One woman shares her tips on healthy snacking habits and exercise that led to her 80-pound weight loss

Jo-Ann Valle

Jo Ann Valle was 232 pounds when she decided she needed to make a change. "I think I was about a size 22, and while I had shopped in plus size stores for a long time, seeing 22 was pretty terrifying for me." That clothing size number was enough to motivate Valle: She lost 80 pounds over 12 years with two different stints at Weight Watchers, losing about 50 pounds each time. (Add these 10 Unbelievable Diet Rules Backed by Science to your weight loss strategy, too.) Here's how she did it.

Think Beyond the Scale

"I didn't know how to go about setting a goal weight since I'd been at least 130 pounds since third grade," says Valle, who had never seen her adult body at a healthy weight. "I ended up shooting for 150-it seemed attainable but not drastic. When I did get to 150, I felt like a stone fox, so I didn't feel like I needed to get below that." Now she sets goals around clothing sizes instead of pounds.

Focus on Whole

Her approach has changed as she has maintained her weight loss. "Most recently, my approach has been to eat as many whole/real foods as possible, and cut out as much processed food, sugar, and white flour as possible," she says. "I don't track any of my food right now, but when I feel like I'm indulging mindlessly, I'll track for a while to get back on the horse." (Kick-start your healthy eating plans by learning about these Mystery Food Additives and Ingredients from A to Z.)

Exercise for Mental and Physical Health

"I finally, finally started to understand that I need to exercise for overall physical and mental health-not to look a certain way, change a specific body part, or lose a specific amount of weight." Valle has scoliosis so she's currently limited to walking, but she's committed to doing more. "I can't do a lot of high-impact stuff unless I'm stronger. But I do want to get stronger!"

Feed Your Cravings

Along her weight loss journey, Valle created new healthy habits to help her stay on track. Now that she is maintaining, she continues to feed her cravings, not agonize over them. "A Weight Watchers Leader once told our group, ‘If you need to eat the sausage, eat the sausage and move on!' This message was crucial for me-it's okay to have cravings, it's okay to eat food, and it's going to feel so much better knowing that you're not restricting yourself to the point where you just cave and actually give up," says Valle.

Valle maintains her weight loss and sanity by finding a happy balance between indulging and healthier habits. "I think it's so important to allow yourself to be part of the rest of the ‘eating world.' But it's also important to return to your healthier habits and put one foot in front of the other."

Snack Happy

Valle counts on olive oil and sea salt popcorn, 2-percent plain Greek yogurt with blueberries or pineapples, KIND bars, Naked Coconut Coconut Bliss ice cream, and carrots and hummus. (Check out more of The 50 Best Snacks for Weight Loss.)

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