PORT CHARLOTTE, Florida (CNN) -- Barbara Aldrich can hardly remember a time when she wasn't a little overweight.
Barbara Aldrich lost 75 pounds and dropped six dress sizes after being diagnosed with borderline diabetes.
"I'm a big girl," said Aldrich, who is 5 feet 11 inches tall. "I have big bones, always have."
After giving birth to two sons and going through a nasty divorce in 1988, she stopped exercising regularly and taking care of herself. Ten years later, she weighed 198 pounds.
"I've always had a good mind-set; I've always been a happy, bubbly person. I've never been depressed or ate because I was depressed. I just loved to eat!"
Eating out -- and her love of pasta, breads, hamburgers and snacking throughout the day -- eventually caught up with her. As her 50th birthday approached, Aldrich was wearing a size 22 and was shocked to discover she had reached her heaviest weight of 255 pounds.
The weight also began to take a physical toll on Aldrich, who says she had no energy and her knees and legs frequently bothered her.
But she reached a tipping point when her doctor told her she was borderline diabetic.
"That's when I decided, I don't want to give myself injections for the rest of my life," said Aldrich, whose mother died of heart disease. "I don't want to be in my 70s and 80s and not be able to get around."
Determined not to be a burden on her family, Aldrich sprang into action.
"I made the decision that I [was] going to find a program that worked for me, which I did and stuck to it," recalls Aldrich.
In September 2006, she decided to join a weight loss clinic near her home in southwest Florida. She consulted first with her doctor, who encouraged her to try a program that was supervised by a registered dietitian.
The clinic designed a well-balanced diet and an exercise regimen, and required Aldrich to check in weekly. She traded in high-calorie, carbohydrate-laden meals and junk food for a diet of lean meats, vegetables, fruits and healthier snacks. She also took a daily multivitamin and started walking -- at least one mile every morning, seven days a week.
"It seemed to come off just eating right," Aldrich said. "I wasn't hungry, I wasn't starving myself, and it was all store-bought food." Watch Barbara Aldrich's weight loss story »
Aldrich immediately started to see results. She lost about 4 to 5 pounds a week, and within four months, she had lost 75 pounds and dropped six dress sizes. A safe, healthy weight loss of about 1 to 2 pounds a week is recommended, according to MayoClinic.com.
With her slimmer figure, Aldrich decided to make the year of her 50th birthday her "me year." She treated herself to indulgences such as manicures, took trips, and did things she was often ashamed to do because of her weight.
"Whatever I wanted to do that year for myself -- I did it," she said. "All through your life, you do everything for everyone else -- and I wanted to reward myself."
Besides looking and feeling 10 years younger, Aldrich's health has improved dramatically -- she's no longer borderline diabetic, and her knees and legs don't hurt anymore. Her weight loss success has also motivated her daughter-in-law and a cousin to start eating healthier and exercising.
What advice does she have for people who haven't put themselves first?
"Make the changes now, while you're still young," advised Aldrich. "If you want to live a long, full life, you have to make those changes now before you get too old and you can't enjoy your life."
Now 51 and engaged to her longtime boyfriend, Aldrich has maintained her weight loss for two years by eating healthy and exercising daily. Instead of eating a cheeseburger when dining out, Aldrich says she'll order a big salad and grilled chicken, or she'll order low-fat or reduced-calorie foods.
It's become such a part of her routine that the customer service representative recently started a new job and requested a later shift so she has time to walk every morning before work.
"I love myself, I love how I look now," Aldrich said. "I feel better, younger ... just a complete 180."
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Matt Sloane contributed to this report
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