LEXINGTON, Ky. - Lee Claypoole is the buff, 6-foot tall, 30-inch waist, 184-pound pastor of The Bridge in Lexington, Kentucky.
But less than four years ago, he weighed 284 pounds, had a 44-inch waist, and was racing towards a collision with horrible health problems.
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His parents were diabetics, as were two of his brothers, and Lee's doctor told him in 2005 if Lee didn't deal with his fat, he'd be diabetic, as well, and probably face serious heart trouble.
Lee recalled, "He just told me that if I don't get a handle on my weight and change my lifestyle that I probably won't be here very long."
But it's what happened about a month later that so traumatized Lee, he radically re-ordered his life.
On a Caribbean cruise with his wife and two daughters, he went to rent a kayak with one of the girls. The man renting them told Lee, "Sir, you're just too heavy. It's not safe."
How He Dropped 100 Pounds
It was such an embarrassing moment in front of his daughter, Lee resolved to turn it all around, and by healthy eating and regular exercise, he's dropped 100 pounds.
But Lee and wife Regina live on a budget, so they've had to learn to shop really smart.
Both watch for grocery specials and deals with an eagle-eye.
Regina said, "I buy a lot of things that are in season."
Lee added, "We just basically cut out processed foods, quick fixes like chips and snacks. We just laid those things aside."
Instead they buy lean protein and lots of fruits and vegetables. Lee said, "If we have beef, it's always a very lean cut of sirloin or hamburger. There are several really lean versions that are out now."
Also, they bake, broil and grill. No more frying.
When they find something like chicken or beef on sale, they'll buy extra, and cook it up for quick meals in the next few days.
In fact, they buy just about everything they can in bulk, especially when it's on sale.
Lee starts almost every morning with oatmeal. "It may sound boring, but it's really not. It's actually good." He especially loves Irish oatmeal.
Then this Lexington pastor is religious about getting in a rigorous work-out at a local gym. Throughout the day, he'll try to munch down plenty of complex carbohydrates. "It's nuts and it's oatmeal and it's wheat bread."
And because they now plan meals ahead and shop strategically, Lee says the family actually saves money on food.
You Can Eat Healthy on Less Than $7 a Day
Lexington dietitians Patti Geil and Tami Ross aren't surprised. They say we can all eat healthy for less than seven dollars a day.
These diabetes specialists have even written a book on this very subject, called Diabetes Meals on $7 a Day -- or Less!
The first thing to know is we'd all be eating really healthy if we ate what diabetics should. Patti said that would be, "Low-calorie, high-fiber grains and beans, small portion-sizes of meat, lots of veggies." Also, lots of fruits, but few fats and sweets.
As her co-author Tami put it, "Stick close to Mother Nature. That's the thing to remember."
An example: five pounds of natural, fat-free potatoes costs $2.79. Five pounds of high-fat, highly processed potato chips costs you $16.50, six times as much.
Plan and Cook Ahead
The biggest secret to saving the big bucks: plan your meals ahead, using food that's on sale that week at your local stores.
Use store fliers or the computer to find out what's on sale.
Then Patti and Tami say you need to write out both your meal plan for the week and the items you'll have to buy.
Keep your shopping list on the frig and add items you'll need as you think of them.
That shopping list will allow you to zip quickly through the store, which is important, because studies show every extra minute you spend there costs you $2.00.
And even more important, Tami said, "Studies show folks that head into the grocery without a list spend twice as much."
The dietitians pointed out it's crucial to stick as close to your shopping list as possible and resist impulse buys. Just two or three of those a week can add up to more than $500 a year.
Stay away from the aisles when you can because the healthier foods are usually to the sides and around back. As Tami put it, "The tip to remember is to stick to the perimeter."
Look high and low because stores put the most expensive items at eye-level.
And give up the brand names when you can for generic, store-brands, which are often made by the exact same manufacturers. Tami stated, "You'll save 20 to 30 cents on the dollar."
A key to planning your meals and making your week easier is to do batch-cooking -- deliberately making leftovers, what Tami and Patti call "planned overs."
Like if you buy a bunch of chicken breasts on sale -- cook them all up, first for dinner that night, but then for use in salads, in pita bread, sandwich wraps, casseroles or even omelets in the days after. You could toss some into a soup or the crockpot.
Patti said, "You can make anything in a crockpot. And just knowing that it's ready at home and all you have to do when you get there is to add a vegetable or some toasty bread, you can make a meal in the time it would take you to have a pizza delivered."
Tami added, "If you've got a few things at home that are ready to go, you can pull those out and it's certainly quicker than a drive-through."
But if you can't resist that drive-through, the ladies recommend you buy the kid-sized meal. It's plenty of food and cheap. Patti said, "Super-size is not wise. The best thing is to eat like a kid." She pointed out a typical fast food kid's meal is about a third of the cost of a super-sized one. And many of these super-size "value" meals cost as much as you could eat healthy on for an entire day.
Other tips from Patti and Tami: don't buy frozen vegetables in butter or cheese. The plain costs half as much.
Bag your own snacks, bite-sized fruits and veggies instead of paying more than double for the pre-packaged ones.
Don't buy the little bags of instant oatmeal. They cost four times as much as the oatmeal you dish out yourself.
You'll save a ton and lose weight if you eat the proper size meat serving: a portion that's about the size of your palm.
And eat meat substitutes frequently, like canned tuna, peanut butter, eggs and beans, dried or in a can. They're just pennies a serving, compared to the dollars per serving of many meats. (By the way, if you'll wash those canned beans, you'll remove about 40 percent of the sodium.)
Don't skip breakfast, because that can be so cheap. A healthy meal of bran cereal, english muffin and cup of tea costs less than 50 cents. And Tami pointed out it also takes less time to prepare than driving to a fast-food joint and waiting to get your breakfast at the drive-through.
Patti and Tami recommend you replace soda, soft drinks and fruit drinks with water, unsweetened fruit juice and low-fat milk. Replace sweetened cereal with whole-grain and unsweetened cereal. Instead of candy, eat homemade trail mix (like dried fruit, nuts and sunflower seeds). Instead of snack chips, snack on popcorn and dry roasted nuts.
All these foods that are healthy for diabetics and dieters are the same for cancer-sufferers, as Pastor Lee Claypoole and wife Regina found out in the Spring of 2008.
Regina said, "I was diagnosed with breast cancer in May. And really began to think about what I'm putting into my body."
Regina copied Lee's diet -- lean meat, heavy on fruits, vegetables and complex carbs, no processed foods, few fats.
After surgery for her cancer, Regina recovered quickly and is feeling fit and trim.
Lee pointed out, "Whatever we've been doing, it's worked. I've lost 100 pounds and she's been able to maintain her weight and now she's cancer-free."
No Quick Fix
But both Lee and Regina emphasized that there's no quick fix for going from fat to thin, unhealthy to healthy.
Lee said of his goal to lose 100 pounds, "I kind of approached this more as a marathon than a sprint. Some people will spend several years getting their life or their weight out of control, and then they want to cure it in just a short amount of time ... just a quick fix. But I made up my mind: I'd spent several years getting out of shape. I'm going to invest a few years in getting back in shape."
Patti, Tami, Lee and Regina all agree this lifestyle of planning meals, cooking ahead and shopping strategically can take extra time. But after piling up a few plans for what to eat for a week, you'll have enough to pretty much go on automatic.
As Regina put it, "It's just as easy as can be now. It's a habit."
*Originally published March 16, 2009