By Mary Jo Layton and Melissa Hayes
William Howard Taft, the heaviest president in history, grew so tired of being ridiculed about his weight that he told his physician to put him on a diet, noting that "no real gentleman weighs more than 300 pounds."
Lyndon B. Johnson groused to staffers, "I can't button my britches," and traded his tapioca pudding for Jell-O when his binges got the best of him.
Gov. Chris Christie, once an estimated 200 pounds overweight, appears to have taken off at least half those excess pounds in the 21 months since he had Lap-Band surgery, according to experts, a victory many see as essential if the New Jersey Republican intends to make a 2016 bid for the White House.
"He's lost 100 pounds, if not a little bit more, which puts him on a very good track," said Dr. Jaime Ponce, immediate past president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. "The pictures are very impressive," he said, commenting on photos provided by The Record.
Christie underwent Lap-Band surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center in February 2013, becoming the public face of bariatric procedures, just as Jets coach Rex Ryan (Lap-Band) and "Today" show weatherman Al Roker (gastric bypass) did before him. Lap-Band surgery is often a last-ditch effort after decades of dieting. The procedure involves placing a silicone band with a balloon inside around the upper portion of the stomach to severely limit what a person can eat.
While Dr. Stefanie Vaimakis, director of bariatric surgery at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, also estimates the governor has lost 100 pounds, Christie's office declined to say how much weight he has lost, nor would his staff discuss his diet or workouts. Christie has said that only his physician and his wife know how much he weighs.
While he still has a significant amount to lose, the change in the governor's body is quite visible. His face is much thinner and his clothes, which used to appear tight, sometimes hang on him a bit. In recent campaign appearances as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, in meetings with donors in private fundraising events or at events across New Jersey, people have been talking about the slimmer Christie, furthering speculation about a run for the presidency.
Supporters often shout words of encouragement, like "Looking good, governor." A man facing the same struggle as Christie once questioned him in an elevator about the procedure. The governor, in such situations, offers a standard reply: "Thank you" and "I feel good."
In an interview on CBS last month, Christie was asked if he felt as good as he looked. "Not yet, but I hope to," he said. "I feel much, much better than I used to feel, but the fact is I still have some work to do in that area, too, and so I've just got to keep working at it."
The governor has said his drive to reach a healthier weight is the same as it is for many of the countless Americans who have turned to Weight Watchers, shakes, fasts and surgery _ turning 50 and wanting to be around to hug the grandchildren.
But in an era of 24-hour TV news, and in a nation seemingly obsessed with weight, girth draws attention. And when anyone _ not just a politician _ slims down, people want details.
"All presidents and presidential candidates in the TV age have been conscious of appearances and have to be," said Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "There's a pretty good chance we'll never elect a William Howard Taft again."
Heavier political figures face more obstacles than being cast as overweight: The public may stereotype them as not being fit enough for the job, said Patsy Cisneros, founder of a Los Angeles-based consulting firm.
Christie's weight has been a very public issue. When he ran for governor in 2009, an ad from Gov. Jon Corzine's campaign showed an unflattering video of Christie getting out of a car. The narrator described how Christie "threw his weight around."
Former White House physician Connie Mariano _ a self-declared Republican and Christie fan _ said last year she would like the governor to run for president. But she said she worried that he would wind up having a heart attack or stroke and "dying in office." Christie, noting that she was not his personal physician, said, "She should shut up." (She did not respond to requests to talk about his weight loss.)
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