Jessica Horton is proof that setting small goals can lead to major gains.

By Faith Brar
Updated: February 24, 2018

For Jessica Horton, her size has always been a part of her story. She was labeled the "chubby kid" in school and was far from athletic growing up, always finishing last in the dreaded mile in gym class.

When Jessica was just 10 years old, things took a turn for the worse when her mom was diagnosed with cancer. By the time Jessica was 14, her mother had passed away. Jessica began turning to food for comfort.

"I had spent my whole life looking in the mirror and absolutely hating what I saw," Jessica recently told Shape. "I've cried in dressing rooms more times than I can count. It was actually so sad because I was never motivated or committed to changing my circumstances and continued treating my body poorly, never giving it the attention it needed."

All of that changed when Jessica hit 30 and got a divorce. She realized that if she ever had a chance to turn her life around, it was now. Without wasting any more time, she just went for it. "Thirty was a major milestone for me. It made me think of my mom and how my life could be cut short. 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."

Shortly after getting settled into her new home, Jessica joined a running group and started attending boot-camp classes a few times a week. "For me, it was all about meeting new people. I knew that if I was going to give this 'healthy lifestyle' thing a go, I was going to need to surround myself with people who wanted the same thing and motivated me when I needed it most." (Here's why sweatworking is the new networking.)

So, she went to her first running group at 235 pounds and tried to finish a mile. "I stopped after 20 seconds and thought I was going to die," Jessica said. "But the next day I ran for 30 seconds and then eventually a minute. Even the smallest milestones were trophies for me and pushed me to keep trying to see what else I was capable of."

In fact, running gave Jessica such a sense of accomplishments that she decided to sign up for a 10K even before completing her first mile. "I did the couch to 10K program, but it took me way longer than the original training plan," she said. "Running my first mile took two months, but I always just did as much as I could. Every time I crossed off one of the weeks in the program (which usually took me three weeks to complete) I got this sense of accomplishment that made me realize I could do so much more than I thought." (Related: 11 Science-Backed Reasons Why Running Is Really Good for You)

Eventually, her eating habits began to change as well. "When I started getting into fitness, I knew I didn't want to diet at all," she said. "I had been dieting for 30 years and it got me nowhere. So, I just made better choices every day and treated myself when I felt like it." (Related: Why This Is the Year I'm Breaking Up with Dieting for Good)

Most of all, Jessica stopped labeling food as "good" and "bad" (which has proven to be bad for your health) and started eating all kinds of foods in moderation. "Before, I thought 'bread is bad so I can never have bread,' but then all I wanted was bread. Once I stopped compartmentalizing food, I stopped feeling like I wasn't allowed to have something. Small changes like that all started to add up pretty quick."

What's motivated her most along the way, though, is the support of other people like her, she says, whether she met them through her running group and boot-camp classes or through online motivation groups like Shape's #MyPersonalBest Goal Crusher's Facebook page. (Part of our 40-Day Crush Your Goal Challenge!)

"For years, I had so much self-doubt, but seeing women share their stories on groups like Shape's has been such a major motivation," Jessica says. "There have been many days throughout my weight-loss journey when I have seriously wanted to give up. Maybe the scale had been stuck on the same number for weeks on end, or I hit a wall while running and had to quit early. I've had days where I've just felt so defeated."

"Having a community of women who totally understand that feeling of defeat, but get out there and keep going in spite of it, inspires me to do the same," she continued. "Hearing about their non-scale victories or seeing their progress pictures pushes me to stick with it, especially on days when I'm feeling lazy or want to eat my feelings (in pizza form). I can post without fear of judgment or ridicule. It's a rarity on the internet to find so much support and encouragement from total strangers-who don't feel like strangers anymore."

Now, a year and a half into her journey, Jessica is still training for her first 10K, has lost 92 pounds, and can run four and a half miles without stopping. "I run three times a week now and plan to add about half a mile a week leading up to my first 10K that's now just a month away," she said.

Even though her body isn't "perfect," Jessica can now look in the mirror and feel proud of everything she's achieved, she says. "I have a bunch of loose skin, among other things, but when I look at these "flaws," I don't feel hate. 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."

Jessica hopes that her story inspires people to realize that they are capable of so much more than they think. "You can start from the bottom," she said. "It is totally possible to completely change your life and your body, even when you've been overweight and unathletic your whole life. You are capable of literally anything you decide to do once you drop the self-doubt."

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