Donni Alvarenga, Orlando
Height: 5 feet, 6 inches
Initial weight: 221
Current weight: 164
Pounds lost: 57
For Donni Alvarenga, losing more than 50 pounds was all about saving face. "I am driven by accountability," said the 37-year-old mother of 3-year-old twin girls.
Alvarenga was supposed to be an expert. A pediatric nurse practitioner before she became a stay-at-home mom, Alvarenga used to design diet plans for overweight kids and counsel their parents about healthy eating habits for their families.
But three years ago, when her own weight hit 221 pounds, she felt like a hypocrite. "It was humbling," she said. "I realized knowing and doing are two different things."
Born in Brazil, the Orlando woman has struggled with weight all her life. "My pediatrician put me on my first diet when I was in second grade," she said. "I feel like I've been on a diet ever since."
Pregnancy wasn't the problem. After she had her twins, she got back to her pre-pregnancy weight rather quickly. The weight came on afterward. "I was mortified," she said.
Her husband also struggled with his weight.
In January 2011, Alvarenga and her husband noticed that his mom and sister had recently lost a lot of weight using a program that included eating pre-packaged, pre-portioned meals.
"Why aren't we doing this?" her husband asked.
Soon afterward, they, too, started the Take Shape for Life program, the coaching arm of the Medifast weight-loss program. The program adds support from those who have been there to a philosophy of eating frequent small meals, mainly from Medifast.
"I knew what I should be eating, and that I should be eating frequent small meals," Alvarenga said. "I would buy all the right ingredients, but I don't like to cook. So we'd end up going out to eat."
Having her meals and snacks ready to go put an end to that. "I began not stressing about what I was going to eat each day."
What helped even more were the weekly calls she got from her sister-in-law, Lutecia Lopes of Orlando, who was her coach. "I needed to save face. That's what kept me going. I knew better, and she knew I knew better," Alvarenga said.
Within 12 months, Alvarenga had lost nearly 60 pounds and today weighs 164. Her husband lost weight, too, and both have maintained their weight within 10 pounds for two years, she said.
To maintain, Alvarenga still eats six small meals a day. The meals typically include nonstarchy vegetables, a protein and healthy carbohydrates, she said. She serves meals on a 9-inch plate to help her control her portions.
She also walks five mornings a week with a friend. "Having a buddy helps," she said. "I wouldn't get up early to walk if I weren't meeting someone." And she has taken on the coach role, motivating others on their weight-loss journey.
Karen Ragsdale of Altamonte Springs watched her progress with envy. Ragsdale met the Alvarengas four years ago through church.
"I'd see them at get-togethers every two or three months, and they just kept getting littler and littler," said Ragsdale, who at 5-feet-7 weighed 332 pounds. She finally asked what they were doing to lose weight.
Ragsdale is among the 50 or so people Donni Alvarenga coaches. Ragsdale started the same program two years ago, and in 18 months lost half her body weight. She now weighs 165 pounds and has kept the weight off for six months.
"I realized I did need help," said Alvarenga. "For me, and for many people, having someone check up on you every week and seeing how you're doing is what it's about. It doesn't matter what you know if you don't do it."
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Advice to lose by
•Get a good night's sleep. Important hormones are released when you sleep that aid appetite control and weight loss. Also, not enough sleep is linked to poorer food choices.
•Don't skip meals. That can lead to weight gain as you are more likely to make unhealthy food choices after missing a meal.
•Don't be fooled by "healthy snacks," such as reduced-fat or low-sugar alternatives. They contribute to weight gain, too.
Source: Obesity Action Coalition