This year Trudy Conklin gave herself the best gift imaginable — the gift of good health. Since September of 2006, Conklin has lost 134 pounds, with the last 40 coming off since she shared her progress with Mail Tribune readers in April. That means she can now walk to the mailbox without pain, she can make it around the mall without stopping to rest on every bench, she can even bend over to paint her toenails.

This year Trudy Conklin gave herself the best gift imaginable — the gift of good health. Since September of 2006, Conklin has lost 134 pounds, with the last 40 coming off since she shared her progress with Mail Tribune readers in April. That means she can now walk to the mailbox without pain, she can make it around the mall without stopping to rest on every bench, she can even bend over to paint her toenails.

"That was a huge thing the first time I could do that," says Conklin, 56, a talkative grandmother who lives with her husband in Central Point. "People take those things for granted, but obesity is a real killer. It was getting to where I could hardly do the grocery shopping. Now my blood pressure's down, my mobility's up and I feel much better."

Although her rate of weight loss has slowed and she still wants to shed another 30 pounds, Conklin's story is one of determination and success. Faced with deteriorating health and a history of losing and gaining hundreds of pounds, she took a new approach 15 months ago, trying on a whole new lifestyle instead of just a new diet.

It started when she walked through the door of Healthy U Ltd. in Medford. There she was met by a team of professionals who became her physical and emotional support network — a nutritionist, a lifestyle coach and a fitness trainer. Together, they guided Conklin along a path of learning more about how her body worked and what she could do to change it for the better.

Now on the Healthy U Graduate Maintenance Track, Conklin meets monthly with Program Director Kia Sanford for a regular impedance analysis scan (BIA) to measure her fluids and body functions.

During a 30-minute visit, they discuss Conklin's transition from a rapid initial weight-loss program utilizing medical shakes to maintaining her weight loss using real foods.

"We also work with her to be sure she feels supported at home and by the program," says Sanford.

Conklin calls the meetings "necessary," pointing to the accountability factor. Although she sometimes gets frustrated by "losing the same 10 pounds over and over" during this portion of her maintenance, she knows the importance of staying on track.

"I fluctuate of course "¦ it's really hard to maintain my weight loss," admits Conklin. "You still have to watch yourself so closely. A change like this doesn't just end and I have to remind myself that it's up to me. That's why I keep with the program — it's encouraging."

Because of an upcoming surgery to repair torn rotator cuffs, Conklin hasn't been able to work out as much as before. The lower amount of exercise combined with the natural slowing down of weight loss sometimes gets her down.

To redirect herself from a lapse, Conklin reminds herself to always stay just a little bit hungry by eating small portions of a variety of foods, ordering salad with chicken or shrimp when dining out and taking home half portions of restaurant meals.

She also refuses to allow "bad" food like processed carbohydrates into the house. "You can't always depend on willpower," she says wisely. "You can make the right choices, but if it's sitting there in front of you, you can't always say no."

Keeping busy rather than watching television, and going to bed instead of "sitting up and getting so bored that I go searching for food" are other new habits Conklin continues to develop.

Conklin's consistent practice of healthy habits is the key to maintaining her weight loss, says Healthy U Lifestyle Coach Megan Dias. "By repeating new behaviors over and over again we create new habits that will eventually become intuitive," Dias says.

But changing into a new, healthier lifestyle is far from easy, as Conklin has discovered. There are tough days.

"When it gets really hard, then I just go back and remember what it felt like when I wondered how my husband could walk down the street with me or how I couldn't get out of my chair," she says. "I don't want to go back there. Ever."

And when it gets really, really hard, Conklin brings out the big guns — she digs deep and finds the place inside where her own power resides.

"You just wake up one day and say I want my life back and I'm going to fight for this," she says. "We're powerful in our thinking and in our mind. I really believe in prayer; it works. You can make something go "¦ you can do it."

Jennifer Strange is a freelance writer living in Central Point. Reach her at jlstrange@hotmail.com.