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'Diets Make You Fat' Proponent and Nutrition Pioneer Honored by her College

The woman who insisted that diets make you fat — Thelma Wayler '45 was awarded a CALS Outstanding Alumni Award at the 16th Annual Alumni and Friends Award Dinner at UVM's Davis Center on May 9, 2009. ~ contributed photo

Thelma Jacobs Wayler is a pioneer.

At age 50 in 1973, she started her own business when some people told her that women "just didn't do that." She is the founder of Green Mountain at Fox Run in Ludlow, Vermont, the first non-diet program for long-term weight management, fitness, stress reduction and behavioral change. That program and place is the culmination of Wayler's career as a nationally recognized diabetes educator and consultant for the U.S. Public Health Service. She wrote the textbook classic "Applied Nutrition." She is a registered dietician, who earned her master's degree from Columbia University. All of this began in Vermont; she was born in St. Albans, attended Bellows Free Academy and earned her bachelor's degree in foods and nutrition at UVM in 1945.

Her son, Alan Wayler, tells the story: "Despite an upbringing in a relatively well-to-do family, her father offered to send her to secretarial school in Albany. Thelma was determined to get a college education at UVM. She took a year off after high school to work at a bakery as a baker's assistant and salesperson in order to earn her own tuition."

Her UVM classmate and sorority sister, Phyllis Fein Perelman of Nantucket, Massachusetts knew her classmate would go far. "Early in her career, Thelma worked at a summer camp for overweight girls where the emphasis was on diet. Always a visionary, Thelma favored a more holistic approach," said Perelman.

She added exercise, behavior modification, simply prepared foods and problem-solving techniques. These became the cornerstone of Thelma Wayler's philosophy, a philosophy that is widely accepted in nutrition circles today.

But in the 1960s, when she began to discuss the idea that diets make people fat, "most colleagues thought she was mad, foolish or misguided," recalled Alan Wayler.

In 1972, she successfully tested her evolving philosophy as a summer program on the campus of Green Mountain College in Poultney, and the next year launched Green Mountain at Fox Run. The combination of her great motivational speaking skills and unconventional thinking on a hot topic catapulted Thelma to the national spotlight. She was interviewed often, including in "Self" magazine, The Phil Donahue Show, CNN and NBC television."

She also attracted the attention of some of the nation's most respected obesity researchers. More than 35 years later, Green Mountain at Fox Run flourishes under the direction of Alan Wayler. Thelma still sits in on classes during summers and provides leadership. In winter she lives in Palm Beach, Florida.

Thelma says she sees her greatest achievement as helping women give themselves permission to eat, empowering them to take greater responsibility for their health and, most importantly, inspiring them to feel good about themselves, regardless of their body size or shape.

Thelma Wayler helped change the nutrition field from its traditional setting of hospital dietetics to the bigger vision we all see and live today. Throughout her career she always saw things differently. Yet her real goal was to provide the creative tension from which insight and innovation is borne, her son reflected.

Thelma Wayler was unable to receive in person one of the College's highest awards, Outstanding Alumni, at festivities held on campus May 9, 2009. Becky Arnold of UVM's development and alumni relations accepted the award on behalf of the Wayler family.

In remarks delivered to CALS offices, Thelma's son, Alan said, "she is very grateful and proud to be honored by UVM. She has very fond memories of her years at UVM and fully appreciates how UVM launched her professional career and the successes borne from that experience."

Thelma's sons, Alan Wayler '71 and Barry Wayler '73, both graduated in arts and sciences. "It's even more meaningful given our strong attachment and feelings about our undergraduate years spent at UVM," Alan wrote.

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