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I had been a yo-yo dieter all my life. From the time I was in high school until my early 30s, I would lose weight but gain it back when I resumed my usual eating habits. When I dieted, I either drastically cut back on my intake of food or did extreme amounts of exercise. I was unhappy with myself and was never at peace with my body.

This destructive pattern changed when my husband's job in the military took my family and me to Hawaii for three years. Hawaii was beautiful and the weather was great. Everyone was outside and enjoying days at the beach. However, I was miserable because I wore long clothes to cover my 200-pound body while everyone else wore swimsuits. I had been in Hawaii for only a few weeks when I decided I didn't want to spend the next three years living this way. I wanted to conquer my weight problem once and for all.

My first step was to write down my goal in a journal and then list the steps I had to take to reach it. I wrote down everything I ate in the journal along with the exercise I did.

Since I did everything in such extremes the previous times I tried to lose weight, this time I made small, gradual changes. For example, I started drinking at least eight glasses of water a day and stopped skipping meals. At the grocery store, I didn't buy cakes and other highly processed foods and instead bought fruits, vegetables, pasta, chicken and fish. I cut the amount of fried foods in my diet and stopped late-night eating.

I knew exercise was an important component to losing weight, so I started walking three times a week, either outside or, if it was raining, on a treadmill at the gym. One day while I was on the treadmill I observed a low-impact aerobics class in progress. I saw how much fun and exciting it was and I wanted to join, but I felt too self-conscious about my size to join the class. Two months later, after I had lost 20 pounds, I joined the class and fell in love with aerobics. Each class was fun, challenging and brought me a step closer to my weight-loss goals.

After a year of these healthful habits, I had lost 45 pounds. I had to give away all my size-18 clothes and go shopping for a brand-new wardrobe, which was a thrill.

Thankfully, my husband and kids were incredibly supportive of all the changes I made in our diets, and now they are healthier than ever before. I've been so awed by my own journey that I have become an aerobics instructor. I teach at the same gym where I used to watch the classes. It's exciting to have come full circle.

Workout schedule Walking: 60 minutes/2-3 times a week Kickboxing or step-aerobics instruction: 60 minutes/4 times a week Weight training: 30 minutes/3 times a week

Maintenance tips 1. Put variety into your workout so you don't get bored. You're not going to do an activity if you don't enjoy it. 2. Try new low-fat recipes. Check out magazines, the Internet and even TV cooking shows for ideas. 3. Lose weight for yourself and not anyone else.

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