SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) " Vivian Andrews was 16 years old the first time she lost 100 pounds.
Her mother had taken to her a doctor, who prescribed diet pills. She began dropping pounds steadily, and when she returned for her senior year at Woodlawn High School the following school year, no one recognized her.
It was her first weight-loss success story. But losing and gaining weight would prove to be a continuous cycle for Andrews, now 63, over the next several decades.
"I kept (the weight) off for a while, but then it just gradually crept back," Andrews said.
In 2009, after weighing in at 335 pounds, Andrews decided that, finally, she would win the battle that she had been in and out of throughout most of her adulthood.
"Just all through my life, I struggled with the weight," Andrews said. "I used (food) as comfort " I was a person who stayed by myself. I would watch television, didn't have anyone around me, so I think I used it as comfort food. It had just been a struggle."
Before retiring from SWEPCO in 2010, Andrews began making a conscious effort to eat right, move more and drink more water. On her own, she lost 35 pounds.
Then, in January 2011, she joined a local chapter of Taking Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS), a nonprofit weight loss and management support group.
Since joining TOPS, Andrews has lost an additional 92 pounds, winning the group's local and state division awards during her journey.
"Over the years, you know what to do, you know you've got to eat right, you know you've got to move, you know you've got to drink water," she said. "You know all of this. But the key thing about losing weight or even being healthy, you've got to make your mind up to do it, just like everything else."
Andrews said she kept off most of the weight she'd lost as a teenager for about 10 years.
But as life progressed, including marrying a man who was a great cook, giving birth to twins and encountering the typical stresses of a career, she soon found that she'd gained all of the weight back.
"I've done all the fad diets " Medifast, the Beyoncé diet, the Dolly Parton diet," she said. "In pictures, I didn't look like I weighed 335, but I did. I could hide it well. I would lose a little bit, then I'd gain, then I'd lose."
Finally, in 2009, one particular incident stood out as a motivator for Andrews to get serious about making a permanent change.
As a member of the Shreveport Leadership program, Andrews was participating in a trust-building activity where members were supposed to climb a wall using a rope. She couldn't do it.
"I was just too heavy to go up the wall, and that resonated with me for a long while," she said. "Physically, I should have been able to do that."
Through TOPS, Andrews said, she has embraced the message that losing weight and being healthy is a lifestyle " and lifetime " change.
TOPS has 57 chapters in Louisiana, where 36.2 percent of the adult population is obese. Andrews said TOPS meetings include weigh-ins, education and encouragement.
"You can choose whether or not you say how much you've gained or lost," she said. "Usually if there's a gain, there are some encouraging words. If you've lost, even if it's just 0.2, it's like you've lost 30 pounds and we scream and we encourage as well."
Eight years after she made a promise to herself to make a lasting lifestyle change, Andrews said she has found the key to more a sustainable healthy way of living than diet pills or fad diets.
"The key is to have a balanced diet, and then move. I found that to be the best thing, and it's a lifestyle, it's not a diet," she said. "(TOPS) provides you with the tools that you need to do that. It has to do with your mind, your body and your soul."
Information from: The Times, http://www.shreveporttimes.com