Jennifer Riveira: Lost 76 Lbs.
Jennifer Riveira was always tired and so had trouble keeping up with her young son.
When her doctor told her all of her tests came back normal, but her fast-food habit may be to blame, she realized it was time to make a change.
“In reality, I had just given up on myself,” she tells PEOPLE. “Everybody became more important than I did and fast-food became my way of life. It was fast. It was easy.”
So Riveira cut out greasy food and substituted in meal replacement shakes. She also got active.
Now she exercises regularly and can keep pace with her now 13-year-old son.
“The challenge itself is to feel better about yourself, to be the best version of you, whoever you are,” Riveira says.
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Kristen McLaughlin: Lost 133 Lbs.
When McLaughlin “became sedentary” in college, the weight piled on, and it only got worse when she started dating a “larger guy.”They would order in for almost every meal — pizzas, burrito bowls, cheeseburgers and fries — and rarely cook, which put McLaughlin at 270 lbs. She joined Jenny Craig in 2016 to lose weight, and managed to drop 60 lbs., but felt guilty that her MBA candidate-boyfriend had to fend for himself, and the weight went right back on.
Then in late 2017, five years into their relationship, McLaughlin’s boyfriend became “distant,” and said he had feelings for someone else.
“At that point I’m like, ‘This is cheating, this is dumb, I can’t do this anymore,’ and I said I was leaving,” she says.
In December alone, McLaughlin broke up with him, moved out of their apartment and happened to start a new job. It was overwhelming, but the clean slate she needed to lose weight for good. “I literally got rid of every excuse that I’ve ever had,” she says.
McLaughlin joined Jenny Craig again in Feb. 2017, and over the next two years lost 133 lbs. — nearly half her size — with the pre-made meals and a newfound love for group fitness classes and weight training. She now cooks for herself and maintains her weight loss.
“I think I’m more myself now, funnily enough, than I ever was the previous 30 years,” she says. “I say yes to things now, I’m more outgoing, I’m more likely to be social.”
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Mary Jane O’Toole: Lost 135 Lbs.
When O’Toole got engaged in 2016, she was thrilled to marry her longtime boyfriend, but their relationship hadn’t been good for her health. After six years of fast food dinners and minimal exercise, she weighed 281 lbs. and was having knee problems — at 25 years old.
Plus, O’Toole was dreading buying a wedding dress at her size.
“I didn’t want to buy a plus-size wedding dress, because they cost way more than straight sizes,” she says. “I felt like I was paying this fat tax — I didn’t have the ability to buy affordable clothes because I was bigger.”
Along with her fiancé, O’Toole started tracking her meals and calories with the LoseIt! app. She dropped 75 lbs. in a year, and started incorporating exercise into her routine. By her wedding day in Nov. 2018, O’Toole had lost 135 lbs. and was able to buy the dress of her dreams — in a size 6.
“The ideal dress that I had in my head was cleavage-baring with a dramatic accent, and then I went with a long-sleeved dress that went up to my neck with a bare back. I had never pictured something fitted, but I felt awesome in it because I had done it and lost the weight,” she says.
O’Toole has kept up her weight loss habits, and though she’s frustrated with the loose skin she’s accumulated, she tries to focus on the “non-scale victories.”
“The biggest one is being able to shop out of my friends’ closets — I had never been able to do that before,” she says. It’s so cool, it’s like I have double the closets, and what I had always dreamt about doing in high school!”
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Randi Vasquez: Lost 80 Lbs.
Randi Vasquez was a “chubby” kid growing up, but it never bothered her — “I was always feeling myself,” she says. That is, until she hit a “post-grad slump” when she couldn’t find a job she loved and started drowning her sorrows in boozy brunches and fast food.
“I was getting heavier and heavier,” Vasquez, who eventually hit 240 lbs., says. “I started to notice that my confidence was going down, and I wasn’t motivated to do anything. It started to click that if I didn’t change my life that it would just get worse and worse.”
Vasquez knew that a major diet and lifestyle overhaul wouldn’t stick, so she started small, and in fall 2014 found a gym class at her local YMCA that she loved. Within a few months she dropped 18 to 20 lbs., which inspired her to keep going. From there, Vasquez started cooking healthier meals and started doing Kayla Itsines’ popular BBG workout plan.
“Year after year, month after month, I made small little goals and just kept going,” she says. “I hit 80 lbs. down in fall 2017. That was such a big moment for me.”
Since then, Vasquez nailed another big goal — running a half marathon — and focuses on maintaining her weight.
“I don’t feel like my weight can hold me back anymore,” she says. “I was happy before but there was so much I was held back from that I didn’t even realize.”
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Tara McGinty: Lost 122 Lbs.
Tara McGinty will never forget the first time she was bullied about her weight. She was in 8th grade when a ketchup dispenser exploded on her clothes and she had to change into her friend’s too-tight shirt.
“I never ate at school or in front of people again,” McGinty, now 33, tells PEOPLE.
Instead, she would starve herself until 4 p.m. and then go home and eat “anything and everything” in sight until bedtime. McGinty’s weight kept crawling up, eventually reaching 260 lbs.
But it wasn’t until she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and in so much pain she was unable to hug her children, that she decided to change her lifestyle. She started using Isagenix dietary supplements, going to high-intensity interval training workouts and adopted a “clean-eating” diet to reduce inflammation. McGinty now weighs 138 lbs., and her arthritis pain is “under control.”
“Snuggling and cuddling with [my kids] was so painful,” she says. “Nowadays I get all the hugs I can and they can even wrap their little hands all the way around my body.”
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Alan Christiansen: Lost 317 Lbs.
At 538.8 lbs., Alan Christiansen knew his relationship with food was unhealthy. His typical lunchtime meal involved stopping at three fast-food restaurants to satisfy his cravings, totaling over 6,000 calories, and he struggled with everyday tasks.
“I couldn’t stand up in a shower for ten minutes,” he tells PEOPLE. “Even doing dishes and cooking required a chair.”
Still, it was coming home to his 3-and-5-year-old daughters pushed Christiansen to lose weight. So he committed himself to diet and exercise and signed up for Optavia, a coach-based wellness program. In just 18 months, he slimmed down to 221 lbs.
“I’m a better man, spouse, dad, employee, son, brother and friend to everyone around me,” he says. “I truly feel free from my chains that bound me for so many years — free to live the best life and take advantage of what life has to offer.”
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Shamirum Benjamin: Lost 151 Lbs.
At nine years old, Shamirum Benjamin started sneaking pieces of pound cake from the fridge. The urge to hide her food continued through to her adult life, when she would often order entire meals from two fast food restaurants at a time and eat them in her car.
“I hid my worst eating habits — overeating or binging to the point of being in pain — so I couldn’t be embarrassed about how I ate in front of others. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t feel shame,” Benjamin tells PEOPLE.
In February 2011, near her 29th birthday, the customer success manager for a software company hit her highest weight ever, and decided to signed up for WW, then called Weight Watchers.
“I changed my mindset,” Benjamin says. Along with ditching her fast food meals and eating more fruits and vegetables, she also began walking and doing daily light exercise. Four years later, she had slimmed down from 291 lbs. to 140 lbs.
Now, she continues to maintain her weight one day at a time, and focuses on eating foods low on WW’s point system or limiting portion sizes.
“I just seem to feel more alive in general,” Benjamin says. “I get to be free and myself in a way I never thought I could when I was heavier.”
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Janine Johnston: Lost 145 Lbs.
When Janine Johnston tried on the wedding dress she had ordered online, she knew she had to make a change.
“I wanted to cry because of how I looked,” the 36-year-old tells PEOPLE. “What was supposed to be a memorable, happy moment was depressing and embarrassing.”
So in June 2016, weighing in at 299 lbs., Johnston set a goal to lose 100 lbs. by her wedding a year later. She started by making healthier meals, and set a daily step goal on her FitBit.
Once the pounds started to fall off, the health services worker joined a local kickboxing gym and supplemented her walking with high-intensity cardio classes.
Five days before her wedding, Johnston met her goal. But she didn’t stop there: after her wedding, she continued working out and dieting to slim down to her current weight of 154 lbs.
“I’m a much happier person now,” Johnston says. “Buying clothes is fun, cooking is fun, and my health is at the best its ever been.”
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Jenna Leveille: Lost 140 Lbs.
Although she had a major sweet tooth as a kid, Jenna Leveille always considered herself to be fit and athletic. But after she became pregnant with her daughter in 2000, the global sales director at SpaFinder continued to put on weight.
“I started trying quick fixes and that’s when the vicious crash diets really started,” Leveille tells PEOPLE. “A few of them worked but just for a minute. I would lose 20lbs and gain back double.”
When her weight hit 270lbs., Leveille considered getting weight loss surgery, but first wanted to try her hand at losing it naturally. She adopted a high protein, low carb diet and began exercising. “I ditched the sugar and put on my sneakers,” she says.
She reached her goal weight of 130 lbs. in 2014, and created a Facebook community called “Getting Closer Everyday,” meant to inspire people’s weight loss journeys and provide support.
“The change for me has been more than I could ever dream of in this lifetime,” she says. “It’s never too late to change your life no matter how long you’ve been stuck.”
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Nicole Ferrigno: Lost 204 Lbs.
Nicole Ferrigno grew up thinking “that chips were a normal side dish, that pasta was a thrice weekly dinner staple, and that fresh bread was a must for both lunch and dinner.”
But by the time she was able to make more autonomous food choices, she tells PEOPLE she was a “habitual eater.”
“I would consume one Big Mac, one McChicken and one large order of French fries [for lunch],” she says, and would sometimes add another medium order of fries.
At her heaviest, Ferrigno weighed 350 pounds, and when she was unpacking after moving back to her hometown, she saw an ad for Beachbody’s “21 Day Fix,” a program that combines portion-controlled eating with 30 minutes of exercise per day.
Ferrigno decided to try it out, and slowly but surely she slimmed down. By December 2017, she reached her goal weight of 146 pounds. Although she primarily sticks to a diet of vegetables and small portions of carbs, “nothing is off limits,” and she still allows herself to splurge on bites of desserts or small bags of chips.
“I try dresses on and cannot believe that it is me,” she says of her new body. “I am so happy with my decision to take care of myself.”
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Holly Wallis: Lost 162 Lbs.
As a kid, Holly Wallis says she was always “chubby,” but it wasn’t until high school that she became an “emotional eater.” At home, “The rule was if you put food on your plate you had to finish it before asking to be excused from the table,” she tells PEOPLE.
“For more than half of my life I’ve been considered obese,” Wallis tells PEOPLE.
At 48 years old, Wallis went in for her annual doctor visit weighing 308 lbs., and her doctor wrote on the after-visit summary that she was “morbidly obese,” and suggested options for how she could slim down. “It made me feel like he really cared about my health and wanted me to be healthy,” she says.
That day, she set a goal to lose half her weight by her 50th birthday.
So she began a high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb keto diet and tracked her goals, eating habits and exercise in an app called “Lose It!” Wallis also opted to bike to work instead of drive, and do an additional 30 minutes of exercise each day. Now, at 146 lbs., Wallis is able to bike 29 miles and ran her first half marathon. “I feel empowered,” she says. “I could have given up, but I persevered.”
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Scott Leopold: Lost 193 Lbs.
Scott Leopold attempted his first diet at 19, when he weighed 438 lbs. He was in college and often drank alcohol and finished the night off with fatty foods such as chicken wings or sweets and chips. “I wouldn’t think twice about eating two whole pizzas,” he tells PEOPLE. After he lost his first 100 lbs., he and his friends “celebrated” at a buffet.
“I ate at least eight plates full of fried shrimp, crab legs, and hush puppies,” he says. “It seemed reasonable at the time.”
The now 46-year-old says gradually, he put the weight back on and reached 363 lbs. He always considered dieting again, but it wasn’t until 2015 that he decided to make a lifestyle change since he couldn’t catch up with his toddler. “I tried to run after her but couldn’t get above a moderate walk,” Leopold says. “All I could do was watch her.”
Leopold knew he wanted to be more active in his kids’ lives, so he discovered Real Appeal, a digital weight loss program that provides you with coaches, support groups and helps set daily goals for diet and exercise. He stuck to a strict 800-900 calorie diet, (and gradually increased it to 1,300) and went running or walking every day.
Now, at 170 lbs., Leopold is able to run 5Ks with his daughters and go on hikes. “I’m happier, healthier, more energetic and far more active,” he says. “I can keep up with my girls and be there for them in a way I never could before.”
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Kara Cline: Lost 95 Lbs.
When 32-year-old Kara Cline started experiencing panic attacks after having her second child, she knew she needed to make a major life change to be healthier for her family.
Cline told PEOPLE she worked out vigorously in high school but when she went away to college, her routine changed.
“I became complacent and the weight just kept piling on,” the certified public accountant says. “I didn’t really work out, didn’t go for walks and I just hung out with my friends and ate a lot of food I shouldn’t have eaten.”
In September 2016, after spending a few months reforming her diet, Cline discovered Daily Burn, a health and fitness app that provides workout videos and nutritional guidance.
“They’ve got a bunch of different programs you can choose, but then they also have the Daily 365 workout,” Cline explains. “It’s a 30-minute streaming workout that changes every single day. I really liked that it kept me intrigued and I didn’t get bored.”
Cline says she did the workouts at home in her living room three to four times a week while her kids, ages 5 and 2, were nearby.
“Since they were quick workouts, I fit them in whenever I had time with little ones running around,” she says. “I focused on interval training as well as cardio and body-weight exercises. The trainers always offered modifications, so it felt more personable.”
After losing nearly 100 lbs., Cline is now proud of her 185-lb. figure.
“That time was an emotional roller coaster. I moved to a new city. I kind of completely redid my whole entire life, but all for the better. I feel great and am no longer ashamed by my weight,” she says. “It really boosted my confidence and my comfort level to just try everything and live a more active, healthy lifestyle.”
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Dr. Kevin Gendreau: Lost 125 Lbs.
Dr. Kevin Gendreau’s motivation for losing weight was rooted in tradgey.
“When my sister was diagnosed with an aggressive, rare form of cancer, I decided to change my life,” Dr. Gendreau, who had reached 300 lbs. by consuming “a diet full of bread, pasta and chips,” told PEOPLE. “For me, being obese was a choice. How could I literally eat myself to death while my poor sister was fighting for her life?”
The primary care physician started on a high fat, low carb diet and tracked his progress through MyFitness Pal.
“As my sister’s condition worsened, I became more motivated than ever to eat healthfully because I knew my niece [Sophia, now 7] and nephew [Henry, now 3] would need me to be at my best,” said Dr. Gendreau. Sadly, his sister passed away in June 2017.
On his new whole food diet, he saw “astonishing” results by eliminating processed carbs and sticking to fruits, vegetables, nuts, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, non-fat Greek yogurt, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and non caloric spices and seasoning.
After his weight hit a plateau, he turned to intermittent fasting, which helped him shed the last 50 lbs. of the 125 lbs. he lost.
Now, he eats from only 12pm to 8pm every day. Outside of that window he allows himself black tea, black coffee and water.
He even began recommending his routine to patients. “Intermittent fasting has been life changing for many of my pre-diabetic and diabetic patients,” Dr. Gendreau said. But he cautioned, “Intermittent fasting is safe for most people, but not everyone. You should definitely talk to your own doctor before starting any diet or exercise plan.”
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Brianna Bernard: Lost 107 Lbs.
When Brianna Bernard got pregnant she “used it it as an excuse” to indulge in comfort foods.
“In reality, you’re only supposed to eat a couple hundred extra calories a day, but I was eating 1,000 extra,” Bernard, 32, tells PEOPLE for the 2018 “How We Lost 100 Lbs.” issue. “I assumed it would all fall off pretty easily after the baby was born.”
But after giving birth to her son, now 5, Bernard continued her poor eating habits and “didn’t take the time for self care,” she said.
Bernard eventually signed up with a personal trainer at the gym, Bodies by Burgoon, and started training two to three times a week in weight lifting, pylometrics, boxing and more. She also revamped her diet, ditching her processed, carb-heavy meals for lean proteins, healthy fats and vegetables.
A year later, she had dropped 100 lbs. and started powerlifting competitively. She even became a trainer at the gym that helped her lose weight.
“I feel like a completely different person, and I am in so many ways,” she says. “Not just physically — that’s obvious — but the way I feel in my mind. It’s hard to even look back. It feels like a lifetime ago. Now I feel like there’s nothing I can’t do. If I can lose 100 lbs., I can do anything.”
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Rachel Saintfort: Lost 121 Lbs.
Rachel Saintfort had never let her weight be a source of stress.
“In high school I hit 200 lbs., but I was blessed to be a confident person,” the Lakeland, Florida native tells PEOPLE for the 2018 “How We Lost 100 Lbs.” issue.
However, she continued to gradually gain weight and reached her highest, 291 lbs., after the birth of her daughter in 2007.
Saintfort decided to try dieting, but nothing stuck. Then, in January 2017, she got a wake up call. Her daughter, now 10 years old, said a classmate had called Saintfort “fat.”
“She looked so sad, and she’s trying to act like it wasn’t a big deal. At that moment it hit me that she’s suffering, and she’s being picked on or laughed at because of my laziness or my unhealthy choices,” Saintfort says. “That definitely inspired me to get it together, because I didn’t want her to feel that way.”
The case manager, 32, decided to cut out fast food and soda and started doing daily 3-mile walks around the lake in her town.
She also started documenting her weight loss journey on her Instagram account, @Ms100Lbs, and set a goal to drop 100 lbs.
Less than 12 months later, she reached her goal. “I cried,” she says. “It was an amazing feeling.”
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Gwilym Pugh: Lost 93 Lbs.
At 280 lbs., Gwilym Pugh was overweight, out of shape and living a sendentary life.
After a “5 to 7 year” weight loss journey, which included a lot of “trial and error,” Pugh, 33, lost 93 lbs. and found a new career.
Now, a top model and an ambassador for David Beckham’s grooming brand House 99, Pugh, tells PEOPLE he focuses on a diet of micronutrients and good fats, and managable exercise.
“Due to injuries, I’ve struggled with high-intensity work, but I’ve found low-intensity cardio pre-breakfast has been great,” says Pugh, who now sees an osteopath and a trainer, and aims for 20,000 steps per day.
As for life as an in-demand model and social media influencer: “This life is something I had never even thought to dream of,” says the London-based Pugh. “Every aspect of my life has improved, from physical and mental health to personal and professional relationships.”
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Mariah Stolfi: Lost 84 Lbs.
A self-described “binge eater,” Mariah Stolfi reached 150 lbs. by the 5th grade.
The Wisconsin native also struggled with health issues. In her early teens she was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and sleep apnea. “It is extremely difficult to lose weight and maintain weight loss with PCOS,” says Stolfi, who hit her highest weight of 286 lbs. at age 18. “And the lack of good sleep caused me to be lethargic, which meant I didn’t have the energy to work out.”
In July 2017, Stolfi, 19, decided to undergo vertical sleeve gastrectomy surgery.
Now down 84 lbs. – she hopes to lose an additional 60-70 lbs. – she is sharing her journey on social media.
“Once I discovered the weight loss surgery Instagram community I knew I had to be a part of it,” says Stolfi, whose candid photos and videos have garnered her more than 14,000 followers on Instagram and YouTube combined.
As for her best advice to those struggling with their weight: “This journey is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical. If you don’t fix your mindset you will not succeed on your weight loss journey.”
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Kathleen Golding: Lost 178 Lbs.
Growing up, Kathleen Golding had always been overweight. By 21, she had turned to food as a “coping mechanism” while wrestling with anxiety and depression.
“I was stuck in a constant cycle of daily binging,” the New Bern, North Carolina resident, whose highest weight was 331 lbs., tells PEOPLE. “I was eating fast food for every meal and enormous quantities each time.”
She finally decided to make a change and turned to gastric bypass surgery, which she underwent in June 2016.
“For some reason, weight loss surgery is seen as ‘cheating’ or being weak, but for me, I found strength in being able to say ‘I can’t do this on my own. I want to be healthy, but I need help,’” says Golding, now 26.
After the surgery, the weight began to “melt off,” says Golding, who eventually dropped 178 lbs. by making healthy dietary changes and exercising.
Now, Golding says she is finally at peace with her body. “I have some loose skin and it definitely has its imperfections, but I worked hard for this body,” says Golding, who also documented her weight loss journey on Instagram. “I spent so much time hating it but I’ve realized that this is the only body I’ve got and I’m going to take care of it.”
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Bonnie Wiles: Lost 162 Lbs.
Growing up, Bonnie Wiles ate a lot of starchy foods, and by 18, she was over 200 lbs.
“I tried diets but kept gaining weight after getting married and having four children,” Wiles, 58, tells PEOPLE in the 2018 Half Their Size issue. “It wasn’t until my first grandson was born in 2011 that I committed to get healthy.”
The Fayetteville, Arkansas, resident joined TOPS, a weight loss support group, and started using MyFitnessPal.
“It tells me if I’m overeating and helps keep track of how much I walk—usually 50 miles a week,” says Wiles, now 148 lbs.
And she is loving her new lifestyle.
“When I was heavy, I had to ask for a seatbelt extender on a plane. Now I can’t wait to go with my family to Hawaii, where I can show off my favorite body part—my arms.”
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Jeremiah Peterson: Lost 92 Lbs.
After a family hiking excursion proved too taxing for his 290-lb. frame, Jeremiah Peterson decided to change his lifestyle.
“I remember being bent over heaving just trying to catch my breath,” the Missoula, Montana-resident tells PEOPLE. “When I looked up, I saw my wife and three kids [10, 8 and 7] easily hiking, talking and laughing with each other — without me. It was a hard-hitting moment.”
He entered a transformation challenge for motivation. Then, switched over to a keto-based diet consisting of healthy fats, lean protein and green vegetables, started taking twice-daily hour-long hikes, and lifting weights.
Peterson, now 198 lbs., ended up dropping 82 lbs. during the 150-day transformation contest, called the 1st Phorm Transphormation Challenge — and he won the $50,000 grand prize.
He says: “I feel like I have drive and ambition like I have never had before in my life — and I’m almost 40!”
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Robin Janes: Lost 280 Lbs.
Janes, 28, can’t remember a time when she was ever small. “Not even in a baby picture,” she tells PEOPLE for the 2018 Half Their Size issue. “I was always overweight, and it continued through adulthood.” By then, Janes couldn’t fit on a normal scale. “I went to my friend’s family business where they weigh huge industrial tubs,” she recalls. “That’s how I found out I was 450 lbs.”
Her real turning point, though, was when she realized she could no longer fit in the desks at her college, and had to put her education on hold.
Ready for a change, Janes started with Isagenix meal replacement shakes, and taught herself to cook healthy meals. She also began working out slowly, with short walks and swims. Now 280 lbs. lighter, Janes loves playing volleyball and hitting the gym, and is working on her degree once again.
“I’m back in school. I can work anywhere. I’m not limited,” Janes says. “I feel like before all the doors were closed for me. Now they’re all open.”
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Melody Perdue: Lost 180 Lbs.
As a child, food was one of the few constants in Perdue’s life.
“My mother wasn’t able to raise me fully,” Perdue, 34, tells PEOPLE in the 2018 Half Their Size issue. “I always associated food with happiness. I thought, ‘Food is not going to leave me.’ ”
With a diet of six to eight chocolate bars a day, fried chicken and macaroni and cheese, Perdue was 308 lbs. by age 29, and was pre-diabetic, had sleep apnea and a mild form of polycycstic ovary syndrome. But it wasn’t until a life-threatening car accident in 2012 that she decided to make a change.
“I was on my sister’s couch, and I sat there and I cried to God,” she recalls. “I said, ‘I’m sick and tired of feeling like this.’ ”
Perdue signed up for Optavia, a packaged meal plan, and learned how to eat balanced meals of a protein and three servings of vegetables. That along with 30-minute walks helped her lose 180 lbs.
“Now I have so much energy,” she says. “I was able to ride a bike for the first time at 33.”
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Megan Rachow: Lost 170 Lbs.
Rachow, 30, remembers the exact day she decided it was time for a change.
“I had been living a life of obesity for a few years and was exhausted both physically and mentally,” the physical therapist tells PEOPLE. “I felt like I had gained so much weight that I would never get it back off. I still remember the day that the switch flipped for me — July 19, 2014 — and I decided I was done living like this.”
The Medina, Ohio, resident says until that point she was drinking five or more cans of soda a day, eating large quantities of food and stopping at the drive-thru daily.
“Exercise was out of the question as I could barely walk up the stairs to my apartment,” she says.
Spurred into action, Rachow says she started small, first cutting out soda and only eating food she cooked at home.
“The weight starting coming off,” she says. “I remember I lost 9 lbs. my first week. After I had lost 100 lbs., I started trying more adventurous exercise. I became fascinated by fitness and seeing what new things I could accomplish with my body. I do things that I never dreamed were possible like running races, lifting heavy weights, and completing a sprint triathlon.”
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Mike Bauler: Lost 225 Lbs.
After Bauler’s father-in-law went on life support following a heart attack in 2010, the Madison, Wisc., resident said he knew he needed to change his own ways.
“At this time I was 28, had two young boys, Eli (2) and Carson (6 months),” he says. “I recall all of the family standing around crying and sad. This was the trigger for me as I knew if I didn’t get my life together soon, I would be the next person in that hospital bed.”
A few weeks after his father-in-law was admitted to the hospital, Bauler, who weighed 450 lbs. at his heaviest, signed up at a local gym. He first focused on exercising and eventually made changes to his diet, sticking to 1,500 calories a day and smaller portion sizes for one year.
Now the 35-year-old runs everyday and has completed endurance competitions like Ironman and Ragnar.
“I lost most of my weight (200 lbs.) in about 18 months so I have had to stay busy to keep it off,” he says. “I am extremely competitive and have an amazing network of friends and the From Fat To Finish Line (FFTFL) community. I like to join training groups and training clubs because of the friendships and accountability it creates. It would be easy for me to blow off a 10-mile run at 5:30 on a Friday morning, but I know I have two friends meeting me, who I would never let down.”
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Katia Powell: Lost 170 Lbs.
After reaching her highest weight of 350 lbs. at 26 years old, Boston resident Katia Powell realized her own health didn’t reflect her dreams of becoming a medical doctor.
Powell was overweight as a child, eating a diet full of processed foods and little water and vegetables. In college, Powell says she dramatically gained more weight. “I walked into my apartment, stared at my reflection in the mirror and asked, ‘Who is that?’ It was a defining moment for me,” says Powell, 38, who is now a holistic health practitioner and fitness trainer who has founded the company Black Girls Nutrition.
Powell joined her local YMCA, gradually increasing her workouts until she was going 4 to 5 days a week for 60 to 90 minutes. She also changed her eating habits, replacing sugary sweets with fresh fruit and vegetables. Within the first six months she lost 100 lbs., and has since lost another 70 lbs.
Powell, who has kept the weight off for 12 years, says she now loves cycling, dance and yoga, and “if I am unable to attend the gym, I run or take a walk outside, or workout at home and do a high intensity interval training. My workout routine also includes meditation,” she says.
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Sara Cloutier: Lost 151 Lbs.
Cloutier, 36, always felt like an outsider growing up. She weighed 220 lbs. in high school, and never enjoyed shopping or playing sports with her friends.
“I cannot remember a time when I didn’t feel like I was the biggest girl in the group, and I hated it,” Cloutier tells PEOPLE for the 2018 Half Their Size issue. “I was always the odd one out.”
After her first pregnancy with her daughter in 2003, Cloutier hit 301 lbs., and was ready for a change. “I didn’t want to die,” she says. “I wanted to watcher grow up and give her healthy habits.” By working out with a trainer and choosing healthier meals, she successfully lost 151 lbs., and maintained a healthy weight through her second pregnancy in 2008.
As she worked to get back into a postpartum fitness routine, Cloutier discovered Zumba, and fell in love with group fitness classes. Three weeks after her first class, she became a certified trainer, and started teaching classes. By 2013, the demand had gotten so large that she opened her own fitness studio, and now runs it along with her full-time job.
Cloutier is now getting ready for another big change — her third child.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about gaining the weight back, because gaining weight is still scary, and having to purposely do it is scary,” she says. “But knowing the difference between a healthy pregnancy and an unhealthy pregnancy is huge.”
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Katie Bolden: Lost 150 Lbs
Between her severe anxiety, depression and her weight — 280 lbs. at her heaviest — Bolden, 31, felt “ruined,” mentally.
“I hated everything about myself, and that’s just a tough situation to be in,” she tells PEOPLE for the 2018 Half Their Size issue.
Then at age 26, Bolden was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, and learned she would have trouble conceiving a child. And just a few years later, in Feb. 2013, she went partially blind in one eye, and found out she had pre-multiple sclerosis.
“It lit a fire in me,” she says. “I just realized that I was just existing and wasting my life away, and it was time to do something and start living.”
Bolden started tracking everything she ate on MyFitnessPal, and took up swimming, hiking and weightlifting. After three and a half years, she lost 150 lbs., and had her daughter. She also started a fitness blog and Instagram, and even won a bodybuilding competition.
“I look back on all the stuff I did and say, ‘Did I really do that?’ ” she admits. “As someone with such severe anxiety, to go out and do that, I know that I’ve progressed, not only physically but mentally as well.”
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Morgan Root: Lost 128 Lbs.
Transitioning out of the military and into life as a stay-at-home mom, took a toll on Morgan Root‘s body. She went from 145 lbs. to 255 lbs. in just two years.
“I felt ashamed of how I had changed from a veteran Army soldier into someone who I wasn’t proud to be,” Root, 35, tells PEOPLE for the 2018 Half Their Size issue. “When I transitioned out of the military, I was pregnant with my son, and that loss of structure meant I was eating what I wanted to with no regard, and being pregnant I just found myself eating a lot more than usual.”
When her son was six months-old, the Richmond, Georgia resident became pregnant with her daughter and gained even more weight.
“I didn’t want to be in pictures with my kids. I had trouble catching my breath; I had hip issues and a lot of body aches. I couldn’t walk like I should be able to walk.”
“I decided to join Nutrisystem because it gave me the structure I needed and fit with my busy schedule as a mom,” explains the graduate student, who now weighs 127 lbs.
She also joined a gym.
“My kids used to be an excuse for why I couldn’t work out or make myself a priority. That excuse is now my motivation for everything I do.”
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Jermaine Gause: Lost 303 Lbs. (and Counting!)
Weighing in at 639 lbs., Gause was terrified of dying.
“I’m not ready to leave this planet,” he said during an appearance on The Doctors in Oct. 2016. “And I know the way I am now, I probably don’t have much time.”
Gause was ready to make a change, and he immediately joined Live in Fitness, a residential weight loss community. There, he completely revamped his diet plan to focus on lean proteins and vegetables, and started exercising. In just over a year, he’s lost 303 lbs.
“Since losing this weight, I’m like a new person,” Gause said during a return visit to The Doctors. “Every day I wake up and I can move.”
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Samantha Call: Lost 125 Lbs.
In 2008, Samantha Call lost her father to heart disease. He was 48 years-old and struggled with obsesity.
Call, who was 265 lbs. at the time, also struggled with her weight.
“I’ll never forget sitting with my [12-year-old] brother after my dad had passed, when he told me ‘Samantha, I don’t want you to die like daddy did,’ Call, now 33, told PEOPLE. “That broke my heart but gave me the drive that I needed to start my journey.”
In early 2009, Call found success with Atkins. And after a year and a half got down to 132 lbs. Call has maintained her weight loss for about seven years.
Now, she cooks healthy meals at home vegetables home with her fiancé and devotes an hour before work to exercise. Says the Callis, Maine resident: “It’s part of my daily routine.”
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Jason Cohen: Lost 125 Lbs.
Jason Cohen always struggled with his weight. At his highest, he hit nearly 300 lbs.
“My entire life I always thought I would be big,” said Cohen, 33, who ran, cycled, forged a weight-loss competition with a friend, and adopted a plant-based diet to help him slim down.
A big motivator to help him acheive and maintain his 125 lbs. weight loss is a private Facebook support group dubbed the “Missing Chins Run Club.”
“When I see other members post a 7-mile run in the Facebook group, I don’t have any excuses,” said the Lafayette, Louisana resident. “Time to lace up and get out there.”
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Jessica Beniquez: Lost 175 Lbs.
At over 320 lbs., Jessica Beniquez lived a sendetary lifestyle. “I laid in bed watching series after series on Netflix. All I did was eat, go to work and watch my shows,” the 21-year-old tells PEOPLE.
Tired of feeling “lazy,” she finally committed to her losing weight in February 2016. She ordered Herbalife shakes and “never looked back.”
Sticking to a “strict” 1200-1500 calorie-per-day diet and joining a gym helped her lose 175 lbs.
Now, 145 lbs., Beniquez works at the front desk at her gym and hopes to become a certified trainer. She also continues to share her weight loss journey on Instagram.
“I never expected to be where I am today. I was shy, but now I have so much more confidence, I have so much more energy,” says the Spring Hill, Florida resident. “Before it took me 20 minutes to walk a mile and now I can run 5 miles in under 50 minutes…It’s crazy the things I can do now that I couldn’t do before.”
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Laura Hyman: Lost 103 Lbs.
Laura Hyman‘s weight reached 264 lbs. because she was used to “talking care of everyone else but myself,” the now 54-year-old grandmother tells PEOPLE.
Along with her husband Myron, Hyman has now lost over 100 lbs. using the Isagenix weight loss program, which the retired Indio, California couple started in 2015.
“[Isagenix] gave us a time schedule for our meals and snacks,” says Hyman, who now weighs 161 lbs. and eats five times a day: two shakes, two snacks and one full meal. “This system taught us that not only the food we are eating counts but the timing of when we are eating is so important.” Now after dinner, Hyman says, “the kitchen is closed.”
The couple also started a 16-week body transformation program at the beginning of their weight loss journeys. Hyman, who works out with a trainer 3 to 4 times per week, is now a finalist in her sixth Isabody Challenge.
“I fuel my body and don’t eat for emotional reasons,” she says. “I feel better than I did in my 20s.”
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Jovana Borojevic: Lost 139 Lbs.
Although she was happy and confident in her body, Jovana Borojevic was shocked when she finally stepped on a scale.
“I never in my life imagined that I would see a ‘3’ in front of my weight,” Borojevic, who hit 304 lbs. and had developed fatty liver disease from her fast food-heavy diet, all while dealing with Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, tells PEOPLE. “From this day forward, something clicked in me and I changed my life around cold turkey.”
The digital marketing strategist, now 24, immediately cut out starchy carbs, refined foods, sugar and most packaged food. In a month she dropped almost 20 lbs., and started hitting the gym four to five times a week for weight training and cardio workouts.
Now a year and a half into her weight loss journey, Borojevic is down to 165 lbs., with a goal weight of about 150 lbs.
“It is SO IMPORTANT to focus on non-scale victories like how your clothes fit, how you feel, how many health issues you’ve reversed and saved yourself from and how happy you are!” she says.
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Allie Ruby: Lost 98 Lbs.
Allie Ruby was determined to lose weight — and get her long-desired six-pack — after her poor college eating habits left her at 225 lbs. But 98 lbs. later, she still wasn’t happy.
“I always thought that I would love to have a six-pack, and when I got there last year, it wasn’t all the fireworks I thought it would be. I thought that would be a huge high, but it wasn’t,” Ruby, 28, tells PEOPLE.
She started weightlifting, which kept her in amazing shape but pushed her weight up again, this time with muscle instead of fat. Seeing the numbers creep back up the scale caused self-doubt.
“If you have ever lost a substantial amount of weight then gained some back you probably have an idea of that devastating feeling of going backwards — I think those feelings were more painful at that time than when I was overweight,” Ruby wrote on Instagram, adding that it’s been helpful to practice mindfulness at this point in her journey. “I had to remember that a transformation is far deeper than physical.”
Now she’s switched from weightlifting to powerlifting, which requires extra weight, and is much happier.
“It’s so different, because no one cares about your image. It’s all about how strong you are,” Ruby tells PEOPLE. “I love it.”
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Janice “JJ” Jobity: Lost 120 Lbs.
Jobity was always fit growing up, but when she was mistreated in a relationship, she turned to food to cope.
“I stopped caring for myself as much as I should have,” the Toronto-based finance project analyst, 36, told PEOPLE. “I was depressed. I just kind of tuned out of the world, and food became my everything.”
By 2015, Jobity had hit her highest weight of 260 lbs. and started feeling excruciating stomach pain.
“When I went to my doctor they explained I had a stomach ulcer, and that all those years of soda had damaged my stomach,” she said.
Jobity decided to get healthy — mentally and physically. She started taking boot camp classes and sought counseling to deal with her emotional issues.
What She Eats Now: Jobity cut out fried food and soda and eats a diet focused on fruits, vegetables and lean protein. “I love salad and chicken,” she said. “Salad and chicken are my everything!”
Her Workouts Now: Jobity works out six days a week.
Her Best Weight Loss Tip: “You have to fix what’s going on inside before you can fix the outside. The mind is a powerful thing through the weight loss journey, more than anything else. A lot of weight loss is mental.”
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Naomi Teeter: Lost 150 Lbs.
Teeter had struggled with her weight her whole life, and found herself weighing over 300 lbs. by the time she was 26. She ignored her mounting health problems — painful water retention in both her knees, eczema breakouts and nightly bouts of acid reflux — until a doctor’s visit that inspired her to make a change.
She began keeping a food diary and joined a gym. Teeter, now 34, soon was physically capable of doing things she never thought possible, like running multiple half and full marathons, climbing a mountain and even sky diving. But it wasn’t until she ran a naked 5k that she learned to truly embrace her body.
“It’s not often in your life that large groups of people openly accept you and cheer for you despite what your body looks like or your physical ability,” she told PEOPLE.
What She Eats Now: Teeter made healthy swaps for junk food and keeps track of her macronutrient intake.
Her Workouts Now: The Spokane, Washington-based health and weight loss strategy coach stays active with running, hiking and gym sessions.
Her Best Weight Loss Tip: Don’t stress too much about what you’re eating — instead focus on how much you’re eating. “I firmly believe that because I didn’t have strict food rules, it was easier for me to lose the weight quickly.”
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Tara Kavanagh: Lost 145 Lbs.
The 5’7″ self-employed mom-of-three from Rapid City, South Dakota, 35, was already over 200 lbs. when she started having children, but her pregnancy weight brought her up to 304 lbs. After having her second child, she knew she wanted to make a change.
“I wanted to be an active mother and be able to play with my kids,” she told PEOPLE. “I also wanted to live my life, not just exist. I wanted to experience new things and felt my size was holding me back.”
Kavanagh decided she did not want to undergo weight loss surgery after seeing relatives who ended up gaining their weight back. Instead, she focused on finding workouts she actually enjoyed and tracking what she ate.
What She Eats Now: Kavanagh focuses on eating unprocessed, non-GMO and organic as much as possible, and follows the 80/20 rule when it comes to eating. “I still need my treats once in a while!” she said.
Her Workouts Now: She swears by Jillian Michaels’ workouts. “I still do the same workouts as a fit person that I did as a 300-lb. person, I just up the intensity level now to get my killer workout!”
Her Best Weight Loss Tip: Find a workout you won’t get bored with. “Jillian’s workouts are always fun and I look forward to doing them.”
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Helen Costa-Giles: Lost 90 Lbs.
For years, Helen Costa-Giles had no real motivation to lose some of her 220-lb. body weight, despite concerns from her doctor. But in 2014, her yearly checkup took a somber turn when the mom of two learned that she was on track to develop chronic health problems because of her size.
“My numbers were really off the charts and it scared the life out of me,” Costa-Giles, 38, tells PEOPLE. “That was exactly my turning point.”
Determined, she immediately threw out all processed and preservative-filled foods, and started eating a clean diet. In just six months, with no exercise, she dropped close to 90 lbs. Costa-Giles then added weightlifting to her days, and fell in love.
“My body reacted very quickly to weightlifting, and I started to lean out,” she says. “The scale wasn’t making huge differences, but the inches were changing. I kind of got obsessed because for the first time in my life, my body was actually doing what I asked it to do.”
Costa-Giles now runs free exercise classes in her hometown of San Antonio at 4 a.m., four days a week, all while maintaining her full-time job in the automotive industry.
“I have two kids and a full-time job,” she says. “I know many people don’t start their fitness journeys because they have too many excuses. I like to share my story because it’s so relatable.”
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Dustin LaJaunie: Lost 150 Lbs.
Dustin LaJaunie has come along way from the 425 lbs. he weighed five years ago.
Now, he’s lost 150 lbs. and counting with the help of his younger brother Josh LaJaunie, who started the private Facebook support group called “Missing Chins Run Club.”
The group is a safe place for people to share their stories and struggles and to motivate one another to lose the weight.
Eating plan-based and running alongside his brother, Dustin compares the Missing Chins to the trips he and his brother used to take when going hunting. “But instead of gathering to go take life, we’re coming together to gain life.”
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Marie Byrne: Lost 70 Lbs.
The Gloucester, U.K.-based nursery manager, 42, was a longtime emotional eater who found herself reaching a high weight of 223 lbs. at only 5’3″.
“My blood pressure was through the roof,” she told PEOPLE. “The doctor said that I was a heart attack or stroke waiting to happen. My mum had a stroke very young, and it scared us as a family. I didn’t want to put my family through the same thing, so knew I had to do something.”
Byrne credits doing at-home Jillian Michaels workouts and decreasing her portion sizes with helping her drop 70 lbs. She also says having a partner with Parkinson’s disease inspired her to get her health on track.
“When we first got together he was going to Pilates and would walk his dog three times a day,” she said. “He was way more active than me. What excuse did I have not to exercise when he didn’t make any excuses?”
What She Eats Now: Byrne counts calories and makes sure she eats three healthy meals each day.
Her Workouts Now: She continues to do Jillian Michaels workouts every morning at 5 a.m. before starting her day.
Her Best Weight Loss Tip: Stick to your workout plan, even when you don’t feel like it! “Sometimes I’m so tired, but once I get into my own head, I push on regardless of how my body feels.”
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Brittany Greenslit: Lost 109 Lbs.
The office worker weighed 236 lbs. by the time she was pregnant with her first child due to poor eating habits and a lack of physical activity.
After complications from her c-section left her depressed, Greenslit, now 27, started walking and doing Pilates and yoga to help lift her mood. As soon as she was well enough, she began doing Jillian Michaels’ workout DVDs.
“No matter how sore I was after the workouts, I always showed up the next day ready for more,” Greenslit told PEOPLE. “Her saying ‘Unless you faint, puke or die, keep going!’ became my motto.”
What She Eats Now: Greenslit eats lots of fruits, veggies and protein. If she goes out, she orders a chicken salad instead of her former go-to order of a cheeseburger and French fries.
Her Workouts Now: The St. Cloud, Minnesota-based mom-of-two mixes up Jillian Michaels workout DVDs and running.
Her Best Weight Loss Tip: “When I’m challenged, I don’t back down.”
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Alicia Steele: Dropped from Size 10 to 2
The longtime on-air host gained weight when she went through menopause.
“I thought gaining weight and feeling less active as we reached our 50s and 60s (especially after menopause) was just the way it was,” Steele, 59, told PEOPLE.
She got inspired to lose weight when T-Tapp Method creator Teresa Tapp appeard on a PBS show she was hosting, and decided to give her DVDs a try.
Steele dropped four dress sizes using the program, and has kept the weight off for five years.
What She Eats Now: Steele “completely changed” her eating habits, and now eats “lots of colorful, fresh food.”
Her Workouts Now: She spends 15 to 20 minutes each day doing a workout from the T-Tapp DVDs.
Her Best Weight Loss Tip: Try dry brushing. “This helps with exfoliation, detoxification and improving circulation, which improves fascia fitness.”
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Megan McGee: Lost 70 Lbs.
McGee began gaining weight when she got into an unhealthy relationship and stopped spending time with friends or going to the gym. After getting out of the relationship, she decided it was time to make a change — especially since she worked in the health profession.
“As a nurse, I wanted to be the healthiest version of myself that I could be,” she told PEOPLE. “I didn’t want to be a walking contradiction to my patients, promoting healthy living but not being healthy myself.”
The Middlesex, England-based nurse, 26, decided to join Slimming World to take control of her health.
What She Eats Now: McGee went from skipping meals and snacking throughout the day to sticking to set meal times. “I eat a lot of the same meals as before, but I’ve learned how to make them differently so they’re healthier, like using lean meat and making sauces from scratch.”
Her Workouts Now: McGee loves group exercise classes and also regularly meets with a personal trainer.
Her Best Weight Loss Tip: Don’t be afraid to make a change. “There is nothing to lose and so much life to gain.”
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Rebin Roy: Lost 126 Lbs.
Roy told PEOPLE she “could easily down a pitcher of margaritas and 20 buffalo wings at happy hour,” and smoked a pack-and-a-half to two packs of cigarettes every day for 14 years.
While she quit smoking after getting pregnant with her first child in 2003, she kept her unhealthy eating habits until she began having health problems after having her third child.
She joined Weight Watchers and dropped from 248 lbs. to 122 lbs. by watching her portions.
What She Eats Now: Roy eats six small meals a day and still allows herself the occasional fast food burger — but will only eat half.
Her Workouts Now: She stays motivated to stay in shape by competing in bodybuilding competitions.
Her Best Weight Loss Tip: She uses a slow cooker to prepare healthy meals. “That makes my life so much easier. I’ll put some chicken in in the morning and it’s done for dinner.”
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Hannah Jenkins: Lost 107 Lbs.
Jenkins, 22, says that overeating was just part of her daily routine. “Every day I would come home from school, watch TV with my sisters and eat a whole package of snack cakes,” she told PEOPLE. After dinner, she’d continue to snack on packaged foods like ramen with cheese and more snack cakes. But when she got to college, everything changed.
“The turning point for me was meeting so many new people and realizing ‘Wow, I’m really actually very uncomfortable,’ ” the Knoxville, Tennessee, resident says.
She started her weight loss journey on New Years’ Day 2013.
What She Eats Now: Jenkins loads up on protein for breakfast by eating either oatmeal with fruit and peanut butter or a protein shake, and sticks to lean proteins and small amounts of carbs like sweet potatoes and rice.
Her Workouts Now: She does an hour of cardio a day plus strength training three days a week.
Her Best Weight Loss Tip: “I used My Fitness Pal app to log my food, workouts and all the water I drank.”
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Tanisha Washington: Lost 103 Lbs.
The single mom had reached a high weight of 276 lbs. by age 21, but she had always struggled with her weight.
“I was always the big girl,” the Austin, Texas native, 25, told PEOPLE. “I even got the nickname ‘Twinkie’ in middle school. I have the most horrible memories because I was associated with all that weight I was carrying.”
Washington successfully lost 50 lbs. in college, but gained it back when she unexpectedly got pregnant her junior year. After giving birth, she decided to get healthy for herself and her baby.
What She Eats Now: Washington sticks to the low-carb, high-protein Atkins diet.
Her Workouts Now: Washington uses strength training to tone her body.
Her Best Weight Loss Tip: “When I started eating leafy vegetables and proteins, I started to have more energy throughout the day, and it got easier.”
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Hollie Barrett: Lost 124 Lbs.
The superstore employee from Suffolk, England, 30, had reached a high weight of 249 lbs. and felt her weight was preventing her from being the hands-on mom she wanted to be.
“I felt like my weight was holding me back in every aspect of my life, especially when it came to doing things with my children,” she told PEOPLE. “I once chased my daughter Imogen up the stairs to bed and was so breathless I couldn’t speak properly to read her a bedtime story — it broke my heart.”
That experience jumpstarted her determination to lose weight. Barrett had recently seen a friend’s post on Facebook about their success with the weight loss program Slimming World, and decided to give it a try.
“I couldn’t believe that I didn’t have to starve myself to lose weight,” she said.
What She Eats Now: Barret sticks to the Slimming World food optimizing plan. “Salmon with wild rice and BBQ pulled pork are a couple of my favorites, and I still eat out regularly as well.”
Her Workouts Now: She stays active with long walks and jogs.
Her Best Weight Loss Tip: Find a plan you can stick to. “I used to jump from fad diet to fad diet, and they were all so strict and hard to follow.”
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Sarah Goodenough: Lost 158 Lbs.
At 299 lbs., Sarah Goodenough struggled with the physical demands of her job as a nurse, and experienced severe body pains and asthma.
“I thought that was going to be the norm for the rest of my life,” Goodenough, 30, told PEOPLE.
Then she read a book called The China Study about the merits of a plant-based diet, and cut dairy and processed meat out of her diet. In a year she lost the majority of her weight through changes to her eating habits alone.
What She Eats Now: Goodenough sticks to a vegan diet.
Her Workouts Now: The Rochester, N.Y.-based nurse runs five to seven miles every day and also lifts weights.
Her Best Weight Loss Tip: Get creative with your meals. “[Sticking to a vegan diet] became fun because I was trying new different recipes, and everything tasted different so it was cool and fun.”
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Nathan & Brenda Bennett: Lost 130 & 131 Lbs.
In 2014, husband and wife Nathan, 45, and Brenda Bennett both found themselves struggling with their weight even though they led active lifestyles.
“We weren’t eating healthy at home, so it didn’t translate into weight loss success,” Brenda, 42, told PEOPLE.
The Bennetts cut out sugar and processed foods from their family meals, and began using My Fitness Pal to track their calories and exercise.
What They Eat Now: The couple focuses on clean eating and portion control.
Their Workouts Now: They both aim to work out six days a week, and turn their fitness sessions into a “friendly competition,” says Brenda
Their Best Weight Loss Tip: Find an accountability partner. “It was a big help to cheer each other on and not let the other person run down to the convenience store and cheat with whatever you can get your hands on,” says Brenda. “We keep each other strong.”
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Jessica Battle: Lost 115 Lbs.
The Delaware-based paralegal had reached 280 lbs. by the time she was 20, but it wasn’t until her father had heart surgery when she was 25 that she decided to take charge of her health.
“Learning that health issues ran in my family scared me,” Battle, now 30, told PEOPLE. “I knew that doing some form of movement in my living room was better than nothing, so I went to my local superstore and bought workout DVDs.”
She also began eating smaller portion sizes, and started an Instagram account, @join_jessica_xo, to help hold herself accountable.
What She Eats Now: Battle sticks to eating mostly vegetables, fruits and protein, and counts the amount of protein, fats and carbohydrates she eats every day.
Her Workouts Now: Battle does weight training workout DVDs at home.
Her Best Weight Loss Tip: Make gradual changes. “Instead of eating an entire frozen pizza, I ate one slice of frozen pizza. For me, I knew that jumping right into eating only vegetables, fruit and lean proteins wasn’t going to work.”
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Karyl Mullins: Lost 100 Lbs.
When Mullins, 38, moved back to her hometown of Lexington, Kentucky, the dog groomer quickly gained 100 lbs. thanks to family gatherings that revolved around Southern cooking.
At 34, Mullins was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. “I was worried about leaving my family behind,” she told PEOPLE. She joined Weight Watchers to take control of her health.
What She Eats Now: Mullins eats small portions to stay within her Weight Watchers parameters.
Her Workouts Now: She takes kickboxing classes and has run a marathon.
Her Best Weight Loss Tip: “I take collapsible measuring cups in my purse. It keeps me accountable.”
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Gillian Faith: Lost 110 Lbs.
The British Columbia-based stay-at-home mom, 41, admits that she “stopped caring” about her body after having her first baby at age 21. After having her second child, Faith weighed 220 lbs. and says she was a “food addict.”
After her third pregnancy and a divorce, Faith realized she needed to take control of her weight. However, she took things too far and developed anorexia and bulimia. In 2013, she started bodybuilding, which she credits with finally getting her health on track.
“Bodybuilding became an outlet for me to conquer my fears,” she told PEOPLE. “There was no more hiding.”
What She Eats Now: Faith stays away from anything that comes “in a can or box” and avoids gluten, dairy and soy.
Her Workouts Now: She works out six days a week for an hour each time.
Her Best Weight Loss Tip: “Don’t just use the treadmill one way! I run backwards and do side shuffles at an incline. It really tones hamstrings and glutes.”
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Rebecca Grafton: Lost 104 Lbs.
The insurance saleswoman, 25, shot up to 246 lbs. after spending a pastry-filled semester studying abroad in France during college, and continued to eat lots of baked goods after graduating.
In January 2013, she booked a trip to Jamaica and decided she wanted to lose weight so she wouldn’t be self-conscious about how she looked in a bathing suit.
“I hit the ground running,” she told PEOPLE. “I used the app My Fitness Pal on my phone, and I plugged in how much weight I wanted to lose and how fast I wanted to lose it. They gave me a calorie target, and I followed it. I literally had to reteach myself to cook.”
What She Eats Now: She makes sure she gets enough protein and limits her carbs, but still allows herself wine on weekends.
Her Workouts Now: Grafton works out every day doing a mix of cardio and weights. Her favorite piece of exercise equipment is the StairMaster.
Her Best Weight Loss Tip: “Don’t give yourself the option to give up. If you usually slip on the weekend, commit to a Monday morning workout.”
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Mackenzie Walker: Lost 102 Lbs.
The Windsor, Ontario-based student, 16, used to eat pizza for breakfast and drink as many as 15 cans of soda a day, reaching a high weight of 223 lbs. When her father had gastric bypass surgery, she changed her diet and began eating the small meals he was consuming.
She also used Instagram to find weight loss tips. “It turns out I wasn’t eating enough protein and needed to lift weights to gain muscle,” said Walker, who now has a self-published memoir and offers online weight-loss coaching.
What She Eats Now: Walker tracks her proteins, fats and carbs — and still drinks diet soda to curb cravings.
Her Workouts Now: The teen uses strength training to stay toned.
Her Best Weight Loss Tip: “Be willing to ask for help. I learned proper exercise just from asking people in the gym and on social media.”
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Jana Roller: Lost 135 Lbs.
The professional photographer, 29 — who weighed 307 lbs. at her highest — decided to lose weight after a traumatic incident.
“My ‘aha’ moment was when I was at the park with my son,” she told PEOPLE. “He ran away from me and almost got hit by a car because I couldn’t catch him. I thought, ‘This needs to change right now.’ ”
Roller decided to take up bodybuilding, and trained for two years for her first competition. Her prep involved 5 a.m. workouts and a strict meal plan.
“When I look at [photos from the competition], I see the progress that I’ve made, but also I can see what I can do to improve in terms of where I want to take myself in competition,” she said. “Bodybuilding is amazing because you get sculpt and define yourself, and mold yourself into the person you know you’ve always been.”
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Jeanine McDonald: Lost 77 Lbs.
The mom-of-four, 39, fell into unhealthy eating habits after having kids.
“I made dinner for the boys and ate what they ate,” she told PEOPLE. “I did not take the time to prepare healthy dinners, as it’s very hard when you’re a full-time employee and mother of four.”
When one of her sons told her she looked “really fat,” she decided she needed to start making health a priority. On nights she has a sitter, McDonald hits the gym, and on other nights she does workouts at home once her kids are asleep.
“When I started going to the gym, I made a promise to myself: ‘If I’m not happy and healthy, my kids won’t be either,’ ” she said.
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Tim Kaufman: Lost 200 Lbs.
Thanks to running and a vegan diet, Tim Kaufman has gotten a grip on his health and even weaned himself off an addiction to painkillers.
Once weighing over 400 lbs., the Alden, New York resident has shed 200 lbs. and become part of what he calls s “tight knit group” dubbed “The Missing Chins Run Club.” The private Facebook group allows members to share weight loss struggles and motivate each other in a safe space.
“It’s so cool to see new guys come in,” Kaufman said. “It takes you back and makes you appreciate the struggle.”
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Vanetza Cines: Lost 26 Lbs.
The military officer, 29, took up bodybuilding to be an inspiration to her troops.
“I was supposed to be a leader of soldiers, and I could barely pass the Army physical test,” Cines — who weighed 200 lbs. at her highest — told PEOPLE. “I was embarrassed. My soldiers looked up to me and I had to counsel them when they couldn’t meet the standards, and yet I myself couldn’t meet the standards. I just felt like a hypocrite and a fake.”
In December 2015, Cines read about a Bodybuilding.com challenge and decided to take part in it. She started working out three times a day and saw real changes in her body for the first time.
“A lot of people think getting in shape is getting a six-pack, but that’s not what it’s about,” she says. “The best part of getting in shape is the self-confidence and my overall outlook on life.”
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Alex Perrineau: Lost 142 Lbs.
The Los Angeles-based student, 22, reached 310 lbs. at her highest. The self-proclaimed “emotional eater” ate fast food for almost every meal, and was teased throughout school.
“Deep down, I knew wasn’t comfortable living the way I was,” she told PEOPLE. So she decided to try Jenny Craig to finally make a lasting change.
What She Eats Now: Perrineau eats Jenny Craig meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with healthy snacks in between.
Her Workouts Now: She works out six days a week, and does running for her cardio.
Her Best Weight Loss Tip: “Don’t commit to something that feels like a burden. I love Jenny Craig because I don’t have to think about what to cook. Experiment and find what works for you.”
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Erika Cockrell: Lost 167 Lbs.
Cockrell, 30, had struggled with her weight since high school and “used food as an emotional pick-me-up” through the years as she dealt with her parents’ divorce and problems with her own marriage.
When Cockrell reached 309 lbs., she decided to turn her life around and used My Fitness Pal to log her food intake.
“I’m a firm believer in finding what works for you. For me it was all calories in, calories out,” Cockrell told PEOPLE in the 2017 Half Their Size issue.“It’s like a eureka moment where you’re like, ‘I can do this.’ “
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Joanne Raymond: Lost 133 Lbs.
Raymond, 49, had lost 100 lbs. twice before she decided she was finally going to keep the weight off for good.
The Allentown, Pennsylvania-based real estate agent realized that her yo-yo dieting was not only negatively affecting her self-esteem, but also her health. In 2013, she started feeling sick all the time — she had constant headaches, trouble sleeping and pain in her knees. Her doctor told her all her problems were weight-related.
Raymond — who weighed 249 lbs. at her highest weight — decided to overhaul her bad eating habits, replacing pasta with spiralized zucchini squash and Chinese takeout with healthy homemade chicken and broccoli.
“Even though I’ll be 50 in May, my body is the best it has been in my entire adult life,” she told PEOPLE in the 2017 Half Their Size issue. “I’m so proud.”
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Christina Jordan: Lost 134 Lbs.
Jordan, 34, hit her low point when she was kicked off a Disneyland ride after being unable to buckle the seatbelt.
“I started reading everything I could find on holistic nutrition,” the mom-of-three said in PEOPLE’s 2017 Half Their Size issue. “I decided to stop stressing about being skinny, and just focus on being healthy — wherever my body decided to take me.”
Jordan — who weighed 271 lbs. at her heaviest — began eating five to six meals a day that each include a lean protein, a complex carbohydrate and a healthy fat.
“I realized that I would be the best mom and the best wife, by being the best me.”
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Diana Anguh: Lost 140 Lbs.
Anguh’s fast food habits lead her to reach 275 lbs. when she was in high school.
“I would buy a whole box of pizza and eat it all by myself really quickly so no one knew, and hide the boxes under my bed,” the executive chef, 24, told PEOPLE in the 2017 Half Their Size issue.
After being dateless at prom, Anguh decided to start working out, and hit the gym every day. She also began cooking her own meals rather than binging on fast food. After 16 months of hard work, Anguh hit her goal weight of 135 lbs.
“My life has drastically changed — I feel like I’m more confident in going for what I want.”
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Lindita Halimi: Lost 130 Lbs.
Growing up in war-torn Kosovo, Halimi, now 27, often didn’t know when her next meal would be. When the war ended, Halimi overcompensated by eating whole pizzas and entire jars of Nutella.
The singer reached 250 lbs. between the ages of 17 and 20, and was bullied for her weight, with classmates calling her an elephant. When a woman on the bus mistook Halimi for a pregnant person, she decided she needed to lose weight.
The former American Idol contest learned how to get healthy by Googling weight loss tips and found healthy cooking tutorials on YouTube.
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Ashley O’Reilly: Lost 135 Lbs.
O’Reilly, 21, started putting on weight when she got her driver license at 16 and began frequenting fast food restaurants, getting up to 250 lbs. in two years.
After hitting a low point during her sophomore year of college when a friend refused to be seen sitting next to her in class, O’Reilly decided to try Nutrisystem. Her new diet coupled with exercise helped her drop 135 lbs.
“I’m in so much better health now, but the big thing is I feel good about myself,” the nursing student said in this year’s Half Their Size issue. “I have this confidence that I never had before.”
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Adrienne Osuna: Lost 2 Lbs. (and Gained Muscle!)
Osuna is proof that physical transformations don’t always correlate with the number on the scale.
“Women should go based on how they feel and look,” the Santa Maria, California-based photographer told PEOPLE. “Freedom from the scale is so liberating!”
Osuna — who weighed 182 lbs. at her highest and now weighs 180 lbs. — weight lifts four days a week and only does cardio twice a week. She also practices intermittent fasting, which means she does not eat from 7 p.m. to 11 a.m. six days a week, although she does allow herself coffee with cream in the morning.
“I finally decided I was going to focus on what my body could do and what it’s capable of instead of what it weighed,” she said.
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Michael Lachowicz: Lost 194 Lbs.
The professional chef hit 432 lbs. thanks to a combination of unhealthy lifestyle factors.
“My addiction is food, booze and narcotics,” Lachowicz, 46, told PEOPLE in the 2017 Half Their Size issue. “Everything worked in tandem. Drugs and alcohol reduced my inhibitions, so I didn’t have a lot of remorse about eating ridiculous amounts of food.”
Entering rehab and getting sober was an essential part of his weight loss journey. Lachowicz now works out six days a week and sticks to 1,800 to 1,900 calories per day.
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Justin Lacy: Lost 290 Lbs.
At over 500 lbs., Justin Lacy had a wake up call when his mother had a stroke three years ago.
“I thought, wow, I’m extremely selfish,” said Lacy, 32. “Soon my family’s going to be crying around my hospital bed.”
So the Dexter, Missouri resident took up a plant-based diet, cycling and running to bring his weight down 290 lbs.
He also became a member of the private Facebook group, “Missing Chins Run Club,” a place where people can swap weight loss stores and struggles.
Now, Lacy is training for marathons.
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Kim Carter Martinez: Lost 170 Lbs.
When Carter Martinez hit her highest weight of 344 lbs., her mobility became limited not only because of her weight, but because of her struggle with arthritis. In order to be eligible for knee replacement surgery to help alleviate her arthritis pain, the Oakland, California-based labor union employee was told she needed to lose 50 lbs.
Carter Martinez, 41, made “a lot of small changes” to lose the weight, like giving up Starbucks and cooking more meals at home. Eventually, she began following a paleo diet, and progressed from doing Richard Simmons videos in her garage to going to the gym daily.
“Life was really hard before — there were so many times that I had to say no to social situations because I couldn’t walk around, but now I don’t have to say no to things anymore,” she told PEOPLE. “I can pick what I want to do and be able to do it.”
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Jennifer Ginley: Lost 135 Lbs.
Ginley, 26, was so self-conscious about her weight that she did not want her longtime boyfriend to propose to her, because she didn’t want to be an overweight bride.
In May 2015, Ginley joined U.K. weight loss program Slimming World (now also available in the U.S.) with her mother and sister, and says preparing healthy meals in advance helped her to drop from 270 lbs. to 135 lbs.
“I reached my target weight just over a year after joining, and just before Christmas [my boyfriend] Luke asked me to marry him at Harry Potter Studios in London (I love Harry Potter)!” she told PEOPLE. “It was such an incredible feeling to be able to say ‘Yes!’ without even a second thought about my weight, and I can’t wait to go dress shopping.”
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Alexa Saddington: Lost 85 Lbs.
Saddington, 34, dropped the weight with the Cambridge Weight Plan, which sets you up with a consultant who creates custom meal plans that include ready-made healthy meals.
“It has changed my life,” Saddington, who cut out alcoholic cider, chips, candy and takeout and replaced them with healthy foods, told PEOPLE.
The U.K.-based administrative assistant — who weighed 242 lbs. at her highest weight — also began working out three days a week, and has lost 85 lbs. since the end of 2015.
“I feel like a different person,” she said. “I always wanted to go to Ibiza but I never had the self-confidence to go, and never felt like I would fit in. I just booked to go with my sister for a week. I feel like that would be a great way to end my weight loss journey.”
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Emily Powers: Lost 120 Lbs.
Powers, 24, was inspired to get healthy for her three children.
“They deserved more,” the daycare worker who was 273 lbs. at her highest weight told PEOPLE. “I could barely even take my kids for a walk. At the park, I’d sit on the bench and watch them rather than play with them.”
Powers began logging her food intake using the Lose It! app, and says it helped keep her accountable. Now she eats a lot of lean meats and vegetables, and works out three times a week.
“I like that my kids are used to hearing ‘yes’ a lot more,” said Powers. “Before, I could never take them to the park and run around with them and be the mom that I wanted to be. Now there’s no limitations.”
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Peggy Pullen: Lost 80 Lbs.
Pullen, 48, first put on weight due to medical complications stemming from her first pregnancy, but it wasn’t until a boy at a local pool called her a hippopotamus in front of her whole family that she felt inspired to lose weight.
“It was in front of my children,” she told PEOPLE. “It was horrible. I went home and cried a lot, but I realized kids learn from what you do, not what you say — and that’s what kept me pushing.”
Pullen decided to try bodybuilding, and turned to Arnold Schwarzenegger for her inspiration.
“I started watching some of his motivational videos and using his workout videos,” she said. “It really helped me because there were so many times that I thought, I can’t do this, it’s too hard.”
Now she works out six days a week. “I’ll be 49 this year, and I feel like I look a lot younger. It’s the secret of youth!”
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Katie Hug: Lost 130 Lbs.
Hug had reached a high weight of 270 lbs. in 2012, but it wasn’t until her doctor told her that she was morbidly obese that it hit her that her health was at risk.
To lose weight and get healthy, Hug, now 34, began tracking her food intake and became more aware of how much sugar, fat and carbs she was consuming. But the biggest change in her lifestyle came from discovering her love of fitness.
“[When I was heavier] I didn’t find any joy in it, it wasn’t fun for me,” she told PEOPLE.
Now she does cardio five days a week and strength training two to three days a week, and even teaches fitness classes as a certified personal trainer.
“You start to feel that serotonin and dopamine and all that from exercise, and I didn’t have that before,” she said of learning to love working out. “I used that as the outlet for stress, anxiety, depression. That made a huge difference.”
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