I took pretty good care of myself until I became a mother. I was 22 when I had my first child, and after that I put my own health and well-being on the back burner and dived into being a good mother and wife. As the pounds came on, I felt horrible and avoided being seen in public, but I didn't make an effort to take control of my weight. Instead, I spent my time in front of the television, eating junk food and nursing my poor self-esteem. By the time I reached 30, I had maxed out at 255 pounds. I didn't take the initiative to get healthy until an aunt, who was only eight years older than I was, underwent open-heart surgery. I realized I could be the next one on that operating table unless I did something.

I knew that taking the weight off healthfully and permanently required a commitment to a healthful diet and regular exercise for the rest of my life. I started walking every day. I went slowly, walking 10-20 minutes a session, avoiding the steep hills around my house. I gradually increased my time and distance and included the hills on my route. Over the months, the pounds came off and I noticed my muscles and skin began to sag, so my husband suggested I weight train to tone my body. I started by doing dumbbell curls and soon built muscle. My confidence grew quickly and I tried new activities like biking, hiking, running and swimming to vary my workouts and keep myself motivated.

I had to make a lot of changes in my family's diet. I gradually cut out high-fat red meat and junk food and increased the amount of fresh fruit we ate. Snacks evolved from chips and dip to fruit. I made desserts with fruit purée instead of shortening and replaced the soda we drank with water and low-calorie fruit juice. All these changes were made gradually, so they became lifestyle changes. At the end of each day, I wrote down on a calendar the food I'd eaten and the activity I'd done that day. My calendar was invaluable - it showed me how much progress I made each week, which kept me motivated to stay with my new habits.

Within two years of making these changes, I'd lost 95 pounds. I now feel wonderful and my self-esteem has risen. Most importantly, my family has healthier eating and exercise habits. I am a good role model for my children, and I'm confident they won't have to deal with weight problems. In fact, my teen-age daughter and I just finished our first 5k race and we plan to compete more in the future.