Annie Allen was a great health-care student—at least on paper. When she entered the nursing program at Clark State Community College in Springfield, Ohio, in September 2007, "I was so focused on school that I didn't care what I ate or if I worked out," says the former high school tennis and basketball player. Fried food and sweets became both a stress reliever and a reward (Search: Healthy ways to reduce stress). By the time she graduated in 2009, she was carrying 40 more pounds on her 5'6" figure. "I felt like a hypocrite going into a health career," recalls Annie, now a 26-year-old postsurgical nurse in Tampa Bay, Florida.
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Her first year on the job left little time for snacking, so Annie lost 15 pounds, but she struggled. "I'd come home and fall into bed. I had no energy," she says. The last straw came in September 2010, when she pulled on a pair of size-16 jeans—and they wouldn't button. "I didn't want to live my life embarrassed and ashamed anymore," she says.
That month, Annie signed up for a 5-K and began training on her days off, working her way from walks to 20-minute runs. She was down 20 pounds three months later when she completed her first race. "Seeing the finish line boosted my confidence to a whole new level," she says. (Start training for a race today with our free 5-K Training Jumpstart Plan!) She overhauled her diet in January 2011, tossing precooked chicken into salads and wraps, and whipping up healthy meals like baked fish on her days off so she could bring leftovers to work for lunch. By February, she'd lost another 10 pounds and made a permanent break from soda and her daily fast-food fix. The next month, Annie discovered a much healthier way to relieve stress than stuffing her face: cardio boxing at a local gym. In April, Annie's scale flashed 145 pounds—less than she weighed in high school. "I had a smile on my face the entire day," she says.
With her newfound energy, Annie's 12-hour shifts are no problem. She still boxes twice a week and runs about 10 races a year. "Running gives me a sense of achievement," she says, "especially knowing I came from a place of not being able to run at all." (Video: Learn how to run with proper form and technique)
You're never too tired to work out. "Exercise gives me more energy."
Freeze! "Frozen vegetables are as nutritious as fresh ones, and in minutes you have half of your meal prepared."
Beat the heat. "During the brutal Florida summers, I run when it's cooler, in the morning or evening."