OXFORD, Iowa (CNN) -- Kathy Tandy was so big, she got weighed on the town's cattle scales. It was the only way she could get an accurate measurement of her weight.
Kathy Tandy went from 432 pounds to 260 pounds by walking and watching what she eats.
"It was humiliating," she says. "It was awful."
At her worst, the mother of four tipped the scales at 432 pounds.
She couldn't go to the movies or fly on an airplane. The seats were too small. She was embarrassed to go to restaurants. People gawked.
"When you go to like a restaurant or to a park and have a picnic, you hear people say, 'Oh, that woman over there is eating a cheeseburger. She doesn't need to be eating a cheeseburger,' or 'Oh my God, she's going to break that chair,'" she says. Watch "Don't let it get you down" »
"So I just kind of stayed away from everybody and didn't go out. I stayed home."
She became depressed and consumed herself in food, devouring 8,000 to 10,000 calories a day.
"Anything I could get my hands on," says Tandy, who makes doughnuts and other treats at the Depot convenience store in Oxford, Iowa, a town of about 700.
She reached her lowest point just before Christmas in 1996.
"My kids wanted to buy me an outfit for Christmas and they couldn't find one big enough, and they had to tell me that," she says. "So I thought it was time to do something about it. When my kids can't stand the way I look, I thought I better do something."
Tandy called her doctor just before New Year's Eve that year and was put on a calorie-counting regimen.
Tandy first detailed her story for a book called "The Oxford Project," which combines black-and-white photographs of the town's residents -- one from 1984, a second 20 years later -- with oral histories to give a portrait of small-town America. Meet "old hippie" who parties hard, and other town residents »
"Everyone in town has always known me as 'the Big Girl,' " she said in the book. "I couldn't take a bath, because I couldn't get out of the tub. The body odor problems were awful. You get up and walk to the other side of the room, and you break into a sweat."
CNN recently caught up with Tandy on a sunny Sunday in Oxford.
Her doctor diagnosed her as a compulsive overeater. She began counting calories and cut back on food. A housewife at the time with a bakery in her home, Tandy also started walking. iReport.com: Share your weight-loss success story
"My previous diet was, I got up in the morning and ate until I went to bed. Now, I watch what I eat. I portion," she said.
She keeps two journals: one to track her food and the other to track her mood, "because my emotions control my diet."
She begins her day about 4 every morning with a bowl of cereal before heading to work. She has a snack of fruit and toast by mid-morning. Lunch consists of salad or soup and a sandwich. She has a healthy snack in the afternoon, followed by a closely calorie-watched supper.
She tried an array of diets over the years, from Atkins to South Beach, before settling into just eating sensibly.
The 5-foot-8-inch woman went from her peak weight of 432 pounds to 220 pounds four years ago, shedding nearly half her weight. Tandy had a heart attack and other health issues around that time. She now weighs 260 pounds and is hoping to get back down to 220.
Is she enjoying life more?
"Oh, heavens, yes," she says.
She has five grandchildren, and thanks to her weight loss, she can "get down and play with them."
"I can run with them, and I can do things that I thought I could never do."
Traveling is one of those things. She's flown to Europe four times.
Before the weight loss, she says, "I couldn't get onto an airplane. The seats weren't wide enough. I would have to go first-class and I couldn't afford that, and they couldn't guarantee I could fit on the seats. I couldn't walk on the plane. They had to take me on by wheelchair."
Her message to others in a similar situation is simple: "It can depress you, but don't let it get you down. If it does, call your doctor. That's what those doctors are for. They're there to help get you through the rough times. And look for a good support system."
Luckily, she says, she's had a tremendous support group in her family and the residents of Oxford, who rooted her on to weight-loss success.
"Some people don't have that, but there are groups out there, whether it's just a group to go talk to once a week or somebody to get on the telephone," Tandy says.
"You're going to fall off the wagon. Just get back up and go again. Everybody does that."
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