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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 2, 2006

Back in the game: Retiree lost 45 pounds

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

John Matassa retired in August weighing 233 pounds. Today, he weighs 188, and tennis is among his favorite activities.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Age: 59

Profession: Retired police lieutenant and Army aviator

Lives in: Mililani

Height: 5-feet-8

Weight: 188 pounds

Fitness goal: To reach 168 pounds and continue his active, healthy lifestyle for the rest of his life

Stays in shape by: Walking, swimming, playing tennis and eating healthier

Interesting fact: Matassa builds control-line model airplanes out of balsa wood. He's working on one now.

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  • HealthPass is a health risk assessment and screening program that provides HMSA members with information on how to build a healthier life by looking at their present lifestyle, health habits and family medical history.

  • Available at no cost to most HMSA members (check your plan).

  • Includes measures for blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar level and body fat percentage.


    HMSA go Walk and Festival

    7 a.m. Saturday, April 1

    Ala Moana Park and Magic Island

    $12, $10 children

    Register by March 8


    www.active.com, www.HMSA.com/go

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    Retired police officer John Matassa shows off his 38-inch waist, which measured 47 inches less than one year ago.

    GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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    Eating right doesn't have to hurt. Here are tips to get your started:

  • Eat more produce. Fruits and veggies contain phytochemicals, natural bioactive compounds found that work together with vitamins, minerals and fiber and promote health, according to the National Cancer Institute. John Matassa, a 59-year-old retired police lieutenant from Mililani, lost 45 pounds in six months by replacing high-fat snacks with fresh fruits.

  • Find low-cal options to your favorite indulgences. Matassa, a cheese lover, uses fat-free versions of his favorites. What he craves now: fat-free mozzarella cheese on a slice of tomato and topped with olive oil, salt and pepper. "It's so delicious," he said. "I actually look forward to it."

  • Choose wisely at restaurant. Most restaurants have healthier options that go beyond side salads. At Romano's Macaroni Grill, Matassa found to his surprise healthy dishes that fit into his diet. He had grilled salmon and a spinach salad that featured fat-free feta and strawberries.

  • Stop when you're satisfied. Don't eat until you're stuffed, said Kim Combs, group leader with Weight Watchers (www.weightwatchers.com) who's kept off 118 pounds for five years. "Being satisfied is when you feel not hungry any longer," she said. "You're comfortable, you're not thinking about food, you're not dwelling ... and you're not unbuttoning your pants."

  • Track what you eat. Write in a food journal, join a support group or enlist a diet buddy to keep you on track. (In Weight Watchers, members attend weekly meetings to help them stay the course and support others.) Note what you eat, when you're eating it. "It's about being accountable," Combs said.

  • Get moving. You don't have to push yourself to burn calories. "I used to always believe that unless I worked up a good sweat, I wasn't going to lose weight," said Matassa. "But that's not true. And that really surprised me."

    Catherine E. Toth

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    John Matassa

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    Like many working dads, John Matassa didn't have much time to stay fit. As a police officer for 30 years, Matassa worked odd hours, often eating fast food and plate lunches during his shift and coming home with little time or energy to work out.

    "Every time you change your eating habits or change your work schedule, you introduce stress into your life," said Matassa, 59, now retired and living in Mililani. "We were doing that every six weeks."

    Over the years, Matassa had put on nearly 80 pounds. He weighed in last year at 233 pounds his heaviest ever.

    "I knew I had to lose weight," he said.

    But Matassa was never this inactive.

    A native of New Jersey, Matassa played tennis on his high school team.

    After serving two years in the Army, including one in Vietnam, Matassa moved to Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands as part of a test team for an antiballistic missile system. There, he scuba dived to sunken vessels and swam through schools of tuna. Sometimes he'd sail between atolls.

    "Anywhere you went on the island, you were either walking or bicycling," Matassa said. "It was easy to stay fit there."

    In 1970, Matassa married and moved to O'ahu. In January 1971, he enrolled in the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, and studied to be a special-education teacher. After graduating and without a job he went back for a fifth-year diploma in special education, then started the master's program in educational foundations.

    In the meantime, he had joined the Army National Guard in 1974. The next year, he graduated from the Guard's officer candidate school and the Honolulu Police Academy.

    Being part of the Guard then the Army Reserve, which he joined in 1992 forced Matassa to stay in shape.

    "I used to exercise just to keep up my physical fitness and keep my weight down," Matassa said.

    But as a police officer, he began picking up bad eating habits.

    "Let's put it this way," Matassa said. "Most places that policemen eat, the menu is on the wall."

    When he retired as an officer with the Reserves in 1998, his unhealthy eating habits started to catch up with him.

    He had joined the police department at 155 pounds with a 30-inch waist. By the time he retired in April 2005, Matassa was up to 233 pounds with a 47-inch waist.

    "I just chalked it up to getting old," Matassa said.

    But during a free HealthPass assessment provided by HMSA that April, Matassa decided to do something about his escalating weight. So he enrolled in a pilot program between HealthPass and Weight Watchers in August.

    Instead of using Weight Watchers' popular points-based plan, Matassa chose the Core Plan, which provided him with a list of foods he could eat without counting calories. He stuck to the plan.

    "I was really surprised at how easy it was to lose weight by eating the right foods and not eating less," Matassa said. "I could eat ham steak and eggs for breakfast and all the fruits I wanted."

    Adding walks and swims to his routine, Matassa quickly started dropping pounds and pants sizes.

    "He lost a lot of weight fast," said Kim Combs, Matassa's group leader at Weight Watchers. "He looks like a totally different person now."

    Today, Matassa weighs in at 188 pounds just 20 pounds off his goal weight.

    He has noticed an upswing in his mood now that he's 45 pounds lighter and closer to his goal.

    "When I started to drop weight, I felt terrific," Matassa said. "It's a good feeling to get up in the morning and step on the scale and see how much weight you've lost. It feels like I'm accomplishing something."

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    Workout habits: Matassa walks for an hour two or three times a week. He swims laps in a neighborhood pool three times a week. And he plays tennis a couple of times a week, partner or not.

    When and why I started working out: After joining the police department 30 years ago, Matassa found it difficult to eat healthily and fit in workouts between work and raising a family. He became serious about losing weight in August 2005, when he enrolled in HMSA's HealthPass pilot program with Weight Watchers. "I had been wanting to lose weight for years, but nothing seemed to work," he said.

    My good foods/bad foods: He's swapped heavy, fatty foods for nonfat dairy products, fruits, veggies and noncream-based soups. His diet is balanced with high-protein foods such as beef and fish. He tries to avoid most processed foods with empty calories. And he had to give up one of his most beloved foods: Cheese. "I haven't had pizza since July 2005," Matassa said. "I don't even crave it that much anymore."

    My biggest motivator: "Just a feeling of health, well-being and energy that accompanies weight loss," Matassa said.

    What saves my sanity: His change in cravings. Altering his lifestyle particularly his eating habits wasn't as difficult as he thought it was going to be. With Weight Watchers, he was able to eat most of the foods he already loved, including steaks, potatoes, eggs and fruits.

    "I've developed an appetite for healthy foods," said Matassa, who eats fruits as dessert. He loves apples, peaches, oranges, grapes and bananas. "When I'm in the fruits section at the supermarket, I'm like a kid in a candy store," he said, laughing.

    My next challenge: Matassa doesn't have a new challenge just to keep off the weight he's already lost and reach his goal. But he is looking forward to kayaking this year, now that he's dropped pounds. "(The kayak) has just been sitting in the backyard," he said.

    Advice for those in the same boat: "Obtain sound advice from a health professional," Matassa said. "There is a lot of folklore about weight loss that can be discouraging. Participate in an organized program that supports healthy eating habits and exercise rather than eat special foods."

    Reach Catherine E. Toth at ctoth@honoluluadvertiser.com.

    Correction: The time for the The HMSA go Walk & Festival was incorrect in a previous version of this story.