January 08, 2007 12:00 PM

At 293 lbs., San Antonio drama teacher and local theater actress Mandy Muniz was cast only as the chubby friend or the mom. “Never the ingenue,” sighs Muniz, 31. So in April 2005, she joined LA Weight Loss, which provided her a customized plan. Paying about $10 a week for nutritional counseling, she began a portion-controlled diet and a food diary. Before then, “I ate when I could, usually out of a machine.” By adding exercise, the 5’5″ Muniz hit her goal of 130 lbs. in August 2006. Recently, she says, she lost another role, but this time, “because the director said I looked too great.” Today Muniz, who is married to Rey, an Internet insurance adjuster, works hard to keep the weight off in the face of job stress and temptation. “There are times I’ve felt that I would never enjoy social events again,” she admits. “But the benefits of staying healthy are way more important than cake.”

NOW! 126 lbs.

SIZE 2

THEN 293 lbs.

SIZE 24

HER WEEKDAY ROUTINE

5:00 A.M. | ON THE MOVE

After she has a hard-boiled egg to “boost her metabolism,” Muniz hits her home gym, first riding a stationary bike for an hour, then working out to Denise Austin’s Fit & Lite show on Lifetime.

12:00 P.M. | LUNCH BREAK

The key to avoiding the lure of unhealthy snacks? “I have a different fruit at every meal,” says Muniz (with students). “You’ve got to keep your body intrigued. You can’t eat the same thing every day.”

10:00 A.M. | CLASS ACTION

Stretching with students before a dress rehearsal of The Importance of Being Earnest, Muniz says, “There’s no way I could have done that before.” At nearly 300 lbs., “I used to just stand still and direct.”

6:00 P.M. | GOOD MEASURE

Muniz whips up baked chicken with steamed squash and zucchini in just 30 minutes. The most important tool in her kitchen: a food scale. “I even take it to restaurants to weigh my meat entree,” she says.

THE WEEKEND

9:00 A.M. | WEIGHING IN

Muniz meets each Saturday with Michelle Urdialez, a counselor at the LA Weight Loss Center where a pair of Muniz’s old size-24 jeans hangs on the wall to inspire others. The check-ins, she says, keep her “on track.”

10:30 A.M. | SPOUSAL SUPPORT

“We spend more time outdoors now,” says Muniz (hiking in a state park with husband Rey, who has lost 40 lbs. since Mandy changed her own habits). “Before I didn’t even have the energy to watch TV with him.”

For more pictures, go to PEOPLE.COM/HALFTHEIRSIZE

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