Several years ago, Paul Roman, dressed as Santa with a surfboard on the beach, was featured on the cover of The East Hampton Star’s holiday supplement. Underneath the fuzzy red suit he wore a wetsuit, but the bowl full of jelly was all his.
Thanks to a Weight Watchers program, the portly Santa is now down 80 pounds, and he took first place in the Weight Watchers Inspiring Stories Contest.
Mr. Roman, a 62-year-old former resident of Montauk now living in East Hampton, started the program a few days before Christmas last year. He is a trained chef who specialized in classic French cuisine and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America.
His winning essay says that he has worked at high-end restaurants including Cafe des Artistes in New York City and the Living Room in East Hampton. He is also the reigning champ, three years running, of the annual clam chowder contest in East Hampton. “Wonderful temptations have always been close by,” he wrote.
By the time he started the weight-loss program, he had been overweight for 30 years and in denial, he said. When his clothes got too tight, he just went up a size and was eventually wearing XXL shirts and pants with a 42-inch waist. A surfer, he started using longer boards for flotation and soon saw that he was on the biggest board in the lineup at Ditch Plain Beach. Other surfers called him “big guy,” and he didn’t like it.
Spending the winters out east was like an invitation to get big and enjoy good food, Mr. Roman said. But when his girlfriend was invited to attend a Weight Watchers meeting with a friend, she asked him to join them. He said he had a “wow” moment when he first stepped on the scale and saw that it read 260 pounds.
He enjoyed the meetings and found them inspirational. He was comforted by the fact that there were other men in the group and that the weighing in was done privately. He said you could take off as much clothing as you wished when being weighed. “Me, I stripped down to my Speedo,” he said with a laugh.
He still attends meetings and plans to be a lifetime member. “The leaders really encourage you” and are a constant source of information, he said on Tuesday.
“The diet problems and victories of others have unquestionably helped me with my personal challenges,” he wrote in his essay.
Mr. Russo’s blood pressure and cholesterol levels have dropped, and as a result he’s been able to stop taking a prescription medication. “Everything we’ve monitored before has gotten better,” he said.
His team leader suggested he enter the contest. His prize was a $100 gift card to Macy’s. What he really wanted, though, was to win the grand prize of a full makeover, not because he’s vain, but because his clothes don’t fit him anymore. “I have no clothes,” he said.
One of the goals he set for himself was to be able to wear a favorite bathing suit that he had long since stuffed away. Now, the bathing suit fits but is loose, he said.
“I feel phenomenal! I wish I hadn’t gained that much weight, but it was an accumulation over years and snuck up on me. Now I’m looking for one person to see this so I can start my modeling career,” he said with a laugh.