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What woman in her right mind actually likes trying on bathing suits? And yet when these six arrived at a downtown Manhattan studio to be photographed for our cover story, they were astonishingly comfortable as they ditched their street clothes and—while cheering each other on—slipped into suits that ranged from skimpy to skimpier. "It really takes a woman who has been big before and lost weight to understand that feeling good in a bathing suit is a wonderful, special thing," says Monica King. "It was a very powerful moment."

And a bonding one too as the group assured Kate Smith she looked great in boy shorts and encouraged Isabel Curadeau to show off her cleavage with a sweetheart neckline. By the time they all lined up for this group shot, they were ready to work it. "It made all the difference in the world to have the other women there, knowing we all felt the same way about ourselves," explains Smith. "We're still not quite able to believe that we look as good as we feel!"

NOW!
120 lbs.
"The best thing is being strong. I feel like I'm in control of my body"

2001
232 lbs.

TURNING POINT: As a plus-size model in her native Canada, Curadeau says she knew "I was very heavy." But she didn't know just how heavy until she stepped on the scale at a friend's house in April 2002 and saw it hit 232 lbs. "I sat back down at the table and didn't finish the doughnuts in front of me."

HOW SHE DID IT: "I'm French and Italian, so [before] it was bread, pastas and sauce all the time," she says. But after one meeting with a nutritionist and countless hours spent researching healthy eating tips on the Internet (foodnetwork.com was a favorite), the 5' 4" Curadeau began eating whole wheat toast at breakfast, grilled meat and vegetables for lunch, and a bowl of soup or salad for dinner. "I was starving," she admits. "But I was very motivated." She also began walking up to 45 minutes a day, six days a week.

100-LB. MOMENT: After losing 72 lbs., Curadeau, 24, plateaued for more than a year. But she was driven to reach the 100-lb. milestone, and so she stepped up her workouts, sometimes running as much as 10 miles a day to reach her goal. "Now it feels," she says, "like I can do whatever I want."

Kate SMITH

NOW!
150 lbs.
"It's like my life has started over, and it's hard to remember the way I was"

2002
250 lbs.

TURNING POINT: By the time she was 25, years of drinking a 12-pack of soda a day and frequenting the drive-through at McDonald's left Smith "tired and miserable," she recalls. But it wasn't until nearly five years later—after giving birth to Elena, now 4, and divorcing her husband—that Smith felt ready to make a change. "I wanted to be healthy and feel good about myself," she says.

HOW SHE DID IT: The 5'9" Foster City, Calif., resident joined Weight Watchers and "swore off french fries and Alfredo sauce." But after losing 80 lbs., "I got sidelined," she says. "I got remarried, we were buying a house—I just stopped eating right." Then she discovered PEERtrainer.com, an online service that allows dieters to blog about their progress and encourages them to track all food intake and exercise. "If I have to write things down, I own up to them," says Smith, 32, a middle school English teacher, who hit her goal weight in August 2005 and later had a breast lift to remove excess skin left behind by her weight loss. "It couldn't be corrected by working out," she says.

100-LB. MOMENT: "When I had lost 100 lbs. I ran to my computer and posted it on my blog," says Smith. "You can't even describe that feeling."

Camille TIRZAH

NOW!
132 lbs.
"My arms are my favorite body part! I weight train for my biceps and triceps"

2003
232 lbs.

TURNING POINT: A first-grade teacher and divorced mother of two, the 5'2" Tirzah was used to bingeing on "anything bready, salty or greasy," she recalls. But at more than 230 lbs., she was put on high-blood-pressure medication by her doctor, which "made me so sleepy I couldn't be an effective teacher—and I was already low-energy enough!"

HOW SHE DID IT: In late 2003, Tirzah, who was then living in Portland, Ore., began attending weekly group sessions with Portland-based trainer Victoria Johnson. Johnson's mind-body-spirit approach involved keeping a "food/mood journal" along with her "vertical training" method, which features jazz and ballet movements with 5-lb. weights. Today Tirzah, 48, does two hours of cardio and weight training five days a week and follows a low-glycemic diet, which limits sugar and carbs and keeps her blood-sugar level low.

100-LB. MOMENT: "When the scale said I'd lost 100 lbs., I literally cried," she recalls. "I sat in my room and just thanked God."

Melissa HILL

NOW!
135 lbs.
"I usually bring my meals to work and rarely eat out. I'm a veggie burgers fan"

2003
283 lbs.

TURNING POINT: Frustrated by "a combination of finding everyday tasks increasingly difficult, not finding any clothing that would fit anymore and feeling like I was going nowhere," Hill, 28, took action in 2003. "I did not want to see that scale go over 300 lbs."

HOW SHE DID IT: One year after enrolling in Weight Watchers' online program, which she used both for food guidance and social support via message boards, the 5'9" Hill had lost 100 lbs., then dropped another 40 lbs. over the next six months by following an online running program [coolrunning.com's 'Couch to 5K' program]. "That got me to my first race in 2004," says Hill, a legal analyst and grad student in Minneapolis. "I was hooked on it after that first 5K." How hooked? Last year she ran a marathon in Antarctica.

READY FOR SUMMER: "It's great to be comfortable in the humid weather!" says Hill, who runs three to 10 miles three to five times a week.

Monica KING

NOW!
130 lbs.
"I have a [fire pit] and I just threw piece after piece of my plus-size clothes into it"

2005
240 lbs.

TURNING POINT: After undergoing vein-stripping surgery in early 2005 to relieve a blood clot in her leg caused by excess weight, King, 26, decided to make a change later that year. "I was afraid if I didn't do something, I wouldn't live to see my daughter grow old," says King, 5'7", a car sales rep in Killeen, Texas, whose weight gain began in earnest during her pregnancy (daughter Emily is now 4; King is separated from her husband) and was often emotionally charged: "I would get a king-sized Snickers bar when I was depressed."

HOW SHE DID IT: A friend told King about the L.A. Weight Loss program, which involves one-on-one counseling and a portion-controlled eating plan at a cost of $8 per week. Her favorite part? Not having to give up rice, a staple of her Korean-influenced diet. Today, King goes for weekly weigh-ins, runs two miles several times a week and credits Emily with keeping her active: "This year we're going swimming—that's something I never did and she loves it."

100-LB. MOMENT: "I went shopping!" she recalls. "And then I went out and had drinks with my girlfriends. It was a celebration of a major accomplishment."

Kelly SCHEER

NOW!
140 lbs.
"I work out every day, even on the weekends. I run a 10-minute mile now!"

2003
260 lbs.

TURNING POINT: After five tries with Weight Watchers, Scheer had resigned herself to being overweight. But then a friend suggested they team up on the diet plan—and kept on suggesting, until in April 2004 Scheer, who says she was "the least excited I've ever been" about trying the plan again, finally caved.

HOW SHE DID IT: With her pal's support, the 5'6" Scheer lost 80 lbs. on the Weight Watchers points system within 9 months. Then, as had happened in the past, she hit a plateau: "I'd lost that much before and gained it back," says the 29-year-old legal secretary, who lives with her husband, John, in Mechanicsville, Md. "But this time I'd worked way too hard to let it go." She added exercise to her daily routine, walking on a treadmill at first, then running. "I'd run two minutes, then three minutes," she says. "I just kept at it."

100-LB. MOMENT: Down 120 lbs. (which she maintains with daily runs and portion control), Scheer remembers the day she crossed the century mark. "One of my Weight Watchers leaders was weighing me in, and she yelled out, 'Kelly lost 100 pounds!'" says Scheer. "They gave me a 100 magnet and I have it on my fridge."

HOW THEY LOST 100 LBS.
WHAT THEY ATE AND HOW THEY WORKED OUT TO GET BIKINI-FIT

[This article contains a table] [Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF]

Have you lost 100 lbs.—or more? Send your before and after photos and details on how you did it to 100pounds@peoplemag.com. And look for more inspiring weight-loss stories—maybe even yours—in PEOPLE during the coming weeks.

See video from the cover subjects' swimsuit photo shoot! GO TO PEOPLE.COM/100LBS

  • Contributors:
  • With reporting by Alicia Dennis,
  • Vicki Sheff-Cahan,
  • Stacey Wilson.