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Fitness she wrote.


I knew it was time for a change when I saw myself on that video. It was the moment of truth. Something "clicked" in my head, and I made the decision to get the extra weight off. I didn't have to lose an ounce to be professionally successful. The producers were perfectly happy with Jessica Fletcher as a big, tweedy lady. But I wasn't happy with myself.

It was no mystery to me how I had gotten up to 165 pounds. During the first season of Murder, She Wrote, I started to overeat habitually, nervously nibbling on snacks all day. The routine of doing a weekly television show may new to me, and I didn't know how to cope with being trapped in one place for more than 12 hours a day. In television, you often find yourself sitting a lot, between scenes. It's easy to fall into unhealthy patterns, and I did. In a short time, I was carrying around 15 extra pounds.

For a while, I kind of sank into my expanded body. I said to myself, "Well, this is the way I am. I'm of an age now and I'm going to just stay this way." But as much as I tried to deny the need for a change in the way I was eating, I couldn't ignore the litany of physical complaints that were regularly plaguing me. When someone casually asks, "How are you?" you want to be able to answer, "Splendid!" and mean it, not think to yourself, "I've got a devil of a headache" or "My stomach is out of sorts today."

I think the worst thing about that extra weight was that because of it I began behaving differently, and people treated me in a new way. I became really too sedentary for words, and I took to moving more like a heavy person. The people around me responded by helping me up and down steps. I really wasn't accustomed to having someone extend a hand to help me up out of a chair!

The man who shopped around Los Angeles to find clothes for the show began bringing me dresses from a store for large sizes only, because he couldn't find enough attractive size 14s in the regular stores. I had never thought of myself as an overweight woman who couldn't get into a normal size 12 or 14. I really felt quite ashamed. I had been a mover all my life, and having let this happen to me was rather a horror. My self-image was that on an energetic, graceful woman, not a lumbering, dependent tub. I was not even 60--certainly not ready to accept myself as thick and slow in a way I had never been up to then.

Seeing myself on the home video shocked me into finally taking charge of the situation. I knew I could do it. I had lost weight many times in the past. In my business, everybody whips themselves into shape for a role. With me, it had always been a matter of taking off five to eight pounds.

I had never had a real weight problem, and dieting was never a major obsession. I wasn't one of those people who was always trying new diets, repeatedly losing and regaining 20 or 30 pounds. My weight didn't fluctuate that much, and I had never gotten really huge. A few times in my life I'd notice and pounds creeping up. I'd look into whatever the popular wisdom of the time was about dieting, try some regime, lose what I had to, and I'd usually keep the weight off for a good while.

When I was in my middle 30s, for example, my life revolved around my home and my young children. I was playing a lot of tennis, so I was carrying a lot of muscle, but that wasn't all of it, if truth be told. In the process of nesting I had spread a bit, and I was wearing size 16s then. I remember my husband had to go to Rome on a business trip. During the three weeks that he was gone, I decided I would lose some weight. I dug up an entire garden--worked like a stevedore and ate very sparingly. I think cottage cheese and fruit were my mainstays then. By changing my focus from the kitchen to the garden, I got my figure back in those three weeks.

Of course, once I abandoned the cottage cheese and went back to all the foods I usually ate, it was easy to gain again. I remember Albert Finney saying to me when we were in Hamlet together, "You do love sweeties, don't you?" With boxes of candy around my dressing room and voluminous period costumes to hide under, I became a somewhat heavy queen. Once Hamlet was over and I was scheduled to go into a tour of Mame, I took myself in hand and banished ny sweeties for a time.

I was in my early 40s when I first did Mame on Broadway. Every night I would go back to my dressing room after the final curtain call, flushed with exhilaration from the performance, to find a chilled bottle of white wine awaiting me. I could easily knock off half a bottle before going to the dinners and parties to which I was frequently invited! Doing that show, I exercised so wildly that I was hungry all the time. Not surprisingly, my costumes started feeling tight. I thought to myself, "You're blowing it, kid. Here you are, the toast of New York, and you're putting on weight."

In those days, high-protein diets were all the rage. I decided to try that quick-weight loss method, and i remember I'd have yougurt and a hard-boiled egg for breakfast and every night at five o'clock I'd eat a steak. My breath was terrible, which the diet's advocates explained was an unavoidable side effect that occurred when the body burned up its toxic fat. What malarkey! Everyone said to keep drinking lots of water to clean the breath, but it didn't help much. The pounds did come off, but I was also walking all over New York, which really helped a lot.

As I look back now, I see that whether I was crash-dieting for my work or to look good for my husband, the weight never really stayed off, because I couldn't stick with those extreme regimes for long. They were too confining. They were designed to get the pounds off quickly. Once that was accomplished, I'd go back to my usual way of eating, and the weight would keep back on.

But when I set out to make the woman on the home video a memory, it was different. I had noticed one of the men on the crew of Murder, She Wrote, a man about my age, who used to waddle around with a big belly in front of him. One day, I noticed he had become a thin, young guy. He had lost about 20 pounds. I asked him, "How the devil did you do it? He told me, and I adapted his eating play for myself. I lost the 15 pounds in about three to four months, got my health back, and regained my sense of self-respect. And for five years, I've kept the weight off and more.

The eating plan that made a difference isn't a diet in the way I had always thought of reducing diets. It wasn't a strange, impossibly restrictive way of eating that was to be followed until one lost the weight and then abandoned. It was a healthy way of eating that I used to lose 15 pounds, and have stayed with ever since. When I first made a commitment to myself to change my way of eating and lose weight, I asked Peter to cooperate with me and not to force food or second helpings on me. He agreed not to make me wobble in my resolve, and I knew the kind of support he gave me was an important element in my success.

We follow a low-fat, high-fiber eating plan that includes lots of fruits and vegetables, grains, and limited amounts of protein. Seventy percent of what I eat is fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains. I limit myself to about six ounces of protein a day. When I'm working, I don't vary what I eat, and that very strict routine helps me maintain my weight and my energy. I eat the same quantities from the same food groups of each day. When I want to take off a few pounds, I'll cut the quantities in half or thirds, but the foods I'll be eating will be the same (I'll have a cup and a half of salad instead of three cups, for example.) I'm not advocating that the way I eat is right for everybody. But boy, it works for me.

I'm taking in fewer than 2,000 calories a day. I'm not starving myself--that's a good amount of food, especially when it's mostly lean foods, like fruits and vegetables. As long as I keep my intake under 2,000 calories, I'm not going to put on weight, and the same is true for most people, unless they're terribly, terribly sedentary. It's only when we regularly take in 2,500, or 3,000, or 4,000 calories in a day that we get fat. So if a generous slab of cheesecake contains 1,000 calories, many of them from fat, adding that to what I normally eat is going to push my total over the top. A taste won't wreak major havoc, but since I'm a creature of habit, I've really eliminated ice cream and fabulous desserts from my repertoire.

One of the reasons I've been successful with this way of eating is I've changed my concept of what a great meal is. It was a big adjustment for me not to see my main meal as always having to be meat and two vegetables. Now I might have soup and salad for dinner, a big vegetable plate, or a baked potato with fresh sour cream and chives on it. At first, when I'd eat something like that I'd think, "Gosh, I'm doing myself out of a meal. I could have more." But why not have just what I wanted, regardless of whether it was some traditional version of dinner or not?

Now I consider a terrific meal one that doesn't make me uncomfortable, that doesn't slow me down or give me a headache. The digestive system changes as you grow older. I know mine has. I've become more sensitive to rich foods, and eating at odd times of day--late at night for instance--doesn't work for me. It's similar to the way in which you can dance through the night when you're young and not miss those hours of sleep, but you can't get away with that sort of thing when you're older. The body isn't as resilient. It won't take abuse.

In adapting your own healthy way of eating, the basic information that's supported by the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society can be your starting point: a diet that is low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, and grains. You might want to discuss my basic regimen with your doctor, and find out how he'd suggest adapting it to your needs.

But the older I get, the more I realize that you really must learn about

your body. The doctor doesn't know your body the way you do. Of course, he can read your blood pressure and interpret a lab report or an x-ray. But you, on a day-to-day basis, are privy to more information about your system than your doctor. It behooves you to be aware, to listen, to learn, and to understand how you react to food.

Does MSG in Chinese food give you a headache? Do cinnamon or pepper send you running to the bathroom? Does an unpleasant aftertaste of cucumber stay with you hours after you've eaten one? Do you feel better the next morning if you have a big meal before going to sleep? Or do you sleep better with less food?

There are great rewards to eating sensibly besides looking your best. Having a sense of well-being. Waking in the morning and not feeling sluggish. Not suffering from sugar lows or the nausea of a miserable hangover. It is so worthwhile to get rid of all the emotional baggage that comes with eating badly. It's wonderful just to shut off that boring, repetitive inner dialogue one can get involved in: "Did I eat too much?" "I probably gained two pounds from that mass of roast beef I swallowed." "Can I lose it by Friday night's party?" "I shouldn't have had that ice-cream sundae at lunch." "I'll have to do better tomorrow," etc. etc. etc. Food isn't the only thing in life. If you eliminate it as a problem, your psychological and real energy can be freed for so many other things.

Because of the tremendous Madison Avenue hype, the idea that you can't be too thin sticks in women's minds. And it's so wrong. Women don't have to be like toothpicks. Men don't want bony girls. They love zaftig women. They really do. They love curvacious women, with hips. I remember when I lost the weight when I was doing Mame, the conductor said to me, "You look very slim, but, boy, I miss your tummy." He was used to standing down in the orchestra pit, looking up at me, conducting away and seeing my little belly sticking out above him.

By all standards of thinness, I'm not thin. I'm just regular. I have a tummy, and that's all right. Women are supposed to have that. I like having a well-defined waistline. It isn't as small as it used to be, but it's in proportion.

These days, I'm not wild about the way my arms look in short sleeves. I have terrific muscles in my arms from gardening, but there are areas of loose skin that are just genetic. After a certain age, it's more becoming for a woman to have a little extra on her upper arms, and have a well-rounded face, rather than a face that's scrawny and gaunt from dieting, that has lost its skin tone. I have friends who live in fear of their scales, as if those inanimate measuring devices had some sort of power to affect the quality of their lives. Let's keep some perspective and remember that the goal is to be healthy and attractive.

A few years ago, I was invited to host the Tony awards. That evening celebrates excellence in the theater, and I reasoned, the theater's a theatrical place. So why shouldn't I look theatrical for the evening? I went to the wonderful Hollywood designer Bob Mackie for a gown. Everybody said, "Bob Mackie! You don't want to come out looking like Cher!" I said, "Well, there's nothing wrong with looking like Cher; however, I want to look like Angela Lansbury, but with all of the drama and excitement and that heightened, larger-than-life look that we expect from the theater." Bob Mackie really came through. He made me a fabulous slinky, elegant, feminine gown. I've never had such a reaction to a show in my entire career as I did from that appearance. The telephone calls and letters poured in. People I hadn't heard from in years called me up and said, "Good heavens, Angie, what did you do to yourself?" They were absolutely floored. They were as excited and as thrilled, and got as much of a kick out of it as I did. It really was lovely. But it also put the fear of God in me, because I thought, "Good heavens, I'm going to have to keep this up now. Usually I've been able to slink out in a caftan or something rather nice but very played down. Now I'll really have to watch my figure. Every time I step out of the box I'm going to have to come out in another sensational gown."

After the hoopla died down, I realized that, as always, I'd fare best if I merely continued to do what felt right for me. If I believed the occasion warranted, I could go for drop-dead glamour again. Or not. And if I was going to stay in shape, it was because I wanted to, not because I felt the pressure of having to look a certain way. I think what's important isn't so different for anyone who isn't in show business. We want to eat well to look good, to be healthy and have energy, to enjoy life with those we love. If that requires eating tofu ice cream instead of the real thing most of the time, that seems a fair price to me.
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Title Annotation:author's fitness routine; includes recipes
Author:Lansbury, Angela
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Mar 1, 1991
Previous Article:Remembrance of things to come.
Next Article:The rocky road to popularity: pride not only goeth before a fall, but in the craft of television news it also becomes an occupational hazard.

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