As a teen-ager, I loved eating and had a huge appetite. I was always eating, but thanks to a fast metabolism and participation on three high-school sports teams, I stayed fit and didn't have to worry about my weight. My mother encouraged me to eat more healthfully and warned me that my unhealthy eating habits would catch up with me one day.

That day came years later, after I had been married for six months. During the course of settling into my new life, I became less active and cooked rich, high-fat food. As a result, I gained 20 pounds. My husband didn't say anything about my change in appearance, but during a family dinner, my older brother commented that I was getting heavy. I was devastated and decided then and there to do whatever I could to get into shape.

For the next month, I started running three miles a day and avoided eating fat. I ate fat-free cheese-and-bologna sandwiches and other fat-free foods. Instead of losing weight, I felt tired and depressed because I wasn't giving my body enough nutrients. Frustrated, I gave up that diet and resumed my usual habits.

A few months later, I became pregnant and, after a healthy pregnancy, had a beautiful daughter. My weight settled at around 155 pounds, and I wanted to exercise and get in shape, but taking care of a new baby left me with hardly enough time for sleep, let alone exercise. By the time I returned to work when my maternity leave ended, my overweight body left me feeling depressed and dissatisfied.

Determined to change my life for the better, I joined a friend who had similar weight-loss goals, and we started exercising five times a week. I decided I had to make time for something as important as my health. We used exercise videos (both aerobics and strength training) in my living room or took walks in our neighborhood. When the weather became warmer, I strapped my daughter into her stroller and we walked together.

Since I knew exercise by itself wasn't going to produce lasting results, I also made it a priority to change my eating habits. I learned how to eat healthfully without giving up the things I loved. For example, I modified my favorite brownie recipe and made it low fat. Instead of full-fat cheese, I ate a low-fat version, as well as lots of leaner cuts of turkey and chicken instead of beef. I started eating smaller portions of my favorite foods, and soon I wasn't as hungry as I used to be.

With all these changes, I lost 35 pounds, and my life has improved 100 percent. My workouts and healthful eating give me the strength and endurance to keep up with my young daughter, work, run a household and have a wonderful relationship with my husband. For the first time in a long time, I feel good about myself, and I know it's the result of healthful eating and regular exercise.