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Dropping pounds, Toni Ruggiero

Toni Ruggiero, 44, of Wading River, turned to

Toni Ruggiero, 44, of Wading River, turned to the gastric sleeve surgery to aid in her battle against obesity. The procedure removes a portion of the stomach, keeping the person from eating too much. She went from 223 pounds to 138 pounds in about 18 months. (2013) Credit: Handout; Newsday / Ken Sawchuk

HER STORY "I began gaining weight with the birth of my three children," says Toni Ruggiero, who also was diagnosed with an inactive thyroid. As she continued to gain weight through the years, she says she began to do less and less outside the house or with the family. With her children now grown and her first grandchild on the way, she began to examine her life.

Ruggiero had a friend who had undergone successful weight-loss surgery, inspiring her to consider the procedure. "I began researching weight-loss surgeries," says Ruggiero, who settled on the gastric sleeve surgery, which can remove up to 75 percent of the stomach, giving it a tubelike appearance.

"I realized it was time to live again instead of sitting home depressed about my weight, about having nothing to wear," says Ruggiero. "I wanted to enjoy my husband and children. It was time to start thinking about me if I wanted to be around for them."

DIET Because of her children's schedules, the family ate out a lot, and often ate late at night.

"We ate a lot of fast food," Ruggiero says. "Now, I eat things I never ate before: salads, fruits, vegetables, health bars. Even when we go out, I choose wisely."

She starts the day with a bowl of oatmeal or a serving of yogurt with fruit. Lunch is usually a salad with chicken. If she snacks, she'll have sugar-free Jell-O or raw vegetables. Dinner, which she now has around 6 p.m., is a lean protein with vegetables and the occasional potato or serving of rice.

"I no longer drink any soda," says Ruggiero, who says she drinks only water or unsweetened tea.

EXERCISE After years of being sedentary, she now walks 2 to 3 miles a day.

ADVICE "The surgery is not for everyone," says Ruggiero of the portion and dietary restrictions she adheres to since her surgery. "If you're considering the surgery, this is a lifelong commitment."

She wants others to understand that the surgery is just part of the process. "It is an aid, not a solution," she says. "You have to change your mindset, change your diet."

Toni Ruggiero

44, Wading River

Occupation: Graphic designer

Height: 5-foot-4

233 Weight before April 2012

138 Weight after Oct. 21, 2013