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Chantel Hobbs

"I think I had to go through being fat to get where I am today," says Chantel Hobbs, who at 34 is a Coral Springs, Fla., fitness instructor, marathon runner, mom of four—and 172 lbs. lighter than she was five years ago. Obese for more than half of her life (at age 15, she was already more than 200 lbs.), Hobbs retained more weight after each pregnancy. At age 29, however, she looked at her family and said, "I want to live longer." Using a plan of her own design, she began in the gym, pedaling a recumbent bike for 30 minutes, six days a week. After a month she cut portion sizes but still ate favorites like fettuccini Alfredo; at 25 lbs. down she switched to six small meals and fewer carbs. All the while, says husband Keith, 34, a small-business owner, "she still baked and made normal dinners for us. It was unbelievable." By her 30th birthday, Chantel had shed 101 lbs. and today maintains her 154-lb. physique in part by weight training and teaching spinning classes. (She did, however, need help when it came to removing excess abdominal skin and restoring her breast size; for details, see box pages 90-91.) Is it easy? Not always. "There is no 'getting there,' no day I can stop working out and eat whatever I want," she says. "I pray all the time for God to keep me in check." But it is clear she's in it for the marathon, not the sprint. "Everybody has their sweet spot in life," says Hobbs. "This is mine."

1995:
326 lbs.
SIZE 24

NOW!
154 lbs.
HEIGHT: 5′9″ SIZE 8

"It's ridiculous to think you can lose weight without ever being hungry. A lot of nights, I went to bed hungry"

A DAY IN HER LIFE

• 5:15 A.M. Hit the gym for Pilates, stretching or weight training

• 5:45 A.M. Teach a 60-min. spin class

• 7 A.M. Drink a 24-oz. protein shake

• 7:40 A.M. Take kids to school

• 9:25 A.M. Snack on a banana

• 9:30 A.M. Lead a 90-min. personal training session at clients' gym

• 11 A.M. Snack on 6-oz. fat-free yogurt

• NOON Meet a friend for lunch; eat 1 cup brown rice, stir-fried vegetables, 6 oz. of chicken, 2 diet sodas

• 2 P.M. Pick up kids from school, start dinner in the slow cooker

• 2:30 P.M. Snack on 16 low-fat wheat crackers, 4 tbsp. hummus, 3 thin slices of turkey

• 4:15 P.M. Take Kayla and Jake to ice rink. Snack on protein bar

• 5 P.M. Bring Jake to T-ball practice

• 6 P.M. Teach spin class

• 7 P.M. Serve family dinner of slow-cooker meal made with turkey breast, broccoli, carrots and 2 tbsp. teriyaki sauce; side of baked sweet potato and salad

• 8 P.M. Watch American Idol and eat fruit for dessert

• 9 P.M. Once the last kid is asleep, catch up with Keith and his day

• 11 P.M. Bed!

For more on Hobbs's diet and workout plan, go to www.people.com or AOL (Keyword: People)

SURGERY AFTER WEIGHT LOSS
Having hit her goal, Hobbs saw a doctor to refit the skin she was in

Along with the thrill of losing significant weight comes a little-discussed disappointment: No matter how many sit-ups you religiously crunch, the excess skin that once stretched over your girth never quite goes away. The only way to get rid of it? Plastic surgery, which an increasing number of dieters and post-gastric-bypass patients are doing. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, last year 68,134 people had body-contouring surgeries after massive weight loss, a 22 percent rise from 2004. For Hobbs, the decision was an easy one. After four pregnancies and her 172-lb. loss, she had loose stomach folds that "in a swimming pool would float away from my bones," she says, and her breasts were devoid of shape and volume. So in February 2004, she underwent a breast lift and augmentation (from a 34B to a 34D) and, this past January, had an abdominoplasty to remove excess skin and tighten tummy muscles. "I usually do liposuction too, but she had so little fat it was unnecessary," says Hobbs's plastic surgeon, Dr. Leonard Hochstein. "She lost only 3 or 4 lbs. from the procedure. [Normally] a patient would lose 10 to 20 lbs." Average price tag: $13,000, but it is worth every penny, Hobbs says. After being so successful at her diet and workouts, "I should feel good about myself."

Rob Powell

At 283 lbs., Rob Powell was winded by the simplest activity. After playing tag with his children one day, he "was so out of breath, I thought I was dead," he says. "I needed to do something." In 2001 he spotted an ad for hypnotherapy, a technique that has been used for years to curb addictions like smoking and has been growing in popularity as a weight-loss treatment. "I figured why not?" says Powell, 38. After just one session at a Chicago-area Positive Changes center—where he lounged in a recliner and watched a video on nutrition and exercise, then listened to a 30-minute tape repeating such directives as, "You will stop eating before you are full"—Powell, a consultant, was choosing salads over fast food. Within two weeks he dropped 14 lbs. Inspired, he committed to a year of weekly sessions and also began exercising, alternating between the elliptical machine and weight-lifting five days a week, getting down to 148 lbs. No wonder then that, even with a year's worth of hypnotherapy sessions' costing $2,377, Powell says, "If it had cost $10,000, it would have been a deal. I got my life back."

1998:
283 lbs.
SIZE 48

NOW!
155 lbs.
HEIGHT: 5′10″ SIZE 32
"I chew sugarless gum during parties. If you're chewing gum, your mouth is busy and it's harder to snack"

Arienne McCracken

After her mother died of breast cancer at age 63, Arienne McCracken (who knew obesity is a risk factor of the disease for postmenopausal women) vowed to get in shape. And so in 2001, the 40-year-old administrative assistant joined eDiets.com (cost: $15.96 for 4 weeks), which helped her create 1,700-calorie-a-day menus and exercise plans. "I was eating things I liked, but smaller portions," says the L.A. resident. It took her two years to lose nearly 200 lbs.—and a little longer to get used to her new body. On her second date with boyfriend James Betteridge, 42, McCracken was dumb-founded when he asked her to sit on his lap. "When you're 300 lbs., you don't sit on anybody's lap, you know?" she says. "I have to remind myself that I'm no longer fat."

1999:
327 lbs.
SIZE 30

NOW!
145 lbs.
HEIGHT: 5′4″ SIZE 8
"Taking the stairs, parking the car further away—I found the difference came from little changes"

SHE CHOSE AN ONLINE DIET—SHOULD YOU?

Like McCracken, an increasing number of dieters are turning to the Web for help. But what, exactly, will you find at sites like Cyber diet.com, the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic and Nutricise.com? Typically, there are tools to help you devise sample menus—with recipes and calorie counts—and create an electronic food journal. There's often advice on putting together a fitness routine, as well as support from professional counselors and peers you communicate with via message boards, chat rooms and e-mail. Fans of online dieting (which can be free or cost up to $50 a month) cite its privacy and convenience as selling points. "If I woke up in the middle of the night with a question about, for example, soy milk, I could post it on the community board and get an answer pretty quickly," McCracken says. But keep in mind that because there isn't a person to keep an eye on your behavior face-to-face, you'll need to be self-motivated. Notes Deborah Tate, Ph.D., who has conducted studies on online dieting at Brown University's Medical School: "People who continue to make weight loss a priority by checking their e-mails, answering, responding and doing their behavioral diaries—those are the people who are most successful."

Nathalie Bolin

By age 20, Nathalie Bolin tipped the scale at 312 lbs. Worried she might have to give up her dream of being a teacher ("I knew I didn't have the energy I needed," she says), the Cincinnati native joined Weight Watchers in 2003. Trading in french fries for frozen Weight Watchers entrées (approximately $3 a meal), "I was always hungry," Bolin admits. To get her mind off her growling stomach, she took a 20-minute walk after each meal; she later joined a gym, dropping more than 150 lbs. in about two years. Today Bolin, 23, a student teacher, stays fit with yoga and spinning classes and no longer eats just because there's food left on the plate. Now, she says, "I go to a restaurant and take home half the meal!"

2002:
312 lbs.
SIZE 26

NOW!
155 lbs.
HEIGHT: 5′8″ SIZE 8
"If you get the munchies, distract yourself from food by reading or running an errand"

Angela Williams

At 430 lbs. Angela Williams suffered from arthritis and sleep apnea and was a borderline diabetic. Still, "I thought, 'Nothing's wrong with me. I'm cute,'" she says. "I was in denial." Her wake-up call came in '04, when her aunt died of heart disease. Fearing a similar fate, Williams, now 27, signed up with LA Weight Loss. Paying $8 a week for the program's diet counseling, she soon cut out Cap'n Crunch and fast food for chicken breasts and low-fat cheese. She also started taking walks and during the next two years lost 250 lbs. The Alexandria, La., health worker, who takes aerobics classes three times a week, can now cross her legs and tie her shoes. "I was in the store one day and saw someone in a mirror and thought, 'She is so pretty,'" she recalls. "Then I realized, 'That's me!'"

2002:
430 lbs.
SIZE 34

NOW!
180 lbs.
HEIGHT: 5′5″ SIZE 12
"You can squeeze in a workout anywhere. On work breaks take a brisk walk around the building"

Lori Smith

After Lori Smith got married in 1983, a new husband wasn't all she gained. "We ate out a lot," says the Edmond, Okla., homemaker, who hit 160 lbs. by her first anniversary; three pregnancies later she was almost 270 lbs. "But every time I thought about [losing weight] I grabbed another cookie." Motivation came in 2001, as a high school reunion loomed. She turned to Jenny Craig, and the plan's prepackaged low-fat meals ($12-16 a day) and weekly counseling sessions—combined with running and weight training—helped her shed 102 lbs. in 11 months. Today Smith, 42, works out six days a week and watches portions. "I have to reintroduce myself to people who haven't seen me in a while," she says. "They recognize my eyes, but that's the only thing."

1999:
272 lbs.
SIZE 22

NOW!
141 lbs.
HEIGHT: 5′3″ SIZE 4
"When you see yourself gaining a pound or two, jump on it immediately, so it doesn't get out of control"

THEIR WEIGHT-LOSS PLANS
Step by step, bite by bite, a detailed look at how they lost the pounds

LIGHT READING
The lowdown on a stack of brand-new diet and fitness books

THE WHOLE GRAIN DIET MIRACLE
by doctors Lisa Hark (of TLC's Honey We're Killing the Kids!) and Darwin Deen encourages dieters to eat three daily servings of grains in recipes like veal stew with millet.

THE FAT SMASH DIET
by VH1's Celebrity Fit Club weight-loss expert Dr. Ian K. Smith.

Try the diet and exercise plan Kelly LeBrock did, which aims to "rewire your body and its relationship to food."

FITNESS UNLEASHED!
by GMA vet Marty Becker and Robert Kushner, M.D.

A guide to walking your way to fitness with your dog, who is a guaranteed "drag your butt off the couch" motivator.

ULTRAMETABOLISM
by Dr. Mark Hyman, who prescribes organic foods, exercise and relaxation to reset your metabolism in a tome that also cites Newton's laws of thermodynamics.

HALF THEIR SIZE: WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

STILL SIZZLING!
Two weight-loss winners from our previous stories give their best tips for staying slim—year after year

Lindsey Williams

BEFORE: 400 LBS.
AFTER: 165 LBS.
NOW: BETWEEN 180-190 LBS.

• FIND SUPPORT. "I have an addictive personality [when it comes] to food," says Williams, 40, a caterer in Manhattan. "So I have a support group I go to."

• PLAN AHEAD. "I write down what I'm going to eat the night before," says Williams, who recently authored Neo Soul, a health-conscious soul-food cookbook.

• CREATE AN OUTLET FOR YOUR FOOD FEELINGS. To silence the niggling questions (Did I eat too much grain? Did I work out enough?) that creep into his mind, Williams works through such thoughts in his journal.

Karen Brown

BEFORE: 194 LBS.
AFTER: 124 LBS.
NOW: 122 LBS.

• DON'T SLACK OFF.
"You should maintain the same level of physical exercise you did in the last weeks of your loss," she says. For Brown, that means 10 hours a week of workouts, which include three- to four-mile runs, step aerobics and strength training.

• SWITCH IT UP.
"I've tried mountain biking and rock climbing," says the 40-year-old fitness instructor from Centennial, Colo. "Just the other day I tried ice hockey."

• TREAT YOURSELF.
Brown mostly sticks to a diet of six small, high-protein, whole-grain-rich meals a day—but she does allow the occasional indulgence. "I do a nonfat, sugar-free vanilla latte two times a week," she says.

  • Contributors:
  • David Searls/Cleveland,
  • Ruth Laney/Alexandria,
  • La.,
  • Shia Kapos/Chicago,
  • Chad Love/Edmond,
  • Okla.,
  • Vicki Sheff-Cahan/Los Angeles,
  • Linda Trischitta/Coral Springs,
  • Fla.,
  • Caroline Howard/New York City,
  • Kristen Mascia/New York City,
  • Vickie Bane/Centennial,
  • Colo.