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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Commencement 2014: URI senior embraces new life, healthy lifestyle after losing 150 pounds

Media Contact: Elizabeth Rau, 401-874-2116

Journalism major launches talk show about healthy eating, nutrition, fitness, dieting

KINGSTON, R.I. – March 26, 2014 – Here are the things Brianna Blank can do after losing 150 pounds: walk to class without sweating; fit in her classroom seat; wear size 10 jeans.

The 21-year-old University of Rhode Island senior also says she can deal with anything life throws her way because, after all, she now has the willpower of an army general.

“I feel amazing,’’ says Blank. “There are times I look in the mirror and say, ‘Wow, I actually did it.’ If I can lose 150 pounds, anything is possible.’’

Blank is so proud of her weight loss – and the joy it has brought to her life – she launched a talk show about healthy eating and fitness for an independent study in her journalism program. She plans to air the segments on the URI campus TV network and on YouTube to help others trying to lose weight.

She also hopes to tell her personal story to a wider audience after graduation, in an eventual move to New York City. “This is my passion now,’’ she says. “What you put into your body is so important. You only get one body. You should treat it the best you can.’’

Fit, trim and beaming, the editor of the URI school newspaper, The Cigar, will graduate in May with a degree in journalism and a minor in communications. Healthy living is with her forever.

Growing up in Westbrook, a shoreline community in southern Connecticut, Blank was always overweight as a little girl. With both parents working, family dinners were usually take-out: oily Chinese food, sauce-rich Italian food, and even burgers from McDonald’s. Her mother, Mary Ann, was overweight too. “We all ate badly,’’ Blank says.

Like many struggling with weight problems, Blank ate when she was bored, mostly chips and other high-calorie snack food. Still, she wasn’t too concerned about her weight and liked what she saw in the mirror. “I still felt beautiful,’’ she says. “I knew I was overweight, but didn’t care enough to do anything about it.’’

That changed when the 5-foot 2-inch then-sophomore stepped on her parents’ scale during the 2012 winter break. “I saw a number I never wanted to see,’’ she says. “I was 306 pounds. I was shocked. I knew I had to do something.’’

Within hours she downloaded MyFitnessPal, a dieting app that served as her guide and cheerleader, counting her calories and keeping track of her food intake. She also surfed the Internet looking for healthy, low-calorie foods that could replace her pasta dishes.

Her diet changed drastically. She started eating yogurt for breakfast. Lunch was a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with lettuce, tomato and mustard, never mayonnaise. She might add a banana or bowl of chicken soup. The turkey sandwich was invited back for dinner.

“I ate a lot of turkey, definitely,’’ she says. “It didn’t get old to me. I just wanted to lose weight so badly, I didn’t care about eating it twice in one day.’’

Self-control was put to the test when a friend’s mother made a cake for Valentine’s Day and Blank passed on a piece, even though she loves sweets. “It was confirmation to me that I was on my way to changing my goals,’’ she says.

She shed 50 pounds in four months. She continued her weight loss in the summer, dieting and working out at a gym back home. At the start of her junior year, she weighed 225 pounds and dropped from a size 24 to a size 16. Her pants were getting baggy. The clouds parted when she fit into a pair of size 14 shorts from J.Crew.

Living off campus in her junior year gave her an opportunity to cook for herself. Grilled chicken, fruits and veggies, low-fat cheese, Special K cereal bars, kale and baked potatoes – minus the butter and sour cream – were among her favorites. “I started eating cleaner,’’ she says. Once a week, she would allow herself a “cheat meal,’’ usually nachos or pizza.

She posted before-and-after photos on her Facebook page and received 300 “likes’’ in a few hours. “I felt incredible,’’ she says. “Those ‘likes’ just helped me keep going.’’

At the start of URI this year, she weighed 170 pounds. Now she’s down to 158 pounds and a size 10. “I’m happy where I am,’’ she says. Her goal is to tone her body through exercise, including Zumba aerobics classes and strength training with weights.

“I feel so much more comfortable in my skin,’’ she says. “I feel so confident, so beautiful. Sometimes people don't recognize me. They say, ‘Who are you?’ I say, ‘I’m Bri.’ They say, ‘That’s amazing. You look awesome.’ ’’

In her first talk show episode, Blank discussed "brain foods" that help with cognitive function and memory, toured the Anna Fascitelli Fitness and Wellness Center with the center’s fitness specialist, Courtney Mackey, and made a healthy snack of Greek yogurt with blueberries, granola, and cinnamon. “That’s great after a workout.’’

Blank has one more accomplishment to add to her list. She says that she helped her mother lose weight too – 100 pounds and counting.

Before-and-after photos above: Brianna Blank, 21, a senior at the University of Rhode Island who lost 150 pounds and created a URI talk show about fitness and healthy eating for her journalism program. Photos courtesy of Brianna Blank.