COEUR d'ALENE - In spring of 2009, Wanda Brust quit smoking.
That's a good thing, right?
Turns out, not.
The following summer and fall, she found another way to cope without cigarettes to puff on: Eat.
She gained about 35 pounds. Already heavy, her weight ballooned beyond the 300 barrier.
So one day, Brust said simply, no more.
"I thought, 'Oh my God, this is crazy.' I had no clue how much I weighed because I never had a scale,'" she said. "I said to myself, 'I've got to do something.'"
Do something, she did.
In the past year, the 5-foot-4 brunette lost 147 pounds. Yes, you read that right, 147 pounds. She didn't do it by hiring a personal chef or sweating for hours on stationary bikes and treadmills.
The Rathdrum woman did it the old-fashioned way: Walking and dieting.
"When I started, I had no clue that I would ever get to where I am now," Brust said Friday as she walked laps around the inside of the Silver Lake Mall, where she has been a morning fixture in the fall and winter.
Where she got to is 157 pounds. And that, she said, is where she hopes to stay. She feels good now, better than ever, perhaps the best she has ever felt.
"I'm happy where I am now," she said.
Fellow mall walkers have taken notice of her transformation.
"She has progressed dramatically," said Dick Freeman. "She's got determination, I'll tell you that."
He watched as the pounds passed - and as Brust's fleet feet flew by.
"She puts her heart and soul into her walking," he said, grinning. "She outwalks me."
Alden Perkins, who also meanders around the mall, called the changes in Brust "unreal.
"She was really big when she started," he said. "I was amazed when I saw how much she slimmed down."
Perkins congratulated Brust on her resolve to lose weight and her speedy stroll.
"She walks a lot faster than I do," he said. "I have a steady pace, but she really hauls."
Next, she plans to do what not long ago was the unthinkable: Bloomsday. The 7.46-mile fun run in Spokane is the first Sunday of May.
"I'll do Bloomsday," the 47-year-old said. "I always thought I wanted to go there and watch. Now, I'm going to go and participate."
War on weight
Brust, who has lived in North Idaho since 1985, has been in a lifelong battle with her weight.
Growing up, she was heavy for her age.
"I've always been overweight," she said.
Still, she didn't have any health issues. Her blood pressure and cholesterol count weren't wildly out of control, she said. Overall, she felt fine.
"I never felt bad before, or thought I felt bad," Brust said. "But I knew when I tried to walk I couldn't walk."
Once she was set on slimming down, she considered just how she would do it. A friend suggested the most simple of methods, walking. In the winter and fall, the mall was a good place to do just that.
"I thought, 'Oh right, how stupid," Brust said.
But not too stupid to try.
On her first attempts, she was "huffing and puffing," and unable to keep up a conversation and walk at the same time.
She kept at it. And at it. And at it. Every day. All year. Come spring and summer, she walked 4 miles daily on a path outside her home near Highway 53.
It paid off.
A year ago Jan. 7, she walked four laps on the perimeter of the mall's courtyard in 25 minutes, and to do that was a struggle that left her slogging slowly back to her car for the ride home.
Friday, the same distance took about 18 minutes - and she wasn't winded.
"Now I can walk forever," she said, smiling.
She didn't walk away 147 pounds, though.
Brust also put herself of a demanding diet that called for 1,100 to 1,300 calories a day.
"I ate basically whatever I wanted. I just allocated for it and when I reached my daily allotment, I stopped eating," she said.
Snack and junk food, once a main meal at home, disappeared from the cupboards and refrigerator.
She studied up on food and settled on oatmeal as her breakfast staple. Fruits, veggies, stir fry, and "anything in a fiber wrap" was part of the plan.
"I had to get used to cooking differently. I couldn't have the same stuff I always used to have," Brust said. "Shopping is a lot different now, too. I don't find myself going down the same aisles I used to."
She used an online program to record her meals and miles.
"That makes me accountable for everything I eat," Brust said.
When she reached certain goals, such as losing 25 pounds or going from size 24 clothes to 18, she rewarded herself by going out to eat or having cheesecake at home.
Her husband of 17 years, David, and her 16-year-old daughter supported her efforts.
"They love it," she said.
For Brust, a stay-at-home mom, her new body has boosted her confidence in herself.
"I feel great. I need less sleep, I don't find myself wanting to take a nap during the day like I used to, and I have a lot more energy," she said.
Brust knows there are challenges ahead. Often people who lose weight put it back, but she believes she can stay the course.
"It's going to be something I'm going to have to choose daily to do," she said. "It's so easy to fall back into those old habits."
Which is why she's forming new habits, like walking 12 laps at the mall, which is 4 miles, each morning.
She's not stopping here.
"I actually am going to start adding a lap a week until it gets up to 7 and a half miles so I can do Bloomsday," she said.
Her objective is to walk the crowded, hilly course with a friend. Doesn't have to be fast. Doesn't have to be fun. But she does want to reach that finish line.
"I know I will," she said. "And then I'll have the T-shirt."