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Jessica Horton transformed more than just her body. "Thirty was a major milestone for me," she told us. "I didn't want to spend my whole life wishing I was healthy. So after my divorce, I packed up, moved cities, and started a new chapter."
Over the next year and a half, Horton joined running groups and online communities like Shape's Goal Crusher's Facebook page and lost a total of 92 pounds. But her transformation wasn't just physical. "I have a bunch of loose skin, among other things, but when I look at these 'flaws,' I don't feel hate," she says. "Instead, I think of them as things I've earned by learning to put my health first and taking care of my body like it deserves."
Photo: Instagram / @jess.horton
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Suzanne Ryan ate a fast-food-focused diet for years and weighed 300 pounds at her heaviest. But after watching the son of a friend pass away from a terminal disease, she vowed to do everything she could to improve her health. "Here I was, lucky to have a body that was healthy and capable despite everything I'd done to it," she told us. "I didn't want to keep living like that anymore."
That's when Ryan signed up for her first 5K and started following the ketogenic diet. Since then, she's lost 120 pounds and credits the diet for her success. "It goes without saying that keto has been a wonderful decision for me and is a very important part of my story—so much so that I wrote a book about it," she says, while encouraging others to find what works best for them. (Find out how the ketogenic diet transformed Jen Widerstrom's body in 17 days.)
Photo: Instagram / @ketokarma
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Eileen Daly always loved exercise for the mental health benefits. "I've battled depression for as long as I can remember, and working out was one of the ways I coped with it," she told us. "While I knew it was an important tool in my toolbox, I really didn't realize the positive effect it had on my life until I became pregnant." After pregnancy, Daly's weight skyrocketed to 250 pounds and she suffered from postpartum depression.
Daly started with low-impact movements: short walks around her neighborhood, and yoga. "Once I felt strong enough, I started doing boot-camp classes available [online] and just watched the weight drop," she says. Today, Daly has lost 150 pounds through exercise alone. "It took me a while to get there, but I did it and that's what really matters," she says. (P.S. Harley Pasternak Says Exercise Is the Least Important Part of a Weight-Loss Transformation)
More importantly, she got her depression under control too. "Take that feeling that you feel on a Friday or before summer and bottle it up. That's what your attitude should be every time you get on a bike or on the mat or start anything that's going to be good for mental and physical health. That's your time that you're giving to yourself and it's up to you to have fun with it. If there's any advice I have, it's that attitude is everything." Weight loss is just a side note.
Photo: Eileen Daly
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Chelsea Culbertson says she can't remember a time when she wasn't insecure about her body. "I just hated how I looked and had the worst self-esteem," she told us. "I became focused on 'looking better,' not being healthier. I was losing weight to be skinny like the girls I had gone to school with and the model girls I'd see on social media, not because I wanted to create a healthy and sustainable lifestyle or form better habits." (Related: How Self-Care Is Carving a Place In the Fitness Industry)
She quickly realized that her approach to weight loss wasn't sustainable: restricting calories, obsessing about macros, and doing hours of cardio six to seven times a week. She stopped being so restrictive and started doing things she loved, like HIIT and body weight training. "I spent my whole life hating myself and that's not a switch that can be flipped," she says. "I still struggle sometimes, but you just have to realize that getting to a place of self-love is a journey and truly a step-by-step process that takes time. You need to choose to love yourself every single day."
Photo: Instagram / @choosingchelsea
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Jennifer Casey weighed 220 pounds after having four kids—and realized that she was focusing on everyone but herself. "I knew that if I was going to lose weight, I wanted to do it the right way, so I did it all naturally," she told us.
To start, she joined Weight Watchers, now known as WW. But eventually she used her learnings to create her own meal plan focused on small portion sizes. The results? Casey has lost 90 pounds and feels better than ever. "I hope that by sharing my journey, at least one person is inspired to get out of their comfort zone and reach their fitness goals," she says. "I'm living proof that it's never too late."
Photo: Instagram / @jennefit
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Shannon Collins committed to a low-carb diet, which meant avoiding refined carbs like bread, crackers, and sweets. She lost 30 pounds but then felt her progress come to a halt. "After a while, I felt like I hit a plateau and just couldn't take it to the next level," she wrote on Instagram.
That's when she switched things up: She began tracking her macros (eating a specific number of grams of protein, fat, and carbs) and noticed an increase in muscle tone. While macro tracking isn't for everyone (there's a reason why this CrossFit athlete refuses to count hers), Collins was pleased with her results. "I'm blown away," she wrote on Instagram. "So now I'm at a point where I try to follow numbers, but it's okay if I go over because I'm happy where I'm at."
Photo: Instagram / @thegymnurse
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Sia Cooper, creator of Diary of a Fit Mommy, had a theory: Her breast implants were causing her health problems, like lack of energy, hair loss, depression, and anxiety. Even though medical professionals gave her a tough time, Cooper decided to get her implants removed. She woke up from the procedure with low expectations, but within days she felt her unexplained symptoms decrease significantly.
"My chest pain is gone," she says. "I feel much less bloated and inflamed, and my acne is gone. My skin actually feels a little oily, which it hasn't in years. Not only that, but my husband said I haven't been this talkative in months. I think it's because I don't feel so anxious and depressed. The progress I've seen so far is amazing."
Cooper shared her story to inspire other women to be advocates for their own health. "When you feel like something is wrong with your body, more likely than not, there probably is," she says. "So pay attention to your symptoms, find doctors who care about what you're going through and who believe you. At the end of the day, only you can do and know what's truly best for you."
Photo: Instagram / @diaryofafitmommy
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Just a few years ago, vegan fitness blogger Ana Alarcón followed a highly restrictive diet in the name of weight loss (she ate eggs, broccoli, and steamed rice every day and barely had the energy to do basic squats). Fast-forward to today and Ana has ditched the scale and is happier than ever.
"Back in the summer of 2014, I realized that I was pretty far away from the person I wanted to be," she wrote on Instagram alongside two side-by-side pictures of herself. Ana writes that she weighed 110 pounds in one of the photos, but in the other, more recent pic, she explains that she doesn't weigh herself anymore and, better yet, doesn't care what the scale says.
"It has taken me a while to really tune in with my body, and understand what a healthy lifestyle means," she wrote on Instagram. Ana began choosing activities she enjoyed that have lasting power and encourages others to do the same. "The biggest tip I can give you is to think about what habits can you keep for the long run, not just for summer," she wrote.
Photo: Instagram / @anagoesfit
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Ever since she began her career in entertainment, Jeannie Mai has struggled with her body image. But this year, she finally gave up on the idea of being skinny and shared her incredible 17-pound weight gain on social media. "I cannot tell you the number of people in DMs asking me how they can gain weight," she told us. "Reading my story, and others like it, they've come to the realization that strong is sexy and they want to get there, too."
Mai now eats foods like bread and potatoes that she had avoided for over a decade, and she loves lifting weights and feeling strong. "You just feel so victorious after lifting heavy," she says. "There's something so gratifying about testing your strength and feeling surprised by it. It makes you realize that there's no limit to what your body can do if you put your mind to it.
For those who might still feel like their worth is tied to the scale, Mai offers up this advice: "Feeling good about your body and feeling sexy comes from within, not from a number on the scale. Your body is just an extension of who you are. Treat it well, be kind to it, and just enjoy life. That's where true satisfaction lies."
Related: 8 Health Benefits of Lifting Weights
Photo: Instagram / @thejeanniemai
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Did you know that calorie-counting might not be the key to weight-loss success? Fitness influencer Lucy Mains certainly thinks so. She's the strongest she's ever been after consuming no less than 3,000 calories a day—but it wasn't easy. "Going from the photo on the left, barely eating anything a day and not being in the greatest place mentally [to] the photo on the right, currently, at the best place mentally and eating 3,000 calories a day," she wrote on Instagram. "I must say, this makes me beyond proud of myself."
Mains reminded people how important it is to set goals and stick to them, regardless of how long that may take. "Wherever you are currently at on your fitness journey, whether it's one month or one year in, you will get where you want to be," she wrote. "Just be consistent and stick to it. We find ourselves giving up too easily when things get hard or we are not getting what we want straight away. You WILL get there. Good things take time and please always believe in yourself."
Photo: Instagram / @lucymainfit