desonta-holder_web.jpgBack away from the pepperoni pizza. Better yet, run.

That worked for me and it can work for you, too. Three years ago, I lost 30 pounds, and those pounds have stayed lost. I did it by just saying no to burgers, fries and pizza, and running as fast as a house mouse. (Those critters can reach 8 mph.)

I’m at the gym six days a week for 90-minute sessions each. I lift weights three days a week, and I do some form of cardio six days a week – running,  jumping rope or climbing the StairMaster.

OK, that might sound a bit extreme. I wouldn’t expect any couch potato to do what I do. I only ask that you do something. I’ll give you three reasons why:

1.    Sixty-six percent of U.S. adults are either overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, 23.6 percent of Floridians were obese in 2007.

2.    Obesity increases the risk of coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, cancers, hypertension, gynecological problems and several other conditions and diseases.

3.    Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in America.

The best way to avoid diseases linked to being overweight and obese is to eat right and exercise, hardly a revolutionary concept. Let’s start with the “eating right’’ part.

I used to hit the drive-through on the way home from work three or four times a week, until someone asked me why I was “so fat.”  I was a size 12 then, and I didn’t think I was “so fat.’’ I took a good look at myself in the mirror, and I decided that maybe I had been eating too many French fries, so I quit eating fast food.

I dove into fresh fruits and vegetables, and baked chicken or fish. I ate microwaved soup for lunch while my colleagues ordered out. I discovered that baked green beans were a real treat. Fill a baking pan with a layer of frozen green beans, sprinkle olive oil and your favorite seasoning over them, and bake until crisp.

They’ll beat French fries any day. And although carbs were getting a bad rep, I kept eating bread; I just paid close attention to portions. One serving is one slice of bread or half of a bagel. If I ate the whole bagel, I’d add a few extra miles to my workout.

One way to eat healthy is to fill your plate with more veggies than meat and bread. All the fiber will fill you up with fewer calories, as long as you don’t top your broccoli with bacon bits and cheese sauce, or add butter to your spinach. And you still have to watch those portions. If you ate only apples, but consumed more than you needed, you
would gain weight. Eat slowly, and when you’re full, put the fork down.

Now, let’s talk about working out. When I was “so fat,’’ I was running about 30 miles a week, but my pace was 6 mph on a good day, much slower on other days. When I decided to eat right, I decided to run faster. I gradually increased my pace to 8 mph; I even went up to 10 mph a few times.

I also turned up the heat on my strength training. I started lifting 100 pounds minimum on the bench press, shoulder press and decline press. And guess what? The pounds flew off. I dropped to a size 6.

If running is not for you, don’t fret. Pick an activity that you enjoy and you’ll be more likely to stick with it.

But first, get a checkup. Maybe your doctor will even give you an exercise plan. If not, start slowly. Warm up by walking briskly or running in place, then do some gentle stretches and start your activity, be it walking, jogging, swimming or yoga.

Set a goal for maybe 30 minutes three days a week, and then increase your sessions and intensity as your fitness level improves. Be sure to treat yourself to some strength training, too, such as weights, pull-ups or push-ups. Ladies, this will not cause you to bulk up (unless you’re on steroids).  Strength training will improve your balance, help to prevent osteoporosis, and give your body a sleek, toned look.

Results will not come overnight. It took me about six months to lose 30 pounds, and even though I splurge occasionally, the pounds have stayed off.  Maybe it’s because I still steer clear of pepperoni.

Seriously, the key is to stick with it. We all know what happens when you go off a diet. The pounds come back with a vengeance. Therefore, don’t diet. Make a lifetime commitment to get fit and stay fit. I did, and so can you.

Desonta Holder is the former assistant health editor at The Miami Herald, for which she also wrote a health and fitness blog.