This Fitness Expert Lost 140 Pounds--and Has Kept It Off for 20 Years*

By , SparkPeople Blogger
A few months ago, we received an email from Debra Mazda, whose mantra is "Fitness Comes in All Sizes." We agree! She has a line of DVDs under her Shapely Girl brand, which she wanted us to review. When we heard about her success with weight loss, we couldn't wait to hear more about her story. She's such a motivator that we asked her to answer some questions for the dailySpark.

A little more about Debra:
At the age of 21 Debra Mazda weighed over 300 pounds. Depressed and battling high blood pressure, Deb made the decision to reinvent her life. She joined a health club. I was the only seriously fat person in the place. "I couldn't even buy athletic clothes in my size. I huffed and puffed and sweated my way through aerobics classes and didn't worry about whether anyone was laughing at me. At the same time I scaled back my eating. First, I reduced the quantity of my food. Instead of a rack of ribs and a milkshake for breakfast it was maybe, half a rack of ribs. Then I improved the quality of what I was eating. Next thing you know the pounds are coming off."

She lost more than 140 pounds and kept it off! With her new, buff body and a passion for sharing what she'd learned with others, Deb went to work for fitness guru Richard Simmons as the Training Supervisor at Simmons Anatomy Asylum health clubs in Denver, Colorado. Starting college in her 30s, she earned a Bachelor's Degree in Human Movement and a Masters of Education in Sports Psychology from Temple University. Deb has become a much-in-demand accredited fitness trainer who has the unique understanding of what it's like to overcome obesity.

Debra shares with us her secrets for keeping off 140 pounds for more than 20 years!

dailySpark: You really seem to have a "can-do" attitude.

Debra Mazda: I totally believe that anyone can do what I did with the right commitment, drive and motivation. Giving up was never an option and I am still the same today.

dailySpark: You once weighed 300 pounds. Could you tell us how you lost the weight?

Debra Mazda: Yes, my highest weight was 325 pounds. My biggest weapon was exercise. Once I began experiencing the amazing benefits of exercise, I started working on the nutrition. I gave up dieting and started to learn how to change my eating and my relationship with food. That allowed me to stop failing, which is essentially what I have been learning from diets.

dailySpark: You're a remarkable success story. To have kept off more than 100 pounds for so long is quite a feat. How did you avoid "relapsing"?

Debra Mazda: Well, I did relapse many times. When you’ve been addicted to food, relapse is part of recovery. But I was able to get a grip on myself before re-gaining all of my weight and more. I stayed very focused on my goals and decided that I would succeed. This became a passion of mine and still is today, changing my life.

dailySpark: You lost all that weight, started college in your 30s and eventually earned a master's degree. Was there ever a time in your life when you felt like you couldn’t achieve your goals?

Debra Mazda: I grew up with no direction or goals. I was obese and out of shape. The odds were truly against me, however, I had bigger plans for myself.

dailySpark: How did you overcome those mental plateaus?

Debra Mazda: I took back the power I had given to food. I stayed focused on my mission to not die young. Then I expanded my goals to include other choices to make my life more meaningful. By just believing in yourself and not letting anything get in the way you make progress. WHEN THE MOUNTAIN SHOWS UP, MOVE IT. I simply promised myself to stay on track and still do today. There are many times I want to give up but I have worked so hard and come so far. I think of those things and I do not listen to that INTERNAL NEGATIVE VOICE that so many women hear and act upon. That is not to say I am immune to fe Debra Mazda: eling down, but most of the time I can change my thinking and make things happen that are positive.

dailySpark: Your message is "Fitness Comes in Many Sizes." How do you help dispel myths about what a "fit" person looks like?

Debra Mazda: We have been taught to look at people and think because they are skinny they are fit. That is utter nonsense as I am a true testament to this. I am a size 12 and very fit and healthy. Thinness should not be the goal but good health. As an Exercise Physiologist, I have read quite a bit of research in the past few years that shows us that heavier people who work out regularly live longer than thin people who are sedentary. This is not to say that we shouldn’t try to get to a healthy weight, but I don’t want larger women to be discouraged and think that they have to be a size 2 to be healthy. Case closed.

dailySpark: How do you help people overcome their own body issues?

Debra Mazda: This is a tough one as I have all shapes and sizes in my classes in Philadelphia who do not feel good about their bodies. This issue is not one that solely affects plus-size women. There are plenty of thin women who detest their bodies. I have to think back to my days of being overweight and how I felt about my body. I knew I hated it, but the bigger part of me knew I WAS GOING TO CHANGE IT--so that gave me comfort most of the time. I did feel bad about my body but I never hated myself as that would have wasted my time and not allowed me to move forward. This process was an internal one for me and looking back my determination even amazes me sometimes. But I am here to say again, if you put you mind in the right place you can do it.

dailySpark: How do you stay in shape? What is your fitness routine like?

Debra Mazda: I work out 4-6 times a week and do all different activities. I teach the Shapelygirl Fitness classes 4 times a week, which include 40 minutes of cardio with weights and 15 minutes of core and Pilates work. I power walk 10 miles a week, teach step with body bar, spinning, and am currently training for a half-marathon in September. I have learned that in order to keep my weight down, it is 1/3 good nutrition, 1/3 fitness and 1/3 positive mindset. If one of those is out of order it usually creates an imbalance and that can lead to trouble.

dailySpark: What are some of the tricks and tips you've learned over the years?

Debra Mazda: I never beat myself up for not being perfect. I teach my girls to work on being better every day. We all have flaws and we need to deal with them and look at the positive in what we have going for us.

dailySpark: How do you stay on track and eat right?

Debra Mazda: Simply, I eat to live not live to eat. Over the years I have learned that FOOD is fuel for my body not an escape when things do not go well. I love wearing a size 12 and wear anything I want to--and that stays in my head. Feeling great and being my size beats binge eating any day of the week. Do I eat junk food? ABSOLUTELY. However, I rarely binge and have learned to eat the unhealthy stuff on special occasions. I teach my girls, the more sugar and refined carbs you eat, the more you want and that leads to binging.

dailySpark: When you were losing weight, did you ever encounter plateaus?

Debra Mazda: More than I care to talk about. It’s part of the process, although the diet industry doesn’t tell us that. We’ve been taught to expect fast, dramatic results through fad diets. I found a way to believe I would get through the plateaus but it was murder waiting. Jumping on the scale constantly is not something I do. First of all, sometimes the scale lies. Especially for women who have hormonal cycles. Second, I know that if I have been pretty much been on-program the scale will catch up. I find that a lot of overweight women allow themselves to become discouraged quickly. I have found by making small healthy changes the results will follow. Maybe not as fast as we’ve been trained to expect, but over the long term.

dailySpark: What advice do you have for SparkPeople members who are just setting out on their healthy living journey?

Debra Mazda: For anyone starting out or over again, here is my suggestion, stop putting limits on yourself. Stop beating yourself up, stop listening to those negative voices that want to tear you down. Get up and take a deep breath, get moving, get support, and always pick yourself up when you stumble. NEVER STOP OR QUIT. My weight loss has been the journey of a lifetime. I have laughed, cried, wanted to die, been happy, sad, frustrated and wanted to give up but through it all. But somewhere in my mind, body and soul I was bigger than any of that through determination.

Debra is giving away three copies of her fitness DVDs to the dailySpark, plus a T-shirt. To enter the contest, click here. (The usual rules apply.) (The contest closes Sept. 10 at 9 a.m. EST.)

Find more information on Debra Mazda and her DVDs here!

Were you inspired by Debra's 140-pound weight loss--and how she kept it off for 20 years? What is your own fitness mantra?

*Weight loss results will vary from person to person. No individual result should be seen as a typical result of following the SparkPeople program.

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


Thanks for the article. It is very helpful. Report
I would like to buy the videos..

Thank you this is just the motivation I needed today as well :-)
Glenda Report
I hope that one day I can motivate people the same way that Debra is. Great story Report
Great story!! and so inspirational! I can very much relate - I wish I would have been as wise as her when I was her age. Report
Great story! Thank you! Debra is an inspiration. I love that she talks about how she didn't beat herself up or hate herself, she just decided to that she was going to change. How empowering! Report
Totally, TOTALLY agree with Debra's two points especially:

"I eat to live not live to eat. Over the years I have learned that FOOD is fuel for my body not an escape when things do not go well."


"The more sugar and refined carbs you eat, the more you want and that leads to binging."

Those are my cornerstones, my main mantras...have said those same words nearly verbatim over and over to myself and others looking for advice and my "secrets"...! :-)

Don, Co-Leader of All Health Professionals, Binghamton Area Losers and Laid Off But Staying Strong SparkTeams Report
Yes. Very inspired!
It is wonderful to hear her talking about relapses and plateaus. We all know what they're like. And she's right - the 'diet industry' doesn't want us to know that as their gimmicks work NOW.

Thanks for this!


A "rack of ribs" and a "MILKSHAKE" for breakfast? I bet back then she told people "Oh, I really don't eat anything!" How I love Sparkpeople and the way people tell the TRUTH about how and why they are so obese! Bless her heart for turning her life around!!!! Report
Thanks for this truly inspiring story. Report
What an inspirational story. great job Debra on your weigh loss and keeping it off. Report
What a remarkable, uplifting, inspiring article. I really needed to read this, because alot of the information is similar to me. I have a negative body image, and I put limits and place obstacles in my path, when I start to do well. I will definitely be incorporating some of Debra's advice into my own life. Thanks again for the inspiring article. Report
Way to go Debra! Fitness does come in all sizes! Way to help yourself, get educated, and help others too. I can relate to your whole article and we ARE too hard on ourselves. It helps me to think about one day at a time - what can I do THIS day to improve my health.

Deb Report
good article. stuff to remember in its content! Report
Thank you Debra! I am a size 16/18 right now, but at my healthiest I was a size 12. I thought then that I was fat, not so! I look back now and realize I looked GREAT! I saw myself as fat tho, and guess what? I thought that, I brought that .. and now I'm going back! I will be in 12's again .. and I will STAY THERE! Spark on! Report
Wow I could so relate to this story about the mindset, and having as much to lose. This gives me hope if I prioritize exercise and keep the faith, I can do it too! Thanks for sharing this inspirational story. Report
I was disappointed that I could not get a link to her DVDs on her website. I don't like to deal with different websites. But I did find the little clip interesting and will be looking for them in stores or to try on NetFlick to see if I like them. Report
i really admire you for doing this. i am at almost 100 lbs gone but i am stuck. will keep going and one day it will break again. thanks for the encouragement. Report
yes, I am impressed... it is so true that once addicted to food, part of the recovery is failing. I love her great attitude. I wish everyone no matter what weight understood that exercise is key. My mantra has always been this is a journey and not a destination. Meaning that no matter how many times my journey takes a twist or a turn it is how I handle that twist or turn that matters most. Report
I could not get the link to her DVD's to work?

What an inspiration! Great story! I love the can-do attitude! Report
Love this article!!! It's just what I needed to hear. Very inspiring, I had to share this with others. My mantra is " Quiting is not an option". Report
Thank you! I love the concept of "1/3 good nutrition, 1/3 fitness and 1/3 positive mindset." This is a very inspirational article. I am fairly positive but I do have negative lines running through my mind, especially about how many times I have "failed" to lose weight and what makes me think I can when I haven't been able to before. Thank you Debra for sharing your story. I hope you are really proud of yourself because you should be! Report
Thanks for the inspiration! You are a great example of what can be accomplished over time, not overnight! Report
Love this article!!! It's just what I needed to hear. So inspiring. Report
thank you for sharing this wonderful story! your weight loss of course is inspiring in itself but your attitude is amazing! i'm one of those people who aren't just starting but actually starting over and plan to take your advice to heart. i'm definitely saving this article and i hope i win the dvds! Report
This is EXACTLY what people need to hear. Its not about time limits and deadlines and starving - its about realizing what you want... and how to get there, and learning more along the way. I love that she's down to earth and honest. We arent all size 2 with washboard abs.. but we are healthy and growing stronger and able to do more than personally I ever thought I'd be able to do. And when I remember to listen to THAT an dnot the inner defeating chatter... is when I continue to surprise myself. Great job! I expect to see much more from her!
THANKS SPARK for sharing Debra Mazda's success story, this has been my favorite Spark Blog. As I am on the road to change my life at 310, I RELATE to her story and have found so much motivation and will remember her 1/3 nutrition, 1/3 exercise and 1/3 attitude strategy to STAY IN BALANCE. I am a believer in keeping my life Balanced.

Thanks again and SUCCESS TO ALL. Paula 3420 Report
Wow, what a success story. Report
Thank You Debra and SP I truly needed this today.
I have been having an inner struggle with health issues and needed to read such an inspirational story.
Wonderful and much appreciated
Have a safe Holiday Weekend All Report
I've been seeing Debra's dvds show up on websites like collagevideos and have wondered what the story was behind them. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing. Report
OMG - I'm going to put this entire blog on my desktop to refer back to/ the entire article is SO inspiring!
Thank you! Report
Thanks Debra for your inspiring story. I especially like the fact that weight loss is 1/3 nutrition, 1/3 fitness and 1/3 positive mindset. I now know that being positive has a lot to do with it so that's why I read a daily inspirition each day for extra motivation. Report
What a great article! Debra is truly inspiring. I love her outlook on diet, fitness, and life! I definitely needed to read this today. Thanks for the motivational words, Debra! Report
Thanks for mentioning that this is the journey of a lifetime. It is so hard to not keep comparing yourself to the people in magazines and on tv/movies. Need to keep that more in mind. Report
Thank you so much for this blog! I am someone who has lost 170lbs and has kept it off for a few years, and this blog really spoke to me! I am actually going to school for health and fitness and this blog has helped push back my fears of it. Because I, much like Debra, am not a size 2. And reading this made me realize it doesn't matter what size you are, as long as you are wanting to help people and give them great information, and size can do it! Again thank you so much! Report
She sounds wonderful! I hope I win the prize!!! I'll check out her DVDs later! Report
Debra has a terrific outlook on weight loss and health. It would be nice if Debra could be featured as a regular columnist on Spark People. Poster 79 suggests having someone "focus on those who have physical limtations or considerations and truly effective exercise routines for older folks who want to "make some changes" late in life". I second this suggestion.

I was introduced to Spark People by a fitness trainer at a local gym. I can't thank her enough for bringing this website to my attention. Thanks for being available.
Wow, how inspiring!! I love how Debra pointed out that the program is made up of 1/3 healthy diet, 1/3 excercise, and 1/3 positive thinking! It really helps me target my thinking when I feel that I'm falling off the wagon. Thanks for this incredible article. Report
Very inspiring. Especially loved "I took back the power I had given to food" and "WHEN THE MOUNTAIN SHOWS UP, MOVE IT". Report
Perfect timing - I am going on a four month plateau and really experiencing some discouragement here! I have been working my butt off and keeping on track and still - no changes?! I have made a few adjustments lately - and am training for a 5K so now my focus is not so much on losing as it is on this other goal! I keep telling myself that as long as I press on, my body WILL catch up! Great inspiration - and confirmation!
~Karrilee~ Report
This article couldn't come at a better time! Yesterday I had a horrible relapse eating homemade chocolate chip cookies until I was sick AND I didn't make it to the gym. Debra's story and words of encouragement are exactly what I need to get back on track today and realize that this is journey is going to be hard and have a lot of bumps along the way but I can do it and keep it off, just like her.

Thanks for the inspiration!!! Report
From 300+ pounds to exercize physiologist who teaches fitness - that's a powerfully dramatic story! I'd never heard of Debra before, but I have tremendous respect - maybe even some awe - for her! You can't beat that kind of a track record or progress, and her passion is undergirded with some very sound philosophy. THANKS for this story! Report
Thank you for this article! I also believe that "relapse is part of recovery" for those of us with food addictions. I would love more information about how Debbie "got a grip on [herself]" in the middle of a relapse to turn things around. That's where I am now (and not for the first time!), and I'm scared of regaining the weight I've lost (again). It's inspiring to know that it CAN be done! Report
Thanks for giving us hope. I wish I could be in your classes, but I will just have to check out your DVD's. Report
Thanks for such an inspiring story. It is very motivational. I truely believe I can do this. WHEN I SEE A MOUNTAIN, I WILL MOVE IT! Report
We need more "real" people helping us.
Being a size 12 is normal, real, attainable, and healthy.
Being a size 3 is unhealthy and simply rediculous. Report
How truly awesome it would be if others would be able to take their fitness minds to the next level to get healthy. I think people like this are truly an inspiration to others! Report
I deeply appreciated this interview; it brought out and affirmed all those issues we all have when we want to make a Lifestyle change or when we want to make a change and have to come to realize there is something much more fundamental that needs to occur in order to get where we believe we want to go, opening up Life way more than we realized would happen!

Now I would LOVE to see someone focusing on those who have physical limtations or considerations and truly effective exercise routines for older folks who want to "make some changes" late in life.
Thanks! Report
What a wonderful outlook. I am truly inspired. Report
Thanks, this article was very timely and confirming. I don't have a specific mantra, but I have started the positive self talk by telling myself Congratulations when I purposely avoid something unhealthy or feeling like I want to give in to the temptation. Even packing my lunch I tell myself how proud I am of me/you. It is so very true "1/3 good nutrition, 1/3 fitness and 1/3 positive mindset" is the key to healthy weight loss and a healthy life style. Report
Close email sign up
Our best articles, delivered Join the millions of people already subscribed Get a weekly summary of our diet and fitness advice We will never sell, rent or redistribute your email address.

Magic Link Sent!

A magic link was sent to Click on that link to login. The link is only good for 24 hours.