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Jon Harris discusses pal Al Roker’s triumph over his struggle with the scale

Nutritionist MelissBowman Al Roker JHarris

Nutritionist Melissa Bowman, Al Roker and Jon Harris

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Updated: February 15, 2013 6:07AM

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing broadcaster, author and producer Al Roker for more than 20 years and I’m blessed to call him my “brother.”

By now, most people know about Al’s lifelong struggle with his weight. But what many don’t know is that the woman who helped Al end that struggle is right here in Chicago.

In his new book, titled “Never Goin’ Back: Winning the Weight Loss Battle for Good,” Al discusses his journey toward weight loss. At his worst, Al’s seen the scale hit 340 pounds. But today, he’s figured out how to control his weight and be healthy — and he’s never goin’ back.

“At 58, I’m very happy about where life has taken me,” Al recently told me over a healthy lunch in his New York home. “I have a wonderful family, great friends, an amazing job and my health. I finally got it figured out.”

A decade ago, Al made national headlines after undergoing gastric bypass surgery and slimming down to 190 pounds. But after he shed the weight, old habits returned. When his mother Isabel was hospitalized in 2007, Al turned to junk food for comfort and regained more than 40 pounds.

Over the years, Al and I have talked daily about our desire to get in shape. We’re both stress-eaters, have a family history of heart disease and — ironically — both have beautiful, healthy wives who work out fanatically; his wife is TV journalist Deborah Roberts and my wife is a nine-time marathoner named Allie. Al affectionately calls them “cyborgs.”

Four years ago, I met nutritionist, dietician and personal trainer Melissa Bowman, owner of PhysioLife Studios (712 N. Dearborn). Melissa — whose current client roster includes Meredith Vieira, Ann Curry and Whoopi Goldberg — told me about her 28-day cleanse, which limits the caffeine, sugar, gluten, dairy and red meat in your diet. I was about 235 pounds at the time so I reluctantly gave it a try.

After two weeks, I’d lost 14 pounds and felt great. I called Al immediately, telling him he had to try the program. He eagerly jumped on board and, as a result, altered his diet forever. “I put on the brakes,” says Al. He soon became Melissa’s prized student, losing 28 pounds in one month.

Today, even with a hectic work and travel schedule, Al continues to follow the diet closely, mostly eating foods that are high in protein and low in carbs, including protein shakes. He weight-trains with a “slow method” regimen that involves three 30-minute exercise sessions each week and enjoys biking to the office.

In the book, Al writes about how his weight struggles once put pressure on his relationships with his wife and kids, who were understandably worried about his health. Deborah would often point out his lack of discipline and low self-esteem. But Deborah’s concerns “weren’t enough” for Al to do something about his situation. “I had to do it for myself,” he says.

He adds, “People think they are helping folks by telling them that they are overweight. It’s not helpful. We know we’re fat.”

Today, Al is in the best shape of his life and serves as an inspiration to many, including yours truly. “There is no quick fix, but you can do it,” he says. “Just get real with yourself.”

Truer words were never spoken. Here’s a healthy protein shake toast to you, my brother.

Jon Harris donated his fee for writing this column to Common Threads. Al Roker will be at The Book Stall (811 Elm, Winnetka) Monday at 7 p.m.

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