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Last summer, Lori Hall slipped into a black bikini and went boating with her husband, Tim. "It was the skimpiest bathing suit I'd ever worn," says the 38-year-old medical receptionist from Owensboro, Kentucky. Showing some skin is a welcome change for Lori, who once weighed nearly 200 pounds and took pains to hide her self-proclaimed "thunder thighs."
Overweight as a child, Lori had a taste for the comfort foods that made up family meals -- fried chicken, meat loaf, biscuits and gravy. "Food was the way my parents showed love," she says. She wasn't concerned about her weight until February 1988, when she stepped on a scale for the first time in years. "It read 195 pounds. I was horrified, and I knew I had to do something," she says.
Rather than change what she ate, Lori cut back on serving sizes. Next, she weaned herself off sweets and soda. "I'd sip diet drinks and water all day to curb my cravings," she says. Even without exercising, she shed 62 pounds in six months, bringing her weight down to 133.
Maintaining that weight, however, proved difficult. "I'd get lax about my portion sizes," she says. Over the next eight years, Lori gained and lost between 10 and 20 pounds four different times.
By July 1996, she weighed 160 pounds and realized that she'd never get control of her weight without exercising. She joined a gym and took an aerobics class twice a week. A surge in her energy level was the first benefit. "I could have a headache or be tired from work, but after I left the gym I felt great," says Lori. Weight loss quickly followed -- she dropped 20 pounds by November. Strength training helped her sculpt her muscles and change her body shape.
Lori still had a few lapses: During the 1999 holiday season, a Christmas-cookie binge led to a nine-pound weight gain. That motivated her to start weighing and measuring all her food. Her recommitment to this strategy, plus sticking with her exercise routine, has kept Lori's weight in the 130s. "It's taken me a long time to figure out this weight-loss puzzle, but I think I'm finally there."
Pounds lost: 61
Months at current weight:12
The Diet: Breakfast is oatmeal with skim milk and a banana. For lunch, Lori has a fat-free hot dog, cold cuts with vegetables or a salad with fat-free dressing. Dinner is three to four ounces of lean meat with steamed vegetables or a salad. Lori snacks on slices of cantaloupe or watermelon during the day.
The Workout: Lori walks on a treadmill for 30 minutes five or six times a week. Twice a week, she takes an hour-long kickboxing or aerobics class. On weekends she lifts weights at home.
Stick-With-It Tips: Keep something that inspires you handy to help boost willpower. "I use a fishing-line sinker imprinted with the words every ounce counts' and pull it out whenever I'm tempted to eat something I shouldn't." Another trick: Plan ahead. "On Sundays, I outline a week's worth of dinners. It helps me stick to a healthy diet."
Biggest Temptation: Cookies, especially Girl Scout Thin Mints. "I'm an all-or-nothing eater," Lori says. "So I stay away from them completely."
What She Couldn't Wait to Wear: A pair of sexy black capri pants -- size 6. "When I tried them on and they fit, I was shocked. I couldn't believe how great they looked."
Originally published in Fitness magazine.