Jennifer Sierra, now 28, was 13 when her mother first put her on a diet. Among five siblings, "I was always the heaviest," the Houston, Texas, resident says. Jennifer, who stands just under 5'3", yo-yoed between 140 and 160 pounds till her marriage at 21, when things fell apart without Mom's hovering eye. "I'd eat greasy sandwiches for breakfast and lunch, then anything fried for dinner," says Jennifer. In 2009, having a baby left her at a peak of over 180 pounds.
Jennifer, whose pregnancy weight stayed put, avoided reality for about a year until late 2010, when she spied an unflattering Facebook pic: "I honestly didn't recognize myself," she says. She tried calorie counting for about five months and lost a little weight. But after she hit a plateau at around 170 pounds, she admitted she needed a kick in the butt and signed on with a trainer in May 2012.
"What changed my life was learning that everyone already has a six-pack. It's just that fat is covering it," says Jennifer. To find those legendary abs, she confronted her gym phobia and met with her trainer for Saturday sessions of pushups, squats, presses, and lunges. On other days, she put in 30 minutes of a cardio-boosting walk-run combo on the treadmill. She also started planning and packing her meals in advance, with an eye on protein, carbs, and fat instead of just calories. By the next fall, Jennifer was down to about 145 pounds. To reach the next level, she upped her tough workoutsto four times per week, targeting a different muscle group each day. By May 2013, Jennifer, who could now easily don a size zero (zero!), weighed under 120 pounds.
Her new sense of confidence has transformed the shopping experience: It's liberating, she says, to know that she can rock whatever she pulls from the rack. "Plus, sharing clothes with my sister is awesome." She also loves to motivate others and posts challenges, meal plans, and photos on her Facebook page. "Seeing how much you can inspire someone who feels lost, like I have felt in the past, is priceless," she says.
Start somewhere. "I used to think you already had to be fit to lift or run. False! Start now. That's how you get there."
Look beyond cals. "Just because a food has only 100 calories doesn't mean it's 100 calories of good stuff."