Cristin McGrath had trouble squeezing in and out of her easy chair. Then she lost 280 pounds. Now the chair can accommodate two of her.
She's down to weighing 130 pounds.
Her weight-loss journey took 18 months, starting in January 2010. At an annual doctor visit, the scale showed her weighing 410 pounds, unhealthy even for a pro football lineman, no less a small-framed woman of 5 feet 9 inches.
"I was feeling bad. You sleep on your back and there's all this weight on your chest that stops your breathing. I only hoped I could get out of a chair or a movie seat ..." she said.
The weight came, simply, from eating too much.
"I learned to cook from my grandmother who was the best cook ever," she said. "I cooked comfort food and I accepted my weight.
"I wasn't in denial. I just didn't try."
She considered options, including gastric bypass surgery.
She settled on doing it herself. "I decided I would attack this like when I do anything well in my life."
McGrath sought out a friend, Paula DiCampo, a registered nurse and vegetarian whom she knew to have healthy habits.
"She gave me advice and told me what to do," McGrath said. "When I lost my first 50 pounds, she saw I was serious and she really got involved."
DiCampo learned about weight loss 30 years ago, when she gained more than 70 pounds while attending college and nursing school.
At 5-feet-10, "I could pull it off, but I didn't want that," she said.
She taught herself about diet and exercise, and dropped the pounds. In 2000, she became a vegetarian.
'II'S UP TO YOU'
When McGrath first approached her, DiCampo told her a lot of people ask for advice but don't follow through . "She was quizzing me and quizzing me about what she could or couldn't eat. I told her, 'It's up to you; you can do anything you want.'
Later, "She came back and said, 'I lost 50 pounds!' I told her now you have to move your body."
DiCampo says her way is simple. "Eat clean and your body uses it and runs like a clean engine."
She coached and encouraged McGrath, especially when her weight loss slowed.
"Anyone can do it; you just have to do it; decide that this is it," DiCampo said. "I've heard that it happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of making the change."
The lack of struggle surprised McGrath. "I was told that at first, it would be tough; I'd have bad days," she said. "I told myself, despite a bad day, or cheating, I wouldn't stop. I'd get up the next morning and keep going.
"But I didn't have a bad day. I'm surprised at how my weight went down consistently."
'FOOD AS FUEL'
She changed her eating habits. "Now I look at food as fuel," she said. "It's enjoyable, but ..."
Among the changes:
• "I gave up anything that came in a box," she said. "No processed foods."
• "I gave up meat. I found that when I didn't eat meat, I didn't have the urge to eat junk food," she said. "I really don't miss it."
• "I stopped drinking sodas. I used to drink six Diet Coke's a day," she said.
• She included flavorful items in her low-calorie food. Breakfast was fruit, dried cranberries, nuts, things she found tasty, but healthy. She ate more salads, lots of kale with dried fruit and sunflower seeds. She used more balsamic vinegar and lemon juice than dressing. She munched on raw pistachios and raw peanuts.
"A lot of the food I eat now is raw," she said. "And I can eat as much as I want. It's like I fell in love with food all over again."
Now, her way to splurge is by making a breakfast of scrambled eggs, potatoes, wheat toast with jelly, ricotta pancakes, and plain or vanilla yogurt, she said.
Her grocery bill dropped, but not by much. "I could pay $18 for a pound of raw pistachios because I didn't spend it on meat," she said.
McGrath replaced her need for heavy food with exercise. She signed up with the YMCA and began working out an hour a day, seven days a week.
"I made that my reward," she said. "Once a day, I look forward to putting on my headphones, turning off my cellphone and for an hour, being there with me.
"Physical fitness became part of my life."
She never hired a personal trainer or dietitian.
McGrath visited her doctor after dropping 250 pounds. "She cried," McGrath recalled. "She said, 'No one ever does it.' "
By the middle of last summer, McGrath weighed a slender 130 pounds.
"I really didn't know how bad I was feeling until I started feeling good," she said. "I never had a goal weight. I worked on getting off five pounds, then the next five pounds. I didn't count calories or fat grams."
Thinking back, that approach helped.
"If I'd have known at the beginning I needed to lose 275 pounds, I probably wouldn't have done it."