MARIA LUGO-PERRIN, 38, of North Philadelphia chose, after two crises, to perform a radical reconstruction on her lifestyle.

"You're going to be the next one to die if you don't do something about your weight," she said to herself after her 32-year-old nephew died of a massive heart attack.

The other major breaking point came when she couldn't close the door on a carnival ride she was sharing with her 8-year-old daughter.

"I felt it was unsafe; my weight was pressing against the ride and I was concerned about my daughter's safety," Maria recalled.

Growing up on typical Hispanic cuisine like roast pork, fried chicken, rice and beans and fried plantains had her struggling with her weight before she hit 30.

"Since my mid-20s, I have had a weight problem. I used to diet, lose the weight and then go back to how I used to eat. I didn't know I needed to make a lifestyle change," she said.

Then she participated in a new cognitive therapy weight-loss program created by Dr. Judith S. Beck, author of "The Beck Diet Solution" (Oxmoor House Press, $24.95).

"I tried other diets, lost and gained it back, but with Dr. Beck I have the techniques to keep the weight off. I feel that what Dr. Beck has taught me will be with me for a lifetime," Maria said.

Like many women, this wife and mother of two was too busy working and taking care of the family to worry about proper nutrition and exercise. Even the threat of diabetes, which runs rampant in her family, had not been a concern.

Before enrolling in the weight-loss program at the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research in Bala Cynwyd, Maria was wearing a tight size 24 and she weighed a hefty 240 pounds on her petite, 4-foot, 11-inch frame.

So far, she has shed 55 pounds and is wearing a size 14, with no plans to backslide. She's still attending weekly group sessions at the institute with other dieters. Her current goal is to get into a size 10.

Maria has learned to prioritize herself, to make time to exercise daily and eat properly. She no longer makes excuses, nor does she allow her daughters or husband to distract her from her daily exercise routine.

Now Maria knows that being healthy, fit and trim is not only the best gift she can give herself, but her family as well.

Following the Beck Solution, she says, she has become cognitively aware about not only what she eats and drinks, but most importantly, about what she thinks.

While most diet programs teach you how to eat and exercise, few teach you how to talk to yourself when you are experiencing a craving, lapse or binge. That's what the Beck Diet Solution does.

I must admit, I was a bit leery of it at first. But I tried and it does work. The Beck Diet Solution gives you the tools to manage your thoughts, emotions and behaviors.

Inspired by Maria, I plan to keep these skills in my toolbox, too, and continue to strengthen my resistance to cravings and relapses.

Maria began her weight-loss journey just a year ago and is thrilled at the progress she is making. She is on her way and surely winning her personal battle of the bulge. *

Kimberly Garrison is a certified personal trainer and owner of One on One Ultimate Fitness in Philadelphia (www.1on1ultimatefitness.com).

E-mail her at

kimberly@1on1ultimatefitness.com. Her column appears each Thursday in Yo! Chat with her on her Daily News weblog, the Girlfriends' Locker Room, at www.girlfriendslockerroom.com. Her new podcast, "Philly Fitness and Health," is available for download every Thursday at www.philly.com.