As the chief cook in his East Moriches household, Angelo Grausso for years enjoyed feting his wife and three children with long, languid meals evoking his Italian-American childhood. The pastas, risottos, breads, vegetables, desserts and more were plentiful. At Grausso's table, a food lover could — and did — easily overdo it.
His personal overconsumption, at its peak, translated as 315 pounds across his 5-foot-11 frame. His daughter, Louise, who is 5-foot-7, once tipped the scales at 235 pounds.
Grausso, 58, didn't have diabetes or hypertension, which are common in overweight people, but his obesity had aggravated — if not triggered — his sciatica and the need for surgery to shave a spinal disc. His heart was weak, his breathing labored, his pace of doing most everything sluggish. His daughter's excessive weight produced an overall lethargy and low self-esteem. Louise, 29, had flashbacks to her teenage angst over not looking good in her clothes, and being sidelined during volleyball and other sports events.
"Louise was too heavy to play sports, though she loved them, and once got kicked off the high school volleyball team," her father said.
Decision to make change
Five years ago, they were flipping through photos of a 2006 family trip to Mexico -- "eating our way from one end of the cruise to the other end" -- when the two realized they needed to make some changes.
"We just looked at each other," said Grausso, a corporate food services manager and trained chef. "She was concerned about my weight, my health, my having so many health issues."
And as she aged, he said, he didn't want Louise traveling the same path toward obesity-related illnesses that he had trod. So they embarked on a joint weight-loss regimen in 2006.
"We took a hard look at ourselves," she said. "That's how we got started doing this together."
Shedding a combined 150 pounds — he's down to 220, she is now 185 — since that shared epiphany has improved their health and strengthened their bond, the pair said.
"Louise has been my sidekick . . . since she was a teen in high school," Grausso said. "Because we've spent so much more time together over the last five years, there are a lot of things I would tell my daughter that I won't tell my sons. Private things . . . issues in the family. We bounce stuff off each other all the time."
"Not many daughters can say they made a whole lifestyle change with their dad," she said. "And it's an honor for me to have him with me along this journey we've taken. Deep down inside, I will always remember this time."
Contests, not calories
To shed the pounds, the two enrolled in 2006 in Weight Watchers, which remains a staple of their fitness plan. Eight months after joining, another Weight Watchers member mentioned that she had completed the Mighty North Fork Triathlon in Southold.
"Louise looked at me and said, 'Dad, do you think we can do this?' At the time, this is late July. By January, she says, 'Let's get into the pool and see how far we swim.' I did one lap and I said, 'How far do we have to go?' I could barely breathe. Five-hundred meters? We were in trouble."
But they kept at it, completing the 2007 Mighty North Fork in unspectacular fashion. That they'd finished at all was an achievement, given that they were new to racing.
Today, Angelo Grausso rides his bike about 30 miles per day, eight of them round-trip to work. Earlier this month, his daughter placed third in her age-group division of the Town of Islip Great South Bay Triathlon. Her father didn't get a medal, but his daughter said he also "finished strong."
She also placed third in her division at the 2011 USA Triathlon Championship in Burlington, Vt. In October, she will travel to Auckland, New Zealand, to participate in the International Triathlon Union World Championships. Her dad will attend and cheer her on.
The Graussos have different competitive streaks, but they're determined to race and ride together for as long as possible, and to maintain a lifestyle conducive to good health over the long term.
"What's so nice about this whole experience is that we've not put the weight back on," said Louise Grausso, who now wears a size 10. "Dad can interact more with my niece and nephews. I like that the kids at school can chase me around the playground. When I run now with my brothers, I'm ahead of them."
For Angelo Grausso, who dropped 10 inches from his once 46-inch waist, losing weight has had other benefits, including being able to bend down and tie his shoes. Loafers and other slip-ons had been his fallback when he was obese. Both are comfortable with their weight now, as are their doctors, they said.
While Grausso still runs the kitchen, the fixings have changed at the weekly Wednesday night family dinner, which includes his two sons, their spouses and his three grandchildren. Grilled vegetables and chicken now highlight the menu, fare Grausso said he's still adjusting to.
"So, every day is still a challenge with this," he said. "But my daughter keeps me inspired and keeps me going. Today, she woke me up at 4 a.m. [asking]: 'I'm going swimming. You wanna go?' And I say, 'Of course I do.' "