Durham, N.C. — Weighing in at just under 300 pounds, 17-year-old Jennifer Little was surprised to find herself in a guest chair at a daytime talk show discussing her weight problem to a national television audience last year.
"I didn't know that my dad had sent them an email, and the producers called," she said.
But appearing on the "Dr. Phil" show helped her drop 55 pounds and develop a healthy diet plan.
Dr. Phil sent Little to a residential weight loss center in Durham, where she learned how to make healthy food choices and even resist the temptations of an all-you-can-eat restaurant buffet.
"When you first come to the buffet, it's good to plan your menu in line," said Little.
She worked with clinical psychologist Katie Rickel at Structure House, at 3017 Pickett Road, who recommends taking a trip around the buffet line to plan a meal before loading up the plate.
And while the sign says "all you can eat," Rickel says there's no room for seconds.
"It's good to put a lot of vegetables on your place because they really don't have many calories at all," Little said.
Opting for low-fat Italian dressing – on the side – allows Little to stick to the 1,400 calorie-a-day plan a nutritionist developed for her at Structure House. Add a cup of low-fat chili with beans for protein and a small apple, and Little has a complete, balanced and healthy meal.
The teen uses a food diary to keep track of her food choices, and after seven months, she's pleased with the results.
"They teach you how to train your mind, how to eat right and keep it off," Little said. "I'm very satisfied with (the diet). It actually keeps me full, and you have all the right nutrition for the day."
Structure House emphasizes a diet plan of just three meals a day, and Rickel said that conscious planning is key to sticking with it.
"We find that, the more times that people have to make decisions about food and have access to food, the more likely they are to get into trouble," she said.
That's why when she hits the buffet line with Little, she finds a seat at the back of the restaurant, "so we don't sit looking at the food the whole time that we are eating," she said.