10 Most Inspiring Success Stories

Looking for a little motivation? These 10 women lost a total of 555 pounds! Read their stories and check out their incredible before-and-after photos.

The Oxygen Team | May 28, 2013


1. Jenna Dunham Dropped 70 Pounds Post-Pregnancy


Weight before: 203 lbs
Weight now: 133 lbs
Age: 36
Height: 5'4"
Location: Florence, KY
Occupation: Stay-at-home mom
Most embarrassing song she works out to: Copacabana by Barry Manilow - "A great cardio song!"

After her third pregnancy, Jenna found motivation in an unlikely place: the "F" word. "I was 203 pounds and 'frumpy,'" she says. Jenna felt discouraged, but relied on a personal mantra to get back into the gym. "I can do anything for one minute," she told herself before stepping on the treadmill or walking over to the weights area. Soon, she was up to sprints and advanced strength-training circuits.

A desire to become a fit mom - not just a skinny one - was Jenna's driving force. Within six months, she lost 70 pounds, reduced her body fat from 31 to 17 percent and increased her strength. As for those abs, she stuck with a clean diet, returned to Pilates and fell in love with circuit training.

Between her three pregnancies, Jenna has now lost a combined 180 pounds, which is more than she currently weighs! In her closet, she keeps the XL maternity pants ("the largest pair of pants I've ever worn!") to remind her of how far she's come. With a stronger body and mind, she's become a happier mom.

Bounce Back Like Jenna


"Some women make it look so easy to get back into shape after having a baby, but it takes a ton of hard work!" Jenna's top three tips to bounce back:

  1. Rely on a good support network of friends and family

  2. Try new workout classes and routines.

  3. Write down your goals for the day/week/month.


- Kasia Kurek | Photo by Rick Lohre

2. Mylene Biddle Visualized Her Way to a Better Body


Weight before: 165 lb
Weight now: 130 lb
Age: 28
Height: 5'2"
Location: Crestview, FL
Occupation: Software engineer
Tip for newbies: "Set your mind to it and go!"

Mylene dropped 35 pounds in under two years and picturing success played a big part in her transformation. "If I literally feel like I can't do one more rep of a difficult exercise, I think of pro bodybuilder Ronnie Coleman's saying, 'Ain't nothing but a peanut!' and envision the weight as a tiny peanut," she laughs. "And then I lift it."

When she wasn't envisioning healthy fats on the ends of her barbell, she visualized the buff body parts she was working towards. "I'd see a nice biceps bulge, some well-defined lats and rock-hard glutes during my workouts," she says. With her goals in front of her, Mylene was able to push harder and tune in to her individual muscles.

"Knowing I am a strong woman keeps me motivated," she says. If she can envision it, she says, it ain't nothing but a peanut.

Move Like Mylene


Mylene trains six days a week, beginning every workout with cardio. She then splits her strength training into the following routines:

Monday: Legs
Tuesday: Shoulders
Wednesday: Back & biceps
Thursday: Legs & glutes
Friday: Chest, triceps & abs
Saturday: Shoulders & calves
Sunday: REST

- Kasia Kurek

3. Wendy Mills Became Fit by 50


Weight before: 225 lbs
Weight now: 124 lbs
Age: 50
Height: 5' 5"
Location: Aurora, Ontario
Occupation: Chartered Accountant
Proudest moment: "When I started to see muscle definition!"

When she was 46 years old, Wendy Mills set a goal: to be her absolute fittest by her 50th birthday. "I knew I would have to lose about 100 pounds!" she says. "So I started setting smaller goals, like giving up fast food or going for a walk." Taking it slowly, she lost the first 55 pounds.

At 170 pounds, the scale became stuck. She signed up with a personal trainer and started weigh training. "I was terrified," she admits. But once she started, Wendy found that her mission changed. No longer focusing on losing weight by the time she turned 50, she transformed her mindset: "My goals became strength-related," explains Wendy, who now includes home training sessions in her routine. Equipped with weights, a bench, resistance bands and medicine balls, Wendy replicates gym exercises. And when it comes to getting results, home reps count as much as gym reps.

Weighing in at 124 pounds, Wendy reached her goal two years early. She turned 50 this year and happily reported that she has maintained her fit lifestyle. "I am now aiming for fit at 60!" she says. "I have not lost my motivation."

Get Wendy's Willpower


What advice does Wendy have for fitness newbies? She says it all comes down to three little rules:

  1. Find someone you can be accountable to, such as a workout partner.

  2. Track your progress.

  3. Set a monthly fat loss goal. Do not weight yourself every day.


- Kathleen Engel, NSCA-CPT

4. Paula Hannah Ditched her Excuses


Weight before: 227 lbs
Weight now: 150 lbs
Age: 49
Height: 5'9.5"
Location: Cincinnati, OH
Occupation: Corporate paralegal
Eat-clean breakfast: Steel-cut oatmeal with cinnamon, vanilla and egg whites

Paula Hannah used to come up with any and every excuse to get out of a workout. "The most ridiculous one was that I didn't want to mess up my hair!" she says. But at 227 pounds and with severe asthma, Paula knew the excuses had to stop.

Paula joined the fitness center at work, a gym that's a 20-minute walk from home, and a smaller gym on her bus route. While having to rely on public transit would have stopped her before, this time she was determined to succeed. "I made a vow to myself to do whatever it takes," she says. "If I travelled by bus to get to the gym, then I was going to do the work!"

She knew she'd reached a milestone when she lasted an entire spin class. "Friends texted me, one by one, to say they weren't coming. My instinct was to leave - I don't like doing things by myself." Instead, Paula stayed, planning to duck out early. "When the instructor yelled, '15 minutes left,' I started to cry. I did it!"

Before her journey began, she used to tell herself that eating healthy meals was too expensive, but that changed, too. "I looked at the cost of having to shop in the plus size section and compared it with the cost of buying lean meats, fresh vegetables and whole grains," she says. "It was such simple math!"

Now 77 pounds lighter, Paula has a new outlook: "I'd take being fit with bad hair over looking flawless and being unhealthy any day," she says.

Keep Track Like Paula


Paula says that writing down her fitness accomplishments helped. "I record the smallest victories, like drinking a gallon of water, lifting a heavier weight or getting to bed on time". At the end of the month, she goes over her successes. "It reminds me to stay on the right track!"

- Kathleen Engel, NSCA-CPT

5. Lynn Lester-Howland Went From 'Skinny Fat' to Muscle Mom


Weight before and now: 126 lb
Age: 37
Height: 5'7"
Location: Dubuque, IA
Occupation: Optometrist
Words of Wisdom: "If you don't make an ugly face, you are not lifting heavy enough."

Lynn's breast cancer diagnosis back in 2009 propelled her towards fitness and taught her to get tough. "I made the decision that I was in control," she says. Despite feeling lost in the weights section at first, Lynn cut back on endless cardio and got serious about building muscle. She knew having a lean, toned body was one of the two things she could count on to make her feel stronger.

The second thing? Her kids. She got her son and daughter on board, teaching them about the benefits of eating clean and exercising. "I have to laugh now because my children will ask me if they can come to the gym and tell me to feel their muscles as they flex their biceps," she says.

Cancer free and more confident than ever, Lynn is putting her muscle into shaping up her future with her family. No longer skinny fat but fit, she welcomes new challenges with strength and focus. "I feel like I own the gym now," she says.

Lynn's Tips



  1. Do weights before cardio so you're not depleting your energy before you start lifting.

  2. Go heavy. "If I can do more than seven reps, I bump the weight up."

  3. Perform intervals instead of steady-state cardio. "I go as hard as I can, then recover and repeat. If I get to 20 minutes, it's a rare day!"

  4. Immediately after your workout, consume a whey isolate protein shake and a fast-acting carb.

  5. Eat! "If you don't eat enough, you won't build muscle."


- Kasia Kurek

6. Denise Fields Learned to Love Living Healthy


Weight before: 200 lb
Weight now: 130 lb
Age: 31
Height: 5'3"
Location: Kansas City, Missouri
Occupation: Attorney
Favorite Move: Bicep curls

When size 14 started to feel too tight, a 200-pound Denise promised to purge the pudge and set out to lose 70 pounds.

Step one? Denise got to work in the kitchen. She swapped her morning mocha for a clean breakfast, replaced regular restaurant fair with six smaller meals a day, and experimented with spices, marinades and healthy swaps. "Most surprising to me was that I could cook healthy foods that I actually loved more than the bad-for-me foods," she says.

Step two? She ditched the excuses - including a busy day. "We all make time for the things that are important to us," says Denise, who squeezed in five cardio and three strength-training sessions a week and discovered a calorie-burner she truly loved: running. "Once you find an activity that you love to do, it won't seem like exercising as much."

After dropping 50 pounds in less than a year, she hit a wall. Denise tightened up her diet, upped her water intake, started focusing on just two muscle groups per strength-training session and introduced Tabata, high-intensity interval training. "I just told myself that to quit or slack off at this stage is like stopping just when you see the finish line."

Five months later, Denise hit her goal weight and dropped from 40% to 22% body fat. She celebrated by buying a new size 6 outfit and treating herself to a day at the spa.

Change It Up, Like Denise
Denise keeps her cardio exciting by switching things up every few weeks. A few tips:

  • Change up your course: Look online for new routes.

  • Change up your terrain: Don’t shy away from hills.

  • Change up your pace: Try sprint intervals on the track.

  • Change up your finish line: Sign up for a 5k or half-marathon for added training incentive.




7. Joanne Hickox Proved that 50 Really Is the New 30


Weight before: 170 lb
Weight now: 130 lb
Age: 59
Height: 5’1”
Location: Burleson, Texas
Occupation: Banker
Most Recent Milestone: Becoming a grandmother in April, but you’d never guess from her fab after shot!

A former yo-yo dieter who avoided exercise, Joanne had resolved herself to the fact that she’d always be “fluffy,” until her daughter announced her wedding date. With visions of a fitted mother-of-the-bride dress, she stopped making excuses and signed up for bootcamp.

Intimidated by the toned twenty-somethings, she wanted to quit after the first week. “I’m so glad that I stayed and know now that I can do whatever the younger girls do,” she says. That includes a combo of cardio, sports drills, plyometrics, weight training, Tabatas and partner drills. Joanne’s shrinking waistline, improved energy and built-in support system created a perfect storm for success. “It’s so much easier to push past that last set when you know 30 women are doing the same thing,” she says.

Knowing she needed a lifestyle change, not another diet, Joanne educated herself on how to eat clean. When faced with food pushers—“Come on, it’s only one candy bar!”—Joanne ignored the naysayers. “You’ve got to learn to stand up for yourself and do what you know is the best for your health.”

Today, Joanne has lost 40 pounds, dropped 8 dress sizes, and even finished a 7-mile obstacle course through mud, water and a 9-foot wall. “I feel better now than I did in my 30s. I can do anything!”

Joanne’s Rules


Joanne dropped fat by sticking to three little rules:

  1. Rise and exercise. “It’s become a part of my routine every am at 5:30.”

  2. Adjust your attitude. “If I have the “can do” attitude, I can finish what I started."

  3. Be patient. “You didn’t put on all that weight overnight and you will NOT loose it over night.”




8. Zain Jamal Broke Through with Mindfulness


Weight before: 145 lb (89 lb during anorexia)
Weight now: 105 lb
Age: 33
Height: 5'3"
Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada
Occupation: Nutritionist/yoga instructor/fitness model

Weighing 145 pounds after a period of binge eating that followed years of anorexia (her lowest weight was 89 pounds back in 2005), Zain knew it was time to commit to a lifestyle of consistent, healthy habits rather than bouncing between two extremes. “When I started practicing mindfulness, everything changed,” says Zain.

Spending time with herself was the first step. After some reflection, Zain realized that her body image was a wreck and that her eating habits stemmed from a desire to be accepted by others. Applying mindfulness techniques she had learned through yoga and meditation, she decided once and for all not to succumb to her own “mind games.” Zain began to practice deep breathing, boosted her motivation by repeating inspiring mantras, hired a personal trainer, and began to educate herself in clean eating.

To combat emotional eating, she stopped having meals while working, watching TV or chatting on the phone. “When I didn’t focus on the meal, I would get to the end and never feel satisfied,” she says, which led to late-night snacking.

“I faced my fears and worked through them,” says Zain, who lost 40 pounds the healthy way and now teaches private workshops for women recovering from eating disorders. “Mindfulness has taught me to cultivate humility, maintain discipline and choose love rather than fear.”

Zain’s Mindfulness Mantras


Getting her mind and body in sync was monumental to Zain’s success. Her tips?

  • During a meal, savor each bite, chewing slowly while admiring the colors, textures, aromas and flavors.

  • Dine outdoors or near a window to calm your body and mind.

  • Before your workouts, perform a mental “body scan.” Ask yourself, how are you feeling that day? Are you energetic? Tired? Stressed? Are any of your muscles sore? Are you carrying tension? Every time you scan your body, become familiar with its needs for that workout.

  • While weight training, pay attention to your breathing.


– Kasia Kurek



9. Michelle Kruk Recruited Her Family


Weight before: 160 lb
Weight now: 123 lb
Age: 37
Height: 5'7"
Location: Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
Occupation: Teaching assistant and personal trainer
Tip for newbies: “Plan ahead!”

For Michelle Kruk, it was her then¬–eight-year-old son that inspired her to shape up her physique 37 pounds ago during a shopping trip. “Mommy, you have jiggly arms like a grandma!” he told her. After that, there was no going back for Michelle.

She ditched her membership at a women’s-only gym, where she previously stuck to cardio and half-hearted machine circuits, and split the cost of a personal trainer with a friend. After losing the first 20 pounds with her pal, Michelle joined a local running group, ran a half marathon with friends, and spent more time getting active with her kids.

As a working mom, Michelle says that planning skills can make or break fit family habits. That’s why she spends one day per week pre-cooking healthy meals and snacks, and jumps out of bed “before the rooster crows” every morning to fit in a 5 a.m. weights sessions.

Between cleaning up her children’s lunches (“I learned how to make healthy Pizza Pops so they wouldn’t feel deprived!”), taking part in family 5K runs, and participating in “any activity that doesn’t involve sitting on the couch,” Michelle has taken pride not only in her own transformation, but in the love for movement that her kids have picked up. “Having my 12-year-old daughter, Julia, understand that looking skinny does not mean you are healthy is so rewarding,” she says.

Strutting on stage during her first fitness competition, Michelle couldn’t imagine placing first in her category without her family’s support, understanding and even their brutal honesty. “I am so proud of who I have become. And I know that my family and friends are proud of what I have accomplished as well.”

Michelle’s Clean Chocolate Mousse


Mix together:

  • 3/4 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt

  • 1 tbsp natural cocoa powder or carob powder

  • 1–2 drops caramel Stevia


– Kasia Kurek



10. Kristi Youngdahl Ditched the Diets


Weight before: 198 lb
Weight now: 113 lb
Age: 32
Height: 5'2"
Location: Becker, MN
Occupation: Personal Trainer
Personal motto: “‘Go big or go home!’ My workouts are intense!”

At 198 pounds, Kristi decided to make some changes. Looking for quick results, she opted to eat cereal for breakfast and lunch, plus a diet frozen entrée for dinner. After just three months on the plan, Kristi ended up in the hospital with heart palpitations. The doctors told her that her body couldn’t handle what she was putting it through.

When the “cereal diet” failed miserably, Kristi went to Plan B. “I got Tosca’s book and I cleaned out my kitchen cabinets.” Realizing that muscle was her friend, Kristi signed on with a trainer who taught her how to work out. “I was discovering the ‘me’ I was missing and an entirely different woman I had never met before. I felt so empowered!

Kristi is always finding great new dishes to cook with her kids, like chicken asparagus hash browns, taco meatballs and her special chocolate pumpkin protein bars. “I love turning unclean recipes into healthy ones.” Not every experiment is a success, she admits, but it’s a good time with the kids.

Kristi dropped 85 pounds and after her transformation, she took the stage in a fitness competition and even completed a half marathon. A personal trainer today, she hopes that her success inspires her clients.

Kristy’s Chocolate Pumpkin Protein Bars


High-protein desserts can be hard to come by, so Kristi invented her own!

  • 1¼ cup oats

  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice

  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon

  • ½ cup agave nectar

  • 2/3 cup unsweetened applesauce

  • 2/3 cup natural canned pumpkin

  • 1 cup sun butter

  • 1 cup chocolate protein powder


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Scatter oats on a baking sheet and toast for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown. While oats are toasting, combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Add toasted oats and stir. Transfer batter to a 10x10 cake pan, and bake 15-20 minutes. Serves 4.

– Kathleen Engel, NSCA-CPT

About the Author

The Oxygen Team