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Three years ago, Michelle Rudnitzky not only dropped five dress sizes, she also developed a new outlook on life. "My whole attitude toward eating and exercise has changed," says the 22-year-old design student from New Jersey. "I'm just sorry it took a health scare to do it."
Michelle was overweight even as a child. "I loved to eat, especially starchy foods like pasta and garlic bread," she says. In high school, she'd hang out with friends at diners and fast-food places. "We'd snack on onion rings, mozzarella sticks, fries and pizza -- and I got heavier." She dropped a few pounds using fad diets but inevitably gained them back. "I thought it was impossible for me to lose weight, but now I see I wasn't going about it in the right way."
All that changed during her first semester of college. She'd been ill on and off that fall. Eventually she landed in the emergency room, shaking and vomiting. Within an hour, the cause of her symptoms was determined: type II diabetes, largely the result of her excess weight. "I was shocked. My doctor said that my blood glucose levels were high enough that if I had waited another day, I might have died." He prescribed insulin and told her she'd probably have to give herself injections for the rest of her life unless she lost weight.
Michelle met with a diabetes specialist, who put her on a 1,200-calorie diet that consisted mostly of vegetables, grilled chicken and tuna, and low-fat dairy products. "I learned that the starchy foods I loved were the worst thing for me," she says. She started riding a stationary bike for 20 minutes three times a week, gradually building up to 40 minutes of cycling or running on the treadmill. Every day she'd walk the three miles round-trip from home to classes. "Whenever I was tempted to go back to my old eating habits or skip a workout, I reminded myself that my life was at stake."
Michelle was able to lose about 10 pounds a month. Six months after her diagnosis, she was 65 pounds lighter and her doctor took her off insulin injections. "I have so much energy now," she says. "Eating right and exercising isn't just about looking good -- it's about feeling good and being healthy."
Pounds Lost: 65
Years at Current Weight: 2
The Diet: For breakfast, Michelle has a bowl of whole-grain cereal and fruit. Lunch is a large salad with tuna. Dinner is stir-fried chicken with veggies.
The Workout: Michelle walks two to three miles daily. She also spends 45 minutes on the treadmill or the stationary bike three to five times a week and does one hour of weight training three times a week.
Stick-With-It Tip: Opt for low-fat cuisine that's loaded with flavor. "Healthy food doesn't have to taste boring. My favorite is string beans with garlic and soy sauce."
Biggest Temptation: Anything chocolate. "I curb cravings with a piece of mocha-flavored hard candy."
Best Complimment Since Losing Weight: When a deejay from a radio station doing a store promotion stopped her on the street because he thought she was beautiful. "We had a great conversation, and doubt I would have had the confidence to talk to him when was heavier."
What She Couldn't Wait to Wear: A size 9 Calvin Klein T-shirt dress. "It felt fantastic not to have to suck in my stomach or be embarrassed about showing my legs."
Originally published in Fitness magazine.