30-year-old Erika Cockrell’s issues with her weight started right after high school. “I went through a hard time when my parents got divorced when I was 18, and it spiraled from there,” says Cockrell, 30, who is one of PEOPLE’s 2017 Half Their Size stars.
“I ended up in a relationship that just didn’t work out. I got married and as time went on I just felt really isolated. I was away from my support system which was my family, and I just couldn’t dig myself out of that at that time,” she says.
“The more depressed I got, the bigger I got,” the legal assistant from Birmingham, Alabama says. “I felt trapped, and I didn’t care about myself.”
“I used food as an emotional pick-me-up,” she says, revealing that she’d often go out for quesadillas or a double-cheeseburger at 1 or 2 am. “I’d drink soda from the time I woke up until I went to sleep … If I was conscious, I was eating or thinking about eating.” But when she decided to leave her marriage in February 2013 and go live with her mother and stepfather, she was determined to turn her life around.
“Once I was around people who loved me, I had to face [my weight],” she says. “When I did step on the scale, it was like, ‘This is worse than I thought.’ I couldn’t even wrap my head around being 300 lbs.”
“I’d been unstable for so long, in every way imaginable: physically, mentally, emotionally, financially,” she says. “I was so tired of struggling. Just seeing that number [309 lbs.], shattered my denial. I decided to finish my degree and lose 150 lbs. and get healthy.”
For more on our six Half Their Size stars and their incredible weight loss stories, watch the full episode of People Features: Half Their Size, available now on the People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN) and at People.com/halftheirsize. Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the app for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Xumo, Chromecast, Xfinity, iOS and Android devices.
Cockrell discovered My Fitness Pal, and began logging everything she ate to keep track of her calorie intake. She was inspired to stay on track thanks to the support of other people in the online weight loss community, and logged in more than 300 days in a row while she was losing weight.
“I remember going in and reading other people’s success stories, and reaching out to other people for their advice and encouragement,” she says. “Now I’m one of those people.”
Between February of 2013 and December of 2015, Cockrell lost 167 lbs., dropping from 309 lbs. to 142 lbs.
“I’m a firm believer in finding what works for you. For me it was all calories in, calories out,” she says.
While Cockrell has completely cut out drinking regular soda, she still allows herself to eat many of her favorite foods, including chocolate.
“I’ll let myself have any kind of chocolate, but I’m always aware of how much I’m eating,” she says. “If you are consistent 80 percent of the time, that other 20 percent doesn’t even matter. You can’t guilt yourself about indulging once in awhile.”
Oprah gets candid about her years of diet struggles & how she triumphed with Weight Watchers – without giving up bread, chips, or wine! Subscribe now for the superstar’s emotional interview – only in PEOPLE!
Cockrell has supplemented her conscious eating habits with cardio a few times a week. And she’s traded chips and frappés for her healthier snacks: Greek yogurt, nuts, dark chocolate and 100-calorie bags of popcorn. But even when she does overindulge (“I love pumpkin pie,” she says), she doesn’t let it derail her, and wants others to know it’s okay to not be perfect when it comes to your diet.
“It’s like a eureka moment where you’re like, ‘I can do this, and even if I fail, it’s not a failure,’ ” she says. “If you screw up and you backslide, just start again. If you start it one time, you can another time, and you can keep pushing it until you get it right.”
“When I reached the point of reaching my goal, so many things had changed,” she says. “I moved back to my hometown after being away for 8 years, I got a good job that I enjoy and I’m close to my family again. My life is 100 percent amazing compared to what it was before.”