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Its not easy living in the head of a Fat Girl, as Lisa Delaney, Health Special Projects Director, makes plain in Secrets of a Former Fat Girl (Hudson Street Press, Penguin, 2007). Her vivid recollections sent me back to my own Fat Girl days, when food and hunger were both friend and enemy, when flesh was a burden I longed to shed. Yet anyone, at any weight, can benefit from one of Delaneys basic lessons:

Becoming the person you long to be is inevitably paired with good-health habits like exercising and eating nourishing foods.

Here, Delaney (who has also launched a Web site) talks about her journey from self-sacrificing, food-obsessed Fat Girl to happy, healthy woman, who also happens to be a size-2 athlete—and shares the stories of other women who are weight-loss successes.

Health: Why did you write the book?
Lisa Delaney: When people find out that I was once fat, theyre shocked and hungry for information. There arent many books for women who approach weight loss without nagging. I wanted to coach people through the process of changing the way they think about themselves. I wanted to help them believe that they are the type of people who can lose weight—because thats the real issue here. There are many women out there who have re-imagined themselves as I have. And the size of my jeans is the least important change.

Next Page: Q: Do you think that for some people its too scary to be thin? [ pagebreak ]In the book, you say “I simply couldnt imagine who I would be if I wasnt a Fat Girl anymore.” Do you think that for some people its too scary to be thin?
People fear success. They wonder: “What happens when people see me in a new way?” “What if someone thinks Im sexy? Or listens to what I have to say?” Fat can be a way of protecting yourself.

Do you think all Fat Girls feel as you did?
No. Some overweight women are comfortable with who they are and how they move in the world. But there are a lot of women out there who are Fat Girls in their heads as well as in their bodies, and they will see themselves in the book. And there are women who are no longer Fat Girls but are obsessed with their weight. Being a Former Fat Girl isnt measured by how much weight youve lost, its more about how you handle yourself in life—your ability to set boundaries, to say no, to take risks despite the fear of rejection. You talk about how much you used to eat, but not about hunger. How much did actual hunger have to do with your eating?

I didnt feel hunger, physically. It was so wrapped up with how much food was on my plate. I finally got in touch with hunger when I went on Weight Watchers. I had to get used to a pasta bowl that wasnt full.

Some people who stop overeating take on other addictions, such as obsessive exercising. Did you?
Its easy to become obsessed with diet and exercise when youre trying to manage your weight. This can be dangerous territory for women who are predisposed to eating disorders. My obsession didnt go that far, but some things bordered on obsessiveness. For instance, at first I exercised every day. I had to make exercise as much a part of my day as brushing my teeth. But then I had to look at how much it—exercising, dieting, weight—was controlling my life. I became more balanced when I realized I wouldnt blow up if I had a bite of cake or missed a workout.

Next Page:Â Q: You talk about imagining yourself slimmer. Isnt there a fine line between those measures and self-loathing? [ pagebreak ]You talk about imagining yourself slimmer, about keeping your skinny clothes in sight, etc. Isnt there a fine line between those measures and self-loathing?
The books first chapter is about starting with exercise, which makes you feel powerful, capable, strong. When you start to feel all the benefits of exercise, some of that self-loathing disappears.

Why do you advise people not to exercise at home initially?
At home, a million things compete for your attention—the closet that needs cleaning, the phone call that needs to be made, not to mention the bag of Doritos in your pantry. You spend so much mental energy fighting the “whiner in your head,” that part of you that wants to curl up on the couch with a snack, that its better to find a track or gym where you can do your thing and come home. A trainers great, too. You only have to think about getting there with your gym clothes.

Do you sometimes still feel fat?
Not really. But I can look at another woman and think, ‘Shes my size—then I find out shes a size 8. Thats not because I feel bad, but because I still dont see myself as others see me.

What do you do if you backslide?
I weigh myself at the gym when my clothes start to feel a little snug. (I dont have a scale at home.) If my weight is up, I look at where Im not paying attention to what I eat. Am I really hungry for that 3 p.m. snack, or just eating out of habit? Am I diving into the communal chocolate stash at work too often? Its not meals but snacks that get me.

What are you planning to have for dinner tonight?
Chicken tacos: grilled chicken breast, fat-free refried beans, tortillas, low-fat cheddar cheese, salsa, and a dab of guacamole. Maybe a folded tortilla chip or two. (I eat only the folded ones—a little portion-control trick!) And three York Peppermint Patties after my son goes to bed. A special Me Time treat!

If you could tell only one thing to a Fat Girl, what would it be?
The key is forgetting about your diet at first and focusing on developing an exercise habit. Dieting is all about “I cant,” and exercise is all about “I can.” You begin to see that you can do things you never thought you could, and there is so much power in that. Exercise is going to make you healthier, no matter how much weight you lose.

Former Fat Girl Dorothy Foltz-Gray is a Health Contributing Editor.