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A year ago, Mary Newman jumped out of an airplane. "It was exhilarating," she says. Just a few years earlier free-falling through the air was the last thing on earth she was likely to do. Back then she carried 144 pounds on her 5'1" frame and spent a lot of her spare time eating at restaurants that served fatty, high-calorie food. Now 34 pounds lighter, she spends her weekends biking, running and boating.
Mary was an average-size child growing up in upstate New York. By the time she entered high school, her family had moved to a Chicago suburb. Mary weighed 115 pounds and wore a size 6. Though she loved eating junk food with friends, she competed on her school's gymnastics team and ran track and cross-country, which she says kept her weight down.
But her fast-food habit soon caught up with her. When Mary started her freshman year of college in 1992, she stopped playing sports and quickly gained weight. "I partied on weekends, ate tons of junk food and got practically no exercise."
After graduating in 1997 from the University of Steubenville in Ohio with a marketing degree, Mary weighed 144 and wore a size 12. She moved back to Illinois, took a job selling real estate and continued to indulge in high-fat foods. "My habits didn't change at all," she says. Then, on vacation in Laguna Beach, California, during the summer of 1997, Mary had a moment of truth. "I put on a fluorescent-pink bathing suit and looked awful. There were all these great-looking women on the beach playing volleyball. I was so envious."
As soon as she got home, Mary shifted to a healthier lifestyle. "I started walking a mile every day after work," she says. She also decided to eliminate red meat and cheese and to cut back on portions. To quell hunger pangs, she snacked on fruit.
She lost 10 pounds right away. Soon she upped her walks to about three miles, five times a week, and added some jogging and light weight training. Her efforts paid off. Mary reached her goal weight of 110 pounds in the spring of 1998. "I can actually wear form-fitting clothes now," she declares. "My new body's worth a million bucks!"
Pounds lost: 34
Years at current weight: 2 1/2
The Workout: Mary walks or jogs two to three miles in the morning and evening, five times a week. She also does sit-ups and push-ups three times a week.
The Diet: Breakfast is fruit, orange juice and scrambled eggs. Lunch is a salad or pasta. Dinner is fish with rice and a vegetable.
The Turning Point: On a vacation in California, when she was confronted with a beach full of slim, gorgeous women.
Stick-With-It tip: Fitting in some exercise. "It's better to run one mile than none at all."
Biggest Temptation: Eating at restaurants. Mary used to eat out almost every night, indulging in fatty foods like nachos.
What She Couldn't Wait to Wear: A fitted, sleeveless black dress. "I can finally wear form-fitting clothes!"
Originally published in Fitness magazine.