July 25, 2005 12:00 PM

For Rebae Kelly the big moment came as she was singing in church and overheard a fellow parishioner ask, “Who’s the new woman in the choir?” Although Kelly had gone to the church for years, she was indeed, in a sense, a new woman: In 16 months she had dropped from 282 lbs. to 141 lbs.—becoming, literally and precisely, half the woman she used to be. Along with the health benefits, she also made another discovery. “Well, one thing’s for sure,” says Kelly. “Summer’s a whole lot more fun when you’re thinner.”

She’s not alone. The six people in these pages all lost weight the old-school way: cutting out fatty foods, watching portions and making exercise a daily habit. And, most important, sticking to it. And when summer rolled around, they found themselves doing things they hadn’t done in years. Tiffany Williams, who lost 145 lbs., rode a bike for the first time since childhood. Amber Mazzurco, 110 lbs. lighter, plays in the park with her daughter. Maria Bova, down 150 lbs., ended her 10-year ban on swimsuits. “Instead of hiding from the world, I enjoy being active in it,” says Mazzurco. “This wasn’t a quick fix. This was a lifestyle change.”

Maria Bova

Heavy since childhood, Maria Bova had resigned herself to being that way forever. “I came from a fat family” she says. “My mom probably weighs 300 lbs., and I always had issues with weight.” A diagnosis of cervical cancer at 25, when she was a newly divorced single mom, was the wake-up call she needed. “I realized that if I didn’t do something, I’d have a heart attack at 32,” says the 29-year-old telecommunications executive, now cancer free. She started small, first walking to the corner and back, building up to full laps around the block of her Chicago neighborhood. When her stamina increased, “I’d work out for 30 minutes every morning and after work no matter where I was,” says Bova, who joined Bally Total Fitness so she could exercise when traveling on the job. Eating five low-calorie meals a day (she indulged in anything she wanted one day a week) helped her shed 40 lbs. in five months. Now a lean 135 lbs., Bova runs marathons. “I try to be outside as much as possible,” says the devoted boater, finally happy to show off her shape. “I’m not embarrassed to be seen in shorts or even a swimsuit now. My whole outlook has changed.”

Amber Mazzurco

At 6 ft. tall, Amber Mazzurco has long been accustomed to shopping at big-and-tall clothing stores. But until recently the emphasis was on big. Plump as a child, Mazzurco, 27, feasted on fast food daily. After the birth of her daughter in 2000, her weight skyrocketed. “I didn’t know how to live in a health-conscious way,” says Mazzurco, a customer-service rep in Arvada, Colo. “Exercise was not a word in my vocabulary.” When she hit 263 lbs. in 2001, she decided she needed change—mainly for the sake of her child. “I was teaching my daughter terrible habits,” she says.

Mazzurco joined Weight Watchers, trading doughnuts for yogurt and cookies for low-fat pudding. She also started working out on an elliptical trainer. By October 2002 she had dropped to 153 lbs., a weight she has maintained for nearly three years. Adding activities like volleyball, bike riding and dancing has helped, and now that it’s summer, she goes for walks in the evening with her daughter. “I have found a new confidence,” she says. Her husband couldn’t agree more. Says Jim, who lost 20 lbs. himself thanks to her healthy cooking: “The weight loss has restored that glow in my wife again.”

Rebae Kelly

Like a true Southerner, Rebae Kelly was raised believing her chicken should be fried and her green beans creamed. Still, she was never heavy growing up—her 5’8″ frame topped out at a size 10 when she wed in 1993. But once she was “happily married,” says Kelly, 34, a Jackson, Ga., homemaker, “my weight just kept going up, up, up.” Three children later, she was wearing a size 26. It wasn’t until she saw a video from a family cruise to the Bahamas in September ’03, though, that she realized how big she had got. “I was as wide as the hallways on the ship,” she says.

Kelly enrolled in Weight Watchers the following month—she weighed in at 282 lbs.—and ditched her daily candy bars and fast-food hamburgers for the program’s low-cal point system. Now 141 lbs., she drinks water instead of sweet tea and bakes her chicken and green beans with fat-free spray butter. She also walks half an hour a day with weights. Her secret for keeping on track? “I don’t believe in eliminating foods I crave,” she says. “But I now have a scoop of ice cream instead of the biggest bowl in the family.” Her portion control has paid off—especially at the pool. “I was always paranoid about what I was wearing,” she says. “Now I put on a bathing suit and enjoy it!”

Angela Fotinos

Since she was 3, Angela Fotinos has taken or taught dance classes. But growing up the daughter of Greek restaurateurs meant food—lots of it. Holidays were like “going through a buffet that has 50 different choices,” says Fotinos, 32, a second-grade teacher from Hoover, Ala. By the time she hit college, she was over 300 lbs. Her busy schedule—she took college courses and taught dance, which wasn’t much cardio—meant she often ate fast food. “I never noticed how large I was,” she says, “until I started to lose weight and looked at pictures.”

Fotinos vowed to slim down the summer of 2001, when she hit 346 lbs. She joined Weight Watchers and started taking Jazzercise, enjoying it so much that she became certified to teach. Now nearly 200 lbs. lighter, Fotinos sticks to lean meats and fresh fruit. During her summer break, she teaches Jazzercise in addition to taking four-mile walks. Her biggest change? “Boys—they notice you more,” says Fotinos. “They listen to you. People say, ‘You’re so beautiful.’ ”

Tiffany Williams

When Brian Maybank reunited with ex-girlfriend Tiffany Williams after three years apart, “I didn’t know who she was,” he says. “I was like, ‘Whoa!’ ” The reason for the surprise? Williams, who once weighed 310 lbs., had slimmed down to a fit 165 lbs. Chubby since childhood, she decided to make a change after a late-night pizza binge. “I just saw that I was exploding, exploding out of my pants,” says Williams, 26, a Dallas parole officer. In February 2003 she joined a gym and started working out four times a week with personal trainer Julie Hoang, who persuaded her to nix fast food for home-cooked chicken breast and veggies. She also started getting out of the house. “I learned how to throw a football and baseball,” says Williams, who inspired on-again beau Maybank to drop from 465 lbs. to 355. “I hadn’t been on a bike since I was a little kid. With the weight loss, I really love sports.”

Ralph Loglisci

At 383 lbs., Ralph Loglisci Knew the fear of standing up at a restaurant with a chair stuck to his rear. “It’s humiliating,” says the 34-year-old Maryland television-news producer, who often binged on pizza when stressed. “I hated myself.” After working on segments about people bed-bound by obesity, “I knew I had to start living or start dying,” he says. In October 2002 he signed up for the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, an outpatient program. Limiting himself to 1,100 calories a day, he ate prepackaged snacks (like pudding or soup) and a low-cal dinner and ran and lifted weights three times a week. He also learned to deal with his stress. Now instead of eating, “I walk the dog, and a minute later the hunger is gone,” says Loglisci. “That makes me feel good about myself.”

Ericka Sóuter, Marisa Wong and Jennifer Wulff. Vickie Bane and Keith Raether in Los Angeles, Deborah Geering and Gail Wescott in Atlanta, Tracie Powell in Dallas, Rose Ellen O’Connor in Washington, D.C., Shia Kapos in Chicago and Antoinette Y. Coulton in New York City

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