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As a child, I was never really overweight, but I was certainly never waif-like. Bordering the edge of being plump, I ate anything and everything I wanted. I have pretty vivid memories of my classmates telling me I ate too much, my stepfather calling me a pig for being able to eat two sandwiches, and and my mentor telling me I would grow up to be fat if I drenched my salads in so much ranch dressing. I was self-conscious of my size even then, yet I never connected it to my eating habits. In high school, I grew sick, which caused a loss of appetite and a large amount of weight loss in a very short period of time. I went from 140 to 95  pounds as a 14-year-old girl in the span of three months. I reveled and delighted in my newfound body type, but once I recovered, I presumed my eating habits, resulting in a return of all those lost pounds and then some. Again, while I was ashamed of my body, I still never connected it to my eating habits. I wanted to lose weight, but I simply didn’t know how.

As the years passed, I continued to gain more and more weight. Stretch marks began to blossom on my hips, thighs, and even my calves. I was embarrassed of my body, and began to start hiding it in over-sized sweaters and jeans. Eventually, I grew so complacent that I even quit putting effort into my grooming, showing up to work with no make-up and dirty hair pilled into a greasy bun. Despite how horrified I was of my body, I was oddly in denial about my size. I didn’t weigh myself, I refused to look at my body in a full length mirror, I didn’t buy new clothes, and I wouldn’t wear clothes that had anything higher than “14” on the label, even though I was a much larger size than that. The few shopping trips I made ended up with me running out of the store in tears because I would still go to the juniors section, only to find nothing there fit me at all. I called myself “curvy,” even photoshopped my double chin out of pictures, and refused to admit I was obese, much less overweight. Deep down inside I knew it, but I also knew once I admitted it to myself, I would hit rock bottom.

One day, something finally clicked and realization dawned on me. I was at work, going up the four flights of stairs in the parking garage. I still distinctly recall struggling to keep up with their pace, and desperately trying to hide the fact that I was not just out of breath, but loudly wheezing. One of my co-workers stopped and asked if I was all right, and when I opened my mouth to respond, I realized I was too out of breath to speak a word. The look of pity plain on my co-worker’s face made me think to myself, I’ve become that girl. At that point, it was like waking up from a really bad nightmare, only to realize it wasn’t a nightmare; it was real life!

I started to really look back at my life the past few years. Really, really look. And what I saw frightened me: a young girl who had grown complacent and apathetic about life. A girl who lied and made excuses to avoid her best friends and family. A girl who couldn’t even go to Wal-Mart without having an anxiety attack because she thought everyone was looking at her. A girl who woke up, played World of Warcraft all day, and then went to sleep. A girl who would eat fast food sometimes as often as three times a day. A girl who had given up her dreams and hopes. I realized my physical condition had not only had emotional effects on me, but also physical, too. All of the symptoms I ignored as easily as I had the emotional. Awareness of this all just came flooding into my head at once like a floodgate, and I was overcome by shame and fear.

Still, though, it just wasn’t enough for me. I knew I had a problem, and I knew I wanted to fix it, but I was just so overwhelmed. I wanted to lose weight more than anything else, but to my uneducated eyes, I thought losing weight meant starving yourself on a lettuce-only diet while doing copious amounts of cardio exercise multiple times a day. I spent time online trying to do my research, but it all blew my mind. What were carbs, and why did they matter? How did one know how many calories to eat? How did I keep track of said calories? I didn’t think I could do it, and I started to tell myself that weight loss was for the superficial, super-human types of people. I was an awkward geeky girl who had always loved food; how could I seriously do this? I felt hopeless and alone, with no idea of how to start.

Then I found the magic motivation. I was reading a forum called Something Awful late one night after work, when I came across a fitness and weight loss subforum. Curious, since it’s a subject near and dear to my heart, I ventured in and came across a wealth of resources worded in ways that made sense to someone overwhelmed by these complex, healthy methods of weight loss. But then I came across the gold: a picture thread of physical transformations. Pictures of geeks, like myself, who were in similar places in life, who turned their lives upside down. Reading their stories evoked a deep emotion within me, seeing myself mirrored in their stories and before pictures. And so I thought, if these guys and girls- who are just like me!- can do this, so can I! So I did.

One of the most commonly asked questions about my weight loss- besides “How did you do it?”- is always a simple, “Why?” Knowing how someone accomplished something is helpful, but not always insightful; what method works for one person doesn’t always work for another. Knowing why is a totally different story, though. For me, understanding someone’s thought process makes them feel more human, more real. It makes me compare my own experiences to theirs, analyzing and being introspective about my own thoughts, fears, and motives. While I don’t know the magic motivation for you to change your lives like I did, for me, it was actually seeing that these real people did what I wanted to do. Sometimes, when you see people’s success stories or hear about celebrities losing weight, it’s really hard for you to relate to them. You don’t see yourself in them, so you dismiss them as not being real; they feel super-human, and so you put them on a pedestal. You can’t aspire to be like them because they’re different from you. Better, in a way. Stronger. But when I read the stories and journeys of these ordinary, geeky people who struggled like me, something just clicked. Knowing that people just like myself could do it was enough to make my mind grasp that yes, I can lose weight just like them.