The first three decades of my life were spent at war with my overweight body. From a very young age I was regularly told I was not athletic and would always be a big girl – I accepted this was true. I desperately wanted to be healthy and fit. I tried so many things, including fad diets and regular exercise. For decades I suffered from disordered eating and no long-term successes: my weight cycled up and down.

I began to struggle with hair loss and chronic exhaustion. After a thyroid disease diagnosis, I was hopeful that medication would help my weight loss. It did not. Through trial and error I eventually found that a vegetarian diet improved some of my health conditions. In spite of all my efforts, I reached nearly 300 lbs, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and was waiting for knee surgery. I was devastated, ashamed and uncomfortable in my own skin.

I reached my breaking point one morning sitting in a television studio waiting to be interviewed about my work. I caught sight of myself in the monitor and it knocked the wind out of me – I didn’t recognize myself. I cried the entire way home and decided that something needed to change. No one could do this for me, but me. I started my research by looking at the National Weight Registry and its data on those who’ve had long-term success with weight loss. I read countless books by experts, and cobbled together a plan of my own. I decided that for my own process there would be three truths:

  1. I was not willing to do anything I could not embrace for the rest of my life,
  2. Everything is a learning opportunity,
  3. If I don’t give up, I am not failing.

Since diet has the biggest impact on weight, I started there. One evening I came across the documentary Forks Over Knives. The idea of a plant-based diet was overwhelming, but I was desperate. The next day I started phasing out dairy and eggs. After three months as a vegan, my weight increased! I was ready to give up. I had always resisted calorie counting, but the research claimed this worked. The free app “My Fitness Pal” made it easier. I kept my plant-based diet, but started to track my food. It turned out that a lot of “healthy” foods are very high in caloric density. I learned how to tweak my diet to improve my caloric consumption. Eating a plant-based diet meant I could eat a large volume of food, which I discovered is important to me. I was rarely hungry and it didn’t feel hard.

At 250 pounds, I went to my first Zumba class. In the beginning it was not easy, but it was fun. As my energy increased, I began to walk each day for 35 minutes before my children woke. Exercise to music improved my mood, energy levels and overall strength. At times progress seemed slow. When I doubted myself, I read before-and-after accounts of other people who had succeeded. Even if I only lost a pound per week, in one year I would weigh 52 pounds less. I imagined that feeling and it was enough to keep me going. I had every reason to fail: a busy mom with limited resources and an under-active thyroid. I looked to others who overcame more and found inspiration everywhere.

Two years later, I’ve lost 150 pounds and no longer have diabetes or fatty liver. Surgery was cancelled, even though my knees still hurt – the price of carrying the equivalent of an extra person on my back all those years. Yes, I have excess skin, but it’s not that bad – muscle conditioning helps a lot. Every day I amaze myself. I am constantly challenging myself to try all of the things I was once told I couldn’t do. I now teach Zumba, Zumba Gold, STRONG by Zumba (a muscle conditioning HIIT-style class) multiple times a week, and run an evidence-based multi-disciplinary weight management clinic to help others like me. I hike up mountains and take martial arts with my son. My body isn’t perfect, but I no longer battle it – I nourish and nurture it – because I’ve embraced the fact we were on the same team all along.