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12 Get-Healthy Success Stories

Meet FITNESS readers who overcame obstacles in their lives to successfully lose weight and become healthier. Get motivated to become your own success story!

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Angie Gray
Peter Ardito
Alexa Miller
Angie Gray
Shelly Orth
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I Lost 86 Pounds!

Jill Harrer, student, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

When Jill was a teen, her weight rose -- and her confidence fell. As other kids in her high school began to date, she spent evenings at home curled up with a plate of cookies or downing pizza and chicken fingers at a fast-food joint with a girlfriend.

Turning Point
In high school, classmates referred to Jill as the fat girl. That hurt. By her sophomore year in college, her weight had ballooned to 211 pounds, and she could barely fit in the largest size -- 14 -- at American Eagle Outfitters, her favorite store. But what really motivated Jill to reinvent her lifestyle was watching her mom struggle with esophageal cancer. "I wanted to get healthy not just for me but for her as well. I realized that I need to take care of my body," she says.

Smart Steps
Jill started by walking on the treadmill four times a week at home and then at the university gym. She gradually added running spurts, starting with three minutes; with each session she added one minute and increased her speed until she was jogging. Six months after she first set foot in the gym, she could run for three miles without stop­ping. "The biggest challenge was breaking my restaurant habit," Jill admits. She saved money and calories by eating out once a week instead of four times and researched nutrition information online before­hand to make the smartest choices, such as grilled chicken with steamed veggies. Jill began losing about a pound a week.

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I Didn't Let a Stroke Slow Me Down

Rhonda Foulds, homemaker, Justin, Texas

Health Scare
"My life changed when I had a stroke two years ago. I had to quit running, because I was confined to a wheelchair, and my weight climbed to 240 pounds."

Change of Heart
"After slow progress in physical therapy, I was feeling discouraged -- until I saw a TV show about a man who lost both legs and went on to become a long-distance runner. Suddenly I felt grateful to have all my limbs. I started walking around the neighborhood slowly every day and was eventually able to run a few steps with my son."

A New Me
"Once I got active, I was inspired to clean up my diet. Yogurt, clementines, and almonds are in; toaster pastries, ramen, and hot dogs are out. My energy skyrocketed, so I started running regularly. One year later I had lost 100 pounds and finished a half-marathon!"

Lower Your Risk
Here's a scary stat: From 1994 to 2007 there was a 36 percent increase in hospitalization for strokes in women ages 35 to 44, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Luckily, there's plenty you can do to stay healthy. Start with this checklist.

  • Don't smoke.
  • Get 25 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise six days a week.
  • Slash your sodium intake to less than 1,500 milligrams a day.
  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish.
  • Limit your consumption of sugary beverages, such as juice and soda.

Source: Ralph L. Sacco, MD, immediate past president of the American Heart Association and chairman of the Department of Neurology at the University of Miami

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I Shaped Up with P90X

Heather Doughty, 31, dental hygienist, Champaign, Illinois

Postwedding Pounds
"My husband and I both gained weight after we got married. By our four-year anniversary I had put on 40 pounds. I was so bored with my elliptical and strength routine at the gym, and clearly it wasn't working."

Friendly Competition
"When some friends told us about P90X, I wanted to prove that I could handle the challenge. Sometimes I wasn't sure I could finish, especially during jump knee tucks and push-ups -- at first I could manage only three on my knees -- but I was encouraged when I saw myself getting stronger."

Real Results
"After 90 days I had lost 40 pounds and could complete 15 push-ups -- on my toes! My husband and I still do P90X, and I've gone from a size 14 to a 2. Coming home and popping in a fitness DVD has become a part of our routine that we both enjoy."

Stay Motivated
Find your own get-up-and-go with these top tips from Heather.
Schedule it. "My husband and I have designated 6 to 7 p.m. as our daily sweat time. It's an appointment we can't miss, like a work meeting or a dental checkup."
Mix it up. "The variety on the 12 P90X DVDs kept me going. Now I refuse to do the same workout more than once a week."
Celebrate your achievement. "I feel amazing in a bikini. To celebrate, we took a vacation to Florida, where I could show off my confidence and my new shape."

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I Lost 97 Pounds

Angela Kalal, pharmaceutical clinical trials manager, Rahway, New Jersey

Growing up in a carb-loving family that regularly indulged in pasta suppers and sugary desserts, Angela struggled with her weight and wore sweatshirts even in summer to conceal her size. "I would hide cookies in my room in case we ran out," she admits. "I turned to food for comfort and enjoyment." By the time she graduated from college, Angela weighed 230 pounds.

Turning Point
Tired of feeling like she was "too fat to do anything," Angela agreed when a close friend invited her on a group rock-climbing trip. Although embarrassed when she could not fit in a standard-size harness, she got over it. "I was with supportive people and had so much fun that I was inspired to be more active and take charge of my health," she says.

Smart Steps
Shortly after her first climb, Angela joined SparkPeople, an online healthy-diet-and-lifestyle community. "When I began using the food-tracking tools, I couldn't believe how many calories were in things that I thought were healthy, such as restaurant salads and granola," she says. "I was taking in about 3,000 calories a day." She cut that down to 1,800 -- swapping steaks for leaner bison meat and filling up on berries, broccoli, and homemade veggie-packed salads. To stay active, Angela continued climbing and found new hobbies, including hiking and competing in Spartan obstacle races. For motivation, she logged on to SparkPeople's message boards.

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Sweet Success
By 2006, Angela was down to 133 pounds, and she has maintained that weight ever since. When a snack attack strikes, she munches on cucumber slices topped with chili powder and salt, which satisfy cravings for barbecue potato chips. And now Angela is inspiring rookie rock climbers by teaching at a local climbing gym. "It means a lot to be able to pass on what I've learned to help others test their limits," she says.

What Worked for Me
Biggest indulgence: "Massages to treat my hardworking muscles."
My mantra: "Surprise yourself." Whenever I question my ability, these two words remind me to keep trying. My inner strength often amazes me."
Guilt-free treat: "I make grilled bananas, baked apples, or roasted pumpkin with cinnamon. Yum!"
On my fitness bucket list: "Rock climbing in South Africa."
Go-to restaurant order: "Seafood. Sashimi is my absolute favorite."

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I Got Hooked on Adventure Sports

Abby Himes, volunteer with the National Wildlife Refuge, Yigo, Guam

Good-Bye, Gym
"My fitness routine used to be stuck on autopilot; I'd slog through twice-weekly elliptical workouts. Then two years ago I moved to Guam with my husband, who is a lieutenant in the navy. Everyone is so active here that I was inspired to be adventurous."

Finding Sole Mates
"I hooked up with a group of sporty friends and started running with them four times a week. They encouraged me to do my first 5K, and now I run one nearly every weekend. I even won a 48.3-mile relay with an all-female team!"

Banishing Boundaries
"After I pushed past my timid tendencies by snorkeling, zip-lining, and hiking, I realized that there's nothing stopping me from taking other risks. I'm more fit and confident now than I ever imagined I could be."

Push Yourself
Abby went from being stuck in a rut to an adventure lover. So can you, by challenging yourself to run a race or go skydiving. Here's how to start, says psychologist Ronald J. Frederick, PhD, author of Living Like You Mean It.

Get inspired. "Watch movies where someone takes risks and succeeds to find the inspiration to spur yourself into action," Frederick suggests. "Activities that were once daunting will start to seem achievable."

Find a support system. Enlist athletic pals -- say, by joining a running group -- for advice and encouragement, Frederick says. Another newbie can also hold you accountable, and you can urge each other on.

Manage nerves. "Recognize and accept that some anxiety is normal," Frederick says. "Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly will help you calm your nerves."

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I Saved My Own Life

Liz Tatham, homemaker, Olathe, Kansas

Gasping for Air
"As a busy mom of four I found time for fitness: I exercised with a personal trainer and ran 15 miles each week. So I was shocked when I started to have trouble breathing and keeping up with my kids."

All About Instincts
"First I was diagnosed with allergies, then bronchitis. But when shortness of breath forced me to crawl up the stairs, I knew something was really wrong. I trusted my gut and returned to my doctor, who referred me to a cardiologist."

Back on Track
"The specialist discovered that I was born with a faulty heart valve. I had successful open-heart surgery, and after three months of rehab, I'm working out five days a week again. I'm passionate about telling women to advocate for their own health and make it a priority."

Take Care of Your Ticker
Show the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women movement some love by raising awareness of heart disease, the number-one killer of women.

Download the Go Red BetterU program at goredforwomen.org/betteru for 12 weeks of free nutrition and fitness tips to help you get a healthier heart.
Step it up at one of more than 300 Heart Walks around the country (heartwalk.org).

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I Lost 70 Pounds

Nicole Churco, office manager, Schuylerville, New York

In high school and college Nicole played soccer and ate high-calorie meals to stay fueled. She burned off all that pasta and pizza on the soccer field, but when she hung up her cleats, she didn't change her diet. Five years later Nicole weighed 210 pounds.

Turning Point
Last February, Nicole made plans to visit her hometown. The realization that she would have to face people who knew her 70 pounds lighter was a wake-up call. "It struck me how my weight was hampering my life. I wasn't excited to reconnect with old friends, because I was unhappy with my body," Nicole says. She took a Day One picture of herself, posted it at her desk at work, where she often snacked, and set a goal to reach 150 pounds.

Smart Steps
Nicole first vowed to tackle her oversize portions -- no small feat, because her mom served up heaping helpings. "I had to teach myself what three ounces of chicken looks like," Nicole says, so she started using a food scale. She also cut back on processed and fast foods, red meat, and cheese.

Although she was no longer involved in organized sports, Nicole had stayed active by Rollerblading, hiking, and walking her dog. "I didn't change my fitness routine much; my weight loss is a testament to the impact of a nutritious diet," she says. But Nicole noticed that the more pounds she dropped, the easier and more fun workouts were.

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Sweet Success
Five months later Nicole had gone from a size 16 to a 6. "Now when I shop I like what I see in the dressing-room mirror," she confides. Good thing, because she'll be trying on a lot of dresses: Her boyfriend of five years just proposed. "I'm marrying an amazing man who loves me for who I am," she says.

What Worked for Me
Skinny side dish: "Black beans sautéed in olive oil with onion, garlic, and cumin."
On my fitness bucket list: "To hike all 46 of the Adirondack High Peaks, some of which are more than 5,000 feet tall."
Produce pick: "Kiwi -- I peel, chop, and add it to my morning oatmeal."
Most embarrassing music I work out to: "Any '80s hair band. Bon Jovi is my favorite."
Stay-slim strategy: "I took a picture every time I lost 10 pounds. Having physical proof of my transformation kept me motivated to reach my goal."

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I Turned 40 Fitter Than Ever

Lorraine Robertson, writer, Atlanta

No More Muffin Top
"I was carrying around 25 extra pounds, and although I'm a mom, I couldn't call it pregnancy weight, because my kids are 10 and 8. So last January, I gave myself a deadline and posted it on my blog: I wanted to feel comfortable in a bikini by my 40th birthday, in April."

Change of Pace
"I had strength-trained before, but my body really changed when I started running and competing in races. Instead of watching TV with my kids, now I challenge them to join me for a living-room workout that includes lunges, dips, and push-ups."

Red Hot
"I was so proud of how I looked in my red polka-dot two-piece -- my waist was four inches slimmer than just four months before -- I posted a picture on my blog. These days I'm in better shape than I was at 30 -- or probably ever!"

Excuse-Proof Your Workout
Lorraine's blog kept her in it to win it. "Accountability helps you monitor your progress while providing extra willpower to stay on track," says psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson, PhD, author of Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals. Try one of these stick-with-it strategies.

Be specific. You are more likely to follow through if you say "I will attend a cardio class on Monday and Friday at 7 a.m." rather than "I will work out this week."
Team up. Plan to meet a partner, trainer, or group. It's easier to make it to the gym when you know someone is waiting for you.
Treat yourself. Rewards provide a boost when your willpower is low, Grant Halvorson says. Give it a try; for example, if you do 15 push-ups every night before bed for 30 days, splurge on a pedicure.

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I Got My Body Back After Having Quadruplets

Libby Wilson, stay-at-home mom, Memphis, Tennessee

Pregnancy Action Plan
"I've always loved exercise. When I got the amazing news that I was pregnant with quadruplets, I vowed to be in the best shape possible for a healthy delivery."

Squeezing In a Workout
"After I had my babies, I started exercising once my doctor said I could. Before the kids wake up or when I can find time in the afternoon, I fit in Bikram yoga, Spinning, running, or strength training."

Mommy and Me
"I want my kids to see that being healthy can be fun. On Saturday mornings I bring my 3-year-old daughter into the kitchen to help make whole wheat pancakes for the family. We toss in ground flaxseed and use applesauce as a substitute for the oil."

Raise a Fit Family
Even the busiest mom has time to work out with these three options.
Push off the pounds. Join fellow moms to power walk and strength-train with your baby in tow. There are 1,300 Stroller Strides locations nationwide; find a class near you at strollerstrides.com.
Chaturanga with your child. Pop in a workout DVD that you can do with your toddler. Our favorite, Ellen Barrett's Happy Baby, Fit Mama! includes cardio, strength, and stretching. ($15, amazon.com)
Log on to shape up. Go to fitmomsfitkidsclub.com to sign a pledge to make wellness a priority. You'll receive a free 21-day meal plan and 12-week exercise regimen for you and your family.

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I Lost 110 Pounds

Adrian Crouch, student, Port Vue, Pennsylvania

A self-conscious kid who was too shy to stick up for herself, Adrian was often the victim of bullies. In fifth grade, she started turning to junk food for comfort. "It wasn't unusual for me to eat a big bag of Doritos in my room. I ate when I was alone, so no one could judge me," she says. By the time Adrian was 21, the emotional eater was 230 pounds.

Turning Point
After years of being called a lazy slob by classmates, enough was enough. "I was watching The Biggest Loser when I realized, If they can do it, I can do it," she says. Adrian joined a gym and swapped chicken tenders with fries for grilled chicken with brown rice. The pounds started coming off, but she went overboard. "I got on the scale several times a day -- I was so afraid of going back to 230 pounds," she says. Her calorie intake dropped too low, as did her weight. In October 2010 a concerned aunt said, "You've lost even more weight since I last saw you. Stop it!" Her aunt had reason to worry. Adrian weighed just 106 pounds, not enough for her five-foot-four frame.

Smart Steps
Adrian recognized that she had a problem. She started a journal to express her feelings, which helped her realize that her dieting wasn't really about food. Even though she no longer looked like the chubby kid who gobbled chips, she still felt like her. "I had to conquer the voice inside telling me that I wasn't worth it," Adrian explains. With the help of family and friends, she stopped counting calories and gradually began to increase the size of her meals. Once she established healthier eating habits, Adrian decided to take up a new hobby. "Running showed me that food isn't the enemy. It's fuel," she says. To perform her best, she started eating things like peanut butter and whole wheat French toast.

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Sweet Success
Adrian has since found her "happy weight" -- a healthy 120 pounds -- and has many races, from 5Ks to half-marathons, under her belt. As she ramps up for the Pittsburgh Marathon in May, she realizes she has come a long way. "Now I live by a new mantra, 'Fear less; do more,'" she says.

What Worked for Me
My long-term goal: "I hope to someday become a runner who qualifies in the 70-plus age group in races."
Fueling food: "Oatmeal with peanut butter and banana keeps me energized."
Motivating music: "The Rocky theme song always gives me a boost."
Smart swap: "Trading white for whole wheat products was one of my first healthy changes."
Go-to snack: "I keep a Clif Bar in my purse for emergencies."

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I Enrolled in Circus School at 35

April Sargeant, stay-at-home mom, Bothell, Washington

Motivated Mama
"Having three babies in four years really took a toll on my body. On a lark I went to trapeze school with a friend."

Flying High
"After one session I was hooked. When the director invited me to join the adult intermediate fly team class, I couldn't say no. Now for two hours a week I swing on the trapeze and do knee hangs without safety lines."

In Show-Off Shape
"I wasn't sure I'd ever have stomach muscles again, but I do now! My back is also stronger than ever, and I can do seven pull-ups. I used to hide my body, even from my husband, but today I don't mind walking around the house in my underwear."

Get a Hard Core
We asked Sara Haley, creator of the Expecting More prenatal-fitness DVD, for crunch-free ways new moms can sculpt abs like April's.

Punch Combo: Keeping your abs tight, alternate one minute each of jabs, hooks, and uppercuts.
Woodchop: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a single dumbbell in both hands above your right shoulder, elbows slightly bent. Bring the dumbbell diagonally across your body to the outside of your left knee, rotating your torso. Reverse the motion back to the start position. Do 10 reps, then switch sides and repeat.
Plank: With your abs tight, balance on your forearms and toes with your elbows under your shoulders and legs extended. Hold for 15 seconds; add five more seconds daily.

Get step-by-step instructions for these exercises

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I Partnered Up to Lose Big

Shelly Orth, mortgage processor, Manitowoc, Wisconsin

My Turn
"When I dropped my eldest daughter off at college in September 2010, it hit me that I had done a great job caring for my kids for 18 years but rarely took time for myself. I needed to focus on me and my health."

The Buddy System
"The only exercise I used to get was going to and from the car. My fit coworker, Spring [far left], encouraged me to start walking for 15 minutes each day. She would text me, 'Remember to get on that treadmill,' and check in with me at the office to hear how things were going."

Real Results
"I lost 110 pounds in one year by making small dietary changes, like swapping lean ground turkey for ground beef in tacos and upping my fitness routine: I've now run three 5Ks! For the first time in years, I'm happy with my body."

Find a Fit Friend
It's okay if you don't have someone to keep you on track, as Shelly did. These sites help you build a support system.

  • Log your workouts, find motivation, and compete with other exercise devotees online at dailymile.com.
  • Search for active pals by age, weight-loss goals, gender, and zip code at sparkpeople.com/buddy.
  • Go to fitnessmagazine.com/fitfriends for more ways to find a sweat sidekick.

Originally published on Fitnessmagazine.com, February 2012.

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