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Renee Gilley-Gates, age 54
Renee lost: 31 pounds
Starting weight: 260
Current weight: 229
Longtime yo-yo dieter Gilley-Gates realized that rethinking her attitude toward food is just as crucial as changing what she eats. "I feel so much better eating healthier food," she says. "I don't get popcorn at the movies anymore and I've stopped eating doughnuts, and that's okay. It's just not worth the fat and calories."
Now a typical breakfast for Gilley-Gates is oatmeal, string cheese, and low-fat milk. For lunch she eats a salad with chicken and no-sugar-added applesauce. Dinner is fish or lean beef with veggies and a baked sweet potato.
Her healthy routine -- which includes three workouts a week -- has paid off. The jeans she bought last year but couldn't squeeze into are baggy now. "I'm surprised and thrilled that I own clothes that are too big for me," she says.
Melanie Reames, age 31
Melanie lost: 20 pounds
Starting weight: 191
Current weight: 171
Reames decided to shed her post-baby pounds by using the "mindful eating" technique: paying more attention to feelings of hunger and fullness and focusing only on her food at mealtime. "I used to read the paper or watch TV when I ate," she admits. Without those distractions, Reames feels fuller sooner and she has noticed she's not snacking as much as she used to.
To fit exercise into her busy schedule, she pushes her son in a jogging stroller, exercises during her lunch break, or hits the gym after her son goes to bed. "That can be hard because I'm tired, but once I get there my energy level picks up," says Reames, who now runs 20 to 25 miles a week. Besides her shrinking size, she's got another goal keeping her motivated: She signed up to run a marathon this spring.
Selena Covington, age 33
Selena lost: 12 pounds
Starting weight: 217
Current weight: 205
After following Weight Watchers for more than a year, Covington knows that keeping a food journal is key to her success (she uses the plan's online tracking system). But it's something she occasionally has to relearn the hard way. "Sometimes I go through periods when I get tired of journaling and try to keep track in my head," she says. "Those are the weeks I gain." When she's up a pound or two at her weekly Weight Watchers meeting, she gives herself a pep talk -- reminding herself of the weight she has lost and the healthy steps she has taken -- and gets right back on track.
For breakfast, Covington eats a veggie omelet with low-fat cheese plus a slice of high-fiber toast or a whole-grain English muffin. Lunch is a salad with fish or shrimp; dinner is either pasta with lean protein or a stir-fry. "When I'm really busy I'm tempted to eat out or get takeout, but I try to make all my meals myself so I know exactly how many points are in them," she says. Also key to her success? Hitting the gym three to five times a week to use the StairMaster, walk hills on the treadmill, or strength-train.
"I'm getting a lot of compliments," says Covington. "That absolutely helps me stay motivated."
Susan Martin, age 42
Susan lost: 18 pounds
Starting weight: 179
Current weight: 161
In just a few months Martin says she has already learned the most important lesson about weight loss: "There will never be a perfect time to try to lose weight," she says. "There will always be vacations and birthdays and parties. You just need to plan for those things instead of waiting for your life to slow down."
Work stress in particular had been a major stumbling block for Martin. Now on hectic days she picks up a low-fat Subway sandwich instead of a burger and fries and snacks on Laughing Cow cheese and crackers. To avoid overindulging at family parties -- another downfall -- she drinks chardonnay or a light beer (no more sugary, high-calorie margaritas!) and contributes guilt-free dishes like vegetables with low-fat dip.
Martin also found that working out eases her stress, so she tries to do some kind of exercise every day. "Even if I only have 10 minutes, I can still go for a walk. In the past I wouldn't have thought that way," she says. She stays motivated by focusing on the positives: her newly toned muscles and the fact that she can climb a flight of stairs at work without getting winded. "I keep telling myself that I'm in it for the long haul. This is a marathon, not a sprint."
See all four women talk about the fantastic progress they've made at LHJ.com/fitforlife.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, April 2011.