For as long as Kelly Espitia can remember, she was heavy. A lifestyle of binge eating, little or no exercise, and a desk job—Espitia is a legal assistant on Long Island—tipped the scale to 271 pounds. “I was a closet binge eater,” the now 35-year-old notes. “I couldn’t stop at just one bag of potato chips or a couple of cookies. I would start eating and wouldn’t stop until I got sick.”
Ultimately, her lifestyle was eating away at her health: “I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic,” she says. Espitia was only 23. “It scared me, but it didn’t scare me enough.”
It wasn’t until Espitia saw a former coworker’s success on Weight Watchers that she decided enough was enough. She had to do something. Her inactivity was taking a toll on not just her physical health, but also her mood and her work. “I didn’t have an ‘Aha!’ moment,” she says. “It was just a build up—a lifetime of really bad habits that I needed to shake once and for all, or at least try to shake, because I wasn’t trying.”
RELATED: The Best Diet for Your Health
So in the summer of 2007, Espitia walked into a Weight Waters in New Hyde Park, NY. But she quickly learned that trying to break years of bad habits wasn’t easy. “When you’re used to sitting all day at work, that translates to out of work too. I’d lie around. When I had the choice: be active or not be active, I’d choose the latter.”
Weight Watchers, though, taught her the basics—the foundations needed to start over: portions, food tracking, and that knowing yourself (recognizing your habits) can help you break them. “It took me six years to get all of my weight off. It was a really slow process.”
That’s in part because, even though she knew what she had to do, she kept self-sabotaging with food. “I knew that if I wanted to keep my weight off, tracking my food was something I’d probably need to start doing forever, so I started doing it,” she says. She also realized—through studying herself—that she would graze on trigger foods like peanut butter and pretzels. Slowly mixing these out of her diet by not buying them, and then later switching to individual serving sized portions kept temptation at arm’s length (and taught her moderation).
She also started weight training—“it wasn’t a lot, but it was three-pounders,” she says. The break from boring cardio worked for her. “I didn’t get my arms overnight. I’ve worked on them since day one of my weight-loss journey. When I shed the majority of my weight, you could finally see the muscles.”
Espitia soon began to see the effects of the changes she had made: It was easier to run a mile without stopping or go up several steps of stairs without getting winded, and she was indeed losing weight. But the biggest moment of transition came after four years in a Banana Republic. Down 100 pounds, Espitia tried on a size 12 dress, and it fit. “I cried. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t a size 18 or 20—there was no W after the tag.” She still has the dress.
An evolving diet and more fitness worked to an extent, but it also made her realize that simply eating less or smaller portions of what she had been eating before wouldn’t help her hit her goal. She’d plateaued. Seven months and she hadn’t lost a pound. “One hundred calorie snack packs weren’t filling me up. The processed stuff wasn’t filling me up. These foods weren’t helping me—they were sabotaging my effort.” So she started phasing those things out and started inching closer toward another goal.
“It took me a year to get the last 20 pounds off,” Espitia remembers. So last year, she joined a local Better Body Bootcamp in Great Neck, NY, and decided to go gluten-free and Paleo, removing processed carbs and grains. She quickly noticed that her acne—something she’d also struggled with her entire life—began to clear and her bloating subsided.
Like her entire effort, nothing was done cold turkey: “I phased foods out gradually—instead of having rice or oatmeal every day, I had it three days a week, then just twice a week. It got to the point where I wasn’t missing it anymore. I stuck with it because I didn’t have that lethargic feeling anymore. The fresher my food intake was, the better I felt, and the more energy I had.”
Soon, Espitia says she achieved her healthiest body and her goal weight: 155 pounds.
RELATED: How to Lose More Than 100 Pounds
Today, her life is very different: “Bootcamp put me in the best shape of my life. I go five times a week and have met some of my best friends there.” It’s made her stronger: Strength moves with kettlebells, bodyweight exercises, and quick movements to keep your heart rate up push her to the limits every time. She walks every morning, recently ran a 5K, and still sticks to a Paleo diet (for the most part). “There are moments where I’m just so happy thinking, ‘three years ago, I could have never done any of this,’” she says.
Six years later, Espitia loves her body: “It’s something I had to learn to start doing, to love myself and love my body. The loose skin, the saddle bags, and the cellulite—it’s all proof that I have worked hard to get to this healthier new lifestyle.” At some point, she’d also like to have her excess skin removed—not because it’s something she hates, but because it’s uncomfortable and because “my body is healthier now. I worked hard to get here, and I deserve to have the best looking version of myself,” she says.
But for now, one thing is for sure: “There’s no going back,” Espitia says. “I have learned too much to go back.” Sometimes life gets in the way, sure—you miss a bootcamp class, or you have a slice of pizza—but she doesn’t stress: “You have to take food off of the pedestal and put it back on the plate. At some point, you’re going to stop losing weight and you’re going to have to start living.”