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JOSIE RAPER: THEN
The 29-year-old Phoenix native says her weight gain started out of convenience. "My husband was in school and we didn't have time for family meals. So for lunch, I would always go to fast-food restaurants, because there was no thinking involved; it actually got to the point where I had the exact change ready to go!" says Raper, who works in insurance sales. "And my husband, daughter and I would go out for dinner almost every night. Before I knew it, I was a size 22 – the largest I'd ever been."
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JOSIE RAPER: NOW
A family vacation to Hawaii showed Raper that it was time for a change. "I couldn't believe the size of my legs, my face, my whole body," she says. "I had a lack of energy and motivation, and wasn't feeling happy with myself. I had read about Dr. Siegal's Cookie Diet [which relies on amino acid-fortified cookies] online, so I cleaned out my pantry and started over. A year later, my lifestyle has completely changed. I avoid fast food and only eat out once or twice a month. I still eat the cookies – I like them."
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STACIE GUINES: THEN
The Chattanooga, Tenn., teacher, 27, says her eating affected her behavior. "I dated a guy in high school and always ate like a bird around him, because I didn't want him to see me eating – but then I'd binge later. At holiday parties, I'd hit the buffet, then mingle with different people so I could pretend I hadn't eaten yet and could go get more food. I was in denial."
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STACIE GUINES: NOW
"At 22, I topped 300 lbs. and my doctor became concerned; I have diabetes and high blood pressure in my family," says Guines, now 27, "I decided enough is enough, and a friend who had also struggled with her weight convinced me to do L.A. Weight Loss together. It took time getting used to foods I hadn't eaten, like asparagus, but I have a new passion for broccoli! And seeing the weight come off made it easy to stick to. So now when I go to parties, I eat beforehand!"
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LISA DREHER: THEN
The stay-at-home mom, 34, says being around food in her Thornton, Colo., home all the time was her downfall. "I would just sit and eat and eat and eat. My biggest downfall was I like to bake. My kids got cupcakes and brownies daily – but I would eat most of it before they got home! I could eat a whole bowl of raw cookie dough without a problem; I craved it."
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LISA DREHER: NOW
Her life changed when her father had a heart attack four years ago. "I did all his cooking for him," she says. "I had to change our eating habits to fit his needs, which meant taking all the gunk out of our diets. I still bake, but not with cookie dough because I know I would cheat with it! I haven't had it in three years. Instead, I make healthy things, like flaxseed bread – my kids love it! I tell people, 'I'm not on a diet. This is my life now.'"
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ARYA FARZIN: THEN
"Growing up, we always had food everywhere. Even if it was just fruit, I'd be eating all day long," says the 21-year-old student from Potomac, Md. "By the time I went to college, I had terrible habits – I'd just order food and watch TV all day. I could eat a huge cheesesteak and then a couple of hours later, a whole pizza with two liters of soda."
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ARYA FARZIN: NOW
"It got to the point where I was so big," he says. "I didn't want to be seen." That Christmas, his uncle told him about NutriSystem, and offered to let Farzin live with him so he could support him on his journey to health. "I followed the meal plan like a robot. It was a shock to the system, but the results kept me going. I still have dreams that I'm fat, but I'm confident I won't gain it back."
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LESSIE ALVARADO: THEN
The Grand Prairie, Texas, bank manager admits that, at her highest weight, she would eat several dinners a day. "I would hit a fast-food drive-in on the drive home. Then, an hour later, my husband would ask me what we were eating for dinner – and I wouldn't tell him I'd already eaten! And usually, we'd eat out at another fast-food restaurant. It was the same at lunch – my sister-in-law and I would go for an all-you-can-eat buffet, then my husband would want to go to lunch a few hours later and I'd meet him. After awhile, I couldn't get under 200 lbs. "
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LESSIE ALVARADO: NOW
Alvarado, 41, started working out after a friend brought her along to the gym. "I became so addicted to Turbo Jam kickboxing that I went every day. People could tell I'd lost a lot." She then took her weight-loss further, signing up with an online diet community. "I came across SparkPeople.com one night last year, and it's really helped with the maintenance."
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PAIGE SCHMELZER: THEN
The Seattle teacher, 31, used to hide her eating habits from friends and family. "I'm sneaky. Nobody knew the volume of food I ate because I had food stashed at my desk and in my car. In front of other people at work, I'd have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, chips and a soda – and later eat four candy bars in my office," she says. "At fast food restaurants, I'd order a regular meal and a kid's meal, so it would look like I had a kid, but I'd eat both. I lived a lie."
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PAIGE SCHMELZER: NOW
Schmelzer was inspired to lose the weight before turning 30. "I saw my reflection and I didn't want to be that way any more. There was a deal at my gym and that's how I started. Now I do cardio three days and weight training for two. It's still hard to remember calorie counting; every day I struggle. But I'm proud of what I've done and don't want to fall back."