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When Bonnie Barnett showed up at her family's Christmas Eve party four years ago, her relatives were stunned. The last time she'd seen them, she'd weighed nearly 200 pounds. "We celebrated the holiday and my new look," says Bonnie, a 29-year-old customer-service specialist in Cleveland.
As a kid, Bonnie was always thin and athletic. Playing volleyball and softball in high school kept her weight at a muscular 140 pounds. But by the end of her freshman year in college, she'd gained 50 pounds. Poor eating habits were partly to blame. "My best friend and I met every day at a fast-food restaurant for lunch," says Bonnie. "Plus, I had completely stopped exercising."
Still, Bonnie was in denial. When her clothes got tight, she just moved up a size. "I thought the problem would go away by itself," she says. By the time she graduated, she weighed 198 pounds.
A conversation with her father helped Bonnie face the truth. His mother and grandmother had had heart problems and died of heart attacks. "My dad urged me to take better care of myself -- he didn't want the same thing to happen to me," she says. "It was hard to hear, but I knew he was right."
Bonnie's first step was keeping a food and exercise journal. It helped her see how many of her daily calories came from fast food. She started her program by having salads for lunch instead of burgers or tacos. That change led to a 15-pound loss in three months. She joined a gym and started working out -- walking for 15 minutes on the treadmill, then lifting light weights for a half hour. In three weeks, she dropped another five pounds and began to see some muscle definition.
Next, Bonnie tried running on the treadmill. At first, even a two-minute jog would leave her huffing and puffing, but every day she'd push herself to go a little bit longer. Six months later, she was 30 pounds lighter.
A year after her heart-to-heart talk with her dad, Bonnie had slimmed down to 133 pounds. "After I'd reached my weight-loss goal, I felt as if I could do anything."
Pounds lost: 65
Years at current weight: 5
The Workout: Five days a week, Bonnie runs four miles or spends 40 minutes on an elliptical trainer or a stationary bike. She lifts weights before every cardio session and does 20 minutes of abdominal exercises every day.
The Diet: Breakfast is a protein shake and two slices of toast. For lunch she has a salad with romaine lettuce, chicken, kidney beans, tomatoes, corn and fat-free ranch dressing. A typical dinner is a chicken breast, green beans and a glass of skim milk.
Stick-With-It Tip: Eat for energy. "Getting enough lean protein?like chicken breast or egg whites?builds muscle and gives me the stamina to keep going."
Biggest Temptation: Cake. "I can't resist the frosting, but I've learned that I can satisfy my craving by having just a taste of it."
Best Compliment Since Losing Weight: "A woman at the gym told me she wanted arms like mine and asked me to show her what exercises to do," says Bonnie.
What She Couldn't Wait to Wear: A belted brown suede jacket. "When I hit 145 pounds, I splurged and treated myself to one. I love the way it accentuates my waist."
Originally published in Fitness magazine.