Growing up, I only drank water when one of my parents suggested I have a glass. Why would I drink water when I could have grape, orange, or strawberry soda? The yummy possibilities seemed endless.
I drank five or six cans most days during these early years. And, of course, it didn't help that I was often washing down junk food.
It was around the age of 10 that I started to think of myself as a fat kid. That's when I started to notice that my clothes were always tight and that most stores didn’t carry the cool clothes that all the other kids wore in my size. I played volleyball and basketball, which gave me more friends and made me active daily, but I didn’t change my eating habits. In fact, I ate more—and washed it all down with soda—because I was always so hungry after practice.
My teammates liked me, and my coaches referred to me as "the muscle" or "the power," which is a nice way of saying "the fat girl on the team." I was the funny, chubby friend who always poked fun at my own weight because I thought that if I made fun of myself, no one could hurt me but, well, me.
'DESPITE THE FACT THAT I JOKED ABOUT MY WEIGHT, I HAD NO SELF-CONFIDENCE'
I hated myself and my body. The only thing that made me feel better was eating and drinking soda. I would feel ashamed and embarrassed of my weight, eat a tasty meal with a cold soda, feel okay for about 10 minutes post-meal, and then feel ashamed and angry at myself for consuming junk again. The vicious cycle had no end.
By the time I hit my teens, I’d stopped looking in mirrors because I was so unhappy with myself. I got dressed in the morning, changed in the locker room, and showered at night, all without looking in the mirror. The slightest glimpse of my reflection saddened and outraged me.
As my weight went up, my health got worse. I started losing steam more quickly at basketball and volleyball practice and was short of breath a lot. I was tired physically—and tired of feeling ashamed of myself all the time.
'WHEN I WAS 14, I WEIGHED 86kg'
My freshman year of high school, I decided I'd had enough. Since I was already very active (thanks to sports), I knew the change had to come in the form of diet.
People kept telling me how bad soda was, so I decided to give up soda and see if anything changed. (The idea of making over my plate while also nixing soda was too much to bear, so I started small.)
At first, quitting soda was hard. I did it cold turkey; I craved the sugar and constantly got headaches. No matter how much water I drank (yuck), they wouldn't go away. A few times, I tried getting my sugar fix with sweet tea, but it didn't really work.
There were times when I wanted to give in and have a soda, but I knew that if I caved, that was it. So I stayed the course. After about a month, I got fewer and fewer cravings, and my headaches stopped.
'PEOPLE STARTED TELLING ME I LOOKED THINNER—BUT I DIDN'T TRUST THEM'
After several weeks of everyone telling me I was losing weight—and even noticing my jeans were baggy—I finally started to think people might be telling the truth. The varsity boys’ basketball playoffs were coming up, and I decided to order a size medium T-shirt for the games instead of my regular size large.
When the shirt came in, I remember holding it in the bathroom and telling myself, “Don’t get mad if this doesn’t fit. I’m sure you have lost some weight, but if this doesn’t fit, it’s okay. You have other T-shirts to wear to the game. Just don’t get upset.”
I put on the T-shirt without a struggle, so I decided to turn around and face the mirror. The shirt fit and was even a bit loose. I noticed I had a defined waist, and I cried in front of the mirror. It was the first time I remember looking at myself in the mirror in years. I vowed to keep up the progress and never go back to where I’d been.
Over the course of three months, I'd lost 13kg —just from eliminating soda from my diet. After all, by cutting soda, I was removing roughly 800 calories and 220 grams of sugar from my diet on a daily basis!
I could run faster, my athletic clothes weren’t tight anymore, and I physically felt better. I could feel that I wasn’t carrying around as much weight. It motivated me to keep going and make healthy choices about what I was putting into my body. I had self-confidence like I’d never had before and felt on top of the world.
LOSING 30 POUNDS MADE ME WANT TO MAKE OTHER HEALTHY CHANGES'
I didn’t learn to love salad, greens, and quinoa overnight—I actually don’t love salad to this day—but I started to realize I didn’t need the massive amounts of food I was consuming.
As a teen and through college, there were plenty of late-night meals that consisted of chicken fingers and loaded cheese fries. But instead of bingeing, I ate a half-portion or ordered a kid’s meal. I also learned to love water. I experimented by adding lemon, cucumber, strawberries, and other fruits—and am happy to say that it's now my drink of choice with meals.
What's more, growing up as a student athlete, even a chubby one, set me up for a lifetime of activity and showed me how important moving really is. I quit organized sports after my junior year of high school but still made a point to regularly exercise throughout my senior year and college.
I’m now in my late twenties and do a mix of HIIT workouts, running, and boxing four to five times per week. I've lost another 10 pounds, bringing my weight to a pretty steady 68kg these days. Yes, I fluctuate within 2 to 5kg like every normal human does, but even if I stray off-course during the holidays or on vacation, I always get back on track because I don’t ever want to go back to where I once was.
I’m not "perfect" with eating in any way, but I do make conscious decisions about what I’m putting into my body. And I know if I’m putting something indulgent in that it’s a treat and not the norm. To this day, soda is not a part of my diet.
I have a rule for myself: I’m allowed to have one soda on Christmas each year, just for the taste. But some years, I find myself forgetting to have one, and on the years I do have one, I feel horrible after drinking it. It’s a reminder of how I felt when I was stuck in the vicious cycle, and it’s enough to help me remember I don’t ever want to get sucked back in.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.