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Last summer, Leila Farris and her husband, William, spent their vacation in the jungles of Costa Rica. "I wanted to do everything," says Leila, a 28-year-old office manager in Port St. Lucie, Florida. "We were constantly on the go." Anyone who knew Leila in her early twenties would have been shocked: Back then, she weighed more than 300 pounds and rarely left her house.
As a child growing up in southern Florida, Leila was never overweight. "Junk food was forbidden in our home," she says. After graduating from high school in 1990, she got a job selling clothes at a nearby mall. Living on her own, she rebelled against years of strict eating rules and started grabbing fast food on the way to and from work. Soon she was hooked -- the greasy, salty fries and burgers became an irresistible temptation.
During this time, Leila was dating William, a construction-company owner. While she was happy with her budding romance, she was in denial about her weight. By the time she was 20, she weighed 319 pounds.
In the spring of 1995, she finally had a moment of truth. "I went to a pancake place with my husband and sister-in-law. While I was eating, my 4-year-old niece said loudly, 'Why is Leila so fat?' It was mortifying." The next day she made an appointment with a doctor. There, she discovered that her blood pressure was high and her BMI (body mass index) was over 40 (30 is considered obese). Determined to make a change, Leila bought a treadmill and cleaned out her cupboards.
At first adjusting to normal portion sizes was difficult -- but she stuck with it. She also started walking on her treadmill every day. "I got tired quickly; I would go for a few minutes and then stop." But soon Leila was walking a mile and a half every day.
After five months she had dropped 60 pounds, and she continued to lose at a rate of about five pounds a month. By the spring of 1998 -- three years after she began working out -- she reached 125 pounds.
These days, Leila's life is "totally different," she says. She decided to go back to college and hopes to eventually land a job that involves traveling. "After sitting at home for all those years, I want to get out and see the world!"
Pounds lost: 194
Months at current weight: 30
The Workout: Leila takes step aerobics classes twice a week and does Nautilus. She also works out with free weights, runs and swims on weekends.
The Diet: Breakfast is All-Bran cereal with skim milk and fruit. Lunch is a salad with vinegar (no oil) and some canned tuna. Snacks are dried fruit or granola. Dinner is grilled chicken with vegetables or pasta.
Stick-With-It Tip: Setting weekly weight-loss goals. "I had so much to lose that breaking it up into small increments made it seem much more manageable."
Biggest Temptation: Store-bought cakes and cupcakes. "I have a real weakness for fluffy-looking desserts."
What She Couldn't Wait to Wear: A sexy pair of cut-off jeans shorts. "When I was heavy, I never wanted anyone to see my legs. Now I love to show them off!"
Originally published in Fitness magazine.