When my sister announced her wedding date, I wanted to be excited—I really was so happy for her!—but with weddings always come wedding pictures. And the last thing I wanted was to be memorialised in all the snaps of my sister's happiest memories the way I was then: overweight and overwhelmed with crushing anxiety.
I'd struggled with anxiety and body-image issues for years, but in the year leading up to my sister's wedding it got so bad that I didn't leave my house. That's right, I stayed locked in my home for nearly an entire year. That, combined with an unhealthy lifestyle of no exercise and emotional eating, I piled on the kilograms. My life was a vicious cycle of anxiety and weight gain that left me virtually unable to function in society—until my beloved sister's impending wedding snapped me out of it. I knew there was no way I was going to miss her big day (although I was still kind of hoping to miss the pictures). I knew I need to change, but how?
Through sheer willpower I forced myself out of the house, put on my best dress, and went to the wedding. That in itself was a major accomplishment and showed me that I was capable of doing something I thought was impossible. I was so proud of myself for going, but looking at the pictures afterward I realised I couldn't stop there. I needed to get healthy, both mentally and physically.
I made an appointment with my doctor and was shocked to learn that in addition to having anxiety, I was pre-diabetic and obese—and would have full diabetes soon if something didn't change. That was the kick I needed to overhaul my lifestyle. Step one? Change my mentality about my health. I decided to put myself first and make my own well-being a priority. I started by examining my emotions and learning other ways to deal with them besides eating, like meditation, yoga and journaling. Then I started adding in healthy foods, eating a mainly vegetarian diet with the occasional serving of poultry. This kept me satisfied and helped balance my sugar levels, helping me to lose weight in a healthy way instead of by crash dieting. I also kept a food journal, tracking not just portions but also how I felt with each food I consumed, using intuitive eating to figure if I was truly hungry or just having a craving.
Once my nutrition was on lock, I decided it was time to get fit. At first I couldn't do anything more than just walk around the block, but every day I did a little more, until six months later I was running. After that I added interval training, weight lifting, and YouTube workout videos. The fitter I got, the more fun it became; and the more fun it was, the more I wanted to do it. A year after taking that first step outside I ran my first half marathon.
Now I'm down nearly 31.75 kilograms and out of the diabetes danger zone; but even better, my anxiety is gone and I feel happy, self-confident, and outgoing. I hardly recognise that scared girl in the wedding picture anymore. I regularly go out with friends and have my dream job working as a fitness expert, competitive bodybuilder, fitness writer, and a running ambassador for Catalina Island. I even got a sponsorship from Swiftwick Socks. Some days I can hardly believe it myself: In just three years, I went from a house-bound anxious food addict to a confident fitness pro. I've completely revolutionised my life. And every step run, every veggie eaten, and every healthy choice, no matter how tough in the moment (and sometimes it is really hard!), has been totally worth it.
Before, my motto (if I even had one), was to hide, to draw as little attention to myself as possible. Now, my mantra is to be healthy on the inside and let that shine through to the outside. My dream is to help inspire others to take their own first steps outside, into the sun.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health.