Cheese Whiz
Marketing cakes brought one woman big weight problems--until Weight Watchers saved the day
By Betsy Thaggard

Mazelle Ablon lives a dieter's nightmare. As the driving force behind Mazelle's Cheesecakes, which produces delectable desserts for more than 500 restaurants and gourmet shops in Texas, she's surrounded by her confections every day. Her job demands frequent taste-testings, and the twice-yearly creation of new flavors means hours, sometimes days, in the test kitchen with pounds of cream cheese and sugar.

Yet this 31-year-old, 4'11" self-proclaimed "cheesecake munchkin," chocoholic and all-around food-lover lost 35 pounds last year, and now stays within her goal range even through times of stress and new product development, thanks to Weight Watchers and walking. "l'm an eater from way back," Mazelle laughs. "But I've learned to train myself for life, because I'm stuck in the food business."

Mazelle reaches her Dallas office by six o'clock every morning. Her energy seldom subsides over the course of the day, whether she's presiding over her sales staff, troubleshooting with customers or supervising cheesecake production one door away from her office.

Inside the den of delights otherwise known as Mazelle's bakery, cream cheese is whipped with a professional mixer in a bowl big enough to bathe a four-year-old. Rich raspberry cassis and other fillings are hand-swirled through batter, and cheesecakes bake in an 80-cake capacity oven. The aroma alone is enough to drive the most determined dieter to beg for a sample.

To resist temptation, Mazelle packs a low-calorie lunch and snack. During the week, she has frequent dinner engagements at clients' restaurants and food industry trade shows. No rubbery chicken breasts and limp salads at these conventions, she notes. "You should see the spreads they put out to try and one-up the competition! I stick with salad most of the time, because if I channel my energy into meeting people and collecting business cards instead of eating, I'm way ahead of everyone else by the end of the meal."

After seven years spent building her half-million-dollar business, Mazelle is finally beginning to lighten her workload. "I've worked over 100 hours a week for 10 years now," she says, "and I'm trying to retrain myself from working 6 A.M. to 6 P.M. Now I try to leave by 2 P.M. so I can get out in the fresh air and relax a bit. After eight hours of work, I'm chomping at the bit for some exercise!"

Looking at Mazelle now, it's hard to believe this tiny dynamo was ever anything but petite. In spite of the traditional clean-your-plate rule around her house, she wasn't a noticeably heavy child. "But I was always the shortest person in the class, and I should have weighed the least, but I didn't."

Her real weight problems began in college at Brandeis University, away from the discipline and regular meals of home. "I got up to about 125 pounds, which is a lot for someone my height," she says. "I ate large quantities of everything. I taught my whole dorm floor to put peanut butter in their ice cream. What a role model!

"I went to school to become a rabbi or a psychiatrist or an educational reformer. I was going to save the world," she continues. "But I realized I would have more to offer if I helped myself first--if I got myself together and served as a role model, a leader for all the minorities I represent: I'm short, female and Jewish."

Mazelle's resolve included improving her image by joining Weight Watchers, but unfortunately, the weight she lost on the program found its way back on during an ill-fated engagement. "That should have been a signal that the relationship wasn't a healthy move, because I gained 22 pounds in only one month. I also started smoking--a real self-destructive sign! That's what happens when I'm more concerned with pleasing other people: I quit doing what's best for me.

"I guess you could say I've had an inferiority complex all my life. When I was number one in a class of 1,000, 1 didn't think it was because I was bright; I thought they just felt sorry for me. I was afraid to be the prettiest or the best I could be, especially when I was starting my business. So I kept myself dowdy-looking. I had a real fear of success.

Mazelle took up restaurant consulting after college; later, she began waiting tables while figuring out her next career move. In 1981, a fellow waitress bet an acquaintance $25 that Mazelle's homemade cheesecake, a recipe she had been perfecting for years, tasted better than any commercially produced cheesecake around. Mazelle's friend won the wager, giving Mazelle the confidence to form a new business venture.

"When I first started, I was working 80 hours a week waiting tables and 60 hours a week making cheesecakes. I was meeting myself coming and going. My eating habits were terrible--when I had time to eat." She lost and regained many pounds during those years, "starving it off or doing other unhealthy things like going a whole day on nothing but one little salad."

When she turned 30, Mazelle rejoined Weight Watchers, "this time, for life," she says. "I wanted to give myself a positive present. Also, I could finally afford a new wardrobe, and I didn't want to buy one in my current size." She attended her first meeting on January 6, 1987, where she ran into two caterers she does business with: "We were all out of control!"

During the four months it took her to lose 35 pounds, Mazelle started a self-improvement program. "I got new glasses, then contacts. I'd set little goals, like, 'When I drop two more pounds, I get to buy a new lipstick or nail color.' I had never been fashion-oriented, and here I was getting myself a new face!"

Nowadays, size-2 Mazelle loves being "the skinny cheesecake lady." "My employees call me a beanpole, but I still think I have some definite curves. When I hold up my jeans and think, ‘Who wears these?' --that's when it hits me!"

Losing weight wasn't a problem for Mazelle once she set her mind to it. "I followed the program carefully, and I wasn't even tempted to eat chocolate. It's maintaining my weight that I have trouble with. That's why I exercise."

And exercise she does. Mazelle has marked off an eight-mile path near her North Dallas home, and she uses her walking time to mentally organize her life, as well as to reap its physical benefits. "Ten minutes into my walk, I start holding my head higher and feeling better about myself. It's really good therapy." Walking is actually a family tradition. "I have four living grandparents, and they all walk. My parents play golf. Somewhere, the exercise genes are in me.

Mazelle's exercise routine becomes especially valuable when she's experimenting with new cheesecake flavors. Her own taste buds are her company's chief quality control agent. "Working with new flavors is very frightening to me--it's like working with the devil," she grins. "I have to taste and log everything. So I just stay dressed for walking, and I walk miles and carefully fit in healthy food." We can only imagine the day Mazelle discovered her favorite flavor, white chocolate cheesecake, which contains almost a pound of French white chocolate per cake.

"I love my product," she says. "But I have to be careful!" With her successful business and healthful attitude, Mazelle Ablon seems to have attained the goal she set in college: "I've made a better work environment for my employees and a better, well-balanced life for myself. So if I can't say we're going to go international--or even out of Texas--I can say we're going to have fun and love what we do."

This article originally ran in Weight Watchers Magazine.

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