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Gov. Rendell trying to lose weight

HARRISBURG - Ed Rendell, the unabashed indulger in all things greasy, has not had so much as a bite of a cheesesteak in two months.

Hold the cheesesteaks: Gov. Rendell says he has lost 40 pounds since beginning a diet and workout regimen in June. (Tom Gralish/Staff Photographer)
Hold the cheesesteaks: Gov. Rendell says he has lost 40 pounds since beginning a diet and workout regimen in June. (Tom Gralish/Staff Photographer)Read more

HARRISBURG - Ed Rendell, the unabashed indulger in all things greasy, has not had so much as a bite of a cheesesteak in two months.

He's given up sweets, too, including his favorite dessert, Starbucks coffee ice cream. Not a spoonful, as hard as that might be to believe.

It shows.

The once-rotund governor has shed nearly 40 pounds since reaching an all-time high in the spring of 265 pounds.

His secret?

"I literally eat half of what I used to," Rendell said yesterday at the governor's mansion. "I am now a devout disciple of the fact that if you want to lose weight you have to significantly reduce the amount of food you put in your mouth."

So, a three-egg omelet is now made with two eggs; eight slices of bacon are now four.

Some not-so-subtle hints made by those closest to him earlier this year got the 5-foot-11, 65-year-old governor thinking long and hard about being big and fat.

"You used to have so much fun going to my Little League games. You have to be around to go to my kid's games," Rendell recalled his son, Jesse, telling him.

Then there was the one dropped by his wife, Marjorie.

"I told him you don't see that many very heavyset 80- or 85-year-olds, do you?" she recalled last week.

Rendell said he knew they were right. He was way overweight and, for longevity's sake, had to do something about it.

He was just looking for a good time to start.

Enter the budget crisis.

Rendell said he started the diet in mid-June when it became clear that a budget solution in a recession year wasn't going to come quickly, especially when Republican legislative leaders were dead-set against raising taxes.

"I thought this would give me something to strive for, something positive that I could see happening compared to the lack of progress with the budget," he said.

Rendell took a reporter on a tour of his weight through old Polaroids, almost an offering of proof that he wasn't always so thick.

One yellow photo from the early '80s shows him at 210 pounds playing in the backyard with his son as a toddler. In a 1971 wedding snapshot, he was a svelte 195.

His goal is to get somewhere in between - 200 pounds.

Rendell predicts that, at the current pace (he's dropping about 4 pounds a week) he will reach that by the end of September. He laughs when asked which will come first, his goal or the adoption of a final state budget, which is now seven weeks overdue.

Although he had reached 265 pounds earlier this year, Rendell insists that he was in overall good health, a product of a regular exercise regimen, such as the one he demonstrated yesterday morning in the workout room at the governor's mansion along the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg.

It's a 20-by-30-foot room equipped with two treadmills, an elliptical machine, a stationary bike, and free weights.

He was wearing red shorts, New Balance sneakers, and a gray Drexel University T-shirt that, in a matter of minutes after jumping on a treadmill, was dripping with sweat.

He was on the machine for a half-hour, most of it at a steady jog, a routine he said he does almost every day. Maggie and Ginger, his two golden retrievers, lay on the cool rubber matting nearby.

For years, he's been a regular at the Sporting Club at the Bellevue in Philadelphia. Before that, he ran on the streets.

Philadelphia lawyer Walter M. Phillips Jr. recalled that, once or twice a week in the early 1980s, he would meet Rendell at his office in East Falls and the two would jog to the District Attorney's Office.

Phillips, a onetime marathon runner, remembers having to jog diagonally on bike paths so Rendell, the city's top prosecutor at the time, could keep up. Still, Rendell would make it all the way, more than six miles.

"He was one of the great heavyweight runners of our time," Phillips joked.

Rendell said he had to give up street running when he became mayor in 1992 because people kept stopping him to talk.

Working out has had little effect on his weight loss, Rendell said.

It's all about what he calls portion control.

Marjorie Rendell said that for years she had heard about her husband's latest efforts at dieting. She would ask how it was going, how much had he lost, only to be told "92 pounds or something like that," she recalled recently. "So I knew he was kidding me."

"He has a propensity to gain weight. He loves food," she added in the tone of one who has just said something painfully obvious.

But this time, something was different.

"If we had five lamb chops, he would have four of them," she said. "Now he is having two, so I have to watch myself now."

And she began noticing something strange with his clothes.

"All of a sudden, his shirts started having room in them instead of the buttons being pulled tight," she said.

The governor said he was resisting the urge to buy new clothes at this point or to have his old ones taken in. He wants to do that only once and that won't be until he hits 200 pounds.

"Will I look a little sloppy? Yeah, but I always look a little sloppy," Rendell said, answering a question that wasn't asked. "So that's no big deal."

He acknowledged the tough part would be keeping the pounds off.

Even so, he said that once he reaches his target weight, he might indulge a bit - perhaps some Starbucks mocha chip, but only a small bowl.

"And I might have a cheesesteak again," he added, "but I'll put half of it in the refrigerator to have it later."