday, who has since dropped 148 lbs. on a medically supervised no-frills regimen and now wears a size 10. "The real incentive was watching other artists' videos," she adds. "I just knew that I could do that little Janet Jackson dance or twirl like Paula Abdul."

But getting there required going cold turkey. Under the guidance of her internist and a nutritionist, Holliday fasted for three months before gradually adding small portions of food to her diet. "For the first three days I was on the floor saying, 'Please, give me some food. An old shoe. Anything!' " she says. "By the fifth day, I was weak and dizzy."

But by the fourth month, she was giddy over losing 60 lbs. "It's amazing how the body adapts," says Holliday, who surrendered another 88 lbs. over the next year by observing a 700-calorie daily limit. "Now my stomach is so flat, I can really feel when I sing."

Last March the Texas-born Holliday, whose single Love Stories was just released, married Meadows, 34, and settled in Detroit, where he owns a recording studio. "He never said, I love you, but I wish you would lose weight,' " says Holliday with a smile. "But he really likes my body now."

Roseanne & Tom Arnold: Binges are passé, pass the crudités

Last season the headline-making Arnolds came to blows over a lone chocolate chip cookie during a taping of Roseanne. At the time roly-poly Rosie weighed 240 and her tubby hubby topped 320. After their sorry display before a studio audience, Tom says, "We were embarrassed. We realized it was time to get it together."

Together indeed. First the couple installed a fancy, mirrored home gym, hired trainer Ray Sommers and embarked on a do-or-die fitness routine; then they slashed their daily calorie intake by two-thirds, settling for lots of skinless chicken breasts and steamed veggies.

Latest appearances indicate sensational results. Since December 1990, 6'1" Tom has divested himself of 100 lbs., and 5'2" Roseanne has dropped 60. "We've helped each other," says Tom, who used to ingest 11,000 calories a day, often sneaking out to his neighborhood McDonald's, where, he confesses, "I would order $20 worth of food and hide all the evidence from Rosie—not because I didn't want her to know but because I didn't want to share."

Having flopped at a string of brand name diets, Roseanne cynically calls them "big rip-offs that exploit people in pain. Being fat is a symptom of a deeper psychological problem," she argues, pointing to her own claim of childhood incest and to Tom's former drug-and-alcohol problems. "Overeating is just a way of protecting yourself from the pain of the truth," adds the comedienne, who in her pre-diet days would sometimes order enough goodies to feed a party of six—and then gobble them all herself. "I'm back on track. My weight loss is a symbol of my getting better." "Hey, we still enjoy eating," adds Tom. "But now food doesn't rule my life or Rosie's, because we have power over it."

SOME FOLKS ARE BORN TO YO-YO
Whether they're up or down, their weight is always an issue

Oprah Winfrey: She's still learning to love herself large

Oprah Winfrey, 37, the nation's most publicly embattled weight warrior, almost single-handedly put America on the Optifast track when she revealed her sultry shape in 1988; then after regaining her 67 hard-lost lbs. by November 1990, she spoke out against such fasts and sent the booming liquid-diet business toward the drain.

Meanwhile, Oprah's own struggles go on. Reflecting on her relapse, she says, "My greatest failure was believing that the weight issue was just about weight." Sexually abused as a child, Oprah admits, "Dieting is not about weight. It's about everything else that's not going right in your life."

Today, with the help of a new calorie-wise personal chef, Rose Daley, whom Oprah raided away from California's celeb-favored Cal-a-Vie spa last fall, she has concentrated on learning how to eat sensibly. The sad truth, however, is that Winfrey seems to have declared a temporary truce with her scale. There's been no gain but no visible loss either. Which, for Oprah, rankles. "It represents being out of control," she says. "And I like to control everything. But right now I'm learning to appreciate myself—my soul self and my spirit self—for what I have to offer and not trying to judge myself because of the weight. I'm trying to live in such a way that it's not an issue."

Dom DeLuise: "I made friends with the enemy—celery"

"My whole life I've been a food addict," confesses Dom DeLuise, 51, the host of Candid Camera. His family back in Brooklyn made a celebration out of mealtimes, and "that conditioned my behavior." His actress wife of 26 years, Carol Arthur, on the other hand, "always worried about her weight," while hovering around 114 lbs. DeLuise himself tried all the major diets over the decades but to no permanent avail. Finally, last February, having ballooned to 385 lbs., DeLuise got serious and checked into the Duke University Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, N.C., where he was sentenced to a 1,000-calorie-a-day regime. "I made friends with my former enemy—celery," he jokes.

He also made friends with the Overeaters Anonymous 12-step program and now frequently attends meetings. "As soon as I admitted I was powerless over food," he says, "I felt relief. I knew I had to turn my problem over to a higher power." DeLuise has now lost 100 lbs. and wants to drop another 50. He still daydreams about candy bars and doesn't kid himself that he is cured. "Denial," he has learned, "is not a river in Egypt."

Delta Burke: She now concedes, "I'm never going to be skinny"

Delta Burke has always been the first to acknowledge her own size. "I'm never going to be one of those skinny California girls," she shrugs. Still, last year, when she started piling on the pounds, Burke, 35, blamed it on the donnybrook with her Designing Women coworkers. "I was at the end of my rope," she has said of that period. "I tried to lose weight but couldn't. Your body and mind are all tied in together, and if you are that unhappy, you're not going to let go of what's troubling you." When she lost 30 lbs. on the Pritikin program ($10,000 for a 26-day stay) last winter, Burke said, "I decided to be assertive and not threatened anymore." Though Burke—now a blond for her role in the forthcoming NBC movie Day-O—is off the CBS show, she is once again queen-size. "I think people should be allowed to be individuals," she observes. "Few people can be perfect anyway. It's good just to be healthy and happy." But, in our society, is there such a thing as fat and happy?

LIFE IN THE RESTRAINED LANE
These maintenance marvels, former chubettes all, reveal their secrets of staying slim

Dolly Parton: She's excessive about everything but her appetíte

For 12 years Dolly Parton, 46, had nearly ruined her health on one crash diet after another. By 1983 the petite 5'1" country entertainer was carrying 150 lbs. and, she has said, "I hated to go anywhere." Parton was finally able to trim off 40 lbs. by curbing her appetite. "Now I just say, 'Don't eat it all, you big hawwg,' " reports fat-free Dolly. "It's like I've been let out of jail."

Joan Lunden: She's winning the battle of all mothers

Losing the 45 postpartum lbs. that accumulated during three pregnancies in 10 years wasn't exactly a cinch for Good Morning America's Joan Lunden. First she plunged into the Duke University rice diet; then she switched to a veggie-rich menu plan. "I totally cut out fats [except for steak twice a year], started eating fruit, and I don't go back for seconds," explains Lunden, 41, who simultaneously began "an intense workout schedule." Finding public gyms too embarrassing, she brings trainer Barbara Brandt home for three weekly 45-minute sessions of aerobics and muscle building. "I used to be a weakling, but now I'm strong," declares Lunden. "I even ride horses and jump competitively. Everybody asks, 'How did you lose it?' They want to hear magic. But sorry, I watch what I eat and exercise like crazy. That's the sad truth.

"And because of my new knowledge," she adds, "I've changed what I give my daughters to eat. But I'm careful not to talk about it too much, because the last thing I want to do is make them too conscious. I don't want to start any anorexia."

Robert De Niro: Let's hear it for a demon of discipline

Sure, sure, he gained 60 lbs. for his "art" to play a broken-down prizefighter in Raging Bull (1980). But Robert De Niro, 48, also lost every ounce—and kept it off. For Cape Fear, he decreased his body fat to a mere four percent via weight training and a high-carb diet. Marvels his trainer Dan Harvey: "He's probably the most focused person I've ever met."

Lynn Redgrave: She overcame the shame of feeling oversize

In 1983 Lynn Redgrave looked on helplessly as her then 12-year-old daughter Kelly broke down with self-loathing over the sight of herself in a bikini. The scene had powerful reverberations for the 6' actress who now, at 48, says, "It brought back everything I'd ever felt about myself. I didn't want to see my daughter suffer like I did."

Growing up in Britain's distinguished Redgrave acting clan had had its drawbacks. From the day Lynn was born, her father, Sir Michael, barely noticed her, even neglecting to record her birth among his daily journal entries. Her poor self-image manifested itself in overeating. By the time Lynn was 9, she perceived herself as fat and ugly. Soon she swelled to a seam-splitting 185 lbs. By 21 she was a walking catalog of failed diets, binges and bulimia. "Food had a power over me that was stronger than anything else," she says.

When she became a star "as an overweight, ungainly creature" in the 1966 movie Georgy Girl, Redgrave expressed her humiliation in her diary: "The film is a hit, but I feel a little sick."

Only when Kelly started replaying her mother's own sorry sense of self did Redgrave try to free herself from her addiction. Together mother and daughter began attending Weight Watchers meetings ($8 to $13 per week) and following its program of moderate, well-balanced meals.

Together they learned that it was important to face emotions rather than anesthetize them with food. "I feel a bit evangelical about what I've gone through," says the former Weight Watchers pitchwoman who continues to maintain her willowy size-8 figure. "Whenever you've had a problem and then find a way out, you want to save people from the suffering that you've been through."

MARJORIE ROSEN
TODD COLD and LYNDON STAMBLER in Los Angeles
SABRINA McFARLAND and MARY HUZINEC in New York City

  • Contributors:
  • Todd Gold,
  • Lyndon Stambler,
  • Sabrina McFarland,
  • Mary Huzinec,
  • Elizabeth Sporkin.