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Fifty pounds overweight, Danene Smith thought change was impossible. She was wrong. Then Danene Smith went skiing in Sun Valley, Idaho, last year, she wore skintight pants and a chic cropped jacket. "I felt fabulous! You couldn't get me off the slopes," says the 35-year-old mother of three. Just a few years earlier, she weighed 180 pounds and had neither the stamina nor the confidence to participate in such an active sport.
Growing up in Logan, Utah, Danene was always overweight. "My mom was a great cook, and I couldn't resist extra helpings of roast beef, buttery mashed potatoes and tacos. And she made the most amazing chocolates," she recalls.
By age 15, Danene weighed l40 pounds and wore a size l4. "I remember going to cheerleading tryouts and forgetting to bring shorts, so I had to borrow a pair. I couldn't even get one leg in them. I ran out of the locker room sobbing."
In 1983, Danene began her freshman year at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. There, her weight fluctuated between 140 and 150 pounds; like many students, she ate junk food and got little exercise. Danene had tried to lose weight several times in the past. "I was forever on one diet or another, but they were so hard to stick with," she says. Then, during her junior year, her weight-loss luck changed dramatically. As a missionary for her church, Danene spent 16 months in Colombia. "I lived with health-conscious people who ate reasonably, and I walked everywhere," she says. Danene returned home 15 pounds lighter and, for the first time, started feeling good about herself.
In September 1986, Danene returned to Utah to finish up her last year of school. Full of new confidence, she started dating and met her future husband, Dave. By June 1988, they were married.
Like her mother, Danene loved to cook, and soon her healthy eating habits were forgotten. "I would eat huge portions," she says. "For instance, if a box of rice was supposed to serve six, Dave and I would eat the whole thing in one sitting." In 1990 the couple had their first child, Shelby. "I became the full-time mom people joke about, spending most of my time inside the house and eating." In a snapshot taken at a party one year after the birth of her second child, Keaton, Danene was still wearing maternity clothes. And by January l996, when her youngest child, Riley, was eight months old, she weighed in at 180 pounds and was straining the seams of her size-18 clothes.
The combination of post-pregnancy pounds and poor eating and exercise habits had made Danene miserable. "I invented excuses not to go out. There were even days when I didn't want to get out of bed because I didn't have anything decent to wear." Though it's obvious to her now, at the time Danene didn't make a connection between her weight and the way she was feeling.
Then a friend recommended an upcoming seminar on healthy eating. "I was resistant at first. The idea of changing my diet seemed nearly impossible," she says. But her friend wouldn't let the issue drop, and Danene finally agreed to go.
The seminar, which advocated the "five fingers of healthy eating" (a grain, a protein, a fruit, a vegetable and an eight-ounce glass of water at every meal), really hit home. "I had paid so little attention to what I put in my body for so long. The program just made sense," she says.
The first changes Danene made were small, but they produced results. "I replaced whole eggs with egg whites when I made an omelet and stuffed fajitas with part-skim mozzarella instead of higher-fat cheddar cheese," she says. She also ate smaller portions. A month later, Danene had managed to trim about 10 pounds from her figure.
After another month of dieting success, Danene was so encouraged that she decided to add exercise to her routine. She started walking four miles a day with a friend and doing strength training. Soon her daily walks turned into runs, and by June of 1996, just four months after the nutritional seminar, she'd lost a whopping 40 pounds more, bringing her weight down to 130.
Motivated by her success, Danene carried her calorie cutbacks too far. "I was eating 1,000 calories a day—not enough to sustain the amount of exercise I was doing," she says. So she tinkered with her diet again, replacing fat-free milk with 2 percent and having a few nutritious snacks between meals. Soon she was eating a healthy 1,800 calories a day. "My body actually started to look even better, probably because I was taking in enough nutrients to build muscle," Danene recalls.
Her new diet combined with her workout routine gave Danene so much extra energy that exercise became her favorite hobby. Eventually, she began teaching aerobics at the local recreational center. Motivating other people who were in the same place she had been just a few short months before gave her real satisfaction. "My husband told me, 'Hey, you always wanted to be a cheerleader, and now you are!'"
Since then there have been many triumphs for Danene. A return to skiing -- a favorite activity as a child -- was just one of them. The whole family participates. "If I hadn't lost weight, I'd be missing out on the great times we have together on the slopes."
In May 1998 she won her first 5K race, discovering a gift for speed she never knew she had. The following October, she ran the St. George marathon in her home state, Utah. And then, in April 2000, she ran the Boston Marathon, finishing in an impressive three hours and 48 minutes. "It was the hardest thing I've ever done, mentally," she says. "But it was also the most satisfying. I never want to go back to being the person I used to be, that's for sure!"
Weight: l30 lbs
Pounds lost: 50
Years at current weight: 5
The Diet: Breakfast is shredded wheat with low-fat milk and an apple; lunch is half a tuna sandwich and a banana. For dinner she has chicken, steamed vegetables and fruit salad.
Turning Point: When a friend took her to a seminar on healthy eating. "It made me realize how little I cared about what I put in my body."
Stick-With-It tip: Remind yourself that cheating today means paying for it tomorrow. "For me, the 'payment' would be another day away from fitting into my dream wardrobe."
Biggest Temptation: Rich, fatty foods and chocolate. "I still find them hard to resist," she says.
What She Couldn't Wait to Wear: A pair of skintight ski pants. "I gave up skiing when I was heavy because I was too embarrassed to wear body-hugging clothes. Now they look great!"
Originally published in Fitness magazine.