SUN CITY, Ariz. (AP) — Cathy Langley used to be a "secret dieter."
Tired of the questions hurled at her from friends and family if she told them she was on a diet, she just stopped telling them, thinking that if she failed, she wouldn't feel as guilty.
"I lived my life diet, diet, diet," she said.
Langley, a Wittmann resident, also said she was tired of constantly answering the question, "So, how much weight have you lost?"
But now, when she hears that question, she tells people "not enough."
In reality, Langley has lost 148 pounds, and was recently crowned the 2011 Arizona Queen by the organization TOPS Club, Inc. a nonprofit, noncommercial weight-loss organization with chapters around the world.
"I got to my goal in November," Langley said. "Now, at 245, I'm tickled."
Langley's goal weight, though, was 250 pounds, and she knows that many people were surprised when she won the Queen title, saying that she was still a heavy woman. But the title is based who in the state lost the most pounds, and Langley is at the weight recommended by her doctor.
"When I first started TOPS, I didn't have a goal," Langley said.
Langley's doctors had given her just two years to live when she weighed about 400 pounds and had developed ovarian cancer. She considered gastric bypass surgery, and even went through the whole process up until a week before the surgery when she decided it wasn't the best route for her.
"That last week waiting for my surgery, I just couldn't do it," Langley said, explaining that she was worried she wouldn't be able to stick to the strict diet required after the surgery.
Langley joined the Surprise chapter of TOPS, which stands for Take Off Pounds Sensibly, in 2009, and quickly became her chapter leader.
"You kind of motivate the members," Langley said of her role. "You try to point out to them that the scale is just numbers."
Now, TOPS keeps her accountable in her diet, Langley said, especially as chapter leader because she has to keep up with health news, obesity studies and new diets or recipes. She's now part of the KOPS group, or Keeping Off Pounds Sensibly.
"I started little by little," Langley said.
Langley said she has tried many different diets and started out trying to limit her carbohydrates, saturated fats, sodium, everything, all at once, but she couldn't keep it all straight.
So when her doctor told her to visit a nutritionist, who recommended she just stick to counting calories — 1,600 a day — she gradually got into her diet and learned that fresh food is better for the body than processed foods.
"I made little baggies of snacks," Langley said, each bag with right serving sizes and easy to grab and go. "Once I did it, it became habit. Being on a budget, you learn how to do a lot of stuff."
At her weekly TOPS meetings, Langley asks other members to tell her what they struggled with during the week or what they did differently that worked for them.
After trying so many different diets and other weight-loss groups, Langley said TOPS worked for her because of the support the other members give her, even through her weight gains.
"I couldn't be doing this if I didn't have the support," Langley said. "I couldn't do this without my TOPS. I've got my faith and my TOPS; that's what keeps me going."
Langley, who said she used to let the scale rule her mood, hasn't been at 245 pounds since perhaps the seventh grade, she said, adding that she is now skinnier than she was when she got married.
Langley weighs all her food to measure out serving sizes, logs her meals and calorie counts, and makes notes in a journal about her feelings each day. That way, she can look back for tips if she finds herself struggling.
"It takes a lot of prepping," Langley said.
At parties, which she used to hate attending, Langley said, she now enjoys the people more than the food, using a tablespoon to try the different dishes so she isn't tempted to binge.
"And I'm content," Langley said. "I walk away from it and I go and mingle with the people and forget about the food. Before, I was too busy bonding with the food."
Now if she gets a craving, she first goes for water, then hot tea, then fruit or vegetables, and if that doesn't work, then she allows herself a bite or two of the food she's craving, rather than driving herself crazy.
"Little tricks like that keep me going," Langley said, adding that she has even learned to adapt her favorite Mexican dishes into healthier meals. Even with 148 pounds lost, Langley still looks in the mirror and sees that bigger woman and can't wait for the day when her doctor gives her the go-ahead to increase her weight-loss goal.
"That woman is never going to go away," Langley said. "It's going to take years to undo the damage that I've done to myself."
Information from: Daily News-Sun, http://www.dailynews-sun.com/