'Goodbye, 148 Pounds. Hello, New Life'

Bridget Jennings slimmed down the slow-and-steady way. Her success formula: walking + a sane diet + the occasional splurge.

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Bridget today.

May 2012: 280 lbs.October 2012: 240 lbs.April 2013: 180 lbs.September 2013: 139 lbs.Today: 132 lbs.

For some people, eating is nourishment. For me, eating was a way of coping — and I've had a lot to cope with over the years. In 2007, I was in a serious car accident: Another driver crossed four lanes, hit my car head-on, and completely spun me around. They had to cut me out of the car. Along with the surgery I needed on my right leg and the months of physical therapy that were required, I was traumatized. I was terrified of driving to work, so I left my administrative job, and being stuck at home was the perfect setup for overeating.

Then, three year later, my younger sister was killed in a car accident not far from where I'd had mine. She was just 20 years old. The shock and grief were all-encompassing, and, frankly, dieting was the last thing on my mind.

Eating was one of the few things that brought me pleasure, and the concept of three meals a day didn't exist for me. My husband worked late into the evening, so I'd often make my own dinner, and then I'd join him for another evening meal when he got home. We'd end the night by digging into two big bowls of ice cream.

My physical health took a real hit. I had horrible gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and was popping antacids twice a day. In May 2012, I started noticing weird swelling in my legs and went straight to the doctor. The news wasn't good: If I didn't do something about my weight, which had climbed to 280 pounds, I could have congestive heart failure within five years.

Bridget in May 2012.

I listened in shock. When I got home, I reached out to my husband's sister for help, because I'd always seen her as someone who is healthy and fit. She suggested that I start by tracking everything I ate. I did that using MyFitnessPal, and it was a revelation to see how big my portions were. Before I even made changes to what I was eating, I decided to just put a little less food on my plate at every meal. For exercise, I began walking — a little at a time, for only five or 10 minutes at first, because my sister-in-law told me to start slowly. I figured out ways to do it indoors in the winter with DVDs that showed me how to do a walking workout in my living room. (Yes, it's possible to kick off a walking plan in winter.)

You wouldn't think that such small changes could make a difference, but they did. Within a month I'd lost 20 pounds, and I felt motivation kicking in. I took a nutrition class with my mom and learned about the basics of healthy eating. For example, I never used to eat breakfast, and I realized that skipping a morning meal was setting me up to be too hungry — and to overeat — later in the day. I learned so many ways to trim calories and got better about reading labels. Instead of throwing just any spaghetti sauce into the grocery cart, I'd find one without any added sugar.

I learned that it was important to have some regular healthy meals in my rotation. For six days a week, I track my food and exercise, and on the seventh, I relax without going crazy. I might have some chips and salsa if I'm out to dinner, or a glass of wine, and I enjoy it without feeling guilty, because I know that the next day I'll be back to my usual routine.

By the end of 2013, I was under 140 pounds. And a few months later, I went back to work. I took a part-time job at a fast-food place near my home. That may seem like an odd choice, but I like to be with people, so it really suits me. Plus, I get to stand up and move around during my shift, which is way better than sitting in front of a computer, as I did at my old job. My new lifestyle means so much to me that I've stayed committed to healthy eating. As for exercise, I switch things up with yoga and Zumba at my local gym. Last year I completed three 5Ks for local charities, power walking the whole way.

I feel good about my accomplishments, but what I really wanted to hear was my doctor's praise. During a recent visit he told me my blood pressure was like a teenager's! That's what makes me the most proud.

Exactly What Bridget Eats to Keep the Weight Off

"It helps to have some go-to healthy meals," says Bridget, who relies on these staples:

Breakfast: Oatmeal with berries and pumpkin spices, plus a hard-boiled egg for extra protein

Lunch: Sliced turkey with a side of hummus and veggies

Dinner: Grilled salmon with spaghetti squash ("It's like having pasta, but without all the carbs") and green beans or Brussels sprouts

This story originally appeared in the January/February 2016 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.

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