It’s swimsuit season, and time to shed those spring layers for summer styles. Put your best sneaker forward, and jump-start that new eating plan with the inspirational stories of KDKA-TV’s Dennis Bowman and GNC’s Maria Allshouse. Between the two of them, they’ve lost nearly 200 pounds! Through diet, exercise, and determination, Bowman and Allshouse have made dramatic life changes that have left them feeling better than ever — proving that it’s never too late to get in shape.

If you turn on KDKA-TV, be prepared to see a much smaller meteorologist than the one you may have recognized a few months ago. At 61, Dennis Bowman overhauled his diet and exercise routine to shed an amazing 44 pounds. “I started slow. On December 26, 2010, I ran down the block, and it didn’t kill me,” Bowman says. “Every day after that, I picked a different landmark, like a driveway or a telephone pole, that was another 50 to 150 feet past the last one. I tricked my body into thinking it wasn’t a big deal.” Seven months later, Bowman makes an effort to run more than a 5K on a regular basis — sometimes as often as seven days a week. “I made it work gradually,” he says.

While Bowman started working out more, he also radically changed his diet. “My wife, Debbie, heard about the ‘17-Day Diet’ and suggested that we try it,” Bowman says. The plan, designed by Dr. Michael Moreno, consists of a series of 17-day diets. “The first cycle is for rapid weight loss,” Bowman says. “My daily diet consisted of eight cups of liquid throughout the day including three cups of green tea, and a glass of warm lemon water in the morning to get the digestive system flowing. Then it was two starches, two fruits, two low-fat yogurts, chicken or turkey, and unlimited vegetables.”

The diet cuts out soda and milk for the first cycle, but skim or low-fat milk is allowed in the second and third cycles. “The fourth cycle is maintenance, so Monday through Friday, I follow a more strict diet, and, on the weekends, I’m allowed three meals of whatever I want.” But that doesn’t mean he indulges too much in the sweets and snacks he loves. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t weigh myself. I don’t celebrate losing one pound, and I don’t stress about gaining one pound. If you’re following a diet program, make a commitment to it, but don’t beat yourself up over a bad day.”

“My wife and I are a success story,” Bowman says. “But you have to find a good fit for you. Make an appointment with yourself to concentrate on developing your cardiovascular system and caloric burning.” Bowman knows he’s not in the clear just yet. “I don’t think I’ve earned the right to say ‘I’ll never go back.’ How do I know? If three years from now I’ve kept off the weight, then maybe I can say I’ll never go back.”

With a family history of heart disease and diabetes, Maria Allshouse, of Verona, Pa, knew that at 41 years old she was reaching the danger zone. “I couldn’t even walk up a pair of steps. My knees were hurting, I was out of breath, and I was constantly tired. I just felt really horrible about myself,” she says. But over a two-and-a-half year period, Allshouse has shed her old self — literally. She’s lost 120 pounds and has a new goal in life — to compete as a professional bodybuilder in 2012. “I just started walking gradually two or three times a week to get myself going. And then, I just started watching what I was eating. I started making small changes, like cutting back on the fried stuff and getting more fruits and vegetables in. Those were the baby steps I took initially,” Allshouse says.

In the first several months, Allshouse lost a few pounds, but it was when she got up the courage to go back to the gym, and compete in an Olympic Triathlon, that her life and body radically changed. “I started to incorporate weight training three times a week, including bicep curls, tricep extensions, lunges with no weights, body weight squats, and chest presses. I started to lose inches. It started to shape my body better, and it helped with my overall body strength,” she says of training at Champion Fitness.

Then, a year ago, Allshouse decided it was time to lose the rest of her excess weight while working toward a competitive goal. She set out to compete in the OCB Iron City Classic Bodybuilding, Figure, and Fitness competition. “The thing about doing a competition is that it’s grueling. Only a small percent of people that set out to do it can accomplish it.” Allshouse started an “in season” diet to prepare for the competition. “Learning the eating was very regimented. The diet was the hardest part for me, but if there’s any word of advice that I can give to anybody, it would be that the more you stick to it exactly, the more you will see results.”

Allshouse’s diet consisted of five to six meals a day, typically every two and a half to three hours. “Breakfast would consist of a cup of oatmeal, four to five egg whites, and vegetables. A mid-morning snack would more than likely be a protein shake. Lunch would be chicken or fish, a vegetable, and sweet potatoes or brown rice,” she says. Another protein shake in the afternoon and a dinner similar to lunch rounded out the majority of Allshouse’s meals. Her dedication to the new diet and weight training ultimately paid off. On the weekend of the OCB Competition (May 21), Allshouse took home the top prize in the women’s bodybuilding category. “It only takes one step to start, and then it becomes addicting because you start to feel so good about yourself. I just approached it as a journey and not a quick fix. It’s a lifestyle change physically, mentally, and spiritually, and that’s how you have to approach it.” She believes that the weight loss shows on television are great for inspiration, but it’s not necessarily reality. “I’m juggling a full-time career as a Marketing Operations Manager for GNC and I’m a full-time mom. I wasn’t just focusing on working out six to seven hours a day — so to accomplish what I have, that says a lot. Consistency over time will yield results. It’s a lifestyle change.”

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