100 Pounds Lighter, 100 Times Happier

At age 40, Dina Hannah was dangerously obese. Ten years later and seven sizes smaller, she biked across the country. Get inspired by her transformation.

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Until I turned 40, the closest I had come to doing regular physical activity was participating in the school marching band. I never would have imagined myself on a bicycle, much less racing across the country. I put my career first and quickly climbed the ladder as a medical technologist. But my weight also climbed.

Too exhausted to cook after working 10- to 12-hour days, I'd stop at Burger King for dinner. Then I'd plow through an entire bag of tortilla chips while watching TV. I rarely stepped on a scale, but I probably weighed 200 pounds. I tried to hide it with shapeless clothes, and when I went out with friends, we'd go to the movies so I could sit in the dark and eat popcorn—without being seen or judged by anyone.

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That changed 10 years ago. When I was walking down the hallway at work one day, I suddenly felt a pop in my left foot that stung so much I could barely take another step. I had fractured a bone in my foot because, at 240 pounds, I was too heavy for my 5-foot-6 frame. I was devastated. I thought, How did I let things get so bad? That's when I knew I had to change.

My Diet Overhaul

I joined Weight Watchers and learned that I had been eating too many refined carbohydrates. I've never been much of a cook, and I hated vegetables as a kid, but when I began cooking broccoli and Brussels sprouts, I found out I actually like them.

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Filling up on vegetables and including healthy fats in my meals helps me control my hunger. But here's what really works for me: I map out my meals for the week and grocery shop so I have the ingredients ready—that way, when I get home from work, I know what to cook. I need to have a plan so I won't fall back on old habits.

How I Got Moving

I tried running but had to quit when I got painful arthritis in my knee. I thought maybe I just wasn't cut out for exercise.

Fast forward to 2006: I had lost about 40 pounds on Weight Watchers but still wasn't active. Then in April, my company launched a wellness challenge: Get to work each day for a week without driving. I lived 15 miles away—too far to walk—so I decided to bike. I didn't even own a bike, so I bought a basic one from a local shop. That Monday morning, I was filled with dread. The first mile was tough, but then I got in the zone. When I arrived at work, dripping with sweat, I loved how energized I felt.

With all the extra weight I was carrying, I couldn't move fast or go very far on foot—but on a bike, I could. It was almost like flying. I felt free. And I was having fun.

After the challenge ended, I kept biking to work. Within a few months I was stronger and another 30 pounds lighter. It was exhilarating to see what my body was capable of, and soon I craved more of a challenge. I saw listings in bicycling magazines for century rides—100-mile events where the goal is to finish, not to race anyone. After mulling it over for months, I finally signed up for one in May 2007. My feet and legs cramped up like crazy during the ride, but I finished. I was so proud of myself. It actually makes sense that I could go for long distances. When you're overweight, daily life—just going up stairs or moving through a crowd—is an endurance event.

Hannah carves out time most days for a ride.

Going the Distance

I've been at a healthy weight of 140 pounds for four years now. And I've biked in more than 50 events, including the Race Across America, a nonstop ride that's longer than the Tour de France. My team of four women came in first in our category! That was way more exciting than watching Law & Order marathons.

Last year, I had an even bigger goal (an 860-mile solo race!), but I injured my hip. The first doctor I saw said, "You're almost 50. Act your age and give up this dream of being an athlete." Instead, I got a second opinion and had a hip replacement. Eight months post-surgery, I was racing again.

I come from an inactive, overweight family with a history of heart disease and diabetes, and for years I was on the same path. Cycling changed my life, and I bet it will lengthen it. It's been rewarding to share my story and inspire others to take charge of their health. I didn't start until after 40—it's never too late to change.

Hannah's Get-Healthy Plan

  • 20: Minutes I make myself ride when I'm tempted to skip a workout. I usually feel better by then and want to continue.
  • 120: Minutes it took me to finish my first 15-mile bike commute. Now I do it in 52.
  • 45,848: Miles I've biked. That's the equivalent of riding around the earth almost two times!

Breakfast, Dinner, and Dessert Then:

  • Pancakes
  • Burger and fries
  • Brownie

Breakfast, Dinner, and Dessert Now:

  • Oatmeal with banana or apple
  • Grilled chicken and vegetables
  • Brownie ("I still enjoy a treat now and then.")

This story originally appeared in the March/April 2014 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.

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