Updated: November 14, 2017

I maintained a healthy weight of 135 pounds, which was average for my height of 5 feet, 5 inches, until I started graduate school in my early 20s. To support myself, I worked a 10-hour graveyard shift in a group home and spent my shift sitting and eating junk food. After work, I slept, grabbed a quick bite (such as a burger or pizza), went to class and studied, leaving no time in my schedule for exercise or healthful eating.

One day, after three years of living with this hectic schedule, I stepped on the scale and was stunned when the needle reached 185 pounds. I couldn't believe that I had gained 50 pounds.

I didn't want to gain any more weight, so I committed to making my health my No. 1 priority. I quit the night job and found a job with flexible hours, allowing me time I needed to eat healthfully, exercise and study.

As far as food was concerned, I stopped eating out and prepared healthier food like grilled chicken and fish, plus lots of fruits and vegetables. I planned my meals ahead of time and did my own food shopping so I wouldn't bring home unhealthful foods. I kept a food journal to track what I was eating and how I felt. The journal helped me see that when I ate healthfully, I felt better both physically and mentally.

A month later, I began exercising, since I knew it was essential to healthy weight loss. I started walking one to two miles a day, three to five times a week, depending on my schedule. When I started losing 1-2 pounds a week, I was thrilled. After I added step aerobics and weight-training videos, the weight started coming off faster.

I hit my first plateau after I had lost 25 pounds. At first I was frustrated that the scale wouldn't budge. I did some reading and learned that if I altered some aspect of my workout, such as the intensity, duration or number of repetitions, I could continue to progress. A year later, I was 50 pounds lighter and loved my new shape.

I continued living healthfully for the next six years while I finished my education and got married. I ate what I wanted, but in moderation. When I learned I was pregnant with my first child, I was thrilled, but also scared that I would lose my pre-pregnancy shape after I gave birth.

I discussed my fears with my doctor and I realized that "eating for two" was just a myth. I only needed to eat an additional 200-500 calories to sustain a healthy pregnancy while continuing to exercise. Although I gained 50 pounds, I returned to my pre-pregnancy weight within a year after giving birth to my son. Motherhood has reshaped my goals - instead of being skinny and looking good, my focus is now to be a fit and healthy mom.

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