When Bianca Acebron Peco was told she'd have to drop her favorite food group, forever, she was devastated. "I'm a cheese-a-holic!" says the New Hampshire resident. Unfortunately, cheese and her other go-tos, ice cream and milk, are often high in saturated fat—something that people with high cholesterol may need to limit. And in 2011, at age 19, Bianca found out she had high cholesterol.
Read More: 10 Foods That Lower Cholesterol
Bianca's doctor spotted her high cholesterol with a blood test (the only way to detect the condition). A very high level of LDL, or "bad" cholesterol—the type that causes buildup and blockage in arteries—is 190 mg/dL. Bianca's was 336 mg/dL.
It turned out her scarily high cholesterol at such a young age is genetic. Still, besides medication (which Bianca's doctor didn't recommend for her), the only way to lower cholesterol is with lifestyle changes: weight loss, exercise and diet. A runner, Bianca got ample exercise. So her doctor referred her to a nutritionist.
Dairy products, red meat and even egg yolks had to go for Bianca. So she negotiated: "What can I save in the dairy category if I cut out everything else?" To meet her request, portion-controlled cheese was allowed. And to make it easier, she swapped out non-dairy versions of her favorite foods, like soy milk for cow's milk and coconut-milk ice cream for regular.
Then a follow-up blood test showed Bianca's cholesterol was even higher—for no clear reason—after she'd stuck to her nutritionist's recommendations for a month. "I was freaking out," Bianca says. "I thought I would have a heart attack before 30." Discouraged, she dropped the diet and ate whatever she wanted for all of 2012.
By 2013, Bianca was ready to try again. This time, after seven months sticking to her nutritionist's plan, Bianca's LDL dropped to 172 mg/dL and she lost 25 pounds. Today, she's integrated the diet into her active lifestyle and at age 23, her cholesterol (though still technically high) is under control. She's still glad she fought for cheese. "Any diet plan is never going to work if you deprive yourself. You gotta live life!"
Have a transformations story of your own? Send it to us at email@example.com for a chance to be featured in the magazine.