An athlete for most of my life, I participated in softball, basketball and volleyball in high school. With practices and games year round, these sports left me fit on the outside, but on the inside, it was another story. I had low self-esteem and little self-confidence. I was miserable.

In college, I stopped playing sports. I was so busy with my studies, a social life and a job that I didn't pay attention to what I ate and didn't take the initiative to follow any sort of exercise program. I ended up gaining 80 pounds in four years.

When family and friends tried to confront me about my weight gain, I became angry and defensive. I didn't want to admit I had a weight problem. Instead, I tried to fit into my old clothes that were obviously too tight on me. In four years, I'd gone from a size 10/11 to a size 18/20. When I saw myself in the mirror, I became angry and disappointed. I could no longer do the things I wanted to do. My knees hurt and my back ached from the extra weight.

Then I became inspired by a friend who'd lost 30 pounds after joining a church-sponsored weight-loss group. She told me about her experiences with the group and I realized I, too, could lose my excess weight. For the first time in my life, I was committed to something 100 percent.

The group educated me about proper eating habits, self-control and discipline. I cut down on the amount of fat in my diet and gradually cut out sweets like candy, cake and ice cream. Cutting out the sweets was the hardest thing because I have a such a sweet tooth. I replaced the sweets with fruit and when I reached my goal weight, I added my favorites back into my diet, but in moderation. I also read food labels and tracked my fat grams and calories in a food diary.

I committed myself to working out three to four times a week. I started by walking for 20 minutes. As I built up my stamina, I began running and set a goal to increase my time and distance every six weeks. Six months later, I was running two miles four to five times a week. In a year, I lost 80 pounds and returned to my pre-college weight.

I've maintained this weight for more than three years. I eventually returned to sports and currently I'm a competitive softball player. I'm much stronger now and I've built up my stamina. I look forward to working out.

Admitting to myself that I was overweight and making the commitment to become healthy are two of the hardest things I've ever had to do. Once I made the commitment, though, it was easy to follow healthful eating habits and to exercise. Eating healthfully and exercising is a life change, not a "diet." I'm now a confident, strong-willed woman, both on the inside and outside.