Johnna Johnson Stephenson, 41
Jobs: Human resources analyst and fitness instructor
Height: 5 feet 3 inches
Starting weight: 192 (May 1995)
Current: 135; Goal: 130
What prompted you to start a weight-loss program? My sister inspired me to get started. She had recently lost about 30 pounds, and she looked great. I thought if she could do it, I could do it.
How did you shed the pounds? The first step was talking with a counselor about abuse I suffered years earlier. Once I realized I was not at fault in any way, I was able to heal. I started with Weight Watchers and after losing a few pounds, I started Jazzercise classes. Jazzercise reminded me of my love of dance as a child, so I stuck with the classes. I lost about 20 pounds on Weight Watchers and kept that weight off for a few years.
I tried low-carb diets a few years later when I wasn't losing anymore, and I was able to lose another 20 pounds. I continued attending Jazzercise classes and loved it so much I [became] certified to teach it. I also added strength training into my workout, and I continued to lose. It took well over 10 years to finally get to a point where I am OK with my body.
What stumbling blocks did you overcome? The biggest thing that I overcame was the mindset of the word "diet." For many people it is such a bad word and generally means starving, torture or just negativity. The book "Ultrametabolism: The Simple Plan for Automatic Weight Loss" by Dr. Mark Hyman completely changed my mind about nutrition. His book is all about eating healthfully and paying attention to how your body reacts to the food you eat. After I read this book, I was tested for allergies and discovered I was allergic to wheat. Now I avoid foods that contain wheat.
What are you doing to maintain? I teach a group fitness class called Body Jam two to three times a week. It is an amazing dance cardio fitness class. If I am not teaching, I usually am attending some other fitness class. I also strength-train four to five times a week.
Advice for others? 1. Plan ahead. Every Sunday I cook chicken breasts, ground turkey and brown rice so that I always have food ready to eat. I keep vegetables like spinach, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, etc. on hand so I can make a meal quickly. I take my lunch to work so I'm not tempted to just eat anything.
2. Find a form of exercise that you love. Don't be afraid to try something new. I recently started working with a trainer who makes me do boot camp-style exercises, which is very "out of the box" and scary for me, but now I love it and feel empowered because of it.
3. Focus on being healthy - not dieting. Eat whole, all-natural foods. Shop farmers markets for real food that is in season. Read and educate yourself. There are so many great books and magazines about whole-food nutrition.