Finding a way to be happily thinner

Cheryl Dedrick lost 138 pounds, and now she wants to find a healthy body image.

After struggling with excess pounds for more than 10 years, she joined Weight Watchers and learned ways to win her battle with the scale.

"I didn't think I could do it, but I looked at it a week at a time," she says.

It took Dedrick, a hairdresser from Clearwater, Kan., about 18 months to lose the weight. She has kept it off for almost two years.

Learning how many calories were in the foods she was eating helped Dedrick make healthier choices.

"There's tons of calories in things you don't even realize," she says. "One thing I thought was healthy for breakfast was a bagel, but those can be 300 calories."

She also was shocked to learn that the McDonald's grilled chicken sandwich she thought was so healthy contained almost as many calories as a double cheeseburger.

"I kept thinking that I needed to completely give up all the foods that I liked, like chocolate and cheeseburgers," she says. But then Dedrick searched the Internet and discovered some healthier recipes that tasted good.

She learned to make onion rings by dipping them in Eggbeaters and bread crumbs, then baking them in the oven. "That's one of my favorites," she says.

When she wants something sweet, she eats an ice cream sandwich instead of a bowl of ice cream. That satisfies her craving while saving calories.

She also overcame obstacles to exercise.

"I was unable to exercise for a long time because of my knees, and I had 300 pounds basically on my feet," she says. So she started by taking walks, telling herself to just take a few extra steps each day.

Next, she joined the YMCA, but at first she felt embarrassed because she assumed that only skinny people took classes there.

"Seeing people at the Y who were heavy and were still doing these classes, that helped me feel comfortable there," she says.

Today, she enjoys taking yoga, aerobics and weight-lifting classes.

But some body-image issues still weigh on her.

Dedrick wasn't happy with how she looked when she was overweight.

"I hardly ever got my picture taken," she says. "My pictures back then looked like Big Foot because I was like a blur running out of the picture."

Even now that Dedrick, a wife and mother of two, is at a healthy weight, "I kind of still have a bad body image," she says. "Sometimes I still shop in the big women's section. It's hard to get out of that mind-set."

She tries not to punish herself when she overeats or gains a pound, but sometimes she gets frustrated with herself and will look at certain foods and say, "I can't eat that. I'm too fat today."

Dedrick realized what a negative effect that saying had when she heard her 5-year-old son repeating it.

"My little son tried to give me a (milk)shake and then he said, `I know, Mom, you're too fat to drink that.'"

She wants to learn to feel better about herself and be her own best friend.

"That's hard for me _ very hard," she says. "I'm my own worst critic."

In June, she's attending a seminar by a psychologist and an art therapist that aims to help people improve their body image.

And it sounds like Dedrick is already making progress toward that goal.

"I tell myself I'm working toward a healthy lifestyle," she says. "I'm trying to improve myself, and I'm worth it."