Grebien set to do battle against the bulge

Grebien set to do battle against the bulge

Mayor initiates a three-month weight loss challenge

PAWTUCKET - It was late in the afternoon last Friday at the Exchange Street Cafe and Mayor Donald Grebien was considering some dramatic life changes over a medium hot coffee with cream and Splenda. Joan Doyle, wife of former Mayor Jim Doyle, was on her way out the door, but stopped to say hi.

"You're going to order a meal as soon as I leave, aren't you," she says to Grebien, laughing.

Grebien can remember being at events with the Doyles and seeing Joan watching to make sure he and Jim weren't eating too much.

"Joan is just one of many who care about my well-being and challenge me to focus in on an improved lifestyle," he said later.

Not much in his life is more deeply personal than his weight, says Mayor Grebien, but when you're in the public eye like he is, even all those extra pounds become a hot topic of discussion. If one person is calling him "Santa," the next is questioning his portion size.

Grebien has fought the weight battle most of his life, finding it more and more difficult as he's gotten older to shed the pounds. Like his father, "I was always big," he says.

Stress was usually a key factor in his eating problems, said Grebien, especially after his parents divorced when he was in high school. On his way home from school, his grandfather would stop at McDonald's, then drive him on the paper route he should have been walking, and finally take him home for a snack.

At about the same size he is today, Grebien struggled with self-confidence in high school. It wasn't until senior year that he was able to drop his weight from 285 to about 240, said Grebien, an achievement he attributes largely to cutting out soda, eating healthier, and being more active.

Like many who face this struggle, it's the times when he's the most accountable to others that his weight is the lowest, said the mayor. He also dropped more than 20 pounds back when he was walking hundreds of miles during his successful campaign for mayor back in 2010.

Grebien has agreed to a three-month weight-loss challenge that will be entirely in the public eye. He'll give weekly updates on his progress only to The Breeze, and is asking residents to keep him accountable wherever he goes.

His "modest" weight loss goal for the next three months is 25 pounds, said Grebien.

On Monday morning, the mayor emailed his first picture of his feet on a scale that showed him at 286 pounds, which equates to a 48-inch waist. This is the heaviest he's been since he was working at American Insulated Wire nearly five years ago, he said.

At six-foot, 1-inch, and nearly 300 pounds, Grebien said he is becoming increasingly concerned about his future. His children Alexa and Connor are getting older and he is finding it increasingly difficult to participate in the activities they enjoy.

His children and wife Laureen are all "athletic and in great shape," said Grebien, and his children, like thousands of other children in Pawtucket, are always hearing in school about the importance of a healthy lifestyle. Naturally, they want to know when he's going to shape up.

His wife is "very supportive" of him, said Grebien, "but we both know it's not healthy" the way he lives.

Grebien said he wants to be an example to young people, to show them that you can achieve something big if you put your mind to it and have the right safeguards in place.

"A healthy example is a good example," he said.

The mayor, who turned 46 in September, wants to be able to play basketball with his son or walk to the second floor of City Hall without huffing and puffing, he wants to be able to go swimming without feeling embarrassed, and he wants to live a healthy and active retirement. It's pretty scary to think that he might not even be able to do the traveling he wants to do once he retires if he stays on the track he's on, said Grebien.

Because he's not a "gym guy," Grebien's preferred mode of exercise is walking, but even with that, "it's really a matter of just pushing myself out the door."

Grebien planned to restart a weekly walking program with friends on Monday. He usually walks about three miles.

"My problem is I'll never stick to a routine," he said.

One of his greatest downfalls is eating too many snacks at night, said Grebien. Eating for him can almost be a "decompression" from the day he had. Once he goes down the road of eating a whole bag of chips or cookies, it's easy to justify staying on the unhealthy diet until Monday. His wife cooks plenty of healthy food, he said, but the unhealthy choices outside of meal times set him back.

Both Laureen and Don were previously able to shed pounds by going on a shake program from Herbalife, said Grebien. He continues to enjoy an Herbalife shake in the morning, but the choices he makes the rest of the day negate the benefits of consuming them.

Grebien said he plans to reach his goal of 25 pounds lost by walking more in both the mornings and evenings, eating a better diet, and having more consistency with his shakes. His wife will keep him accountable both for his healthy goals and making sure he is reporting his true weight on Monday mornings.

The last time Grebien was this heavy, he was put on blood pressure medication. When he dropped weight during his 2010 campaign, he went off the medication and hasn't been back on since.

Grebien said he generally doesn't mind when residents or other local politicians make comments about his weight, and he is hoping that they will continue to do so as he embarks on this three-month challenge, which will be especially difficult during the upcoming holiday season.

The mayor gave an example of a comment he doesn't mind. During a concert at Slater Park over the summer, he bought himself an ice cream. About a week later, during a cookout at Fogarty Manor, a woman came up and asked him how he was doing on his diet. Proud that he had chosen a bun-less burger, coleslaw and water, Grebien told the woman he was "doing well." The woman quickly chimed in that she had seen Grebien at the concert the previous week and saw him get the ice cream.

"She said, 'your wife had the small one and you had the large one,'" said Grebien, laughing. "Now that's an appropriate comment."

Accountability will ultimately be what helps him shed the initial weight and continue a healthy lifestyle from there, said Grebien.

"You have eyes on you as an elected official," he said. "The more people who are saying it to me, the more helpful it's going to be."


I like you are also trying to win the same battle. If you should need a walking partner contact me thru facebook. I am one of your many fans and know that it takes team work to succeed.