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One year ago Olivia Ward (far left), 35, weighed 261 pounds and couldn't walk a block without stopping for a breather. Her sister, Hannah Curlee, 32, tipped the scale at 248 pounds and was too embarrassed to go out with friends at night. "The first step in dropping the weight was realizing that I actually loathed myself and what I'd become," Hannah says. "On the show I gradually came to understand that I deserved so much more of a life than I'd given myself. I deserved to be happy. When I reached my goal of losing 120 pounds, I was proud of myself for the first time in 15 years. I now feel confident, not just about my stronger body but also about who I am inside."
Olivia had a similar aha moment, thanks to long talks with Biggest Loser trainer Bob Harper. "I used to put everyone else's needs ahead of mine," she says. "Now my health is the priority. Exercising is my me-time, and I've learned that that's not selfish at all."Secret #2: Stop being so hard on yourself.
"I like to be perfect, and when I can't, I get frustrated," Olivia says. "Past diets never worked for me, because I'd always become overwhelmed thinking how far I still had to go. This time around I realized it's all about the small goals. The very first day on The Biggest Loser we had to push Jillian's truck while she had her foot on the brake, and it really felt impossible. But I kept telling myself, Just five more minutes. I learned from Jillian the power of setting small, manageable goals. When things get tough during a Spinning class, I think, Just get through this song and you'll be okay. Believing that you can do something will make you actually do it."Secret #3: You don't have to spend hours in the gym.
"Real life doesn't allow me to exercise six hours a day, like we did on the show," Olivia says. "That's why I took up Spinning at SoulCycle, and I love it! The classes are intense enough to keep me in shape, and they fit into my schedule. I try to work out 90 minutes a day, six days a week. Half my workout is cardio: If I'm not Spinning, I'm running on the treadmill, sprinting on the stairclimber or using the Arc Trainer at home. I strength-train for the rest of the time, doing mini circuits in the gym. I split up my workouts and do 45 minutes in the morning to rev up my metabolism and 45 minutes after work so that food isn't just sitting in my stomach all night."
Don't have 90 minutes to spare? Fit in a good workout before work. "I get up at 5 a.m. and go to a boot camp class," Hannah says. "I enjoy it because it's different every day. We do things like run across a football field holding a weighted bar. I love the social aspect of it, too. The buddy system really works for me -- obviously!"Secret #4: Eat more, not less.
Start each day with a proper breakfast. "I used to get bacon, egg, and cheese on a bagel and think that it was just a bagel," Olivia admits. "But in reality it was more than an entire day's worth of calories. By lunchtime I'd be starving because I wasn't getting enough nutrients from that kind of food. Now I love an egg white omelet made with vegetables, like asparagus and mushrooms, left over from the previous night's dinner. I pair it with Fage Total 0% Greek yogurt with some berries and stevia. You can eat healthy and still love what you're putting in your mouth."
And ditch the deprivation diet. Never let yourself get to the point where you're famished with no healthy food around, the sisters say. Hannah carries apples and almonds with her for on-the-go snacks. "When I'm hungry, I get mean," she admits. "So I eat as much fiber as I can to stay full and satisfied. That stops me from grabbing pizza or a candy bar."Secret #5: Ask for what you want.
"When I'm eating out I've become that person who asks the chef to hold the cheese, hold the dressing, and please cook my meal without any butter, but I'm totally okay with doing that," Olivia says. "Most restaurants are very accommodating. I'm not going to throw away all the hard work I've done just because I'm afraid to ask the waitress to skip the blue cheese. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy myself when I'm dining out. There has to be flexibility in both your diet and your exercise routine or you'll never be able to sustain them for the rest of your life. If I splurge, I make up for it the next day by pushing myself a little longer during my workout."Secret #6: Do the write thing.
"I found that keeping a journal of everything that's going on while you're losing weight is a great way to stay focused," Hannah says. "Even if you just jot down stuff like 'I finally did a pull-up,' you can go back to those accomplishments to push yourself forward and remind yourself of how far you've come. On the ranch another contestant said that Olivia and I would never make it past the first couple of weeks. That lit a fire under me! I'd write those comments down and reread them for motivation. Today when I look back over the entries from when I was in a real funk about life, I can see what a bad place I was in and realize why I don't want to go back there."
Hannah: "Florence + the Machine's 'Dog Days Are Over' is a great song for intervals. And this is embarrassing, but Kanye West's 'Gold Digger' always makes me want to run."Top Exercise Gear
Olivia: "An iPod, kettlebells, and a Bosu ball. You can do so many different exercises with those three things. When I travel, I bring resistance bands with me; they're easy to pack and really effective."Motivational Mantra
Olivia: "'Always be yourself, because everyone else is taken.' Jillian would tell me that."
Hannah: "'Just do it,' from Nike. When I see the swoosh sign I always think, Yeah, Hannah, you can just do it."Next Big Goal
Olivia: "To do a sprint triathlon and start training for a half-marathon. My husband loves to run, and I'd like to do races with him."
Hannah: "To finally live my life! Date, go on vacation, have a great career -- I want to do everything I never thought I could do."
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, September 2011.