Paige Schmelzer: I dropped from a size 22 to a size 0

When Paige Schmelzer first joined the gym she sat in the back corner of her spinning class.

“I positioned myself so nobody could see my butt,” said Schmelzer, who stands 5-foot-4 and weighed 239 pounds.

Over the next 14 months, Schmelzer exercised daily and counted calories. Today, there are 125 pounds less of her.

Though the 31-year-old Camano Island woman weighs just 114 pounds, she continues to eat carefully and still works out at Team Stanwood, where she is something of a celebrity.

Schmelzer’s weight loss story — from size 22 to size 0 — was so dramatic she was included in People magazine’s annual feature called “Half Their Size.” The story was published in the national publication’s Jan. 12 issue.

As her former self, Schmelzer frequented a local burger stand where she asked for a full meal deal and a kid’s meal. The order clerk usually assumed that Schmelzer had a child at home to feed. Not so. Schmelzer ate both.

For breakfast Schmelzer bought a dozen creme-filled chocolate-covered Krispy Kremes. She ate two and washed them down with a large chocolate milk. She hid the other 10 in her car trunk for later in the day.

Schmelzer has a stressful job as a human resource manager with Pioneer Human Services. She gained weight as she worked long days and ate on the run, she said, which resulted in sleep apnea and got her well on the way to adult-onset diabetes.

A glance in a mirror one day shocked her.

“I couldn’t believe I was that big,” Schmelzer said. “I tried all the fad diets and nothing worked. The gym in Stanwood was offering a deal, so I joined.”

Instructor Heidi Andersen remembers Schmelzer’s first spinning class.

“Paige was tired, but steadfast. Her strong will kept her going.” Andersen said. “She was shy, but during the course of the year, she moved up to the front of the class and this wonderful person emerged who had been hiding behind that weight.”

When she got down to 180 pounds, Schmelzer added weight training to her workout. At a plateau of 150 pounds, she stepped it up by adding another aerobics class.

When she hit the 130-pound mark, she began to run, which has become her preferred exercise.

She runs outdoors when she can, but mostly on the treadmill while watching chef Rachel Ray talk about low-calorie cooking on TV.

“I would like to inspire people. Obesity is a national problem, and I want to encourage others,” Schmelzer said. “If I can do this, anybody can do it.”

Having been overweight for about a third of her life, Schmelzer said she has to make a decision every day to live healthfully.

Snacks now include fruit and the occasional 125-calorie box of Cracker Jack.

“I eat whatever I want now, but it has to fit into my calorie bank. If I have a good workout, I might be able to have a dessert,” she said. “My work day is not done until I’ve been to the gym.”

When people hear Schmelzer’s story, they often ask what her husband thinks of her weight loss.

Schmelzer and her husband Jason were sweethearts at Cascade High School in Everett where they graduated in 1995.

“We’ve been together for 15 years, through skinny years and fat years,” she said. “It never made a difference. He’s always loved me.”

Recently, Schmelzer put on her slinky black high school prom dress.

“Now that was a cool moment,” she said. “It has been OK to put myself first for awhile and lose this weight. Now I am glad to be alive to celebrate all our wedding anniversaries.”

Schmelzer wrote to the People editorial staff last year to tell her weight loss story, hoping to be included in the annual story.

In October, magazine editors flew her to New York City for photo sessions.

“Many people who want to be in the magazine’s ‘Half Their Size’ have talent managers,” she said. “I think I was chosen because I was so up front.”

When the current issue came out, Schmelzer made sure she bought a copy to give to her grandmother Alice Juckett of Mount Vernon.

“When Grandma asked me autograph it, that meant everything,” Schmelzer said. “I am never going back to being fat.”