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She Did Her Homework and Learned to Get Fit


I have had a weight problem most of my life. I grew up in a household with very poor eating habits. The weight problem increased as I got older and so did the emotional pain of being heavy. In junior high and high school, I was a size 14 to 16, which was pretty big for that age. I was always told that I was big boned or that it was just baby fat. That was the excuse I had to overeat, and I believed that was the way I was supposed to be even though it felt so painful. I was pretty popular and had a lot of friends. I was always the comedian of the group--the best mask I could wear at the time to hide my pain.

My 20s were a roller-coaster ride of diets, from shots to pills. I would lose weight and then gain it back, sometimes even more. I wasn't happy with anything in my life, and it showed physically. In my late 20s, my weight had climbed to 280 pounds and I wore a size 24. I was so miserable with the way I felt and looked. I knew I had to do something, because when I looked in the mirror I wasn't seeing the person I knew I could be. I started reading self-help books and exercise magazines, which really helped with my self-esteem, enthusiasm and motivation.

When I turned 30, I had dropped from a size 24 to a size 18 with just a few changes in my eating habits, which paved the way to a whole new lifestyle. I knew that if I was going to change my life, I would have to change everything, starting from the inside out. I started changing my eating habits, incorporating more whole grains, protein, vegetables and fruit into my diet.

I stopped eating fast food and started eating healthful home-cooked meals. I found out that if I really wanted to lose weight, I would need to eat smart, eat regularly and learn about the food I was putting into my body. Eating five to six small, healthful meals a day helped to speed up my metabolism. During the quest for weight loss, my greatest awakening was knowledge that I acquired from much nutrition and exercise material.

My exercise program consisted of power walking an hour every day six days a week, and alternating free weights and floor exercises every other day. In just a month, I started seeing and feeling the results, and in the months after, I went from size 18 to 16 to 14 and then 12. But I became anchored at size 12. I wanted to lose more weight, but knew I had to shake things up and try a new program.

I started taking Tae-Bo classes. I joined a gym and got a trainer--the best thing I could have done. If only I'd known about weight training at the beginning of my journey! Now, I am not just working out, but training to be the best I can be (four days a week of cardio, three days of weight training and stretching every day). If someone had said to me when I was overweight that I would someday be thin and in shape, I would have laughed. Looking in the mirror today, I cry tears of joy.

Today at 34, I know anything is possible. My whole life has changed and I know this is just the beginning. I became certified as a personal trainer last year. My passion is to help and inspire people to lose unwanted weight, feel healthy and regain a sense of self. I can tell you: With focus, discipline and love for yourself, it's all possible.

Vital Statistics

Name: Cheryl Insalaco

Age: 34

Occupation: Personal trainer

Old weight: 280 pounds

New weight: 150 pounds

Time to get there: 2 1/2 to three years

How Did You Do It?

Do you have a story about how you lost weight and kept the pounds off? Or a story about how you learned to mountain climb or in-line skate, trained for a half-marathon or discovered a unique way of keeping fit, dealing with a nagging ailment or persevering with a fitness regimen despite some obstacles?

If so, we'd like to hear from you. Tell us your story in a 500-word essay listing what worked in terms of diet, exercise and encouragement, as well as any emotional and physical changes.

For weight-loss stories, send us full-body color photos of yourself, before and after. For other types of stories, send a color photo of yourself doing the activity you're writing about.

Send essay and photos to How I Did It, Health, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. Include daytime and evening phone numbers. Submissions cannot be returned. And, please, no phone calls.

In addition to publication, winners will receive a Los Angeles Times Health section gym bag.

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