After being overweight for her entire life, Jessica Beniquez had some bad habits to break to lose 175 lbs.
“I was a very picky eater. I didn’t stick a vegetable in my mouth. I ate fast food every day, and would pretty much only eat chicken nuggets, pasta and fries,” the 21-year-old tells PEOPLE. And her lifestyle had turned sedentary, despite having played sports in high school. “I laid in bed watching series after series on Netflix. All I did was eat, go to work and watch my shows.”
At over 320 lbs., her weight took a toll on her body. “I didn’t feel comfortable,” says the Spring Hill, Florida resident. “Getting out of bed was hard. I felt miserable. I knew I needed to lose weight because I had high blood pressure, but it took me over a year to realize how dangerous that is — and to do something about it.”
At the end of February 2016, Beniquez finally committed to her health.
“I was about to start a whole other series on Netflix, and I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ I didn’t want to sit in bed and do nothing. I felt so lazy. I didn’t even hang out with my friends.”
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She added: “At the moment I [decided] to do it, I ordered Herbalife shakes that day. If I didn’t, I honestly don’t think I’d be where I am right now. I got the shakes and never looked back.”
Beniquez was “strict” about sticking to her new diet. “I was consuming about 1200-1500 calories per day,” she says. After three months of having two shakes a day and one meal with some snacks in between, and an additional five months of consuming one shake a day and two meals with snacks, she eventually “quit the [Herbalife] shakes all together” in October 2016.
Her go-to foods included lunch meats, carrots and hummus, yogurt, cottage cheese and grilled chicken salads. And two months ago, she started drinking a different kind of protein shake, adding fruit, oatmeal or a flaxseed, for breakfast. “I opened my tastebuds up to new things,” she says.
From the beginning of her weight loss journey, Beniquez also became active.
“The day after I ordered the shakes I was walking. I walked a mile and a half to two miles a night,” she then joined a gym a month later, which was not an easy thing for her to do.
“I procrastinated because I was nervous what to do in the gym. I didn’t want people to look at me. It’s embarrassing when you’re young and really big. Walking through a gym, you see a lot of fit people and I was super intimated by that,” says Beniquez, who started by working with a trainer and doing exercises she saw on YouTube. “But once I got the gym membership I exercised every single day for an hour, then eventually it turned into an hour and a half, and now I’m at two hours maybe more.”
And she got plenty of support along the way. “People would come up to me at the gym and say, ‘Wow, congratulations — you’ve come such a long way,’ ” says Beniquez, who now works at the front desk at the gym and hopes to become a certified trainer.
Documenting her journey on social media was also a big help. “It kept me accountable when people would be like, ‘You can do it,’ ” says Beniquez who boasts 186,000 followers on Instagram and hopes to inspire others. “I wanted to show them that I could do it, and they can, too.”
It took 19 months to get down to 145 lbs., and Beniquez hopes to lose a little more weight and eventually have skin removal surgery. For now, though, she couldn’t be happier with her new lifestyle.
“I never expected to be where I am today. I was shy, but now I have so much more confidence, I have so much more energy,” says Beniquez. “Before it took me 20 minutes to walk a mile and now I can run 5 miles in under 50 minutes…It’s crazy the things I can do now that I couldn’t do before.”