Last night Melissa Lawson,32, a wife and mother of five children, all boys under ten-years-old, won Nashville Star. Prior to taking home the title Melissa had already won a battle she’s been fighting her whole life weeks ago– to get fit, the right way. ‘Obese’ since high school Melissa, who told me she’s tried every diet in the book, up to and including lap band surgery, nearly hit 300lbs in January. Today she’s down 70lbs and dropping daily. A couple of weeks ago I went to Nashville and got the exclusive behind-the-scenes scoop on the shrinking star’s secret to success. Wearing an outfit from Bebe instead of Lane Bryant, the only store she says she’s been able to shop at in years, Melissa shared his diet, her workout and her breaking point. Melissa’s journey is an inspiring story of how a real person made their big dreams come true, and fought some old demons along the way. Hope you enjoy this chat I had with Melissa Lawson. Her single “What if it All Goes Right’ hit Country radio stations today and she’ll soon get started recording an album with singer/songerwriter/producer/Nashville Star judge and one-half of duo Big & Rich, John Rich.
When did you first audition for Nashville Star?
March 18 and 19 in Austin.
How much weight have you lost between March and now?
About 45lbs. since the auditions started. I lost almost 30lbs before the auditions.
Did you do it because you knew that you were going to be on TV?
No, I didn’t even know I was going to go to the audition. It was a very last-minute decision. I was already losing weight. I had had the baby the end of August and from August to January I was like, “I’m so sick of myself, I’m so sick of myself.” Then I pulled my back out for no reason at all, so I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to do something’ so I made some little changes that I could live with. I had been yo-yo dieting all of my life and I realized the only way I was going to get over it was to quit dieting. So people always say to me, ‘I thought you were dieting’ when they see something they think I shouldn’t be. Like even yesterday I was eating some Baked Lays and someone made a comment to me like, “I thought you were dieting?” and I was like, “I’m not dieting, I’m having a lifestyle and Baked Lays are definitely on my list oks. I haven’t given up anything, some things I just have more in moderation than what I used to. I used to have fast food two-three meals a day. I used to drink at four 32oz caloried beverages a day. So, I guess I did give that up, but I did it because I wanted to. I like tea, so I drink unsweetened tea now and I drink a lot of water.
Were you exercising?
I started working out but I didn’t take it on too much at first, just started walking 10 minutes, then I went to 15 minutes and then I built myself up and I started working out with weights one time a week, then two times, then three times and now I work out seven days a week and about every two weeks I try to get a day or two off. Now I lift weights most days and do cardio in between. I do interval training.
Did you go to a nutritionist or anything when you started this to know what to eat or was it just a culmination of things you’d read?
I had so many weird facts in my mind like ‘You have to eat protein. You have to give up carbs’ so I just started researching healthy eating, like what is healthy for your body and makes your cholesterol good and make you not have diabetes. I have heart disease in my family very severely so I knew I’d be facing that. So, I really just started researching and I found out that your body needs carbs, it needs fats, it needs proteins to function, so I just did things more balanced. I found this great website called Vitabot.com and you can log all of your food on there and it will tell you what you need. Instead of taking multi-vitamins everyday I try to get everything in my food and so if I put in there what I had for breakfast and lunch, it will actually tell me what I should have for dinner in order to balance vitamin-wise with all your omegas and vitamin D’s and E’s and all the things your body needs. It’s a really cool website. You can even pre-plan your meals in advance if you want to. I have trouble with that planning my whole week because I don’t know where I’m going to be.
It must be hard to pre-plan meals with five boys?
Yeah, they’re 8, 7,4, 2 and ten months, so it’s kind of hard to plan.
Is it hard to eat healthy meals with five boys that may rather the McDonalds? Do they eat what you eat?
At first they were eating their own stuff and I was eating my own stuff. Then my husband started eating with me and my littlest ones started eating with me because they’re the least picky. My oldest two have been eating fast food non-stop since pretty much they were a year old and they were like, ‘What, no French fries?’ and they were freaking out, so I made a rule that they had to have at least a bite of everything I was eating and then I would make them something else. That’s how we started and then we went to two bites and from there my oldest, who was my pickiest eater, and still is, tried a bit of my spring mix salad with chicken. He normally won’t eat meat, period, but he took a bite of the chicken, because I made him, then he took a bite of the lettuce and he ate the whole thing and said, ‘I love it.’ My second oldest son said, ‘Do I have to eat leaves? This is crazy.’
Are your children overweight?
My children are normal weight, if anything they’re probably on the thin side. They’re very athletic and very thin. I didn’t want them to struggle with what I’ve struggled with. I was a pretty thin kid until 3rd grade and I just started getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Come high school I was probably a size 12, 14, in high school. Now that’s pretty average, but when I went to high school, that wasn’t average, I was probably very obese compared to the other girls in school.
Why do you think that happened?
I think I watched my mom yo-yo diet and I honestly think that contributed mostly because my mental image of myself was not good. I thought that I was fat but when I look back on pictures from when I was younger, I wasn’t fat. If I could have just stayed at that average normalcy I would have been ok, so I don’t want my kids to learn that. I just want them to learn healthy eating and I think the key to that is making healthy changes that you can live with. Instead of eating regular tortillas, now I eat low-carb tortillas. Instead of eating white bread, I eat 12-grain bread. I tried several things until I found what I liked. I love eggs and I eat a lot of eggs, everyday. I eat a lot of mushrooms, just about everyday. Salads, I never thought I would eat a salad as a whole meal, I thought that was just so crazy, but now I eat one for a meal a day, sometimes twice a day. I just started adding things and learning to like them.
What’s a typical menu for you like each day?
I wake up and I have a banana right away because I like to have something right off the bat and I’m usually in such a hurry I don’t have time to cook. Then I take my kids off to school and then I’ll come back and make myself either an egg and mushroom tortilla or omelet. And to tell you the truth, I don’t like tomatoes or onions, cucumbers or bell peppers or a lot of vegetables, so there’s no excuse. Even if you don’t like it you can still find a few things that you like. Then I’ll usually have another piece of fruit during the day, or almonds, unsalted, unroasted. I started with salted and then I went to unsalted, so I just made some gradual changes. I eat a lot of grilled chicken and a lot of extra lean ground turkey, and I make that in everything. If we have pasta, we now use mulit-grain pasta instead of white pasta, I always make it with turkey meat and Prego sauce and corn or peas. And, all those things everyone hears that corn and peas are bad for you, they’re not bad for you, they’re just higher in carbs but they’re vegetables. If it’s a vegetable it’s a vegetable, if it’s a fruit, it’s a fruit and it’s good for you. There are no fruits that are bad for you and there are no vegetables that are bad for you and those are lies that people say. I don’t eat a lot of red meat just because I don’t really care for it. Every now and again I’ll have a steak. It’s not bad at all, I just don’t really like it. I eat a lot of turkey burgers, I eat sugar-free buns, I think Nature’s Own and a salad. I eat a lot of broccoli.
I cut cheese out. I love cheese but I cut it out just to see what would happen and now it doesn’t agree with me anymore. I went back to eat it and my stomach freaked out so I stay away from it. If I have a quesadilla or something I have it, but I cut it most of the way out. That and cream sauces. I used to eat cream sauces all the time and now I only eat them on a rare occasion, when I really want chicken alfredo or something.
What are some of the yo-yo diets that you’ve tried?
Oh my gosh, our interview would not be long enough, seriously. Every franchise diet, I’ve done it. Every book diet, I’ve done it. The Zone, South Beach, I did all those things. I did ok, I’d lose like 20lbs, but then I’d always gain it back plus some. I think 20-25lbs is the most I’d ever lost.
What was the most extreme diet?
I did have lap band surgery, and then I had it revised four times between 2002-06 and I finally had it taken out.
How much did you lose with that?
Would you recommend that surgery?
No! I would not recommend it. I tell you the truth because I’ve been through it and I was so desperate that not only did I have the surgery, but I had it revised four times!
I had it put in 2002 and then I had a problem where the tubing that attaches to the adjustable band fell off the band and was lying on my pelvis, so they had to go in and fix that. The next time it slipped down on my stomach, which was very painful. Then they fixed it again and it slipped again and they were going to go in and fix it but I said just take it out, and I was so glad. Even with gastric bypass, because your stomach is a muscle, over time you can stretch the muscle and regain the weight, so even though it may be a quick fix for some people, it’s not a long-term fix. Ultimately there is no quick fix. I’m not in any race to lose this weight. This is the first time ever where I’m not in a race where I’ve mapped out well, if I lose this much by this date I could be at my goal weight by this date. I don’t have a goal weight this time. I have an idea of where I want to be, but there’s no size that’s necessary or number that’s necessary on the scale, I’m just going with it.
What’s the most you’ve ever weighed?
When was that?
That was Sept/Oct. of the past year, about nine months ago. I saw the 300 coming up and that was it.
What do you weigh now?
I try not to weight myself everyday, but I weighed myself a couple of days ago and I was 232lb.
What’s the least you’ve weighed in the last ten years?
Probably 230lbs, but I was there for a very short amount of time. I was 208 when I got married, eleven years ago.
What’s the biggest size you were up to?
I was a 28, 26,
What are you now?
I’m a 16, but actually I wore something the other day that was a 14. Even now I’m wearing a T-shirt I bought at Journey. It’s an extra large, but still, I haven’t shopped any mainstream store other than Lane Bryant in years!
Do you think being in the structured environment of Nashville Star has helped?
It’s actually harder because I can’t control the food. Whatever we get from catering, that’s what I have to eat and I have to make good choices deliberately. It’s harder to do, when you have chicken alfredo sitting in front of you or a salad, what would you choose? It’s difficult, but then again, I do get to work out every day and they help make sure I get to the gym.
What’s your typical workout?
I do interval training so I walk/run for 2-3 minutes then I do some type of weights for 2 minutes and 15 seconds, like bicep curls and squats for 2:15 each, then I go back to the treadmill and I do 2-3 minutes again, and I do three series with weights and sprints in between.
Do you do the same workout when you’re at home?
Yup, I work out at the playground at home. We use the playground equipment. There’s a book in progress on that right now.
So this is a lifestyle and workout that anyone can do?
Have you noticed a change in your voice as you’ve lost weight?
I haven’t. I know some people do, I personally haven’t noticed, but maybe there is.
Do you have a trainer?
At home, not here, Ray Wehr. I’m doing the playground workout book with him. We’ve started working on it, my trainer is taking care of all the technical aspects of it because he has all of these masters degrees in physics and body and he knows so much stuff. He knows exactly why your body functions the way it does, he’s so knowledgeable.
Where is he based?
He’s in Dallas and he trains all of the trainers at the clubs there. He’s been asked many, many times to do a book, but he’s a friend of mine and we started working out together once I got in the top 200 on Nashville Star. We were working out at the playground because I couldn’t get to Dallas everyday so he came to me because he lives in Arlington and we’d meet at the playground and use the equipment there and I said, ‘Ray, we have to write a book about this because there are so many moms that go to the playground and they sit on the bench because they don’t have any idea that they can use the equipment to benefit themselves in two minutes of time. Everyone has two minutes in between the kids playing to do something.
What stage is the book in now?
It’s about half way done. We have it all mapped out and we’re in the middle of writing it.
Do you know when it may be published?
I’m not sure. I have no contact with him during this process on the show so I know where I’m at in it but I don’t know where he’s at.
What does your husband think about your weight loss?
He thinks it’s great. He’s always supported me no matter what, but he wants me to be healthy because he’s always scared because my dad had his first heart attack when I was 16 and he’s had several heart attacks since and some very minor strokes and he’s not even 60 yet, so it’s kind of crazy. Any kind of health issue you can have, my dad has, high cholesterol, diabetes, everything and my mom has a lot on her side too. So, he said to me that we have to get healthy, not just me, but him too, because we have five kids who deserve that. I totally agree.
When you can not sit on the floor to play with your kids or if you do the thought of getting up is so horrendous, that’s when you know that there’s a problem there.
When your kids want to play soccer with you in the backyard and they have to kick the ball right to you because you can’t move five steps left or right, it’s insane.
How long have you been married?
Eleven years last May 24.
The judges on Nashville Star have said you have the best voice on the show, if you win, what happens?
There’s a part of me that’s so guarded and doesn’t believe I’m even here. I believe I’m here, but I don’t. I’ve thought about this so many times but to be sitting here, I don’t want to have that let down if it doesn’t happen. At the same time, to win would be everything that I’ve ever dreamed of. I met my husband when I was 17-years-old, so we’ve spent the last 15 years together and it’s all we’ve ever talked about together as a family. Even when we started having children it was a question if I continue to pursue music at this time with the possibility of getting something done with it, or do we have our kids and then do something. We made the decision to go ahead and have our family because that we know, that we know can happen and control. Music may come and may not come. But, when the family came and we had our youngest we decided it was time. We decided to spend one or two years totally focusing on it and Nashville Star happened to come along like two months into that little plan, so I feel very fortunate and very blessed.
What’s been the hardest part of this process?
Just not being able to talk to my husband on a daily basis. Obviously I love my children, but I don’t think they really understand the process, so I think by talking to them on a daily basis would almost be detrimental, but to my husband, I’d like to be able to say, ‘Hey, how was your day today? And, I love you.’
How often do you get to speak to him?
Not at all. We had family day and I saw the family a little bit, like 30 minutes a day, but that’s it. It’s kind of crazy, but I’m enjoying it as well. We talked about it before I left and my husband said, ‘Go, enjoy every second of your alone time’ and I really am.
What are you doing during that alone time?
Usually I’m either practicing my guitar, trying to write something, praying, reading my Bible, chitchatting with the other contestants, thinking about my family and what they’re doing at home and daydreaming about what’s going to happen here.
Looks like her dreams are coming true 😉