Photo by Todd Winters
Start weight: 260 lbs.
Current weight: 175 lbs.
When Phyllisa Deroze thinks about her bucket-list trip to Paris 11 years ago, it's not the Eiffel Tower she remembers. Instead, it's her search for a comfortable pair of jeans to wear on the trip.
"I went from store to store only to discover that I had outgrown some of my favorite clothing stores," Deroze says. "When I fit into a size 20W pair, I told myself that those would be the last pair of size 20W jeans that I would ever buy."
When she returned from Paris, she bought a scale, stared at herself in the mirror, and realized she needed help. "I didn't really understand how not to be plus-size," she says.
Her first step? Meeting with a nutritionist and learning how to cook healthy meals. She then confronted her fear of being a "fat person at the gym" head-on. "I even had a mantra," she says: "I'm gonna give 'em something to watch." She proceeded to claim a space in the front row of every Zumba, Body Pump, and Spin class she took. "I figured if they were going to talk about my fat butt, they would be talking about the way it moved," she says with a laugh.
She began tracking her progress and set a goal: to never enter a new year weighing more than she did the previous year. She accomplished that every year until the fifth year into her journey.
That's when she was diagnosed with diabetes and experienced a major setback—she spent a week in the hospital and gained 32 pounds.
"Right away managing diabetes took priority over everything else. I had to learn how to exercise with diabetes, which requires a lot more effort, skill, and preparation, and I had to learn how to cook healthfully, which requires mathematical equations and strict portion control."
Once she learned how to manage life with diabetes, she got back on her weight-loss path. A year after her diagnosis, she had lost those 32 pounds, and two years after that, her weight was down to 190. "Every time I shed 10 pounds, I made that my new limit. I wouldn't gain it again" she says.
Seven years after her diagnosis, Deroze has found a balance of what works for her, both in terms of managing her health and her weight. For example, while she no longer keeps sugar in her house and skips the sweeteners in her tea, she has kept rice in her diet—in moderation.
"I will always love it," she says. "I've just found a way to make it work in my carb count."
Secrets to Success
Photo by Todd Winters
SET MINI GOALS—AND REWARDS
"I'll challenge myself to go to the gym 25 days a month, eat salad for dinner three days this week, do five push-ups before bed, complete five 1-minute planks today, etc. I keep these charts on my wall with fake certificates and give myself a spa day as reward. It's one of the reasons I got into 5Ks—at the end of the race, you get a medal. I have a medal rack with 30 or so medals on it!"
DRESS UP FOR THE GYM
"I like to think of myself as a fashionable person. I decided early on to buy nice-looking gym clothes. I didn't want to show up to the gym in frumpy sweats and a ratty T-shirt. I would dress up to go to the gym and make it an outing. I enjoyed it."
DITCH THE DINNER PLATES
"Smaller plates have changed my life. It helps me maintain my weight loss and I'm not even picky about what I put on the plate. On a 7-inch plate, I'm going to eat whatever I want but I never go back for seconds."
Watch: How I Lost It: Wendy's Story