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PERSONAL TRAGEDY INSPIRES CHANGE

Carolyn Leonard thought she and her husband of 35 years were "fat and happy.'' Then came the morning in 2005 he woke up, told her he loved her, and died in her arms of a heart attack.

Fearing a similar end, Leonard, now 59, lost 110 pounds and has kept it off for more than three years. She's no longer diabetic, and has been off all medications for more than two years.

The Tampa woman has been on the Today show as part of its Joy Fit Club, and is part of the National Weight Control Registry of people who've defied the odds and maintained their weight loss. She is a strong advocate for healthy living: Just Google "Carolyn Leonard weight loss'' and you'll see numerous articles she has written.

She recently answered some questions about her life "before'' and "after.''

Charlotte Sutton, Personal Best editor

What did you eat and do for fun before you lost weight?

I enjoyed going to the movies and ate - unfortunately - lots of salty and sweet snacks. I ate lots of ice cream and salted snacks. I was also a huge bread eater.

You started dieting with your husband. How did his death affect your resolve?

In April 2005, we started eating better simply by not buying the "trigger" foods. However, when he died and the cause of death was listed as a heart attack, I knew that our lifestyle had killed him and I refused to become a statistic for obesity and diabetes.

How did you lose weight?

I started reading labels and researching proper nutrition on the Internet. I realized that all calories are not created equal and consumed more protein and fiber while reducing fats and sugars.

What's your diet like now?

I average 1,200 calories per day and divide my calories 3-4-5 with 300 at breakfast, 400 at lunch (and afternoon snack) and 500 for dinner. I allow one day a week for "free eating" but find that I really don't crave my old menu.

What do you eat during a typical day?

For breakfast I enjoy oatmeal, and my lunch is usually yogurt (my favorite is Fiber One) with cottage cheese or a salad with chicken. I enjoy an afternoon snack of fruit (I enjoy apples) or a Quaker granola bar. Dinner is either fish, chicken or pork with salad, vegetables and a small portion of rice or half baked potato. I do have fish (salmon, tilapia, tuna or shrimp) an average of three times per week.

Do I have an after-dinner snack? Yes. I enjoy the sugar-free Fudge-sicles (40 calories) or a 100-calorie bag of popcorn. I drink lots of water (about 60 ounces per day) and enjoy the Arizona decaf diet green tea.

What exercise do you do?

I walk - it's cheap and easy. I walk at least one hour a day. I also have an elliptical machine that is my best friend during the heat of the summer or rainy afternoons.

What's the difference between you and people who lose weight, but can't keep it off?

I think the reason that so many folks fail is because they are looking for the quick fix that won't require any behavioral changes. I know I was looking for it. It's not there. Having Richard die in my arms made me realize that my health was my responsibility and I took control.

Tell me about the National Weight Control Registry?

I put my story out there in hopes that it can help others realize that it's never too late to make a change and that in many cases diabetes can be controlled with weight loss and exercise. I am very excited that through the National Weight Control Registry my story was added to a slide presentation offered by Health and Wellness Partners for use with diabetic specialists. I think people realize that I'm a real person, not a Hollywood star.

Was there one moment when you truly realized how much you'd changed?

I was at the Brandon mall and came across a woman who had attended my husband's funeral but I had not seen her since that day. When Lisa walked by me at the mall without even a smile, I called out her name. She stopped, stared and the jaw dropped. My voice (dead giveaway that I'm from Baltimore) made her realize that it was me. Her first question, "Carolyn, where did you go?"

BEFORE, with husband

carolyn leonard, Age: 59

Former weight and clothing size: 255 pounds, size 24

Current weight and clothing size: 152 pounds, size 12

Diet: 1,200 calories a day; one "free'' day a week

Exercise: Walking, at least an hour a day

Quote: "I think the reason that so many folks fail is because they are looking for the quick fix . . . It's not there.''

To read her entry in the National Weight Control Registry, go to nwcr.ws/stories.htm.

DO YOU HAVE A SUCCESS STORY?

If you've lost weight, shaped up, or overcome some other health obstacle you'd like to share with the readers of Personal Best, please send us your story. We need to know your name, age, hometown, what you achieved, how you did it, and how it has changed your life. "Before'' and "after'' photos are helpful, too. Please e-mail your information to Personal Best editor Charlotte Sutton: sutton@sptimes.com (write Success Story in the subject line).

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