Half her former self

When Barry Burnison went to see his dentist, he said the dentist seemed terribly angry.

Sandra Burnison holds one of her old sun dresses as she poses for a photo in Hamilton. Burnison lost 190 pounds and has kept the weight off for a year.

Sandra Burnison holds one of her old sun dresses as she poses for a photo in Hamilton. Burnison lost 190 pounds and has kept the weight off for a year.

HAMILTON, Ont. — When Barry Burnison went to see his dentist, he said the dentist seemed terribly angry.

The dentist was curt. He wouldn’t make small talk nor would he look Barry in the eye. He worked on Barry’s teeth and walked away as quickly as he could.

Later, Barry found out the dentist had seen him in a store’s parking lot a few months prior with a woman he did not recognize as Barry’s wife.

The dentist was convinced Barry was cheating.

It wasn’t until Barry’s wife, Sandra Burnison, went in to see the same dentist that it dawned on him that Barry wasn’t cheating after all. Sandra had lost a massive amount of weight. She was no longer the 365-pound woman he used to know. Sandra had lost 190 pounds.

“I am so happy. I glow now and my self-esteem has gone through the roof. I can see the smile in my eyes, and I find the positive in just about any situation,” said Sandra.

There were no special diets, pills, protein shakes or pedometers. No gym memberships, fitness regimens or any of the multitude of products marketed to people trying to shed pounds. There was barely even a balanced diet. There is one weight-loss support group she joined, but it was her sheer will and determination that got her where she is today. Sandra says hers is a simple tale of eating less and being more active.

Simple, yes. But far from easy.

The 50-year-old bus driver’s story begins with her parents, who were both overweight. Nothing was celebrated without lots of food. Her dad would always tell her, “Mangia mangaia!” which means “Eat, eat!” in Italian.

Kids in school teased her relentlessly and used her as target practice with their half-eaten fruit. Even a grade school teacher frequently picked on her. These events only worsened her addiction to food.

Her self-esteem plummeted and she began eating when she was sad or stressed. She was very quiet, shy and withdrawn. A kid who kept to herself, she would stand on the sidelines during a dance too afraid of people’s put-downs if they were to see an obese person dancing.

She started to come out of her shell during her final year of school, feeling slightly empowered by her seniority. She socialized a bit more and met her husband of 28 years in a coffee shop. Still, Sandra was too reticent to call up her new sister-in-law to say hi.

She binged.

“I didn’t even know I was doing it sometimes,” she said.

There were several times when she tried to lose weight. She would lose a few pounds, only to gain them back, and more.

The turning point came when Sandra visited her doctor in early 2008.

“My doctor was monitoring my sugar levels and she said, ’Next time, if it stays higher than the normal level, then I want you to see a dietitian about your diabetes.’

The D word,” Sandra explains with finger quotes, “scared me. I know what my mother went through with diabetes, and I see what my husband goes through. He takes four needles a day. I really didn’t want to deal with any of that.”

In March of that year, she joined the weight-loss group, TOPS — Take Off Pounds Sensibly. The group meetings and weight-loss contests kept her motivated.

At no time did she commit to losing more than 10 pounds. She told herself she could take as long as she needed to reach this goal.

She recorded her weekly weigh-ins. If she lost weight, the recording was written in black ink. If she gained pounds, the recording was in red.

Ten pounds at a time, one black entry at a time, and nine red entries later, Sandra reached the weight her doctor recommended for her 5-foot-7 frame in just two years. Weighing in at 175 pounds, she is back to the weight she was when she was 10.

The biggest change that Sandra’s friends and family see is how her confidence has grown She is more vocal and instead of avoiding people, she stops to say hello. She is not afraid to dance and speaks at rallies to inspire other dieters.

Sandra said she embarked on her journey for herself.

She feels no desire to be vengeful toward people who taunted her. If she were to run into her old classmates who bullied her, she said, “I could face them. Maybe now I could tell them why I always stared at the skinny girls. They must have thought I was weird, but I just wanted to be like them.”

After having kept her weight off for more than a year, she raises her eyebrows, and says with a mixture of confidence and disbelief,

“I am one of the skinnier girls.”

Here is how Sandra Burnison lost 190 pounds:


• She started with swimming because it is easier on her joints. Then, despite the arthritis in her knees, she progressed to walking anywhere from 40 to 60 minutes each day.

• She walked at her own pace. No brisk or power-walking. She was never fond of exercising, but enjoys walking much more than she used to.


• Instead of cutting back gradually, she followed Canada’s Food Guide recommendation of no more than 1,200 calories a day.

• Many raw vegetables bother her stomach, but she does get “a better balance of fruit and vegetables now.”

• She reads labels carefully, uses a smaller plate and measures her food with cups and a weighing scale to ensure she doesn’t eat more than she plans to.

How she deals with hunger pangs and cravings, and how she keeps the weight off:

• She recites the TOPS mantra, “I’m special, I can do this and I’m worth it.”

• She reads stories of other people who overcame their weight problems.

• Sandra prays and consults her TOPS support group.

• She looks at a 4×6 “before” picture of herself that travels everywhere with her and says, “I don’t ever want to be like that again.”

• She distracts herself with housework or other activities.

• She goes for a walk.

• She eats a piece of fruit or a couple of carrots, chews gum or drinks water.

• She jots down everything she eats on a diet sheet.