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Lewisville teacher crowned Slimming World's Woman of the Year for her inspiring weight-loss story
Sheila Loftis says that when the photo (left) was taken, she was on vacation in Mexico with friends and felt miserable about her size. Now 66 pounds lighter, her self-confidence and joy grows every day.
By Darla Atlas
As an overweight child, Sheila Loftis quickly grasped the message that her size was shameful.
"I always had to shop in the 'pretty plus' section," recalls Sheila, 45, a Lewisville kindergarten teacher.
Her parents, in an effort to inspire her to lose weight, stressed that "pretty plus" was where fat girls had to buy clothes. Their strategy didn't work; instead, Sheila continued gaining weight and battling low self-esteem.
"I tried to be invisible all my life," she recalls. "I didn't like to be noticed."
That was particularly true in middle and high school, where she didn't receive attention from boys. She recalls sitting at home, longing to be asked out on dates.
But her love life improved a couple of years after graduation, when she met her husband, Terry. The two have been married for 24 years and have three children: Dylan, 20; Devin, 18; and Hailey, 15.
While she's been blessed with a tight-knit family and a career she adores, Sheila says her weight -- which continued to grow every year -- always haunted her. With each extra pound, her self-esteem kept plummeting.
And that kept her from enjoying life to the fullest. Her family always wanted to go on a summer vacation with other groups, but Sheila would make excuses because she knew she'd be the most overweight wife on the trip. Finally, she agreed to go to Mexico with some of their friends.
"It was horrible," she says. "I was embarrassed the whole week because of my appearance."
Over the years, Sheila tried all sorts of plans to lose weight, including "not eating," pills, a variety of well-known diets and more. The result? She ended up at a lifetime high of 247 pounds. And she felt miserable.
One morning as she drove to school, Sheila noticed her friend Michele standing at the bus stop with her children. "She's lost weight," Sheila thought to herself. With each passing week, as Michele kept shrinking, "I'd think, 'She's melting away while I continue to get bigger and bigger.'"
Finally, she approached Michele, who told her that she'd joined Slimming World, the U.K.'s most-popular weight-loss program that is now available to Americans. As Michele described the eating plan -- centered around food found at any grocery store, lots of variety and a scientific method of keeping hunger and deprivation at bay -- Sheila was intrigued. Even better, "I felt like I had hope once again."
At the same time, "I was terrified," she admits. "What if this was just another diet that I wouldn't be successful at, since nothing else has ever worked?"
But she gave it a try, enjoying the fact that nothing is banned on the Slimming World program.
"I love the amount of food I get to eat and the variety of food I get to choose from," says Sheila, adding that even pasta, rice, eggs, lean meats and more are offered in unlimited amounts. "It's so easy! And at any time that I feel like I'm losing motivation, there are always other members online to give me an extra boost."
As she began cooking with healthy, low-fat Slimming World recipes, her family started eating the same way.
Since that time, her husband has lost 40 pounds, 20-year-old Devin is 50 pounds lighter, and Hailey, 15, has lost 15 pounds. As for Shelia, she's lost 66 pounds and is well on her way to the 100-pound goal she set for herself.
At a ceremony in Lewisville on Sunday, Sheila was named Slimming World's Woman of the Year, which was the first time the title has been bestowed in America. She and nine others were honored for their inspiring weight-loss stories -- and for losing a combined total of 675 pounds.
For Sheila, things have turned around in every area of her life.
"My relationship with my husband has suffered over the last few years because I disliked my body so much," she admits. Now, "we have acted like teenagers. This summer we'd take a two-day getaway ever chance we could sneak away -- just the two of us! We've also started walking and jogging, and we recently signed up for dance lessons. I never had the energy or self-confidence to do that before now."
While her career has always been a source of joy -- she says the kids "love me no matter how I look" -- this year she feels she's in a good position to inspire them to make healthier food choices.
In addition, "I work so hard on my kindergarteners' self-esteem," she says, "because I don't want them to have the problem that I have suffered with throughout my life."
Those feelings of insecurity have lingered long past her school days, thanks to her former weight problem. Which is why Sheila was thrilled when her 18-year-old son came home recently with a message from his friend: "Tell your mom she looks awesome."
"That was just the sort of thing I'd always wanted to hear when I was that age," she says with a smile. "It was the best compliment."