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A scary diagnosis from her doctor prompted Holly Sepp to break her junk-food habit and rediscover her love of exercise.
Hometown: Douglasville, Pennsylvania
Starting Weight: 180
Current Weight: 125
Pounds Lost: 55
For most of her life weight struggles were a foreign concept to Holly Sepp. Even though she regularly filled up on junk food, Sepp stayed slim thanks to occasional trips to the gym. But when she got pregnant with her first child, at age 30, the 5'4" Sepp took the outdated "eat for two" advice to heart and gained more than 60 pounds. "I ate better when I was expecting, but my portions were huge," she admits.
Sepp didn't realize how risky that extra weight was until she got a checkup six months after she had her second child. "My cholesterol level was 300," she says. Her doctor put her on medication to get the number down. "The list of possible side effects of the pills scared me, so I vowed to get off them ASAP." Her first step? Seeing a nutritionist, who gave her some surprising news: She wasn't eating enough. "I was trying to eat very lightly during the day, but then I'd binge at night because I was so hungry." The nutritionist advised her to eat more fiber and lean protein, like chicken and fish, to feel satisfied. After just one month Sepp's cholesterol dropped to 226 and her doctor took her off the drugs.
At the same time Sepp decided to return to a former love: running. She added five 50-minute workouts into her weekly schedule, alternating cardio and strength training. She started by walking and using the Stairmaster, then worked her way up to running. A few months into this routine Sepp received a brochure from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team In Training program. Members raise money by participating in marathons, cycling races, and more. Sepp, whose nephew died of leukemia, signed up immediately. "I'd always wanted to run a marathon, and now I had a really good reason to do it," she says.
After 18 weeks of training Sepp weighed in at 125 pounds and her cholesterol level was under 200. She finished a local marathon, raising $4,600 for the society.
Exercise is now an even bigger part of her life. Sepp used to work in financial services but switched careers and is now a certified group fitness instructor. "I love going to work and inspiring other people to get fit."
Lynne Frumkin ditched fattening, carb-heavy food, picked up a pair of dumbbells, and won her long battle with the scale.
Hometown: Great Falls, Virginia
Starting Weight: 158
Current Weight: 123
Pounds Lost: 35
For many years Lynne Frumkin did her best to avoid exercising. "It just didn't seem like fun," she says. Her lack of activity caught up with her in high school, when her weight ballooned to 178 pounds -- and her self-esteem plummeted. In her late teens Frumkin, 5'8", did slim down by taking up swimming, but thanks to bouts of yo-yo dieting her weight fluctuated for years.
After giving birth to her second child at 42 and weighing in at 158 pounds (still too heavy for her small frame), Frumkin vowed to get fit for good. "I was tired of being the fat mom," she says. The problem? Now that she was older and busier than ever, she had to find new weight-loss strategies tailored to her age and schedule. "I felt as if I had to start from scratch," she says.
Frumkin had started doing cardio in her late 20s, but now it didn't seem to be enough. "It wasn't until I learned how to lift weights that I saw a big difference in my body," she says. She credits her husband, also a weight lifter, for encouraging her to keep challenging herself during workouts. Her persistence paid off: She shed 20 pounds in less than a year.
Thrilled by her success, Frumkin turned her attention back to her eating habits. She knew a fair amount about nutrition and studied every article and book she could find on it. "Once I understood how eating fatty, carb-heavy food affected my body, I saw how much power I had to control my weight," she says. Frumkin began eating lean proteins like tuna and turkey and traded refined grains for oatmeal and whole-grain breads. She also added healthy snacks to her menu.
A "fat mom" no more, Frumkin loves her new body, and not just for how it looks. "I'm in the best shape of my life!" she says. She hits the gym six days a week to lift weights, run, or take aerobics classes. But as dedicated as she is to her new lifestyle, she does have the occasional treat. "I know that eating one piece of cake isn't going to make me gain weight. I feel as if I've finally solved the weight-loss puzzle."
After years of overeating, Kim Hulswit finally got serious about slimming down -- and it all started with a kiss.
Hometown: North Versailles, Pennsylvania
Starting Weight: 172
Current Weight: 112
Pounds Lost: 60
At 5'2" and 172 pounds, Kim Hulswit knew she had to lose weight, but her low self-esteem paralyzed her. She'd been heavy since her teen years, when other kids mocked her size. Her marriage, at age 26, was rocky, and Hulswit's already-poor eating habits got worse when she began overeating to cope. And when her second child was diagnosed with autism, she turned to junk food for comfort. Her marriage ended 23 years later, but her insecurity and bad eating habits remained.
It ultimately took a kiss from a crush three years ago to help Hulswit see that she needed to treat herself better. She loved the attention the man gave her but she was too ashamed of her body to take the relationship further. "I realized that in order to find love I had to love and take care of myself first."
She began by replacing processed foods with fruit, salad, and lean proteins like grilled chicken, turkey, and eggs -- advice she gleaned from The South Beach Diet. The change sent her energy level soaring, which made Hulswit even more determined to drop weight. "I decided I wanted my 50s to be the best years of my life," she says.
When it came to exercise Hulswit got help in the motivation department from an Oprah episode on weight loss. "A doctor told an audience member that even if she was in the middle of a hurricane she should still get on that treadmill and work out!" Hulswit began walking every morning, gradually pushing herself until she worked up to an hour. To prevent boredom she added strength training, Pilates, and dance DVDs to her regimen. "I don't love exercise, but I trick my self by saying, 'Just do 10 minutes,' and I last much longer."
Now 112 pounds and a size 2, Hulswit feels confident about her appearance -- and her future. "I really owed it to my family to lose the weight," she says. "I need to be healthy to be here to take care of my son."
And although her crush is no longer in her life, she still treasures that kiss and the transformation it inspired. "I look and feel so great that I'm more likely to meet someone."
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, July 2009.