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Last summer, Nancy Pak went to a friend's wedding wearing a body-hugging pink cocktail dress. "It was the first time in years that I'd dared to be seen in public in something form-fitting -- I felt so sexy and confident," says the 33-year-old New Yorker.
Through high school and college, Nancy weighed 135 pounds and wore a size 6. "I ate a lot of junk food, but I was active," she explains. After graduation she got a high-pressure job as a paralegal and couldn't fit exercise into her schedule. "My eating habits got worse too," she says. "Pizza, Chinese food, cheeseburgers, fries, and soda became my stress antidote." She put on 15 pounds in two years. As her life got busier -- she went back to school for her MBA, then got another demanding job -- her diet became one big junk-food fest. Although she joined a gym, she never went. "I had such tunnel vision about my career that I couldn't focus on anything else." By the time she was 30, she weighed 182 pounds.
In the fall of 1999, while watching her best friend's wedding video, Nancy spotted a large woman dancing and thought, Who is that? She's as big as a house. "When the camera changed angles, I saw that it was me."
That shock gave Nancy the push she needed. She dug out her gym ID card and went faithfully three times a week to walk or run on the treadmill.
She started eating more vegetables, skinless chicken and turkey, fish and sushi. Within three months, she'd shed almost 20 pounds.
Though Nancy was thrilled, she felt she'd achieved all she could on her own. "I knew I could get thinner and more sculpted if I lifted weights, but I didn't know how," she says. She decided to splurge on a personal trainer. "I saw it as an investment in myself, so I cut back on other things -- like makeup and clothes." In addition to their weekly sessions, she worked out on her own two or three times a week. Within two months, she'd toned up and lost another 10 pounds. She continued to lose weight, at one point reaching 122 pounds. "That was too thin, so I ate a little more and exercised a little less."
At 130 pounds, today Nancy is finally comfortable with herself. "Instead of hiding from the world, I want to show everyone that I feel amazing inside and out."
Pounds lost: 52
Months at current weight: 15
The Diet: Breakfast is a low-fat yogurt, cereal, or an egg-white omelet and a banana. For lunch, Nancy has a salad with chicken, a grilled veggie wrap, or a turkey sandwich. Dinner is often fish and a salad.
Stick-with-It Tip: Calm cravings with healthy foods. "When I want something sweet, I have a piece of fruit first. That's usually enough to satisfy me."
Biggest Temptation: Desserts, especially pie, chocolate, and cookies. "I treat myself once a week, usually splitting something with a friend."
What She Couldn't Wait to Wear: A slim-fitting tank top. "Even when I was thin in college, I didn't have great arms. But now that I've built up my triceps, a revealing tank top is the perfect way to show them off."
Originally published in Fitness magazine.