She's never had a gym membership and doesn't like to run for exercise. She enjoys an occasional beer as well as a cupcake now and then. But almost five years after she began her weight-loss efforts, Brooke Birmingham of Andalusia has dropped 172 pounds and landed on the cover of Woman's Day magazine, which is now on sale. 

Birmingham, 28, is featured because of the story behind her weight-loss journey, which began with the Weight Watchers organization back when she lived in Bettendorf.

A native of the Calamus-Wheatland, Iowa, area, Birmingham has been dealing with excessive weight since she was a youngster. The struggle to lose 172 pounds took years, lifestyle changes and a lot of conviction.

One emphasis was on diet adjustments: She loves to cook. She and her husband, Zach Birmingham, now eat a mainly vegetarian diet.

She recently changed careers, too. Birmingham worked for several years as a third-shift counselor with a local social services agency; in October, she was hired as a leader at Weight Watchers in Davenport.

Birmingham's story is an inspiration to many, including family members. Her mother, Alys Bomia of Davenport, is proud of her daughter's accomplishment.

"We are all just so happy and excited for Brooke. We just can't say enough about this," Bomia said. 

Bomia has recently lost 53 pounds herself, partly because of her daughter. She recalls the emotional weigh-in at Weight Watchers when Birmingham finally reached her goal.

"There were a lot of tears," Bomia said, noting the that young woman's entourage that day included her parents, husband and in-laws. "We just cried and cried some more," Bomia added.

Becky Willey of Weight Watchers in Davenport has been linked with Birmingham for four years. She remembers when the young women hit a plateau, which lasted for almost a year.

Birmingham actually told Weight Watchers she was done at one low point, but Willey told her she'd be welcomed back at any time. When another Weight Watchers member asked about the young woman, Willey sent a friendly email message, and it wasn't long before one of their star clients returned.

"She was just stuck at a size. We switched up some things and away she went," Willey said.

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Willey now coaches Birmingham, who starts in her new leadership position Jan. 6. Willey predicted Birmingham will be especially helpful to people who need to lose a lot of weight.

The editors at Woman's Day discovered Birmingham through her blog:

In the magazine article, Birmingham tells how she follows the weight-loss policy of "slow and steady wins the race," and advises readers that they are worth the time it takes to lose weight and feel healthy again.

"Losing weight is not easy," she said. "In fact, it's the hardest thing I've ever done. But if I can do it, anyone can. Just don't focus on the scale all the time. Think about alternative goals like running a 5K race or trying a new recipe."

As for Birmingham, she much prefers riding a bike to running, but she has a road race goal this year: the half-marathon portion of the Quad-City Marathon in September.