As a beauty pageant contestant during my teens and a high school cheerleader, I never thought I would have a weight problem. By my mid-20s, I dropped out of college, had two kids and was at my highest weight of 225 pounds. Family and friends commented, "If you could lose weight, you would be beautiful" or "You have such a pretty face." These statements made me feel depressed, so I ate more. I tried losing weight by starving myself or joining weight-loss groups, but I never succeeded and drowned my sorrows in boxes of chocolate chip cookies. I eventually accepted that I would have to live with my overweight body for the rest of my life.

Later that year, I returned to college to earn my nursing degree. Going to school, along with raising two children under the age of 3, was extremely stressful, so I ended up eating even more. I ate fast food because it was much easier to fit into a hectic life. I joined a health club for three months, but quit because I was so busy. I graduated from nursing school three years later still weighing 225. Then when I landed a position as cardiac nurse in a hospital, I had achieved my dream, but I hated my reflection in the mirror. I felt depressed and often skipped family outings where I had to wear shorts or a swimsuit. After I turned 30, I looked in the mirror and saw myself overweight and out of control. I realized I had to change my eating and exercise priorities.

I started walking a mile around my neighborhood in the evenings while my husband watched the kids. (If he wasn't available, the kids joined me on their in-line skates.) Soon I increased my distance to two miles a day. I cut back on fat in my diet by substituting mustard for mayonnaise, frozen yogurt for ice cream, and salsa for dip. I prepared healthier version of my favorite meals. When I ate out at restaurants, I made healthy selections like baked potatoes with fat-free dressing instead of "the works," and grilled chicken instead of steak. I lost 10 pounds in six months. I continued to exercise regularly and went from a size 18 to a size 8, my goal, a year later.

At first, it was hard for my husband to adjust to the changes in our diet, but when he saw me losing weight, he joined me and supported my efforts. He's lost 50 pounds and looks awesome.

Last year I participated in a beauty pageant for the first time since my teens. I did it for fun and didn't expect to win second runner-up. Since then, I've participated in two other pageants, including Mrs. Tennessee USA, winning second runner up each time.

My weight loss has made me feel better about myself. The small amount of time I spend in the gym each week is worth every moment when I see it makes me a better mother and person.