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Every January 1, Sue Avery’s church embarks on a 21-day fruit and vegetable fast to eliminate dependence on worldly needs. Avery participated for years, but 2007 was different. “I realized I had been fasting to lose weight, rather than to improve my relationship with God.” So last year, instead of setting unrealistic short-term weight-loss goals, Avery focused on making long-term changes. Using ideas she culled from magazines and TV and radio shows, Avery decided she would change just one thing about her lifestyle at a time so she wouldn’t feel overwhelmed. “I didn’t make any changes I couldn’t keep for the long haul,” she explains.

She started by not putting cheese on her sandwiches. Encouraged by how easy the change was, she gave up mayonnaise for spicy stone-ground mustard, then potato chips for veggie chips. Every week she would pick another unhealthy habit to eliminate and discover new healthier foods she liked.

Within about three months’ time, people started commenting that Avery looked different, happier and full of energy. Eventually she stepped on a scale—to see she had lost 30 pounds. Encouraged, Avery added exercise to her plan, walking around her neighborhood or on a treadmill. She started with 10 or 15 minutes and worked up to an hour. And the pounds continued to disappear.

Today, Avery takes hour-long power walks and a two-hour walk on weekends. She’s also starting to incorporate short intervals of running. She finishes her routine with 15 minutes of resistance-band exercises.

Despite a two-hour commute to work each way, Avery makes exercising a priority. And even though she eats out about five nights a week, she orders healthy options, seeks out restaurants that allow changes (such as requesting that vegetables not be sautéed in butter), and checks menus online so she can make better choices by deciding what to order ahead of time.

“I really don’t feel limited, and I’ve never called what I’m doing a diet,” reflects Avery, who went from a size 26 to a 10. “After a lifetime of battling my weight, I am finally on the right track.”