Marie Byrne used to deal with her unhappiness by eating.
“I was an emotional eater — happy, sad or angry, I ate,” the Gloucester, U.K.-based nursery manager, 42, tells PEOPLE. “Plus, my husband at the time was very overweight so he didn’t mind what I looked like. When you live with someone who doesn’t support you and encourages you to eat takeaway multiple times a week, the weight is bound to go on. I made excuses, as that was easier than facing up to the fact that I was overweight.”
Before she knew it, Byrne — a mom of two — weighed 223 lbs. at 5’3″. But it wasn’t until an alarming doctor visit that she started to seriously consider the health implications of carrying so much weight.
“My blood pressure was through the roof,” she says. “The doctor even said that I was a heart attack or stroke waiting to happen. My mum had a stroke very young, and it scared us as a family. I didn’t want to put my family through the same thing, so knew I had to do something.”
“It was not easy — there were days when I swore at the TV, but the feeling I felt after the workout and still do, there are no words for,” she says. “I had energy, stamina and inner-strength that I did not know that I had.”
In addition to starting a workout regimen, Byrne worked to overhaul her diet.
“The same day I started to exercise was the day I started to really look at what went into my body,” she says. “I decided to split my meals into calories per meal, and tried not to go over that. I also made sure that I ate three meals a day, something that I never did before. I never had breakfast, and my lunch was always huge with extra helpings of junk. My biggest change was portion size. The first time I looked at my plate I wondered how that was going to satisfy me, but it did.”
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Byrne has dropped 70 lbs., and continues to do Michaels’ workouts at 5 a.m. before work every day.
“Sometimes I’m so tired, but once I get into my own head, I push on regardless of how my body feels,” she says. “I truly believe she changed my life, and that’s a strong statement to make. The changes with my body encouraged me to push on.”
Another motivation for her weight loss journey has been dating someone with Parkinson’s disease, who inspires her to be her healthiest self.
“He was with me at my heaviest and still wanted me for me,” says Byrne. “He doesn’t moan about his condition. When we first got together he was going to Pilates and would walk his dog three times a day. He was way more active than me. What excuse did I have not to exercise when he didn’t make any excuses?”
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“I know I’m going to be with this man for the rest of my life, and we don’t know how Parkinson’s will affect him in the future, so I need to be strong for him because one day he may need me to be,” she continues. “I know he’s proud of me, and that inspires me to continue, because I’m so proud of him for not being defeated by something he has no control over.”
Byrne says her partner not only inspired her to be more active, but to be her best self inside and out.
“If I wasn’t happy with me, how could I expect anyone else to be?” she says. “My smile is a genuine one now, not masked. I’m happy.”