April 23, 2009

I wasn't very physically active during my childhood and teen-age years, and by the time I left home to attend college, I weighed 150 pounds at 5 feet 4 inches tall. At school, I lived in the dorm, and with all-you-can-eat buffets, I steadily gained weight during the next four years.

After graduation, I lived with two roommates with different eating schedules, and it was easier for me to grab a burger and fries than to cook for myself. I knew my weight was inching toward 200 pounds, but I lacked the motivation to do anything to prevent it.

The following spring, my friends and I planned a summer trip to Jamaica. Knowing I was going to be wearing a swimsuit gave me the incentive I needed to take control of my health. I joined a gym and started going to aerobics classes three times a week. I lost 10 pounds in six months, even though I ate as unhealthfully as ever. After the vacation, I quit exercising altogether.

By the end of the year, I realized I was tired of battling my weight. I was also tired of people commenting that I was a beautiful person on the inside, without any regard to my looks. I wanted to be beautiful, inside and out.

I talked to my roommate, who had a degree in health education, and she outlined an eating plan that counted calories and fat grams. She also taught me how to make smarter food choices and the importance of reading food labels. I packed my own lunches and cooked my own dinners. I also cut out empty calories like soda, and drank lots more water instead.

I also started going to the gym again, and this time my roommates joined me. We attended aerobics classes and started taking walks in our neighborhood. After four weeks, I had lost 13 pounds. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment, and this confidence motivated me to stick with my new habits.

During the next year, I continued to eat healthfully and exercise. I added cardio kickboxing and running to my workouts and continued to lose weight.

As the pounds came off, my self-confidence grew, and I signed up for my first 5k race with my roommates and brother. Finishing the race was exciting and such an esteem-booster. Since then, I have completed several more races, including a 10k, and I'm addicted to the thrill of competing. Being in training gives me the motivation I need to stick to my workouts and keeps them challenging.

Two years later, I wear size-8 clothing and have maintained my weight without following a strict eating plan. I've learned that I can allow myself treats without feeling guilty. I also know that healthful eating and regular exercise are two principles I will follow for the rest of my life.

Workout schedule Step aerobics: 60 minutes/2-3 times a week Running or elliptical training: 45 minutes/3 times a week Weight training: 20 minutes/3 times a week

Maintenance tips 1. Make exercise and healthful eating a priority, just like any other important commitment. 2. Work out with friends -- they'll keep you accountable on those days you feel like skipping. 3. Keep healthful snacks on hand to prevent bingeing and overeating later in the day.