Updated: November 04, 2017

Laura's challenge

At 5'10", Laura towered over all her friends in high school. She was unhappy with her body and turned to fast food for comfort, ordering thousands of calories' worth of burgers, French fries, and soda at lunch. (Learn the shocking truth about fast food here). Four years after graduation, she was up to 300 pounds.

Diet tip: A near miss

One night when Laura was heading home from work, another car smashed into hers, totaling it. Luckily she suffered only minor injuries, but the accident was a wake-up call. "It made me realize I'd been taking my health for granted for way too long," she says. "And I know it sounds vain, but I was really embarrassed that the cute paramedics had a hard time lifting me into the ambulance on a stretcher!"

Diet tip: Forming healthy habits

After a few weeks of physical therapy, Laura started walking on the treadmill in her parents' living room for 15 minutes a day. She kept at it for months, eventually tacking on core-strengthening exercises using an ab roller. "I was just getting bored with my routine when a friend gave me a guest pass to her gym," she says. On a whim, Laura tried a cardio kickboxing class. "I was hooked after the first one! I loved the music, the choreography, and the energy boost I got for hours afterward," she says. Soon she was going every two to three days-and dropping about 2 pounds a week. She also learned how to satisfy her fast-food cravings the healthy way at home. "Instead of splurging on a cheeseburger, for example, I'd grill a veggie burger and put it on a whole-wheat bun with reduced-fat cheese," she says. "And to avoid the drive-through in the morning, I set my alarm a few minutes earlier so I'd have time to eat a bowl of cereal." By making these simple tweaks-and snacking on fruit and fat-free microwave popcorn between meals- Laura was able to get down to 180 pounds after a year.

Diet tip: Dressing the part

"Some of my co-workers gave me their hand-me-downs because I didn't want to splurge on a new wardrobe until I'd reached my goal weight," says Laura. "Once I did, I discovered I'd not only dropped six dress sizes but also gone down a whole shoe size!" Laura started to enjoy shopping at the mall-and came to appreciate her newfound body confidence. "I used to be so shy and uncomfortable," she says. "But accomplishing what I set out to do has given me a huge self-esteem boost."

Laura's stick-with-it secrets

Modify the menu

"If I want pizza, I'll ask for half the cheese and extra veggies. And if I feel like a Cobb salad, I'll skip the bacon and squeeze lemon wedges over it instead of drowning it in ranch dressing."

Have a plan B

"When my work schedule's super hectic, I'll pop in a quickie yoga DVD as soon as I get home. Exercising for even 10 minutes keeps me from feeling like I've fallen off the bandwagon."

Jog your memory

"I always keep a photo of myself at my heaviest in my purse. I pull it out when I'm tempted to order mozzarella sticks or fries; seeing the old me helps reinforce my healthy habits."

More success stories:

Weight Loss Success Story: "I Refused to be Fat Anymore." Sonya Lost 48 Pounds

Weight Loss Success Story: "I Weighed More Than Him" Cyndy Lost 50 Pounds

Weight Loss Success Story: "I Stopped Making Excuses" Diane Lost 159 Pounds

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