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By scott scanlon // Refresh editor

Month by month, year by year, Rachel Miller piled on weight when she was a child. She didn’t really know why. Her parents and siblings were thin. But she remembers when she’d had enough. Miller went for a physical in her early 20s and watched the scale push to 270 pounds.

“That number always sticks with me,” she says. “I remember that the doctor wrote down ‘heavy.’ That was really sad to see. I graduated from college in 1996 and decided, ‘This is it, I’m making a change.’

“I did try lots of diets – the Atkins Diet, Weight Watchers – but none of them worked as much as eating real food and exercising. That’s basically the bottom line.”

Today, at 5-foot-8, Miller weighs a toned and taut 152 pounds. She has kept off the weight for a dozen years, and quit her job as a physical therapy assistant about four years ago in the Ken-Ton school district to become a certified personal trainer, Pilates instructor and holistic health coach (see her website at reformwithrachel.com).

These days, Miller, 39, of Kenmore, a married mother of two, helps others accomplish what she’s done herself. She recently agreed to share some of her most important tips with WNY Refresh.

1. Know thyself: Get to the why of your weight gain, says Miller, who believes she was an emotional eater who used food for comfort. “As a rule, Americans know what’s bad for them,” she says. “They know they shouldn’t be eating McDonald’s or they’re not going to lose weight. I can give you a meal plan to eat, but that doesn’t help when you’re stressed out or have cravings.”

You need to address that stress, and how you sleep, and work to recognize your eating triggers.

Miller says she worked with one mom who felt the tension rise when the kids got home from school, and who turned to healthier habits when she realized the first couple hours after her kids got home was binge eating time. “It’s very tricky,” she says, “but first you have to get to the bottom of what’s causing the problem.”

2. Small leads to big: Miller describes her own weight loss as a journey. “I didn’t use extreme measures, diet foods, special foods or surgery,” she says. “I started very slowly. Just 30 minutes of exercises, not every day, and making small changes. It was very encouraging to see some of the weight start to come off.” Another small change was eating smaller portions. “That was huge,” she says.

It took her about two years to lose her first 100 pounds. “At first, it came off a little bit faster because I had so much to lose,” she says. “I lost about 1 to 2 pounds a week, which I think is a great balance. You don’t want to go crazy and lose all this weight, because usually you gain it back.”

3. Make your moves: Exercise must be part of a solid weight loss plan, because it speeds metabolism, helps peel off pounds more quickly and fuels a more hopeful, energetic attitude. And money need not be an object, Miller says. She started by walking on a treadmill her grandmother gave her. She put it in her living room. That led to running, which she continues to enjoy outdoors, regardless of the weather. She’s also watched “a ton” of workout videos, including with her kids, Cody, 12, and Emma, 8. She didn’t join a gym until two years ago.

In recent years, she has switched up her exercise routines as one way to maintain weight. “When I first started losing the weight, I did mostly cardio,” she says, “but I’ve learned so much. I still love running – I run every other day – and I teach boot camp classes, so it’s weight training incorporated with cardio, along with core strengthening.”

4. Whole foods are good: Sugar – including artificial sweeteners – are bad. That’s why regular soda, and diet pop, went out the window when her new way of eating started. “Sugar right now is the No. 1 negative factor in the American diet …,” Miller says. “It’s addictive.” The food industry, she says, is “literally playing with our brain chemistry with fat, with sugar, with salt, and they get us to eat more and more of it – and our world is becoming more obese.”

While she understands families are busy, she warns there’s a heavy price to pay when eating processed foods.

5. Plan to eat: “There’s so many people who are not prepared,” Miller says. “If I know I’m going to be out for the day, I’ll bring a snack with almonds or yogurt so I know that I’m not going to go through a drive-thru or grab a cookie because, ‘Oh my God, I’m so hungry!’” As the cold weather comes, she’ll also make soup on the weekend that she can portion out through the rest of the week.

6. Eat in: “People will say, ‘I can’t afford to buy organic,’ yet they’ll think nothing of spending 10 bucks on lunch or 3 bucks on a coffee,” Miller says. Eighty percent of people eat out for lunch three times a week and some go out every day. Even if you think you’re eating out healthy, it still adds up. It’s much more cost-effective to go to the grocery store.”

7. Get all of the “primary foods” right: “Healthy relationships, a fulfilling career, regular physical activity and a spiritual awareness are essential forms of nutrition, as well,” Miller says. Learning healthy habits in all of these areas needs to be part of your health goals, she says.

Miller said she lost enough weight in the first six months to know she never wanted her weight to climb again.

“I still exercise, I still eat right,” she says, “but now I’m focusing more on being healthy and not so much on getting skinny.”

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