An embarrassing encounter with a friend forced this reader to kick-start a healthy lifestyle and drop 11 dress sizes

By Bahar Takhtehchian

Getting bullied for being a chubby, big-chested preteen caused Caitlin Flora to develop an unhealthy relationship with food at a young age. "My classmates teased
 me because I was a 160-pound 12-year-old who wore a D-cup bra," she says. "I coped with the pain by sneaking cupcakes and chocolate into my bedroom and eating all night."

By the time she was 16, Caitlin had dropped out of high school, moved away from home, and started working at a fast-food restaurant where she regularly indulged in burgers, fries, and soda. To deal with family struggles and the stress of a rocky romance, Caitlin often polished off packages of cookies and chips in one sitting. She hit 280 pounds by her 18th birthday and tipped the scale at 332 in February 2008.

Her Turning Point

Two months later, Caitlin received a wake-up call when a friend she hadn't seen in years asked if she was pregnant. "I was humiliated and cried uncontrollably in my car," she says. "Up until that point I had been in such denial." When Caitlin got home, she grabbed a trash bag and emptied her cabinets and fridge of all junk food, replacing it the next day with Slimfast shakes for breakfast and Smart Ones and Lean Cuisine meals for lunch and dinner. "I didn't know how to cook," she says. "So buying portion-controlled food was the best way to stop myself from overeating."

Though Caitlin had never felt comfortable exercising due to her size, she immediately got moving in the living room by using a Walk Away the Pounds DVD her mom had given her a few months earlier. "At first I was so out of breath from walking in place that I could only finish eight minutes of the program," she says. But within a month, Caitlin had increased her DVD workouts to 30 minutes four times a week and eventually added the Slim in 6 DVDs to her routine.

By January 2010, she dropped 100 pounds, weighing in at 232. When she hit a plateau, Caitlin started doing cardio five days a week for 45 minutes and lifting weights three times a week. Over the next 18 months, she shed another 82 pounds, slimming down to 150 this past July-three months after running her first 5K. While her more than five-year journey was long, Caitlin says she rarely got discouraged. "It took me 28 years to put on the weight, and I knew slow and steady was the best way to lose it for good."

Her Life Now

In an effort to drop the final 5 pounds and reach her goal of 145, Caitlin continues to challenge her body with high-intensity workout routines such as TRX and P90X. When she's not at the gym or working as a full-time receptionist, she's enrolled in online personal-training courses. Her dream, she says, "is to help change peoples' lives by being a cheerleader for fitness and healthy living!"

Her Top 5 Secrets to Success

1. Write it out. "I discuss my weight-loss struggles-such as finding the energy to work out after a long day-and triumphs on my Facebook page. The process is so therapeutic for me."

2. Snack smartly. "To keep my hunger in check, I stock my kitchen with healthy foods such as hard-boiled eggs, cucumber slices, and raw organic almonds."

3. Keep track. "Instead of stepping on a scale every day and obsessing over whether or not the needle is moving, I weigh and measure myself once a month to see how my body's changing."

4. Load up on liquids. "Plain water can be boring, so I like to add mint leaves or a squirt of fresh lemon to keep my taste buds satisfied."

5. Get technical. "Smartphones are a great dieting tool. The My Fitness Pal and Nike+ apps help me keep track of the calories I consume and burn every day."

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