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How I lost 85 pounds: no smoking, exercise 5 days a week

Alice Toyonoga before and after her 85-pound weight loss.

Alice Toyonoga

31, Toronto


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My turning point: On Oct. 24, 2004, I walked into the doctor's office for an annual physical. I was 220 pounds. I smoked. I was the poster child for a sedentary lifestyle. I worked two jobs to pay off my student loans. My doctor's assessment was that this lifestyle, in addition to my being on medication, could end up with me having a stroke by the age of 30. She asked me what I was going to do about it and I told her that I was going to change, starting that day. And despite having tried to diet or be more active before, hearing the message as bluntly as I did that day, was my turning point. I left her office and immediately went to a gym to sign up for a membership.

My method: I decided to work on one thing at a time as opposed to tackling all the vices at once because I didn't want to end up with more failed diet attempts or unused gym memberships. Because I felt energetic over all and had enjoyed exercising in the past, I began with changing my activity level. I scheduling meetings with myself that I couldn't cancel: dates on the elliptical or in a fitness class. I started at three days a week to ensure I wouldn't burn out and slowly increased until I was exercising five days a week, with unwavering commitment.

At my first year anniversary (Oct. 24, 2005), I decided to start incorporating changes into my diet, knowing that food played a much bigger role than I wanted it to. Educating myself on portion sizes, logging caloric intake, changing habits and relationships with food, were all, difficult as they are, part of the process.

The following year, I gave up smoking. I worked up to it methodically for several months and quit on my anniversary date.

Each year, going forward, I used Oct. 24 as my Jan. 1. On that day, I reflect on my efforts to date and make new commitments for health and well-being. The goals have included: running my first half-marathon, letting go of issues related to food and guilt, ramping up running to the marathon distance, becoming a yoga teacher, and racing in multi-sport events. I am still mulling over this year's goals but they include competing in my first half-Ironman in 2013!

My kryptonite: Under the perfectly packaged guise of "carb-loading," which long-distance runners can indulge in during training and racing, my guilty pleasure is enjoying a plate of nachos with friends (guilt free) every now and then.

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