If Mary Jane Wagner’s face looks familiar, you may have seen her picture in the cover story of People magazine. After dropping a whopping 253 pounds by following the South Beach Diet, the mom of three was recently featured in the magazine’s Half Their Size issue. Not only has Mary Jane inspired her family and friends to lead a healthier lifestyle, she’s demonstrated that longterm weight loss success is possible, even if it doesn’t happen the first time around. Mary Jane knows firsthand how difficult it can be to lose weight for good after regaining it. After initially shedding 150 pounds in 15 months back in 2009, she became a yo-yo dieter, regaining all that weight and more. By her wedding anniversary in July 2011, her weight was off the scale at 403 pounds. She then committed to losing weight again, but this time, she was determined to make it happen for good. We caught up with Mary Jane to see what life is like for her on the Beach.
How many pounds did you lose when you first followed the South Beach Diet? What was the cause of the weight gain?
Eight years ago, I lost a total of 170 pounds following the South Beach Diet. I never reached my goal weight and basically gave up, regaining all the weight and much more. I weighed 403 pounds. I can’t really explain how I had gained so much. It was a cycle of gaining the weight back, being embarrassed about it, and giving up. I was also physically inactive. On July 22, 2011, our wedding anniversary, I told my husband that I would try to lose weight again I began to lose the weight and lost about 199 pounds before joining the South Beach Diet again and ultimately reaching my goal of weighing 150-160 pounds in the summer of 2013.
How has the South Beach Diet helped you lose weight and keep it off?
The South Beach Diet helps me maintain my weight loss by giving me the flexibility to move between phases. If I put on a little too much weight, I will go back to Phase 1 and cut out fruit and grains for the two weeks. Once my cravings are eliminated, I will go back to Phase 2.
Have you encountered any setbacks along your weight-loss journey? How were you able to overcome them?
My setbacks are mostly mental. I have to tell myself it is not the end of the world if I have a setback. It’s normal to give in to temptations sometimes and just move forward. Someone said if you trip going up the stairs, you don’t just lay there. You get yourself up and move on. That is what I try to do. I had varicose vein surgery recently and it has caused a setback. I have not been able to exercise and have gotten off my routine. I have also retained water and have swelling in my legs. I have to try to stay positive and realize that I am in the process of recovering. I focus on what I am eating and what exercise I am still able to do.
What are some healthy ways you reward yourself?
I don’t make food a reward. I like to get a pedicure, manicure, etc. I may go clothes shopping but that can also lead to trouble! I can’t spend too much money. I will just try to focus on how far I have come.
In your People feature, you mention how your dad is an inspiration for you. Since you’ve lost weight, have you inspired others to lose weight and improve their health? How has your own health improved?
Many have said that I am an inspiration to them, including friends, neighbors, and co-workers. I have started walking and working out with some of them. Many people ask me questions on how to lose weight, and I just give them the basics of the South Beach Diet program and share advice on how I have done it. My health has improved a lot. I was able to stop taking my blood pressure medication. I am no longer pre-diabetic and have been given a clean bill of health.
What are some of your favorite exercises, and how do you keep your workouts interesting?
I have tried to change up my exercises to keep them interesting. In the beginning, I could only walk and gradually increased my time and distance. Then I started taking water aerobics classes that I have grown to like a lot. I also joined a gym and take various classes, like spin and Zumba. I do weight training and use the elliptical machine regularly as well. I also ran my first 5k race this summer; that gave me a huge sense of accomplishment.
How have your family and friends supported you with your weight loss throughout the years?
My family and friends offer constant encouragement. My husband was always supportive of me. Weight loss has given us things that we can do as a family, such as vacationing, hiking, and biking. My husband actually carried me recently, which I don’t think has happened in a very long time. It’s funny because my kids are ages 23, 18, and 16, and when they see pictures or videos of me when I was 400 pounds, they are shocked as they never really saw me as being that large. I guess that’s what we call unconditional love!
What are some of your favorite South Beach Diet recipes?
What are some of your favorite South Beach Diet snacks?
My favorite snack bar is the South Beach Diet 100-Calorie Chocolate Caramel Nut Snack Bar. I truly haven’t found a Protein Fit or Snack Bar that I don’t like.
What’s your advice for anyone who is stuck in a cycle of yo-yo dieting?
Yo-yo dieting is still something that I struggle with, but I am trying to catch it within a 5- or 10-pound fluctuation I watch my weight carefully and make sure that I am drinking my water daily; that helps me a lot. I am trying to get away from weighing myself daily. Once a week is really all I need. I can generally tell how I am doing by how well my clothes fit me.
What kind of response did you get from friends and family when the People story came out?
A few people have bought the magazine and want my autograph! Everyone is very excited for me and my weight loss.
Come Back to the Beach!
Are you a seasoned South Beach Dieter? We’d love to hear how you’re doing and whether you’ve maintained your goal weight or, like Mary Jane W., needed to go back on Phase 1 to get those cravings under control. Wherever you are in your weight loss journey, please share your story here — along with any advice you might have for South Beach Diet newbies!
*Participants can expect to lose 1-2 pounds per week.