As told to Gila Lyons
Everything changed for me on Christmas Eve at my aunt and uncle's house in 2017. I knew I'd been gaining weight in college, but I'd been too afraid to weigh myself for years. They had a scale at their house, and, heart racing, I stepped on. I was 298 pounds at 5 feet 9 inches. I never thought I'd get to that weight. Seeing those numbers beneath me, I suddenly realized I could lose out on opportunities I wanted — like skiing and racing, which I'd always loved to do.
I told myself, "I won't get to 300 pounds. I'm going to do my research and figure this out."
I started gaining weight in third grade, and my parents started talking to me about weight and food. One of my grandfathers is a doctor, and his sister — who was overweight— had diabetes, so he was always concerned.
Of course, my family's concern was always from a good place, but it made me feel bad about myself nevertheless. I was the only one in my family who struggled with weight. Everyone else, including my parents and my brother, was naturally smaller. I was the only one who had to watch what I ate or sneak dessert. It made me self-conscious to be singled out that way.
Throughout elementary and high school I felt like people didn't want to be my friend because of my weight, and I was sure boys and the popular girls would like me if only I were skinny. But I never tried to lose weight because I assumed I couldn't. I didn't seem to have the discipline to make myself exercise or use portion control — and that made me feel worse about myself.
I stopped going to the doctor when I was 17 because my fear of getting weighed got so intense. I still have trauma from having my annual physical. Doctors attributed everything that was wrong with me or bothering me to my weight. I felt shamed and misunderstood. I posted about this once on my Instagram page and was flooded with DMs from people who agreed that going to the doctor and getting weighed causes so much anxiety and fear and shame that it's hard to make yourself go.
After my Christmas Eve revelation in 2017, I stopped eating processed food and started eating a plant-based diet. Cutting out animal products not only helped me lose weight but also improved my anxiety, depression and complexion. I got all of my protein, vitamins and minerals from vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds — and I lost 70 pounds in about a year.
I also started exercising four times a week. I started with high-intensity interval training, then weight-lifting, and finally, what I do now: a mixture of Pilates and yoga. I really like what I've landed on. It makes me feel calm and grounded and strong for the entire day. I've come to understand that's what exercise should be about — not fitting into a certain dress size, but feeling strong and happy so you can do the activities you love to do for as long as you can.
I was inspired by various health and fitness accounts on Instagram, many of which helped me find the healthy foods and types of exercises I loved. But there were no wellness influencers that looked like me. I would have loved to have gotten fitness and nutrition guidance from someone I could relate to, someone who understood what it's like walking through life looking like me and what it takes to get fit at a bigger size. So I created my own account.
I pushed through self-doubt and fear and thought about the people I could inspire as I posted my daily juices, my workouts and my nightly teas. I posted recipes and links to other pages I found helpful. But it was 2 1/2 years before I told anyone my profile existed. I just felt too self-conscious. Who would take health and wellness advice from someone my size? I didn't tell any family, friends or even my boyfriend about the page. I had about 200 followers, who'd found me from hashtags and comments on other wellness profiles.
But I really wanted to be visible to those who needed me. I finally told my then-boyfriend, "Look, I have this page I think it could do really well, but I feel too insecure to really show myself or publicize the page. What if people don't take me seriously because of my weight and what I look like?"
He paused for a minute and responded in the perfect way: "That's exactly why you need to do this. So many people would love help from you. You have so much wisdom — people can learn so much from what you know."
Feeling supported, I started sharing more photos and videos of myself in my stories. I also shared personal posts about mental health, and people responded so well.
My page has been successful because I'm writing about things I always wanted to see written about, and people are really connecting with me, with each other, and with the safe space I'm creating there. I now have over 4,000 followers and receive tons of emails and DMs thanking me for my representation and example in the wellness world.
Someone recently wrote to me that everyone in her family went around the table and shared what they were thankful for this Thanksgiving. She said me. It means so much to me that I can bring people inspiration and good information — but even more than that: self-confidence and self-love.