Keith Johnson, Deseret News
In Utah to help raise awareness for a healthy lifestyle — and weight loss — Debra Flinn walks down State Street in Sandy.

PLEASANT GROVE — With most women, if you dare ask them how much they weigh, they just might smack you upside the head.

But Debra Flinn, 48, of Cape Coral, Fla., doesn't mind revealing her weight, height and pant size — along with showing everyone her "before and after" photos while she details her weight loss.

She walked off her weight, going from 216 to 175 pounds. Now she walks through states and delivers inspiring messages to community groups.

"Put down the fork, put on your shoes and get moving," said Flinn, as she stopped to chat in Pleasant Grove on Monday before heading north toward Thanksgiving Point.

Many women share Flinn's opinion that diets don't work: It's all about eating proper nutrition and exercising.

Karen Cox, 44, of Springville, just lost 101 pounds on the Jenny Craig weight loss program. Cox, who is 5-foot-5, went from 230 pounds to 129 pounds over the past 20 months.

Flinn woke up one morning last summer and decided she was "tired of being fat." And she was especially sick of her size-22 elastic-waist pants.

The 5-foot-5 woman decided to walk from her home to Dandridge, Tenn. She e-mailed Subway and asked for sandwiches along the way. The company said yes.

Flinn walked 874 miles in 66 days. She lost 35 pounds and was down to a size 16 pants.

Flinn and Cox were both initially motivated by doctors' warnings that if they didn't change their lifestyle, they would be sorry. Cox's journey began when a doctor told her she would end up with sleep apnea and be on a breathing machine at night if she didn't lose weight.

Flinn is a licensed practical nurse and Cox is a registered nurse. Both women agree that working in the health care field should make them more conscious of taking care of themselves physically. "We are people who should know better," Cox said.

But both women tell a story many people can relate to: busy lives with work and family obligations, not making the time to exercise, and grabbing food on the run.

Flinn's "drug of choice" was pizza loaded with meat and extra cheese.

Cox confessed her cravings were satisfied with muffins, warmed and smothered in butter. There were frozen waffles, cooked and coated with butter and maple syrup. And then there were the cream-filled chocolate snack cakes and vanilla ice cream.

"No wonder I felt awful," Cox said. "I was eating garbage."

Besides eating healthy, Cox now does low-impact aerobics with a 20-minute video each day.

Flinn keeps walking. She advises people who say they can't find the time to exercise, to get up half-hour earlier than usual and work out in the morning.

Flinn eats a variety of healthy foods but says a perfect meal for her is a 12-inch Subway sandwich, with no cheese and no mayo, along with a diet soda and a bag of baked chips. "I don't eat like a rabbit," she said.

The problem with diets is as soon as you go off them, you gain the weight back. And many times these fad or crash diets are far from healthy, Flinn says. "I am not going to starve myself," she said.

Both women are now seeing newfound confidence and success.

Flinn wrote and published a book, "From Desperate to Dandridge." You can see her progress in a blog: People can also write and post their personal weight loss stories on the blog.

Cox is discovering a whole new life. She donated her "fat clothes" to a homeless shelter in Salt Lake City. She bought a new wardrobe for her new slim frame, got a makeover and is now dating more. She is considering going back to school for a master's degree.

Cox's co-workers tell her she should get a new photo for her badge at work. But Cox likes to show people her "before" photo. "I want people to know if I can do this, they can, too," she said.

Flinn's goal is for size 10 pants. She's at a 14 right now. Allison Riley, public relations representative for Subway who helped organize Flinn's walking route through Utah, said, "Let's go shopping for a size 12 in Cache Valley!"

Today Flinn is scheduled to walk with East High Principal Paul Sagers, who has lost more than 80 pounds — down from 336.

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