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Last August, Michelle F. Rodriguez wore a slinky silver tank top and a pair of slim black capris to her high school reunion. "People were complimenting me all night. They couldn't believe I was the same person," says Michelle, a 23-year-old office assistant and fitness instructor in Warren, Michigan. Just five years ago she weighed 190 pounds, rarely exercised and spent most of her time munching on high-fat snacks.
Growing up in a Detroit suburb, Michelle was always heavy. "I never played sports, so I didn't get much exercise. I spent a lot of time watching TV and eating junk," she admits. By her high school graduation she was 5'4" and weighed 150 pounds.
In the fall of 1995, Michelle was a freshman at Central Michigan University. Homesick, she turned to food for comfort. "I would eat only one 'real' meal a day -- usually pizza or a sub from the cafeteria -- but I stuffed my face day and night with chips, cookies and candy." By the end of the school year, she weighed 190 pounds and wore a size l6.
Her wake-up call came on Christmas Day 1997. "There was tons of food. I ate two huge meals and snacked nonstop. I was sick all night. When I finally stopped throwing up, I told myself something had to change."
Michelle decided that the key was to start slowly. Her first step was to drink more water to curb the urge to snack. "I was used to putting something in my mouth every five seconds, so I needed a substitute," she says. To monitor her portion sizes, she began to keep a food diary. She also joined a gym close to work and began walking on a treadmill for 30 minutes five times a week. By July 1998 she had lost 25 pounds.
She started taking step aerobics and was so enthusiastic (and mastered the routines so quickly) that her instructor urged her to get her certification. She passed the test in September 1998. By the following March she was teaching six classes a week and had lost another 30 pounds. She added a weight-lifting routine, which helped her firm up, and by August 2000, she had reached her current weight of 130.
Currently, Michelle juggles her day job with her busy teaching schedule. She hopes to pursue a degree in exercise science -- and maybe open her own gym someday. "I can't believe how quickly my life has changed," she says. "For the first time ever, I feel really good about myself. I can honestly say I've never been happier!"
Pounds lost: 60
Months at current weight: 8
The Workout: In addition to teaching aerobics, taking kickboxing classes and cycling, Michelle runs on the treadmill for 30 minutes two or three times a week and works out with weights.
The Diet: Breakfast is a protein shake. For lunch she has a small salad with tuna, some pretzels and an orange. Dinner is baked chicken with red-skinned potatoes, green beans and salad; snacks are yogurt, rice cakes or popcorn.
The Turning Point: When she ate herself sick on Christmas Day. "I felt so down, there was nowhere to go but up," she says.
Stick-With-It tip: Vary workouts. "I never do the same routine two days in a row, so I don't get bored."
Biggest Temptation: Family gatherings. "There's always so much food around. I still struggle to stop at one or two cookies."
What She Couldn't Wait to Wear: Body-hugging workout wear. Last fall she finally felt slim enough to teach in leggings and a tank top. "When I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I can't believe it's really me!"
Originally published in Fitness magazine.