Name: Zoe Elizabeth Conrad
Before Weight: 340 pounds
How I Gained It: I have been heavy since I was 12 or 13, and my weight slowly crept up over the years. I have arthritis in my hips and spine, so I was never athletic, but I was quite active. I did lots of walking, and had no trouble getting around. Still, I would always be the member of my social group who couldn’t quite keep up on a day of shopping, exploring or adventuring. I got tired faster than everyone else and was usually looking for a bench. I have a very large frame and am very tall, so I justified it by allowing myself to believe that even though I was large and maybe a bit slow, I wasn’t unhealthy.
Food has always been my comfort, and I would secretly binge eat when I was stressed out about work or my personal life. I enjoyed cooking and found food to be easy and social. I suffer from PTSD and anxiety, and food was an answer that made sense and made me feel good, most of the time. I loved eating and drinking in excess and it caught up with me over time.
Breaking Point: I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in late October of 2014. As I researched the disease and how to live with it, I learned that the healthier life you lead, the better your body can treat itself. As always, I thought “Well, I am pretty healthy for the most part, so that shouldn’t be a problem.”
Around that same time, I looked at a picture taken of myself on Halloween with some coworkers, and I was shocked by the person staring back at me in that photo. I was floored. Since when was I so heavy? What had changed? I was crushed by the realization and embarrassed by how I had obviously gained at least 70 pounds in the last year and a half. I decided that day I was going to learn what it meant to live clean and live healthy.
How I Lost It: Starting November 1, 2014, my man and I joined a gym, and I downloaded MyFitnessPal on my iPhone. I did a 360 on my diet and my life. No more processed food, junk, soda, alcohol, grease or sugar. I learned a lot about clean eating and started working out five or six days a week. I immediately saw a difference in my energy levels, my skin, my hair and my arthritis. I was 100-percent dedicated to my goal. My boyfriend stood by me, and kept me feeling confident from day one that I could achieve my 100-pounds-down goal. He held my hand the entire time and I never doubted myself -- even in the beginning, when I was really struggling.
It was a slow start. After about a month, I started losing 2 to 4 pounds per week. I was walking 5 or 6 miles a day. As time went on, I felt like a new person. I was hiking multiple times a week, going to the gym, trying hot yoga, eating great, walking on all my breaks at work and... shrinking.
I felt good. I felt happy and proud. I was getting into the best shape of my life, so I decided to try something that I had never thought I could do: jogging. It started with walk/jogs, jogging around a quarter mile (which was hard!) and then walking again. I pushed myself and got so much support from everyone. One of my sisters and her husband especially inspired me. They are athletes and just amazing people, and thanks to them I was invited to do a 10K marathon. I felt like I could actually do it. My sister and brother-in-law trained with me at every possible chance and were there every step of the way.
On May 9, having crossed the 100-pounds-down goal line a few weeks before, I ran a 10K with some of my best friends and did so much better than I thought I could. I cried a little when I crossed the finish line, mostly out of shock. If you had told me 7 months ago that I would be finishing a 10K with a smile on my face, I would have laughed at you! Yet there I stood, feeling like I could probably do just about anything I decided to do.
How My Life Is Different Now: My life doesn’t revolve around food. I am off all anxiety medication. I don’t worry about doing activities with my fit friends, and most of all, I am healthy. Because of my lifestyle changes, I avoided having 4 feet of my intestines removed. I still live with arthritis, but I do not have the crippling back pain or the limp I had the majority of the time before. I am living every day without the setbacks that consumed my mind.
I can take a deep breath and know that I have the tools to fight my anxiety, my health hiccups, and my hard days within myself. I don’t need a double cheeseburger when I’ve had a hard day, I just need to work out the stress by racing my own mile time or hiking to the top of a mountain in beautiful Northern California to scream it out. I never knew I had the tools to take care of myself in the ways I felt food was taking care of me.
Once I started making lifestyle changes, I felt weight start to lift off my shoulders -- both figuratively and literally. "I am 6-feet, 3-inches tall, and will always be a big person" -- I had accepted that label too easily. "I am big. I will always be big. No point in trying to diet because I can’t get away from 'big.'" It feels amazing to be wrong. I was described as the tall, slim lady when someone was pointing me out in my doctor’s office a few days ago, and I wanted to sing from the rooftops.
After Weight: 210 pounds
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The Huffington Post publishes photographs as they are submitted to us by our readers. As told to Erin Schumaker.
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