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Last summer, Peggy Wilke practically lived in her vegetable garden. "It's amazing how you can tone your body simply by digging and hoeing," says the 36-year-old graphic designer from Farmington Hills, Michigan. Just a few months before, she weighed nearly 180 pounds and had zero enthusiasm for participating in physical activity of any kind.
Peggy was slim as a teenager but started to gain weight in her early twenties when she was working as a proofreader. "I'd sit at my desk all day and never exercise. I was living on fatty foods like macaroni and cheese, whole milk and pizza," she says. Her weight climbed to 150 pounds by the time she was 30, but she still didn't consider herself overweight -- and didn't change her habits. "I knew my clothes weren't fitting right, but I ignored it." As a result, she gained nearly 30 pounds more over the next five years.
Reality finally hit almost two years ago, during a shopping trip with a friend. Peggy took a pair of size 14 jeans into a dressing room only to discover she couldn't zip them. "My friend was trying to be helpful and asked me what size I needed. I was too embarrassed to say 16, so I told her I'd changed my mind."
Peggy decided to start exercising, but the gym in her town was expensive and inconvenient. "I'd read that building activity into your daily routine could help you slim down, so I looked for ways to do that." Her first change was to take over the morning dog-walking job from her husband. "We'd cover a mile and a half at a fast clip," she recalls. She also began working in her garden.
She kept a food journal as well. "It helped me see that I was eating too much of the wrong foods -- bread, cheese, butter -- so I cut back." Peggy also made other changes in her food choices and eating habits. She stopped "picking" while she cooked, substituted water for soda, and ate more slowly. "I used to eat so fast that my brain didn't have time to register when I was full," she confesses.
Within six weeks she lost 11 pounds. To complement her daily activities, Peggy started working out with aerobics tapes three times a week. "I love doing the tapes in the morning, when I have the house to myself," she says. She continued to lose one to two pounds a week, and seven months later she hit 125 pounds. "Getting fit has really boosted my self-esteem," she says. "The best part is that I did it for me, not for my husband or anyone else. This is one of the biggest accomplishments of my life."
Pounds lost: 53
Months at current weight: 14
The Diet: For breakfast, Peggy has a frozen waffle or English muffin and yogurt. Lunch is a Lean Cuisine entrée, and she has fruit for an afternoon snack. Dinner is a turkey burger or chicken with a salad, a vegetable and rice or a sweet potato.
The Workout: Peggy works out at home with sculpting and cardio excercise tapes for 30 minutes, three times a week. She also walks or runs four times a week.
Biggest Temptation: Butter and chocolate. "I've learned to quell my cravings by finding substitutes for both. I use butter-flavored spray to sauté foods and put on vegetables. And I get my chocolate fix with Tootsie Rolls. They're low in fat and take a long time to eat, so they satisfy me."
What She Couldn't Wait to Wear: Low-riding button-fly jeans. "I have a flat stomach now -- and I want to show it off."
Stick-With-It Tip: Remind yourself how far you've come. "I'll pick up a 50-pound bag of dog food and think, she used to carry this around every day!'"
Originally published in Fitness magazine.