"I Lost 69 Pounds!"
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"I Lost 69 Pounds!"

Comedian Judith Shelton used to make "fat jokes" about her weight -- until she realized the state of her health was no laughing matter.

"I Did It!"

When Los Angeles comedian Judith Shelton takes the stage these days, she has a problem: "Since I lost 69 pounds, I can't do my 'I'm so fat' routine anymore," she says.

Judith's weight was always an issue for her as she was growing up. "I tried all sorts of diets, from Jenny Craig to Slim-Fast," she says. "They never worked for me because they were about deprivation; they just made me want to eat junk food." As a teenager in boarding school, she'd sneak sweets to quell her cravings. "I'd hide Snickers bars in the battery compartment of my flashlight so I could get them back to my room without anyone noticing." When she graduated, she weighed 175 pounds.

Judith took her first steps toward losing weight almost by accident during her junior year in college. Living in Madrid as an exchange student, she traveled everywhere by foot. "I couldn't figure out the train schedule," she laughs. "So I'd run through the streets to get to class on time!" By the end of her stay, Judith had lost 30 pounds, bringing her weight down to 145, which she thought was too low for her nearly six-foot frame.

Unfortunately, the walking habit didn't stick once she returned home. Over the next seven years, Judith graduated from college, moved to L.A. to pursue her stand-up career, met and married her husband -- and watched her weight climb. In 1996 she hit an all-time high: 254 pounds.

On the bright side, Judith's career was taking off. Her "big girl" routine went over well in L.A.-area clubs. Working regularly and developing new jokes for her shows kept her upbeat. It wasn't until she saw a tape of one of her TV appearances that she realized how deeply she had buried her negative feelings about her weight. "I couldn't believe it was me," she says. "I looked huge, and old. I felt like a monster." Judith decided something had to change.

On a whim, she joined a softball league that spring. To her surprise, the games became the highlight of her week and a step toward successful weight loss. "I discovered that I felt great after moving around a little," she says. Inspired, she began to add activity to her schedule whenever she could. "I'd walk or ride my bike everywhere," says Judith. Soon, she opted for a more formal exercise program. "I started lifting weights and hiking," she says. The combination of regular exercise and increased everyday activity helped her shed 69 pounds over the next 16 months.

Today, Judith weighs 185 pounds and wears a size 14. "I could be thinner," she says, "but I feel great at this weight. Even if you're not totally there yet, you need to celebrate."

Judith's Weight Loss Plan

Age: 33
Height: 5'10 1/2"
Weight: 185
Pounds lost: 69
Time at Current Weight: 24 months

The Diet: Breakfast is grapefruit juice and an apple. Lunch is fish and a green salad. For dinner, she has lentil soup or beans and rice and vegetables. Snacks are kashi (a whole-grain cereal) or a slice of protein bread topped with soy margarine and honey.

The Workout: Judith lifts weights and does aerobics at the gym three days a week and works out to a yoga or aerobic exercise video at home twice a week. Weekends, she goes hiking with her husband.

Stick-With-It Tip: "Recognize when you are eating out of habit, not hunger. Learn to tell the difference between feeling satisfied and feeling stuffed."

Biggest Temptation: Chocolate cake. "I let myself have it sometimes, especially when I'm a little depressed. You have to figure out which sacrifices you can live with—and which you can't."

What She Couldn't Wait to Wear: A tankini bathing suit. "I never thought it would fit. But I tried it on, and it looked fabulous."

Originally published in Fitness magazine.