The word diet became a part of my vocabulary when I was 10 years old, weighed 120 pounds and made my first attempt to lose weight. I stopped eating for a couple of days and when I didn't lose any weight, I started eating freely again, mostly high-fat foods in huge quantities. When I was 12, I tried to lose weight again -- this time with weight-loss shakes. I lost about 20 pounds, but when I resumed my normal eating habits, I gained back the weight, plus more. By age 16, I stood 5 feet 8 inches and weighed 200 pounds.

During my junior year of high school, I made yet another attempt at weight loss by starving myself, and this time, I lost 40 pounds in three months. Although I weighed less, I looked terrible: I was pale, had dark circles under my eyes and I was very weak. My mom, who was terrified that I was going to cause permanent damage to my health, enlisted the guidance of my high-school counselor. My counselor helped me realize that I was losing weight in an extremely unhealthy manner and I needed professional help. I started seeing a therapist who helped treat my eating disorder, and in the next two years, my weight rose back to 200 pounds.

My quest for healthy, permanent weight loss began when I was 20 years old and decided to conquer my weight problem once and for all. I joined Weight Watchers, where I learned how to eat healthfully. Upon joining, I realized I had never learned how to eat in a healthy way; I knew nothing about controlling portion sizes or the importance of fruits and vegetables. I lost about 20 pounds in a year and slowly started feeling better about myself.

My biggest incentive for weight loss came when I got engaged and went shopping for wedding dresses. When the seamstress measured me for a size-20 dress, I was stunned. Even though I knew wedding dresses tend to run small, I couldn't believe I was still so big. When my fiancé and I decided on a two-year engagement, it gave me ample time to get serious and lose the last 30 pounds.

I went to the gym during my lunch break three to four times a week, attending whatever class was scheduled at that time. I cooked more healthfully by omitting heavy sauces and oil, using nonfat cooking spray instead. I also stopped eating out, since I couldn't monitor the amount of fat and calories.

By the time my wedding day arrived, I had lost the weight and fit easily into a size-10 wedding gown. I was thrilled and could hardly believe that I had done it. I've maintained my weight loss for almost three years and I've never felt better. I still eat healthfully and treat myself to my favorite foods on a regular basis. The word diet is no longer in my vocabulary because healthy changes, not starvation, have made me the fit woman I am today.

Workout schedule Walking or step aerobics: 45 minutes/3 times a week Cardio-kickboxing aerobics: 30 minutes/5 times a week Weight training: 30 minutes/2 times a week

Maintenance tips 1. Don't skip breakfast. It gets your energy up and prevents overeating later in the day. 2. Do an exercise activity you enjoy at least 3 times a week and be sure to change it every 4-6 weeks so your mind and body are constantly challenged. 3. Plan your meals and pack healthful ones to take with you.

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