Stress from her job as an education technology integrator in Buffalo, New York, left Melanie Kitchen, now 37, grabbing whatever food was fast and easy--usually takeout fried chicken or pizza. During her second pregnancy in 2005, Melanie hit an all-time high on the scale. "I stopped looking after 200 pounds," she says. Post-baby, the 5'5" Melanie was only down to 190 pounds and often had no energy to devote to her newborn daughter and 17-month-old son. "Exercise seemed like just one more thing to add to the to-do list," she says.
Before: 200 lbs
After: 131 lbs
In July 2006, Melanie was considering surgery to alleviate the back and neck pain caused by her size 38F bust. The final straw, though, was when someone pulled out a camera on a family trip. "I always tried to stand in the back, but this time I couldn't hide," she recalls. "I decided I wanted a body that I could be proud of."
That month, Melanie started taking hourlong walks three days a week. Instead of takeout, she cooked at home, including breakfast, a meal she used to skip. She fought ice-cream cravings with frozen yogurt. "Once I got rid of the junk, I found that I liked fruits and vegetables," she says. The small changes added up, and she dropped 25 pounds over the next two years. In July 2008, she began working with a personal trainer at her gym, who got her doing cardio and strength training three or four days a week. Melanie was down to 155 pounds when a knee injury sidelined her in December 2009. She got back on track by bumping up her strength training and adding yoga to her routine. In November 2011, she felt fabulous and fit at 131 pounds.
Slimming down kept Melanie off the surgeon's table. Now a 34C, she wears strapless tops with confidence--and never fears a camera. "I no longer have negative thoughts about how I look," she says. "I'm comfortable in my skin."
Repeat yourself: "I ate the same breakfast and lunch most days so I didn't have to come up with new recipes, and I rotated dinner to keep from getting bored."
Do a reality check: "I ask myself, Will there ever be another chance to eat this indulgent food again? I eat it only if the answer is no."
Play to lose: "If I can't make it to the gym, I take the kids to the park instead, and we run sprints and play on the jungle gym."