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When I weighed 267 pounds, my idea of a diet and exercise program was lifting a slice of pizza from the box to my mouth," says Erica Dusi, a 21-year-old college student from Ceres, California. Not anymore. "Now I understand the importance of eating right and staying active. There's no diet magic."
By the time she was 16, Erica weighed 250 pounds and wore a size 20. "I preferred my grandmother's homemade Italian pastry to fruits and vegetables," she says. Though she was unhappy with her weight, she compensated by being outgoing. "I had a lot of friends, but deep down I thought that if I wasn't upbeat all the time, I'd be ignored."
At college, though, people noticed Erica's body before her personality, and she decided she'd had enough. "I couldn't pretend my weight didn't matter anymore. I didn't know how I was going to slim down, but I knew it was the right time for me to try."
A friend suggested she start by logging on to the USDA Web site (usda.gov) for sensible nutrition advice. She structured her diet around the food pyramid, eating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables and less saturated fat and sweets. She started walking, too, gradually building up to 45 minutes, four or five times a week. Next she added running, golf and swimming to her routine.
Soon she was losing about three pounds a week. Within a year, she'd dropped 100 pounds.
In addition to compliments on her new body, Erica received warnings that if she wasn't careful, she'd regain the weight. "I began to think of food as my enemy." She drastically cut back on calories and exercised for an hour and a half every day. As a result, she felt sluggish and moody. "I realized that these extreme measures were harming my health."
Erica returned to the sensible plan that had brought her success in the first place, and she's been able to maintain a weight of 160 pounds for two years. "I think of my body as a gift," she says. "I'm determined to do all I can to take care of it."
Weight: 160 pounds
Pounds lost: 107
Months at current weight:24
The Workout: Erica runs or walks on the treadmill four times a week for 25 to 45 minutes. On other days, she swims or plays golf or volleyball.
The Diet: For breakfast, she has oatmeal or bran cereal with 1 percent milk and fruit. Lunch is typically low-fat refried beans with a tortilla and salad. For dinner she has a chicken breast or tuna with a large serving of vegetables. During the day, Erica snacks on a Balance Bar, fruit, yogurt or cottage cheese.
Stick-With-It Tip: Don't cut an excessive number of calories from your diet or you'll sabotage your success. "Eat enough so you don't go hungry and to keep your metabolism revved," says Erica.
Biggest Temptation:Cheesecake-flavored frozen yogurt. "It's not high in fat, but I could eat it three times a day if I didn't limit myself."
Best Compliment Since Losing Weight: The shock on old friends' faces when she runs into them. "People simply don't believe that I'm the same woman who once weighed over 250 pounds," she says triumphantly.
Originally published in Fitness magazine.