Abby Lutz had been battling her weight for most of her life, but it got really out of control when she gained 200 lbs. while pregnant with her second daughter.
“I had developed diabetes and high blood pressure, among other things, and was on insulin and other medications,” Lutz, who reached a high weight of 425 lbs., tells PEOPLE. “I didn’t have the energy to play with my young daughter.”
The 34-year-old registered nurse had tried every diet she could find, including no-carb diets and cleanses, but nothing had lasting results. When her hospital began offering bariatric surgery, she decided a gastric bypass was the best option for her health.
“At the time, all I could do was barely make it through work, then lay on the couch,” she says. “I wanted to set a good example for my daughter — I didn’t want her to see her mom let herself go and be morbidly obese.”
After her 2007 procedure, Lutz had to overhaul her diet. Before the surgery, the Newton, North Carolina-based mom would regularly eat two fast food dinners in a single sitting, followed by ice cream.
“Right after surgery, I followed the rules given to me by the weight loss program exactly,” she says. “I only took in the exact amounts of fluids, and progressed just as they said to do. As a result, I was very successful and didn’t really have any complications. Following the rules immediately post-op and sticking to those rules for a long time changed the way I approached food altogether. It taught me a new way to eat. I think those habits are what helped me the most long-term.”
Lutz began eating a diet focused on protein and complex carbs, and found healthy substitutes for the foods she loved.
“If I’m in the mood for pizza, I’ll make cauliflower bread pizza with fat-free cheese and healthy toppings,” she says. “My main focus is to try to be mindful and healthful about what I’m eating and drinking.”
After losing 170 lbs. in six months post-surgery, Lutz hit a plateau. That’s when she decided to join a women’s running group at her church and signed up for her first 5k.
“After the program was over and we ran that first race, I continued to run on my own,” she says. “Over the next year or so, I lost the last 70 lbs. Not only has running helped to get and keep weight off through physical exercise, it helps me mentally as well. I run because when I was a kid, I couldn’t even walk an entire mile. I run because it clears my head, but at the same time centers my thoughts. I run to have respect for a body that I spent most of my life hating because other people told me it wasn’t good enough.”
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In 2016, Lutz decided to get skin removal surgery to boost her confidence further.
“I worked so hard to lose all that weight, and still wasn’t happy with my body,” she says. “No matter how much weight I lost, there was still lots of extra skin. I still felt very uncomfortable in my clothes, and never wanted anybody to see any part of my body that was loose. I couldn’t wear the things that I wanted to.”
Lutz says having the surgery and being able to wear regular clothes has been “life-changing.”
“I even bought a few pairs of shorts — I hadn’t worn shorts since middle school,” she says. “The first time I went running in a tank top and shorts instead of a t-shirt and leggings to cover myself up, I felt so free. My body is far from perfect, but I’m finally starting to appreciate it.”
Not only has losing 240 lbs. helped Lutz feel better about herself, but it’s also greatly improved her health. She no longer has diabetes or high blood pressure, and has stopped having to take medications for both.
“I think that the best part of losing the weight has been the overall sense of accomplishment,” she says. “There are so many aspects of this journey that have been positive. I’ve learned a lot about myself in terms of determination and motivation. I used to hide from people behind my bigger body and tent-like clothing. Losing weight has not only helped me physically, but mentally and emotionally. Life is a marathon, not a sprint, and I’m constantly in training.”