When Jennifer Hutt was diagnosed with high blood pressure shortly after turning 39, she knew she needed to take action to improve her health. "I was feeling extra anxious, extra unhappy and extra unappealing," she said. A year earlier, her mom had died at 65 of pancreatic cancer. "My mom was super thin, and I figured if she died early even though she was thin, then I would surely die early, since I'm fat," says Hutt, co-author of "Whateverland: Learning to Live Here" and the host of "Whatever with Jennifer" on Sirius XM.
Magic Ingredient: Viewing each meal as a place to start again. "Instead of beating myself up or giving up on a whole day, I would get right back on whatever plan it was that I was following."
Now Hutt has lost close to 70 pounds and is a size 6. "I feel much better about my body," she said. "It is still surreal that I wear a size 6, that I can buy clothing at any store and that I can order things online and they actually fit." She chronicles her journey in a YouTube series called, "Tales from the Treadmill."
Shannon Hammer believes her struggle with food started at age four when a well-intentioned aunt put her on a diet. "I started to sneak eat, so I wouldn’t eat 'fattening' food in front of anybody lest I be judged and subjected to criticism,” she said. At 230 pounds, her weight didn't register with her until she saw a picture of herself taken at a Christmas party. "It looked like somebody had superimposed my face on a fat woman’s body."
Her Magic Ingredient: Changed her thinking. "I changed my philosophy from one of just wanting to 'get skinny' to one of wanting to 'get healthy.' I realized I needed a bigger goal than just achieving a number on a scale if I was going to remain motivated to change my life."
At 233 pounds, Marcia Noyes avoided catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror. "Nothing I put on made me look any better," she said. Every birthday, she wished to be thin, once and for all. When she turned 50, she realized, "I was wishing my life away but not doing anything to change the situation." Time, she felt, was running out. "I wanted to finally become thin and not die a fat person."
Her Magic Ingredient: Photography. “When people bring cakes and things into the office, I wanted my hands busy, so I began taking pictures of all the beautiful sweets," she says. She uploaded the photos onto her computer for an entire year. "I have a file of sweets on my computer and not on my hips. That helped train me to no longer want them.”
Now Noyes has run six marathons and weighs 160 pounds. "At the age of 51, I now feel better than at any time in my life," she says. "I have the energy of a teenager and other than feeling tired and sore after long runs, I feel on top of the world."
Even though blogger Jane Cartelli's husband loved her unconditionally, at 385 pounds, she felt repulsive, like "a lump of fat." Yet she felt powerless to change her appearance. "Every night I was back into the food," she said. But when her family began gaining weight, she knew, as the alpha personality in her home, she needed to change her diet for everybody's sake. "If I ate healthier and moved more, everyone else would follow suit--to a point."
Her Magic Ingredient: Acceptance. "Acceptance that I am a food addict. Acceptance that I cannot have certain foods and sanity at the same time. Acceptance that I do not control the world, but I can control what's on my fork by not picking up the foods that cause the addiction to manifest."
Now Cartelli weighs 168 pounds. "Keeping the pounds off in a sane and healthy manner is a continuing journey," said Cartelli. "It is not a destination where you stop and magically never have to worry about it again."
When Kathie Anderson saw herself in her son's high school graduation pictures, she cringed. "I hid behind my weight and used those 50 pounds as an excuse not to do things," she said. As she flipped through the photos, she was saddened that at such an important milestone event, she was reluctant to have her picture taken because of her weight. "I made a promise to myself to lose that weight, to regain my confidence, and to be happy and proud in that photo at the next big milestone event. No more hiding for me!"
Her Magic Ingredient: Counting. "I tracked my food intake and exercise using an app on my phone. I didn’t pay too much attention to low-fat or carbs in the beginning but quickly learned that more fruits, vegetables and fiber would keep me full longer with a lot less calories."
Now 138 pounds, Anderson feels happier, stronger, and more confident than ever. "I am more aware now of what my body needs with regards to food, water, and exercise," she said. "And I listen to those needs."
A former collegiate athlete, at age 35 blogger Jen Hendrickson could no longer shop with most of her friends because she’d reached size 16/18. But it wasn't until she saw pictures of herself from a Lung Walk in which she weighed 232 pounds that she took action. "I had gotten to the point where I no longer recognized the face looking back at me," she said. She wished to set a better example of healthy living for her two little girls.
Her Magic Ingredient: Her support system. “I joined Weight Watchers with my best friend. We promised one another that we would do this together and we would not quit--it was not an option. Two months later my mom joined WW. Another month later, my brother and sister-in-law joined WW. When you surround yourself with people who want to be, or already are where you want to be, you're motivated and inspired to keep going."
Now 160 pounds, Hendrickson is training for a 10-mile race and a half marathon this fall. "I think the biggest thing for me is remembering that I am not ever going to be 'skinny' or have a perfect, little bikini body," she said. "At age 36, I am the healthiest and fittest I have been in my life. Our bodies were created do do amazing things. You will never know what you are capable of until you try."
After having two children, Sally Shields wanted to lose weight, but her body wasn’t budging--plus she felt constantly hungry. "My mother would say, 'You have two young children, give yourself a break. That's how mommies look!'," says Shields. But she saw how easily some moms snapped back into shape. As a writer, she decided to interview 101 slim women from 20-69 to uncover how they stayed thin.
Her Magic Ingredient: Fiber. "To eliminate cravings, I supplement with SkinnyFiber, an all natural fiber supplement that helps you feel full and eat less, as well as helps support weight management, metabolism and detoxification." (Shields is a representative for SkinnyBodyCare.)
As a mother of three young children, photographer Lisa Erickson struggled to find time to care for herself. With her first pregnancy, she had gained over 80 pounds, and never lost more than 30 pounds with each additional pregnancy.
Weighing 220 pounds prevented her from being the mom she wanted to be. "I knew it wasn’t fair to my kids or myself not to live the life I wanted and my kids deserved," she said. "I decided I had had enough with my weight and lack of energy."
Her Magic Ingredient: Consistency. "I made small changes and stuck with them. I made a conscious effort to follow through on what I committed myself to for that day. Eventually that lead to bigger changes."
Erickson decreased her body fat from 29% to 13%. "I'm amazed by not only the appearance of my body now, but how strong I am," she said. She exercises regularly with her children, and helps them understand healthy food choices. "I feel capable of accomplishing anything in my life if I am willing to do the work."
Amanda Dwyer says she was in denial about her weight. "If my jeans felt tight, I'd tell myself, 'Oh gosh, the dryer must have shrunk these'," she said. Or, she'd think water retention. But one day, while grocery shopping, she hopped onto the big scale out front after her young boys did. "The elder of the two, then seven years old, looked at the dial and announced at full volume, 'Mommy, you weigh 200! Isn't that quite a lot?' And it hit me. Yes, for me that was quite a lot," Dwyer said. "I wasn't just fat. I was clinically obese."
Her Magic Ingredient: Willingness to always try something new. "As soon as I became tired of one method (pre-packaged delivery meals), I'd try another (food journaling with calorie counting). If I'd just thrown in the towel when the pre-packaged meals got tiring, I can tell you where I'd be right now: I'd be right back at 200 pounds... if I were lucky."
Now Dwyer weighs 133.5 pounds. "For a 41-year-old mother of two, I feel amazing!" she said. "My husband and my boys are my biggest cheerleaders and fans. And I'm just tickled to finally have jeans that fit well again."
Jennifer Jeanne Patterson is a freelance writer and author of 52 Fights. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and three children. Find her blog at Unplanned Cooking.