Soap Opera Digest: What would you say is your earliest memory of feeling like you needed to lose weight?
Genie Francis: It panicked me when I came on GENERAL HOSPITAL as a young teenager, and they put Laura, my character, on a diet. That totally freaked me out when I was 14 years old. Completely freaked me out. And I did something incredibly extreme at that time. My mother was upset, but I lost weight really fast. I swear, I lost about eight pounds in a week. But that sort of began me being extreme.
Digest: The pressure on women to be thin is not exclusive to actresses, but to what extent do you think growing up in the public eye and in Hollywood shaped the pressure you felt and the pressure you put on yourself to be a certain size?
Francis: It was unbearable. It was all about that, you know? It was terrifying. I mean, it’s different when you’re on television or if you’re a model, I suppose. Women are obsessing about their weight everywhere all over the place, whether they’re on TV or not, but you go on TV, and now it’s just — the pressure is unbelievable.
Digest: You’ve told us in the past that Nutri-system approached you at a time when you felt resigned to always being overweight. Why was that?
Francis: I just remember that at the time, I felt really desperate, like, “That’s it, I’m never going to get this weight off again. I’m never going back to work because I hate the way I look.” That’s when I got involved with Nutrisystem and, you know, it just changed my life entirely. I lost the first 30 pounds; then it was like, “Okay, maybe I’ll go back to work again.” It was right around that time that I got approached by GH, and then I said, “Yes.” I never would have said yes had I not lost those 30 pounds. I didn’t want to do that to myself. And then, of course, I lost 10 more, and then I felt really good and started having fun with my clothes and shopping and all that kind of stuff. And then my doctor told me I had to quit smoking, so I quit smoking. I’m a nonsmoker now for more than two years, and I did that! It wasn’t easy to quit smoking, and I didn’t try to diet or even try to [maintain my weight]. I put back some weight, like 10 pounds, which is not a lot, considering how much heavier I had been prior to that. It’s kind of amazing that I didn’t go up more than that! And once I felt like I was on steady ground again with the quitting smoking, I could start to work those 10 pounds back off again and I did. It works very quickly and easily on this diet. It’s not a painful, deprived, miserable thing.
Digest: Why do you think Nutrisystem has worked for you in ways that other weight-loss efforts haven’t?
Francis: When I first started doing it, my feeling about it was, “This won’t work. This cannot possibly work.” And then, of course, it did. It works, like, two pounds a week. It was amazing to me because I had only done these really awful, extreme starvation kind of diets. I just really didn’t believe that there was any other way to do it, and certainly not a way that included having dessert every night. I just didn’t believe that! But I think Nutrisystem is a more balanced, easy way [to lose weight]. It’s more like real life. You’re not going to be able to maintain these crazy, you know, no-carbohydrate diets. Those are things that you can’t do forever. With Nutrisystem, [coming to] understand portion control and proper eating serves you well, because you can go out into the world and eat at restaurants with friends, and with the others you really can’t.
Digest: At this stage, are you still eating the Nutrisystem food?
Francis: Yeah, I do. I have some favorite items that I cannot part with. Like the breakfast [sandwich] — it’s kind of like what you would think of as an Egg McMuffin, but I think it’s delicious. I love that thing. That’s one of my all-time favorites. They also have a little hamburger that is delicious, and a chili, and their chicken noodle soup is also delicious and a really good lunch item.
Digest: How would you describe a typical day of eating? What does that look like for you?
Francis: Well, one of the things that Nutrisystem has you do is eat six times a day, and I just think there’s some kind of a magic in that. I think your metabolism keeps going, your blood sugar stays very even, and I don’t feel really hungry. So I would have, a breakfast serving of the egg [sandwich], and you’re supposed to add another protein to it, like a hard-boiled egg, and then mid-morning you have a protein. Sometimes I’ll just have an egg white and maybe, like, a half of an apple or something. Then you have their lunch with a big salad and diet dressing, and then mid-afternoon you have a couple ounces of protein. Usually I’ll do a couple ounces of chicken that’s sort of plainly grilled, and I’ll put that into a third of a cup of brown rice with some salsa and I heat it up, and that’s like a mini-dinner, you know? If you do that around, like, 3:30, dinner all of a sudden I could manage. I could eat at dinner, and sometimes I go out, and when I do go out, I try to just keep it looking like what I did on my plate from a Nutrisystem dinner, about the size of that. I know what the proportions look like, and so I do it like that.
Digest: What would you say is the biggest difference in how you eat now than what you would have eaten before you went on this program?
Francis: Oh, I eat a little bit of all food groups, like there is a little bit of grain now in my diet, and I used to try to keep that out, and I would never eat, like, a little piece of a potato because any form of carbs was “bad”, and that kind of put me into this super-starvation thing, which then always came back to bite me because then when you get, like, one crumble of bread, you want to eat the whole loaf! So my eating is much more from all the food groups.
Digest: Would you describe yourself as still trying to lose weight, or are you more in a maintenance stage?
Francis: Well, I guess I’m kind of more in maintenance now because it’s the holidays and all, but after the holidays I’m sure I’ll be back on the weight-loss plan. That’s how life is.
Digest: What would you say are the most important lessons that you’ve taken away from learning a better way to eat via Nutrisystem?
Francis: Extremism doesn’t work, you know? It’s not a way to continue to live, and it’s not maintainable.
Digest: Weight-loss journeys tend to have both ups and downs. What stands out as an up and a down for you over the course of yours?
Francis: Well, there’s lots of ups and downs, you know? I didn’t do it perfectly. There are days when I screwed up and I’d get really depressed. One of the things that’s most important is forgiving yourself and getting back up on the horse. It’s all about the next day and starting over. I was really disappointed in myself, and when I quit smoking — I quit smoking, which I should just be happy about, but I put back on some weight and I felt horrible, and I was working, you know? I was lucky that Nutrisystem didn’t give up on me, because they could have. They could have said, “You’re not doing what we want you to do right now, so good-bye.” And they didn’t, they stayed with me, they held my hand and they got me back to where I ought to be. So, I was lucky.
Digest: What role does exercise play in your life these days?
Francis: I try to exercise as often as possible, more now than ever because I find if I rest and take it easy, my bones and my joints hurt. Walking is my big thing. That’s really how I like to exercise the most. If I’m doing my walking and actually lifting a little bit of weight, oddly enough my joint pain goes away. It also helps me even out my mood, which is hard when you’re in your mid-50s and you’re going through the change of life, and exercise does all of that for me.
Digest: What do you do in the winter if you’re on the East Coast?
Francis: I walk on a treadmill.
Digest: At GH, do you talk nutrition and diet with any of your castmates?
Francis: Yes, everybody talks about it, everybody’s thinking about it, the men and the women. It’s interesting to see that we’re all trying to deal with the same problem.
Digest: As you reflect on the mental part of taking control of your weight, can you compare where you are today to where you were when you first started on Nutrisystem?
Francis: It’s like the difference between being hopeless and giving up — in all things in life, not just weight — and the joy of life, the possibility of career, the sense of hope, the sense of enjoying your youth and your attractiveness. None of that was there. When you start to lose the weight in a healthy way, and you get your life back, it’s just, like, [the difference between] being a zombie and being alive. It’s completely different when you’re into your health.
Digest: Were you cognizant at the time that it was your weight that was making you feel that way?
Francis: Oh, yeah. I knew that it was my weight, but I felt like it was insurmountable. I didn’t feel like I had the energy or the ability to change it.
Digest: In the past, you’ve told us about feeling a constant inner panic about your weight. Do you feel that’s subsided? Or is it something that you’ve just learned to manage better?
Francis: I manage it better. I think part of that is getting older. I won’t say that I don’t still have moments of panic and worry. Whenever I have to dress up for something for the show or events or stuff like that, it’s always a little uncomfortable, but overall I accept myself much more than I did ever before.