By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
Any busy mom can probably relate to Eleanor Payne when it comes to the twists, turns and weight challenges in life.
"In my 20s, I worked out,” she said. “Pretty much In my 30s, exercise was non-existent. But toward the end of them, I thought, ‘I really need to get back in the swing of things. What do I do?'”
It’s a conundrum that many women who get married, have kids and put on weight have to confront during the years of child rearing.
And it’s not only women.
Payne, 43, subject of today’s “What are you eating” feature in WNY Refresh, piled on weight during the years after her children were born – and so did her husband.
"Working, trying to manage a family, I just didn’t have time for myself,” she said. “I noticed the scale went up – 40 pounds.
"I kept using that same excuse, ‘As soon as the baby gets older, as soon as the baby gets older.’ My baby was almost 3 when I said, ‘You know what, I refuse to buy another pair of (larger) pants."
That was six years ago last September, about the time her husband, Scott, now director of student learning in the Alden school district, participated in the Biggest Loser contest while in the Akron district. In the two to three years that followed, he lost 50 pounds; she lost 40, and both have kept off the weight since.
The couple, who live in Williamsville, have three children, Julian, 12, Madeline, 10 and Avery, 9.
"I am totally a soccer mom, hook, line and sinker," Eleanor Payne told me.
As she set out to retool her body, she said, “I did hire a trainer. She was phenomenal on focusing on the right muscle groups and how to work them. After the session was over, I had the confidence to do this on my own."
She has since gotten her certification to lead fitness classes, worked a couple of years at Platinum Fitness, and since April has taught group cycling and cardio kickboxing classes at the Independent Health Family Branch YMCA in Williamsville.
That’s her part-time gig. Payne, who grew up in North Buffalo, graduated from Holy Angels Academy, got a bachelor’s in elementary education and master’s in reading education from Canisius College, and later her certificate of advance study in administrative supervision from Buffalo State College.
She taught at Hillery Park Academy 1996 to 2000, then became an assistant principal at West Hertel Academy, Buffalo Elementary School of Technology, Harvey Austin Academy and Orchard Park Middle School.
She became assistant superintendent at Veronica E. Conner Middle School on Grand Island in 2009 and was featured in a Buffalo News story last fall for administering CPR on a 10-year-old student who collapsed at the school. She said the girl is back at school and “doing very well.”
How did the Paynes get better fit several years ago?
"We knew we had to watch what we ate, so we really focused on our portion controls and the types of food we were eating” she said. “We did away with anything white, so our diet even to this day has a lot of multi-grains, wheat, fruits and vegetables. We really keep track of our carbohydrates. We love bread – I’m Italian, bread and pasta are our staples – but the interesting thing is, I love to cook, and when we go out to dinner, I keep that in mind, and I say, ‘I can make this low-fat and flavorful.' So, at home, we use a lot of different spices and I kind of mimic what we eat out, but we take a lot of the butter, the fat, the heavy cheeses out of something and still make it truly delicious."
I asked if should could give me some examples.
“We went out and there was this salmon pasta, which had a lot of cheese, salmon, white pasta,” she said. “I tasted it and I said, ‘You know what? I can make this at home. So I took the salmon, cut it into smaller pieces rather than big chunks, we used wheat pasta and, you know at restaurants how they give you that big bowl of pasta? We tend to eat half, or even a quarter, of that portion at home. And we have side salads, and we also eat lots of vegetables, things like asparagus, Brussels sprouts, spinach, broccoli. Our kids love corn and peas and eating those exotic fruits, like the prickly pears. We’ll have raspberries for dinner, we’ll have blueberries. It’s really what’s in season.
“I use a lot of olive oils, not butter.
“We have something called the ‘Big Green Egg.’ It’s like a smoker. We don’t add any extra oils to make it high in fat. Food cooks over time, anywhere from four to eight hours. Chicken and the turkey that comes out of that smoker is simply out of this world. That piece of turkey becomes our sandwiches. I make turkey tetrazzini with it, soup. So we use what we cook in a lot of different ways.
How do the kids respond to this? Do they eat without complaint?
“They pretty much do,” she said. "We do allow our kids to have cookies, they do eat chips, but it’s all in moderation. What’s interesting is that they’re so active with what they do, they’ll say, ‘Mom, I want more protein, more chicken please.'”
Family members continue to watch what they eat, and calculate the fats, calories and carbohydrates.
“We read packages,” Eleanor Payne said. “We read those labels, and we decide, ‘Is this a want or a need?’ And, ‘If you ate it, would you be able to work it off?’
“We truly believe that you also need a rest day and you also need a rest day to eat in moderation. You can’t always be depriving yourself. We’re into eating well, not depriving ourselves. On those days when we go out and our friends order chicken wings, we’ll have one or two – that’s it; we won’t have 10 or 15.
She and her husband are proud of their children, including when it comes to fitness and nutrition.
“They’re in fantastic shape, and they’re strong,” she said. “I do take my kids (to the YMCA) with me. They’ll do yoga, we’ll lift weights, do cardio. They’ve been in my spin class. They like to do what we do because it’s also our family time. We lead busy lives, but that’s the way we connect as a family, as well.
“The kids inspire us to keep going, as well. We’re their role models but they’re also our role models. We want to be here long enough to be able to share all the different experiences with them.”