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When they met a few years ago at the New Jersey law firm they worked for, Michelle Cook (far left), 36, a legal assistant and mother of two, and Alison Zangrillo, 33, a recently divorced bookkeeper, just clicked. Soon they were meeting up for Pilates once a week -- "we called it our playdate," Michelle says -- and have stayed best pals through job changes and jam-packed days. Both were "feeling run down" from extra weight they couldn't shake, and together they vowed to get their bodies and energy back.The Weight-Loss Plan
A variety of weekly hour-long strength-training sessions with trainer Jeff Marmelstein at the Club at Woodbridge in New Jersey boosted their endurance. Patricia Davidson, RD, a nutritionist in Westfield, New Jersey, helped them eat more crunchy vegetables and make smart swaps to shave calories: "Instead of chips, I now have a peach with my lunch," Alison says.The 180 Turnaround
Constantly switching up their routines between kettlebell moves, TRX class, and various cardio machines has helped them raise their fitness game. "We feed off each other for motivation," Alison says. "I text Michelle when I'm headed to the gym and confess to her if I've splurged on snacks." The two were often side by side on treadmills, Michelle walking as Alison ran. One day Michelle found herself punching up the pace. "Alison gave me the confidence to start running," says Michelle, who's lost 10 pounds and 4 percent of her body fat. "It's definitely brought us closer together, and we're so much stronger," says Alison, seven pounds lighter and four inches slimmer around the waist. "I'm so proud of both of us, and we're not stopping now!"
When Lisa Tacca (far right), 39, a mom of three, was trying to get back in shape, her sister Janine Caldarella, 32, an avid runner, invited her to jog in their New York City suburb. "It was our time to bond," says Janine, who soon devised a goal for them: 26.2 miles.The Weight-Loss Plan
The sisters met up for long runs on weekends and for after-work circuits with trainer David Maldonado at New York Sports Clubs in Commack, New York. Amy Shapiro, RD, a nutritionist in Smithtown, New York, gave them "a portion-size reality check" and eating tips for double-digit runs.The Photo Finish
"We were close to tears," both agree about the early sessions with Maldonado, during which they'd give each other the don't-quit-on-me look. They've kept up the teamwork: On one 12-mile run, Lisa nearly stopped at mile 10. "Janine said, 'No, stay up; we can do it!'" Lisa says. A couple of weeks later, the two ran a half-marathon. "As we crossed the finish line, we grabbed hands," Janine says; it's a ritual they plan to repeat at the New York City Marathon in November, each having lost 11 pounds en route.
Beth O'Rourke, 39, and her husband, Keith, 38, were too busy raising two kids under the age of 3 to fend off postmarital pudge. Beth "never lost the baby weight," and Keith had thrown in the fitness towel a few years ago. "I figured, Heck, I'm married, she loves me -- all of me!" he says. Since their wedding in 2004, they'd peaked at about 200 pounds each. "We needed to lose the weight for ourselves and our kids," Beth says.The Weight-Loss Plan
The two spent Saturday and Monday mornings doing firm-and-burn workouts with trainer Jon Deck at New York Sports Clubs in Colonia, New Jersey, while son Connor, 3, and daughter Abigail, 1, romped at the gym's daycare. They consulted Felicia D. Stoler, RD, a nutritionist in Manalapan, New Jersey, who helped them sneak veggies into the family's meals and cut back on pasta. "Our dog really made out on the leftovers!" Beth says.Sweated Bliss
"After our first workout, Keith couldn't lift his arm to eat, and I couldn't walk down the stairs," Beth recalls. They'd never really worked out together before, and the intense mix of total-body strength exercises and cardio intervals was made bearable because "we'd goof on each other," Keith says. Beth also kept tabs on Keith's plate: "I was digging into barbecue at a restaurant one night, and she took a picture of my overloaded dish and sent it to our trainer Jon!" Five months later Keith is down to about 180 pounds, and Beth to 177, so they have a lot more energy for chasing the kids. Even better, Beth says, "exercising gave us a chance to actually spend time together, just the two of us."
Office buddies Tabitha Bachofer (far left), 27, and Tanya Morris, 28, had reasons to drop pounds: "Women in my family have had heart problems, and they're the same size as I am," Tabitha says. "My 10-year high school reunion is next fall," Tanya says. But when doing it solo wasn't working -- "I used to shop for the strongest diet pills," Tabitha admits -- these nine-to-fivers for a government contractor in upstate New York joined forces.The Weight-Loss Plan
Since both Tabitha, at 220 pounds, and Tanya, at 215, yearned to get below the 200-pound mark, they needed support, stat. Enter Jessica Surdey, a trainer at Court Jester Athletic Club in Binghamton, New York, who created a new circuit workout with cardio bursts every week to keep things fresh, and Cynthia Cave-Gaetani, RD, a nutritionist in Binghamton, who balanced their diets by cutting their calories and boosting protein to control cravings.The Two-Over
Dashing from work to the gym was tough, but "Tabitha would save a spot for me in class," Tanya says. The pair tried everything from cardio fusion to something called Drums Alive, which involved drumsticks and loads of squats. They also back each other up in resisting gooey appetizers when dining out with friends and send each other "meet me at the water cooler" e-mails so they get plenty of H20. "It's double the willpower," Tabitha says. And it's working: So far they've each lost 30 pounds. "We're actually having fun," Tanya says, especially when friends high-five them on the Facebook page they've created for their ongoing mission.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, November/December 2010.