12/30/2003 AT 04:50 PM EST
Then: 204 lbs.
Now: 129 lbs.
Motivation: Weight-induced headaches and vision problems
A skinny kid in Miami who could eat anything – including her Cuban family's specialty, fried bananas – and not gain an ounce, Canino was shocked to discover that as an adult she had put on 80 lbs. during her first pregnancy and couldn't easily lose them after the birth of son Nikko, now 16. She went to Jenny Craig in 1988 and hit 115 lbs., but after the birth of her second son, Andrew, two years later, she again ballooned to 184. Using the now-banned drug combination fenphen helped, but without the pills, back came the weight. By the time her third son, Ryan, was born in 1994, she was carrying 174 lbs. on her 5'2" frame. "I got lazy," says Canino, now 39 and living with her kids and husband Hector, also 39, a seafood distributor, in a Los Angeles suburb. "I concentrated on my children and I lost myself."
As a result her self-image suffered. She skipped a friend's wed- ding rather than be seen in plus-size formal wear. "I knew I wouldn't look good," she says. "I stayed home and cried." Plus, as Canino got heavier, her shapely little sister, actress Eva Mendes (Stuck on You), was becoming famous. "I've never been envious of Eva," says Canino. But she would see her sister in magazines and think, "I used to look this good. What happened to me?"
Her health deteriorated too. Her knees and back often ached so much in the morning she literally had to crawl to the bathroom. And in September '01 she was diagnosed with pseudotumor cerebri, a condition common to obese women that results in migraines, vomiting and, in rare instances, blindness from pressure on the optic nerve. "That scared me into losing weight," says Canino, who soon signed up at Lindora, a program characterized by a low-carb diet, lots of lettuce, daily weigh-ins and vitamin B12 shots administered by a nurse. She paid $1,200 for the first 10 weeks and found the plan initially difficult for a woman who "loved Big Macs with fries, pies and cheesecake." She learned to replace those with salads at the drive-thru and to curb bread, rice and pasta, all of which were forbidden in the plan's first stage. But shedding weight motivated her. She dropped 10 lbs in two weeks and started exercising, first walking, then jogging, then circuit training at a Curves gym.
In eight months she met her goal of 125 lbs., lost the pseudotumor symptoms and gained a new wardrobe filled with size sixes. "I knew she would lose the weight," says Mendes, who recently spent the holidays with her sister's family. "It was so inspiring." Canino has inspired husband Hector too. His reaction? "Wow! There's my wife who looks 20 years old again! Let's get down to it! Now, I've got to stay on my toes and stay in shape."