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Last summer, Sara Beth Morrone combed the Cape Cod beaches with her husband, Tony, and their children, Sam, 3, and Sophie, 5, in a sleek black one-piece. "For the first time, I didn't feel the need to cover up," says Sara, an editor from Poughkeepsie, New York. Just two years before, she weighed 175 pounds and was still wearing maternity pants -- 12 months after her son's birth.
Sara's weight problems began when she was 13 and her family moved from Hartsdale, New York, to Scarsdale. "My body was changing, everything was unfamiliar. I turned to food for comfort." Track and ballet kept her at a fit 120 pounds through high school, but she never felt good about herself.
In 1982, she started college, and her demanding schedule left little time for exercise. She ate to cope with the pressure, relying on feel-good carbs like bread -- a habit that only got worse when she landed her first post-college job. Yet Sara was able to keep her weight in check; when she got married in 1990, she wore a size 9 wedding dress. During the next few years, though, bad habits took their toll. Slowly, her weight crept up, and she felt sluggish and moody. After Sam was born in 1997, she weighed 175 pounds and could barely squeeze into a size 14.
Inspiration to change came in 1998. While she was checking out a church-run preschool for her daughter, something drew her inside the chapel. "I was fat, depressed and angry," she says. "I asked God for help."
Empowered by her newfound faith, Sara radically altered her diet, giving up white flour and sugar. The cravings were intense, but she stuck with it. She carried a water bottle everywhere, guzzling when temptation hit. She also cut her portions and tackled the nighttime munchies by turning off the TV -- her trigger to snack. Within a month, Sara felt energized and her clothes were looser. Three months later, she was a size 10.
The next hurdle was becoming active again. In February 1999, a friend urged Sara to sign up for an aerobics/weight-training class. She went three times a week, and by that summer she was once again a strong, lean 122 pounds.
Today, Sara has ditched the maternity pants for good. Most important, she no longer soothes herself with food. "Now, I eat three sensible meals a day -- and I've never felt better in my life."
Pounds lost: 53
Months at current weight: 27
The Workout: Sara runs three to four miles three or four days a week and weight-trains three times a week.
The Diet: Breakfast is oatmeal, cantaloupe and cheddar cheese. Lunch is a salad with lettuce, turkey and Romano cheese sprinkled with vinegar. Dinner is a hamburger patty or chicken breast with beans, broccoli and a salad.
The Turning Point: Overweight and desperate, Sara was prompted by divine inspiration to try a healthier lifestyle. "I knew there had to be more to life than being grouchy and sleepy all the time."
Stick-With-It Tip: Steer clear of the scale. "I refuse to be a slave to those numbers; I trust how I feel."
Biggest Temptation: A crusty loaf of bread. "But I tell myself that no food tastes as good as fitting into size 2 jeans feels."
What She Couldn't Wait to Wear: A fitted shirt tucked into snug jeans. "When I lost weight, I got rid of all my huge, body-concealing T-shirts."
Originally published in Fitness magazine.