(CNN) — Rose Anne Schulman has been known to go into the grocery store, buy fried chicken and eat four pieces of it in the parking lot.
But that was the old her.
Now when she has that craving she buys a rotisserie chicken, takes the skin off and eats only one piece.
She doesn’t actually know how much weight she’s lost over the last year-and-a-half because she previously was too embarrassed to get on a scale. She knows she once wore a size 20. Now she’s a size 4.
A former dance teacher, Schulman never thought about what she was eating because she burned so many calories with aerobics, jazz, clogging, tap and ballet. Then a broken foot landed her on the couch. She remembers sitting in her house for weeks, eating her sorrows away.
“Every time there was a crisis I turned to food for solace,” the Atlanta resident says. And once she started, she couldn’t stop.
Her weight went up and down as her foot healed and her husband recovered from two different life-threatening illnesses. Schulman would lose 20 pounds then put it back on, then lose and gain again.
Two years ago, she was shopping for a dress to wear to her son’s wedding. Everything she tried on she thought looked like a potato sack. When she finally found a dress, the saleswoman told her it would look better if she lost 5 pounds. Schulman remembers thinking the woman really meant 35 pounds.
With five months until the wedding, she went home and decided to try to lose five pounds by watching what she ate. Those five pounds disappeared pretty quickly.
She started questioning all her food choices. “Is it worth it to eat this piece of cake?” she would ask herself. The answer was usually “No.”
She soon realized she didn’t need what she calls the frills, such as croutons and mayonnaise-based dressing on salad. She became more and more careful about what she put in her mouth. She read food labels. She stopped sampling her recipes while cooking.
People often say to her, “You can’t lose weight that way,” she says, and she proudly tells them, “Yes you can because I did.”
Soon that dress for her son’s wedding in June 2012 was too big. She needed a size 16 and was elated to fit into a “normal” size.
“I didn’t look like the fat lady anymore, but I didn’t look like the skinny lady either,” she says. She kept at it by making simple changes — a strategy she continues today.
At breakfast, for example, she’ll go for low sugar instant oatmeal, which is 110 calories instead of 160 calories for the regular packet. All those extra calories add up over the course of a year, Schulman says, and to save them you aren’t really giving up anything.
Portion control is also important, she says. Instead of eating a sandwich or two for lunch, she has soup and tuna salad or cottage cheese. Because she lacks discipline, she buys individual cups of cottage cheese instead of a big container to prevent herself from eating twice as much as she should.
She wants people to know eating healthy doesn’t have to be horrible: “You just have to think about what you are doing.”
These days she doesn’t even have the urge to eat anything fattening, although she did enjoy some chocolate cake with ice cream on her birthday. She shared it with her husband, Alan, who is also reaping the benefits of his wife’s change in lifestyle. Alan has lost 85 pounds.
Schulman lost 25 pounds before she even added exercise into the equation. Now she takes a Zumba class twice a week and walks several miles to and from her synagogue to attended religious services on Saturday. She says that walk is much easier at her current size than it used to be.
She’s tried other exercise routines such as walking on the treadmill, but says that bores her and she ends up going home and eating afterward.
One year after trying to take off five pounds to fit into that size 20 dress, Schulman was wearing a size 8.
On a recent shopping trip, she came out of the fitting room in a dress and the saleswoman told her it was too big. Schulman laughed and showed the woman a picture of the old her. Then she bought a size 4.
She says she was happy when she got down to a size 10, but she’s happier at a size 4.
“This is the first time in my life that I feel like I don’t need to lose weight,” she says.
Schulman, now 65, worries about gaining the weight back but knows it’s different this time. She’s still getting used to her new body but says it’s definitely not temporary.
“I didn’t go on a diet,” she says. “I changed my lifestyle.”
By Debra Goldschmidt