“My fascination with food started when I was young. I loved to watch, cook and eat,” Andrea Nagel says. Her grandfather was a line cook and her mother could always be found cooking in the kitchen. But Nagel’s love of food resulted in a war with weight. She struggled with this from a young age and lost and gained hundreds of pounds through adulthood, using diets and fads.

“Food has always been my comfort, my answer, whether happy or sad,” Nagel says.

A sexual assault in college and a back injury from a skiing accident added to her weight issues. After the death of her mother in 2007, Nagel assumed the duties of family matriarch.

“I took over the family and lost myself for two years, cooking for everyone and letting myself fall by the wayside.”

It all changed one day in 2009, when she couldn’t climb the stairs with a basket of laundry. “I said to myself, ‘I’m too young for this. My young boys are active, and I want to keep up with them.’ It was my breaking point,” Nagel says.

The next day she started walking for exercise and began following a low-carb, high-protein diet. Within 12 months, she was down 80 pounds. She plateaued for a few months until she started following a Paleo-based diet, eating mostly meat, fish, vegetables and fruit, and no dairy, sugar or processed foods. She lost 5 to 10 pounds a month until her loss totaled 175 pounds. She has maintained her new weight since 2014.

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“It’s an amazing feeling, sometimes surreal,” Nagel says. She’s thrilled with the energy she has to stay active with her boys, and loves going to a clothing store, picking an item off the rack, and knowing it will fit.

Nagel has one or two whole eggs mixed with either broccoli rabe or spinach for breakfast or leftovers from her previous night’s dinner. For her lunch and dinner meals, Nagel makes sure she has a protein — steak, fish or chicken — and vegetables. She makes her own Paleo-friendly pasta and uses cauliflower to make rice balls. She makes homemade desserts sweetened with honey, agave, coconut sugar or pure maple syrup.

Nagel runs 3 miles one day a week; exercises to a workout video; and uses free weights and elastic resistance bands, two to three times a week.

“Don’t give up. Take it day by day. One day of going off a program, doesn’t define you. What does is what you do the next day to make yourself better.”