"A Mild Stroke Scared Me into Losing Weight"
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"A Mild Stroke Scared Me into Losing Weight"

Excess weight was a cause of Danelle DePeyster's stroke at age 21 -- a health scare that inspired her to slim down.

Scared Slim

Name: Danelle DePeyster
Age: 25
Height: 5'7"
Weight Before: 220 pounds
Weight After: 150 pounds
Pounds Lost: 70
Time at Current Weight: 2 years

Four years ago, Danelle DePeyster got a Halloween fright that topped anything she'd seen at her local cineplex. While she munched on candy left over for trick-or-treaters, her vision became blurred. An ER visit and a series of medical tests revealed alarming news -- she had suffered a mild stroke, resulting in partial blindness in her left eye. "The doctors said that at 220 pounds, my weight had contributed to high blood pressure, which caused the stroke," says the sales rep from Clinton, New York. "I was only 21 -- way too young for such major health problems."

Mangia! Mangia!

There's never any shortage of food when you're growing up in an Italian family. Home-style cooking pushed Danelle's weight to 190 pounds by the end of high school, and a steady diet of pizza, burgers, and fries packed on 30 pounds by her junior year of college. Occasionally she would try exercising, but never stuck with it. "I'd work out and then celebrate by going out to eat," Danelle remembers. Her pizza rewards ended when she suffered the stroke.

The Accidental Walker

"Once I started keeping a food journal, I was shocked that I'd been consuming over 3,000 calories a day!" she says. Danelle began opting for salads instead of fries, whole-grain cereal over Froot Loops, yogurt for ice cream. At about the same time, her car broke down, and she had no money to get it fixed. For the next five months, she had to hoof it to campus -- about two miles round-trip. After two months she lost 16 pounds. Then she started jogging. "Running made me feel powerful," she says. "I cried when I was finally able to complete a mile." Danelle added strength training to her routine and within a year, she had lost 70 pounds.

Weight loss hasn't been her only accomplishment: Not only did Danelle recently compete in a 5-mile race and begin gearing up for a 15K, she also will be entering grad school in the fall to study for a master's degree in art history. "Since I got healthy, I feel I can tackle anything," she says. "My self-confidence has gone through the roof."

Danelle's Weight-Loss Plan

The Diet: "For breakfast I have a bowl of Special K with skim milk and a banana. Lunch is peanut butter and jelly on whole-wheat bread and an apple. Dinner is grilled chicken, broccoli, and brown rice or couscous."

Favorite Self-Made Snack: "I add sliced banana and crushed walnuts to a low-fat chocolate pudding cup, then top it with Cool Whip. Or I make healthy pizza: tomatoes, basil, and feta cheese on mini whole wheat pita bread."

The Workout: "I run 5 miles outdoors six days a week and strength-train for 30 minutes twice a week. Once a week, I also do judo or swim."

Bad Weather Backup Plan: "If it's rainy or cold, I go to the gym and run on the treadmill or do the elliptical machine for 60 minutes."

On Her iPod: "Korn, Stone Temple Pilots, and Rage Against the Machine"

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, July 2006.