For these three women, shedding lots of weight wasn't easy but, boy, was it worth it! What they gained—energy, confidence and joy—has changed their lives.

Meet Jen Small, 40, Biddeford, Maine

Lost 120 pounds: From 262 to 142 pounds in 17 months

Seven years ago, at age 33, Jen Small hit rock bottom, she says. Living in Boston, she'd been slender in her 20s, but the move home to Maine in January 2000 proved her undoing. "I was smoking and drinking too much," Jen says. And her weight soared, particularly after meeting Casey, her future husband. "When we started going out, I was a size 4," she says. "Three years later, I wore a size 22 wedding dress."

A DIET OF BEER, TAKEOUT AND TV
Casey was fine with Jen's weight; in fact, he was frequently her partner in caloric crime. "Every Friday night, I'd pick up beer and a bag of Chinese take-out," she recalls, "and that would be our evening in front of the TV." Jen's blood pressure and blood sugar went up, and climbing a flight of stairs left her winded. 

"I remember sitting on the couch watching a Biggest Loser marathon and crying because I so badly didn't want to be fat any more," she says. "I was sick and tired of being sick and tired."

'MY DAUGHTER SAVED MY LIFE'"
What turned things around was a simple yet profound wish: to start a family. But Jen knew motherhood would require getting healthy first. 

D-day was Sept. 1, 2007. "That day, no cigarettes or alcohol, and I packed a healthy lunch. Then, after work I went to the gym." Her goal was to run a mile. The first day, she lasted 15 minutes walking on a treadmill; the next day, she added a minute. Soon she was jogging. Several months later, she learned she was pregnant. She continued to eat well and exercise and, when Lauren was delivered on Oct. 6, 2008, Jen was down to 242 pounds. "My daughter saved my life—she's my angel," Jen says. "I was determined to be a strong, healthy, positive role model for her."

FINDING HER STRENGTH
After that, Jen kept it up: She did workout videos during Lauren's naps, and her family chipped in for a baby jogger. The more she ran—she'd worked up to a mile—the happier she felt. "It was like therapy for me," she says. She tackled a 5K race and was hooked. Within 14 months, she had lost 100 pounds. By the next year, she had upped her game—doing a "beginner," sprint triathlon. "I loved it so much," she says, "I got choked up when I realized it was almost over."

Jen—whose daughter is now 5 (and who has run several races herself)—has since completed more than 30 triathlons, and she helps spread the get-fit gospel as an exercise instructor and personal trainer. "I am so passionate about getting healthy that I needed to change careers and do what I love full time," she says. "I know firsthand what it is like to be fat and just how hard it is to lose weight. It's a cliché, but it's true: If I can do it, anyone can."

WORDS TO LOSE BY
Jen's best advice: "Let go of perfection. If you eat well or do your workouts 90 percent of the time, you're moving forward."
Tool that worked: "Keep a journal. All my clients do it now. I always had my notebook with me and wrote down what I ate, my weight and measurements, my workouts and how I was feeling. That taught me which emotions triggered which cravings. Plus, I had a list of goals, big and small. It's crazy to see how many I've achieved."

 

NEXT: SANDRA CRESPO LOST 220 POUNDS IN LESS THAN 4 YEARS

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