My weight gain crept up on me in high school, when I stopped attending jazz-dance classes to spend more time with my friends. I also ate whatever I wanted, without any regard to nutrition: Pizza, french fries and doughnuts were my staples. As time went on, I knew my body was getting bigger, but I just hid myself under baggy clothes. I felt self-conscious about my shape, and by the time I graduated from high school, I weighed 180 pounds and my self-esteem was almost nonexistent. After graduation, I realized I had to turn my life around, and taking control of my weight was the first step in that process.

I went to a friend, who was also a personal trainer, and worked on revamping my unhealthy eating habits. I learned that healthful eating wasn't a short-term fix - it was a lifetime commitment. With that in mind, I eliminated a lot of the high-fat foods and replaced them with healthy, lowfat ones like tuna, chicken and vegetables. Since I loved bread and cereal, I didn't want to cut them out of my diet completely, so I served myself a reasonable portion and put away the rest. These food changes took a lot of determination, but I was serious about losing weight. When I started eating healthfully, I felt better, which helped me stay on track with my new habits.

I also began to be active again on a regular basis. I returned to dance, an activity I was familiar with, and started attending classes three to four times a week. A few weeks later, I started going to the gym and mixed up my routine with running on the treadmill so my body was constantly challenged and I would continue to progress. When the pounds started coming off, I began weight training since it would give my body a longer, leaner look. My friend also encouraged me to notice how I felt and the fit of my clothes rather than the number on the scale to track my success. Since I was gaining muscle (which is heavier than fat, yet leaner), the scale wasn't the most accurate measure of my progress.

Over the next year and a half, I slowly lost 45 pounds and transformed my life. My cravings for junk food disappeared. I was working so hard at changing my body, I thought twice about putting unhealthful food into my mouth. My self-esteem grew by the day and I was trying new activities like hiking and kickboxing. My family and friends remarked that I had become a whole new person - inside and out.

I walk with my head much higher now and am proud of my weight-loss achievements. I obtained my personal-training certificate, and now I help other people reach their weight-loss goals. Helping others has taken me full circle, and I know I'll never have to struggle with a weight problem again.