Growing up, Erika Haley, now 32, didn't have much money to spend on healthy eats. Instead, she would turn to cheap and easy foods like potato chips and heavily buttered microwave popcorn. Those eating habits continued through college, where she was studying to become a teacher. "I ate a lot of SpaghettiOs, ramen noodles, and Hamburger Helper," says Erika. While in school, Erika also joined the Illinois National Guard to help pay tuition. In 2003, she graduated and was sent to Iraq for an 18-month deployment. She continued her unhealthy eating habits overseas, and when Erika returned home in 2005, she weighed 190 pounds (she's 5'4").

The Change: Erika could barely pass her physical training while she was in Iraq, so the Army National Guard put her in remedial training. "I would go to the gym on my days off, but then resort to junk food," she says. When she came back to the United States, the military threatened to kick her out because she had failed her fitness tests. "I've always wanted to be part of the military," says Erika. "I didn't want my family to think of me as a failure, so I had to do something to get in better shape."

The Lifestyle: In 2005, Erika moved from Illinois to Missouri to be part of the Missouri National Guard with her now-husband. "I told myself that I needed a fresh start," says Erika. She joined the weight-loss program Curves, which taught her to measure healthy portion sizes and to keep a food journal of what she ate. By time she was next deployed in 2008, Erika had lost 40 pounds.

During her one-year term of service in Kosovo, Erika asked an Army power lifter to work with her to develop a weight-lifting routine. She also became obsessed with running—she participated in military fun runs as much as possible and even ran an Army 10-miler! When Erika returned to the U.S. in 2009, she had dropped another 15 pounds.

The Reward: Erika now runs an average of 30 miles a week, but she has even bigger running dreams in mind: "My goal is to run a half-marathon in all 50 states by the time I turn 40," she says. "So far, I'm averaging four to five of them a year." Erika also loves that she's become a motivation for other women to shape up. "People see where I've come from and know that weight loss is possible if they work at it," she says. And as for her latest military fitness test results, she absolutely crushed the running and pushup portions. Sit-ups still trouble her—but not for long. "When I take the test again in April, I will max out all three categories," she says.

Erika's Tips
Shop the edges of the grocery store. "That's where most of your fresh, nutrient-packed vegetables and produce are," says Erika. "All of the processed junk is found in the middle of the market, so if you avoid that area, you're good."
Find ways to exercise whenever, wherever. "You can work out anywhere using just your body weight," says Erika. "I've even learned how to modify workouts to do them in hotel rooms and airports."
Set workout goals. "I always shoot for a goal so that I can beat whatever I did last time," says Erika. "One week I'll curl 15 pounds, and in a few weeks, I'll kick it up to 20 pounds to push myself harder."

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