Louanne LaRoche remembers the day she discovered the cookie jar as a toddler.
She's been overweight ever since.
The noted Bluffton artist has lost 172 pounds — and counting — over the past two years.
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She wants it to inspire others.
"There's hope," she said. "It really can happen."
And with that hope, LaRoche has found joy where there was quiet misery.
"It's not only a physical problem," she said.
Her weight peaked at 352 pounds. That makes moving from here to there a challenge, and it led to Type 2 diabetes. She tossed down antacids like sugar pills. All that is gone.
"It's certainly mental as well," she said.
That means depression, shame and guilt — things we never associated with our maven of the arts with big glasses and large laugh. Inside, she was beating herself up for not being able to control herself or make her dream come true.
"It's hard," she said. "It's trying to make up for being a freak show, basically."
She gave up flour and sugar, following the words of Susan Peirce Thompson in the book, "Bright Line Eating: The Science of Living Happy, Thin and Free."
Most of it is done online, starting with an eight-week "Boot Camp" (about $500). She has followed that with continued social online contact at about $40 per month.
It helps her to stay between four "bright lines": no flour, no sugar, three meals a day with no snacks, and measuring out fixed quantities of food.
Meditation is involved — 10 minutes each morning, which LaRoche was tickled to find can include painting and staring out the window toward the marshes of the May River beyond.
Writing down each day's food plan is an important ingredient.
Breakfast is grain, protein and fruit. On Friday, her breakfast was a huge bowl of oatmeal with strawberries, flax, yogurt and "all kinds of good things."
For lunch, it's 6 ounces of vegetables, 6 ounces of fruit, 4 ounces of protein and half an ounce of fat (nuts or avocado, maybe).
For dinner, it's 14 ounces of vegetables, 4 ounces of protein and a fat portion.
It's eating natural whole foods, not processed food, special products or supplements. LaRoche eats meat. The plan calls for no alcohol. And it does not demand exercise. In fact, the book says exercise can hinder weight loss.
LaRoche loves to talk about the science behind it all, and how Thompson, with her doctorate in brain and cognitive sciences, knew how to tame the brain and the binges it wants.
LaRoche said sugar, even fake sugar, triggers her brain in a way that "very quickly can rev up awful little food monsters" and open the floodgates to overeating.
Her program has a social element, similar to the support, education and celebration of 12-step programs.
Every day starts with a coaching call, or the "accountability call." The program includes sponsors and sponsees (she is now sponsoring a woman in Africa).
LaRoche communicates regularly with a group by Skype. They help each other and keep an eye on each other.
"My worst binge eating was never done in front of anybody," she said.
All the science is secondary to this: the willingness to do it.
"I gave up trying to do it my way, with my food tricks," LaRoche said. "If I follow the plan, the weight comes off."
Even from kindergarten, she never got good marks in school for following directions.
"It took 60 years, but I finally did it," she said.
With that has come the joy of shopping at thrift stores for clothes that actually fit right off the rack, and that can be recycled again as she gets smaller.
A lot of loose skin is hanging around where another 172-pound person used to be.
But that's nothing compared to the joy of getting a monkey off her back.
She tried many diets. In junior high, it was the Dr. Stillman plan. In the late 1980s, another diet that also called for no flour or sugar crashed and burned following the stress of her father dying, Hurricane Hugo and living through an earthquake in San Francisco. She lost 75 pounds, but in a year gained back 150 pounds. It was demoralizing.
"There's a lot of joy in my life now," she said. "It's very profound — feeling connections and grace and love."
She wants to talk to individuals or groups, to let others know it can be done. She said she can be reached through her website (www.larochecollections.com) or by Facebook message.
"The hardest part has been being willing and surrendering," LaRoche said. "Once I did that, it was so freeing. I fought against it for so long. I don't know why."