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The Doggy Diet

Pet expert Peggy Frezon tells the story of how she and her dog joined forces to create a healthier lifestyle for themselves.

Peggy Frezon and Kelly

The numbers on the scale bounced up and down as my spaniel, Kelly, wiggled: 36, 34, 38…my eyes grew wide when the screen finally read 41.

“She’s up three pounds since her last visit,” the vet said, turning to me and my husband, Mike. “For a small dog like her, that isn’t good. It’s like 15 pounds on a person.”

“I’m feeding her less,” I said.

“Are you measuring it?” the vet asked. She held up a small plastic cup and pointed to a line on it. “She should only get half a cup twice a day.” Our scoop at home definitely held more than that. “And no table scraps,” the vet continued.

Mike shot me a look. Just last night I’d given Kelly pizza crusts during dinner. “She shouldn’t beg,” Mike had scolded. I knew I shouldn’t feed her from the table, but one look at her big brown pleading eyes and I’d given in. A little bit won’t hurt her, I’d told myself.

The vet ran her stethoscope over Kelly’s chest and abdomen. “If she doesn’t lose weight, she’ll be at risk for joint, skin and heart problems, even diabetes and cancer.”

Wait. Hadn’t I heard that before? Just a few weeks earlier my doctor had given me the same warnings. I weighed 171 pounds—way too much for my five-foot frame. Gyms, health books, diets—I’d tried them all. Nothing worked.

Besides, I’d settled into a comfy routine. I worked from home, so during the day it was just Kelly and me. Only eight steps separated my office from the kitchen. How could I resist taking a break?

I’d grab cookies for me and a treat for Kelly—she deserved it for keeping me company. And exercise? I sat at the computer while Kelly followed a patch of sunlight across the floor.

I looked at my chubby dog and the vet’s concerned expression. It hit me: My bad habits were hurting Kelly.

It was the beginning of a new year. The perfect time for a change, for me and my dog. First, I tackled our eating habits. At lunchtime the next day I carefully measured a half cup of Kelly’s food. It hardly filled the bottom of her bowl! I’ve really been overfeeding her, I thought guiltily.

I looked from her bowl to my plate where I’d made a sandwich that was almost toppling over it was so laden with meat and cheese. I’ve been overfeeding myself too. I remade it with an ounce of turkey, a slice of low-fat cheese and a smear of mustard. I was surprised at how good it was.

By spring I’d learned to cook healthier. One night I was craving takeout. Instead, I made a salad with tomatoes from Mike’s garden and skinless chicken breasts with green beans. “Delicious,” Mike said.

I had to agree. But Kelly whined at my feet. “Can’t I just give her a little treat?” I asked Mike. He shot me that look again, so I tossed Kelly a carrot. Not yet convinced, she hid it under the coffee table.

Both of us lost weight just by eating better. Now that the weather was nice, adding exercise was next. One May afternoon I finished work early. I looked at Kelly. She was sprawled on the back of the couch. “Time for a walk, girl,” I called. Kelly barely raised her head.

I tried again. “Let’s go, Kel!” Kelly plodded toward me, stopping to stretch. I snapped on her leash. As soon as I opened the door the fresh air hit us. I took a deep breath. How invigorating! Kelly’s nose lifted too. She swung her head and broke into a trot.

We walked farther than I thought we would—or could. “We’ll get out every day,” I promised. And we did, if it was sunny.

Then the rainy days piled up that fall. We returned to our sedentary ways…and the pounds stopped coming off. One day I glanced up from the computer and saw Kelly flopped on the couch, her big eyes sad.

Lord, Kelly trusts me and I’ve let her down. Myself too. Help me. Show me how to do the right thing for us.

A few days later, I saw an ad for a used elliptical machine. I wasn’t looking for one, but there it was as if it were looking for me. “What do you think?” I asked Mike.

“Great idea!” he said. “Put it in the living room.” Perfect. On dismal days I’d hop on the elliptical and toss Kelly her ball. She’d run after it full tilt. Before long we were both full of energy. But it wasn’t always easy.

Once I pulled an all-nighter to meet a deadline. Tired and hungry, I went into the kitchen and opened the fridge. A friend had given Mike a chocolate cake; it sat there, frosting gleaming. I’ve exercised all week, I thought. I deserve this.

But Kelly looked up at me with those big eyes. Okay, Lord, I get it. I grabbed a yogurt and gave Kelly a baby carrot. She flipped it in the air with her mouth and ate it.

Turns out Kelly and I make a great team. In just a year I lost 41 pounds and Kelly’s at her goal weight, down six pounds.

These days we have a new routine: I’ll work for a few hours then march those eight steps into the kitchen. Only now I grab us both a nutritious snack. Kelly deserves a mom who will keep her healthy and stay healthy herself. That’s the best trick this owner learned from her dog.

Learn more in Get Fit with Fido.

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