For most of her life, Katie Bolden struggled with her weight and the accompanying anxiety and depression.
“I hated everything about myself, and that’s just a tough situation to be in,” Bolden, 31, tells PEOPLE for the 2018 Half Their Size issue.
At her heaviest weight of 280 lbs., Bolden was relying on foods like entire pizzas and fries for comfort. She had tried various diets over the years, but nothing stuck.
Then in Nov. 2010, she was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, which meant it would be difficult to conceive.
“That was heartbreaking news, because I wanted to be a mom my whole adult life,” Bolden says. “I always knew that I wanted a family with my husband.”
Still, it wasn’t until she went partially blind and was diagnosed with pre-multiple sclerosis in Feb. 2013 that Bolden made a change for good.
“It lit a fire in me. I was so scared of possibly losing my ability to walk or see in the future,” she says. “I just realized that I was just existing and wasting my life away, and it was time to do something and start living.”
Bolden started using MyFitnessPal to track her protein and calorie intake, and slowly weaned herself off fast food. She also started hiking and swimming regularly.
“The first week was tough,” she says. “I was hungry, I was having cravings. But after a couple weeks I started seeing results, and that’s what kept me going. I started getting big weight loss numbers in the first couple of months, like 40 lbs. in one month.”
She lost 75 lbs. in the first year, and then was able to get pregnant with her daughter, a thrilling moment after multiple failed fertility treatments. At 5 months postpartum, Bolden started working out again, and steadily lost a total of 150 lbs. after three and a half years.
“I felt like the community really helped me through my weight loss,” she says. “I was gaining support from total strangers, and that really energized me to keep going.”
Without any gimmicks — just through healthy eating and exercise — our 2018 Half Their Size stars shed hundreds of pounds. For more on their stories and weight loss tips, pick up a copy of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
And after losing the weight, Bolden continued to push herself out of her comfort zone despite her anxiety. She even won a bodybuilding competition in April 2017.
“It was crazy. My legs started shaking before I even walked out on the stage; I didn’t know if I could walk. But as soon as I stepped out, I felt fine,” she says. “I still can’t even believe I did it to this day.”
While Bolden’s polycystic ovary syndrome and partial blindness have cleared up since she lost weight, her multiple sclerosis is not weight-related, and she knows it will come back. But at least Bolden can feel confident she is living life to the fullest.
“I look back on all the stuff I did and say, ‘Did I really do that?’ ” she admits. “As someone with such severe anxiety, to go out and do that, I know that I’ve progressed, not only physically but mentally as well.”
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