By changing her eating habits and slowly incorporating exercise, Birmingham dropped 172 pounds. Here, she shares her success story and weight loss tips

By Shape Editors

After a sour ending to a not-so-good relationship and a moment in a dressing room "surrounded by skinny jeans that didn't fit," 29-year-old Brooke Birmingham from Quad Cities, IL, realized that she needed to start taking care of herself.

The idea of losing weight wasn't new to Birmingham. "I had tried a few fad diets and calorie restriction many times throughout my life. The reason nothing ever took off was because I was always trying to eliminate things from my diet." (Don't let these 7 Zero-Calorie Factors That Derail Weight Loss get in the way of your goals.) So how'd she do it? Her tips, below.

A New Approach

In 2009, at 327 pounds, Birmingham decided to attack weight loss in an entirely different way. She joined Weight Watchers and took it one day at a time in an effort to keep it simple and focus on manageable goals. "I learned to have a healthy lifestyle," says Birmingham. "I set small goals for myself starting with my first five pounds, then to get under 300 pounds, and so forth. I also set goals that weren't scale-related, like trying new recipes and new exercises." In the process, she ditched fast food and frozen meals and learned how to cook. (Did you know it's been proven that a slimmer waistline is The Best Reason to Cook Your Own Dinner?)

No Gym Membership Needed

Birmingham's journey started with healthy eating habits, but exercise quickly followed, where again, she focused on small, manageable accomplishments. She remembers hardly being able to make it around the block on a walk and crying when she ran her first mile. She still doesn't have a gym membership, but activity is part of her daily life. She relies on workout DVDs: "Jillian Michaels in my favorite! I own almost everything by her." Walking and bike riding are other go-tos.

The Power of People

Birmingham relies on the support of both Weight Watchers meetings and social media to keep her going. "I love being able to share my story with others. I inspire people and they cheer me along." In addition to the mutual inspiration she finds in others who have shared similar struggles, she values what she learns from them, as they understand where she's coming from.

"Life Is Too Short Not to Eat Cupcakes and Drink Beer"

One hundred and seventy two pounds lighter today, Birmingham now focuses on balance, making room for the occasional luxurious treat. "Moderation is key and I don't feed every single craving I have. I try to figure out what's worth it to me. I'll splurge on a cupcake from a specialty shop, not one from a box mix." (Curb your sweet tooth and Fight Food Cravings without Going Crazy.)

"This will sound ridiculous," says Birmingham, "but Fat Free Cool Whip has been one of my staples throughout my entire journey. It's great mixed with PB2 for a dip for fruit, on top of pancakes, or just eaten straight out of the container. I eat bananas every day as well."

Looking Ahead

Birmingham would like to get pregnant someday: "That is part of the reason I continued to lose weight. I knew that I wanted to be a mom." Pregnancy weight gain doesn't scare her, she knows she can lose the weight, and she already has a strategy in place to keep it under control. "I plan on eating the same way I do now and not letting the excuse of ‘eating for two' take over."

To read more about Brooke Birmingham's amazing weight-loss journey, and find out how her life has changed, pick up the Jan/Feb issue of Shape, on newsstands now.

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