Having yo-yo dieted for years, I know how hard it is to start a diet plan and stick to it. That's why I was so impressed with Amanda Vaughn Cook's story and knew I had to share it to motivate others.
Amanda, 26, has lost 160 pounds and nine clothing sizes (she now wears a size 8 after starting at size 26). She began her weight-loss effort carrying 335 pounds on her 5-foot, 5-inch frame. Now she weighs 175.
And get this: Amanda is smaller now than she was in elementary school when she wore a size 10.
"I remember thinking I'd be happy if I could just get down to a size 18 or 16," the East Brainerd resident said of setting her weight-loss goals.
Even more amazing: Amanda did this over three years while raising three small children. She had a newborn, 1-year-old and 2-year-old when she started.
She never gave up, just kept slowly chipping away at the pounds.
That's not just willpower, that's perseverance.
"When I was pregnant with my third son, I guess just being pregnant and running around chasing after two kids was a lot of work. I didn't really gain; I ended up losing 30 pounds during the pregnancy," she said.
"Also, it was hard to breathe. I have asthma really bad, and it was miserable. I was always out of breath. Walking upstairs was horrible," she said.
About the time she noticed she was starting to regain that 30 pounds after her child's birth, her mother and grandmothers announced they were joining Weight Watchers. She signed up, too.
"I'd say the biggest adjustment was learning portion size and portion control and not snacking a lot during the day," she recalled.
"Before starting Weight Watchers, we ate out a lot -- lots of drive-throughs, lots of Mexican -- and even when I cooked at home, I cooked fattening stuff.
"Weight Watchers changed the way I was cooking. We were eating at home a lot more, and I was buying a lot more fruits and vegetables so my grocery bill went up; but, since we quit eating out so much, it probably balanced out."
To meet WW's exercise requirement, she joined a gym in Fort Oglethorpe. As if this young mother's day wasn't busy enough caring for three preschoolers, she decided the easiest way to work in time at the gym would be to get up at 5 a.m. and go.
"I'd go to the gym, and I'd be home about the time my husband was leaving for work," she said. "I started with walking on a treadmill, then I moved up to five minutes on the elliptical."
After Amanda lost 100 pounds, she joined the Hamilton Place YMCA to take classes offered there.
"I got to where I was working out three hours a day: an hour's class in the morning, an hour in the evening, and I'd walk in the neighborhood after the kids went to bed. It was addictive."
But wait, I asked, how did she manage daily child care for her toddlers?
"The Y has child care," she replied. "It's great. My kids love it there."
Now, she says, her asthma is better, and she can do all her workout without breathing difficulties. Her children have grown up eating healthy meals, never knowing fatty, fried foods and carb-loaded temptations.
Trey Cook said his wife's lifestyle change has benefited him as well.
"I've lost a total of 85 pounds. I was 345 pounds at my biggest, and I owe it all to her. She's my inspiration. We're all so proud of her."