Mothers and Daughters Team Up to Trim Down

updated 09/15/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/15/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Mary and Mandy Estevez

It's tough enough for a mother and her daughter to battle their weight, but it can be even more stressful when the men in the family scarf down whatever they want without beefing up. "When we see them eyeing the snack cakes and chips, I say, 'Come on, Mandy, let's take a walk,' " says Mary of her husband, Larry, 45, and middle son, David, 18, who shares their Waldorf, Md., home.

Substituting exercise for snacking has helped Mary, 53, a bookkeeper, and Mandy, 16, stick with the Jenny Craig program they started last year. In that time Mary went from 162 to 130 lbs. (her goal weight), and her daughter dropped 41 lbs.—halfway to her target of 135. It hasn't been easy. The plan requires the two to dine on such fare as small prepackaged chicken sandwiches or carrot cake even as Mary cooks heartier meals for her guys. Nor was it cheap: $399 for Mary's lifetime membership (with a $199 refund if she keeps the weight off for a year), $99 for Mandy's annual fee, plus about $170 a week for food for the two of them.

But Mary stuck with it, she says, because "I want Mandy to lose weight even more than I want it for myself." An added benefit to their tandem diet is the closeness the two women share. "They've been mutual cheerleaders, telling each other, 'You did good this week!' " says Larry, an ironworker. "You need a buddy when you're doing something like this."

Juanita Sims-McCallum and Ashia Sims

Passing a row of mirrors while shopping two years ago, Juanita caught a glimpse of herself and wondered, "Where's the rest of me? Then I noticed my behind was in the next mirror." It was a shocker for Sims-McCallum, who had grown up thin in Chicago. After a divorce and a move to Atlanta in 1986, the pounds, says Juanita, 51, a tax analyst, started creeping on. "I'd always heard that the older you get, the more weight you gain," she says. "I thought, 'This is what's supposed to happen.' "

For her daughter Ashia, 25, being overweight was a lifelong problem. "I was a chubby child," she says. By the time she graduated from Florida A&M University in 2000, she carried 209 lbs. on a 5'5" frame.

Juanita joined Weight Watchers in February 2001, after her sister Carolyn Hall, 52, had lost 41 lbs. on the program. "I thought, 'If she can, I can too,' " she says. She began cooking low-fat meals and marking bags of food with their Weight Watchers point values. "There's a number on everything in this kitchen," says her husband, Benjamin, 40, an electronic technician. In a month, Juanita lost 10½ lbs. and hoped to provide the same inspiration for her daughter as her sister had for her. "Ashia is a stubborn person," says her mom. "I had to make sure I didn't push Weight Watchers on her."

She didn't have to. Ashia, a home appraiser, had her own revelation after wearing an unforgiving bridesmaid's dress. "I was just huge," she says. Ashia started working out, and when she said she wanted to join Weight Watchers, Juanita offered to pay the $99 for her 10-week program. In 18 months, Ashia lost 40 lbs. and wants to drop another 10. The pair keep each other honest—if one eats a doughnut at lunch, they make a light dinner—and together they completed a 10K race. Recently, Juanita, who has hit her goal weight of 154, bought herself some thong underwear for the first time. "I walked down the street thinking, 'Here she comes in her thong!' " she laughs. "I feel like nothing can stop me."

Carolyn Holt, Sandy Holt and Leigh Ann Yeager

For Sandy Holt, her two daughters' weight struggles became a question of faith. "I cried and I prayed," says Holt, 52, a Mobile, Ala., retired data clerk, ' "Lord please help my girls. Let me be fat, not them.' " For most of their adult lives, all three carried at least 100 extra pounds, and they had each given up on a host of diets. The answer, it turned out, was in the next pew at their church: John Irby, a fellow congregant, had dropped from 397 lbs. to 228 after gastric bypass surgery.

"I came home and told Mama and Daddy I want to do this," says Leigh Ann, then 23 and 267 lbs. "I didn't think I'd get a date at that size." Though initially against the surgery (which insurance would cover), her parents supported her, and in August 2000 she had part of her stomach sealed off, allowing her to eat only tiny meals and feel full. Calling her sister "the guinea pig," bank v.p. Carolyn, then 28 and about 300 lbs., had the surgery and suffered the rare side effect of vomiting daily for 10 weeks. Sandy cared for Carolyn until her own surgery, when Leigh Ann took over. "She was there every minute," says Carolyn, who would lose 150 lbs. "We were really close." Sandy, once a size 22, was thrilled at wearing a size 12 by Leigh Ann's November wedding. Also newly in love, Carolyn says, "Even being sick, I'd do it all over again."

Allison Adato
Kimberly Brown, Laura Morice and Carolyn Ruff Spellman

From Our Partners