Tawnya Galland can hold a ruler perpendicular from her hip to demonstrate how much her waistline has shrunk.
"There's a ruler less of me," she quipped.
The process began almost four years ago when a co-worker invited her to come along to a nutrition class at the YMCA. Galland figured she had nothing to lose, so she tagged along.
It was fortuitous. The nutrition class they attended was the Diabetes Prevention Program, a joint project between St. Vincent Healthcare and the YMCA.
Heavy and not very active, Galland was pre-diabetic, and she likely would have ended up with type 2 diabetes had she not followed her friend to the class and begun to change her life.
"We give people some broad guidelines," said Bev McHugh, the YMCA's registered dietitian and lifestyle coach for the diabetes prevention program.
In the class, she teaches participants about the importance of diet and exercise, helps them to create food journals where they track everything they eat and talks to them about the importance of finding balance in their lives. And then a relatively intensive exercise portion kicks in after the first month.
In other words, she said, she gives them some tools and teaches participants how to use them. But it's those in the class who have to make it work.
"To sustain a healthy lifestyle, people have to take ownership," McHugh said.
Galland was on board from the start, although she admits when she learned there was an exercise component she got a little nervous. She was all too aware of what it would look like for someone her size to saunter into a fitness center.
"Walking into a gym can be overwhelming," she said. "But you're all starting pretty much at the same level. So that was the benefit to doing it in a group."
And rather than starting straight out on exercise equipment, Galland was able to use the pool and work out in a water aerobics class.
"When you weigh as much as a linebacker, your joints don't like the land classes," she said with a laugh.
The biggest surprise was that she enjoyed it. She meticulously kept up her food diary, exercised multiple times a week and eventually lost 44 inches from her waistline.
These days, she's doing a spin class three times a week, a two-hour swim class twice a week and one group aerobics class on Saturdays. She finds genuine pleasure from the workouts, saying they're as good for her head as they are for her heart.
"I'm not happy when I haven't made it to the gym," she said.
McHugh talks to her class about the myriad ways there are to mark success. It's not just about pounds lost or physical endurance gained.
"There's many measures of progress," she said.
Most important, she said, is giving class participants tools that will help them keep in place the lifestyle changes they make when they finish the course.
McHugh likes to tell her class that she can't motivate them but that she can help them find their motivation.
For Galland, that motivation comes from a desire not to lose the progress she's made and from the positive changes she's experienced in her life. Her mood has improved along with her health. She's more energetic throughout the day, and she has more confidence.
"I don't want to go backwards," she said. "It scares me to go backwards."
The diabetes prevention program lasts a year. It starts with 16 weekly classes, then moves to classes every other week. Then, for the last six months of the class, participants meet once a month. Through it all, there's the exercise regimen.
The best way to prevent diabetes is to improve diet and get active, McHugh said. Those improvements can be charted through weight loss.
"The goal of the program is moderate weight loss," she said, which is defined as a 5 percent to 10 percent loss from a person's starting weight.
Galland has dropped 103 pounds over the last three years, and she's happy with the balance she's struck in her life. Had she tried to do this 10 years ago, she wouldn't have been able to pull it off. Her life simply wasn't in the right place at the time.
"You have to find that place in your life when it'll work," she said. "I'm content with where I'm at."