Anyone who’s tried to lose weight knows that good nutrition matters a lot—even more than your exercise routine. As the authors of a recent editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine wrote, “You cannot outrun a bad diet.” In other words, even a calorie-torching fitness plan needs to go hand-in-hand with healthy eating or you won’t see the results you want.

But that doesn’t mean you have to restrict yourself to bland “diet” foods. We asked seven women who’ve lost 50 pounds or more to share their go-to healthy meals, and the results were surprisingly appetizing—even bacon and chocolate make a cameo! Here are the foods that helped these women find long-term success.

Jodi Friedman

JODI FRIEDMAN

Jodi, 44, had struggled with her weight due to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and insulin resistance. But after a nutritionist helped her devise a low-carb, high-protein eating plan, she lost 70 pounds and is now training for a half marathon. “It’s important to find a nutritionist who understands your health issues and supports your needs,” she says.

A typical day’s meals:

  • Breakfast: a protein bar with 20 grams of protein or more, plus a banana on workout days
  • Lunch: tuna salad with a side salad of mixed greens and tomatoes with aged balsamic vinegar
  • Snack: cucumber slices with a tablespoon of hummus
  • Dinner: salmon or crockpot chicken with a side of spinach or avocado
  • Dessert: kid-sized cup of frozen yogurt

Jennifer Finney

JENNIFER FINNEY

Motivated by a warning from her husband’s doctor, Jennifer, 41, and her hubby overhauled their eating habits together. “We went from a diet of processed foods, fast food, and dining out two or three times a week to a whole-food, plant-based diet,” she says. “We went all-in from day one, and the weight started melting off.” To date, she’s lost 80 pounds and now works as an online health and fitness coach.

  • Breakfast: rolled oats with almond milk, peanut butter, and pure maple syrup
  • Post-workout snack: green smoothie with spinach and frozen fruit
  • Lunch: kale salad with hummus and rice vinegar, topped with fresh cucumbers, red peppers, and chickpeas or lentils
  • Afternoon snack: apples with peanut butter
  • Dinner: a Pad-Thai inspired dish using spaghetti squash instead of pasta
  • After-dinner snack: a piece of fruit

Petrina Hamm

PETRINA HAMM

Petrina, 43, started the Atkins diet because her sister was interested in the plan. “She asked me to do it with her for support,” she says. Petrina eventually modified her diet for more balance, and has lost a total of 100 pounds. She says the key has been “taking it one day at a time. Too many people devote too much focus to the end game.”

A typical day’s meals:

  • Breakfast: a healthy “cheese Danish”—made by mixing egg with cream cheese, liquid Splenda, and a dash of cinnamon—along with bacon or sausage
  • Lunch: salad with full-fat blue cheese dressing, bacon bits, and diced chicken
  • Dinner: steak with steamed broccoli and butter
  • Snack: homemade sugar-free peanut butter cup (made with baking chocolate, butter, liquid Splenda, and peanut butter)

Whitney Herrington

WHITNEY HERRINGTON

The approach of a milestone birthday motivated Whitney, 29, to get serious about her eating habits. “I had been overweight my whole life, and I was determined not to go into my thirties fat!” she says. By following a low-carb, high-protein diet—with some extra carbs added in on workout days—she’s lost 65 pounds so far.

A typical day’s meals:

  • Breakfast: fruit smoothie with some spinach or kale and a scoop of protein powder
  • Snack: granola bar
  • Lunch: jerk chicken with homemade cauliflower rice
  • Dinner: baked chicken with broccoli and brown rice
  • Snack: ¼ cup of peanuts or cashews

Erica House

ERICA HOUSE

Erica, 32, found that a little patience goes a long way. She lost 60 pounds over the course of two years by cutting out fast food, sugar, and liquid calories like soda and alcohol.”The weight came off slowly, but it’s stayed off,” she says. “I went from being obese, binge drinking, and chain smoking to a three-time marathoner, yoga instructor, and online personal trainer.”

A typical day’s meals:

  • Breakfast: zucchini oatmeal
  • Snack: fresh fruit
  • Lunch: homemade burrito bowl
  • Snack: a scoop of peanut butter
  • Dinner: protein smoothie made with a frozen banana, a cup of spinach, chocolate whey powder, almond milk, ice, and a touch of honey

Anne Jongleux

ANNE JONGLEUX

Anne, 56, tried a few tactics before finding what worked best for her. She started by weighing foods and counting calories: “That was great for helping me readjust my ideas of portion size, but impractical for a daily lifestyle,” she says. Last year she went on an elimination diet to identify food intolerances. Now she follows a “mostly Paleo” plan of lean proteins, healthy fats, and fresh produce, and she’s lost a total of 80 pounds.

A typical day’s meals:

  • Pre-workout breakfast: coffee and a banana or two dates covered in coconut
  • Post-workout breakfast: coffee, a bowl of fruit, and two poached eggs
  • Lunch: an apple with two tablespoons of almond butter and a few sticks of celery
  • Snack: a stalk of bok choy and a carrot
  • Dinner: Cobb salad with a few tweaks (turkey instead of ham and bacon; hold the cheese and croutons; oil and vinegar on the side)
  • Snack: cucumber slices or pickles

Christian Ohonba

CHRISTIAN OHONBA

Christian, 30, says she stopped using food as a reward and started thinking of it as fuel for her goals. “I live with the philosophy that weight loss sparks greatness in all areas of life,” she says. Though she was scared to look at a scale before starting her weight loss journey, she estimates she’s lost around 70 pounds by tracking calories and journaling her eating habits.

A typical day’s meals:

  • Breakfast: salmon and potato hash
  • Snack: pineapple dairy-free yogurt
  • Lunch: burrito with ground turkey, black beans, and bell peppers
  • Snack: tuna packet
  • Dinner: steak with broccoli

SOURCE: WOMEN’S HEALTH MAGAZINE

No matter how much pregnancy weight you lose initially (many moms find the pounds melt off from breastfeeding and other post-delivery hormonal shifts that boost metabolism), eventually you hit that “why aren’t my clothes getting any looser” plateau. Want to get rid of those won’t-budge pounds? No more excuses! Here are 18 surprising strategies that helped these moms exercise and get slim again.

Bust a Move with Baby

Image result for fitness with babyMom: Deanna; Atlanta, Georgia
Lost: 30 pounds in 2 months

I’d use my son Carter during squats, sit-ups, and arm lifts. For the first few months, I’d add just a couple of sets a day as we were playing. Now that he’s almost a year old (and a lot heavier), it’s still a great way to get in an extra workout without hitting the gym.

 

 

Step It Up

Mom: Megan; Highland Mills, New York
Lost: 25 pounds in 4 months

For the first few weeks after my baby was born, I kept her diaper changing station downstairs, which was easier while my body recovered from labor. But once I was all healed, I moved it to the second floor. This forces me to go up and down stairs to the nursery every time I need to change my daughter’s diaper. Added calorie burn!

Find a Baby-Friendly Gym

Image result for gym with babyMom: Jen; Santa Barbara, California
Lost: 65 pounds in 7-8 months

I still had 45 pounds to go two weeks after my daughter arrived. Taking advantage of my gym’s babysitting center helped me lose the weight — while holding onto my sanity. Knowing I could stop my workout and check in on her at any time, I loved having a little me-time to exercise, sauna, and shower at a leisurely pace. This boosted my mood all the day and made my workouts feel like an indulgence, not a chore.

 

Ask for Help

Mom: Trish; Great Falls, Virginia
Lost: 35 pounds in 5 months

Nursing your baby really does help you drop the weight fast, but I needed more structure to deal with the last five pounds. Weight Watchers worked for me, because I got specific meal plans and help with proper portion sizes. But a little note of warning: Even after you’ve lost every one of the last five pounds, your clothes will fit differently. Don’t freak out!