Naomi Teeter remembers using eating as a way to cope with negative emotions as early as the third grade.
“I started to sneak food to numb the feelings I had about my parents fighting, the unpredictability of my alcoholic dad who always got into trouble, being called names at school, trying to handle performance anxiety I felt about school tests and presentations, and needing to defend my little brothers from bullies on a daily basis,” the Spokane, Washington-based health and weight loss strategy coach, 34, tells PEOPLE.
“I coped by eating extra bowls of cereal or ice cream, cutting extra pieces of birthday cake for myself, or stealing spare change from my dad’s lunch box to buy bags of candy from the neighborhood store.”
Things didn’t improve as she got older. By the age of 20, Teeter was an unhappy newlywed who weighed over 300 lbs.
“I was extremely unhappy with my relationship with my husband and how much responsibility I had in my life,” she says. “Instead of studying in college like my friends, I was married, working, taking care of my home and paying bills. I compensated for the feelings of resentment by eating massive amounts of food and getting drunk on my lunch breaks at work.”
It wasn’t until her first marriage fell apart and Teeter found herself with an unwanted pregnancy with a new boyfriend that she was forced to face the health implications of her unhealthy weight. Teeter had been experiencing painful water retention in both her knees, eczema breakouts and nightly bouts of acid reflux.
“My first time being in a doctor’s office as an adult was at Planned Parenthood for my abortion,” she says. “I was utterly ashamed of myself for acting irresponsibly with my boyfriend, the size of my body, and the fact that I knew zero about my health while trying to fill out intake forms — I didn’t even know my height.”
“I wanted to see how much I was lying to myself about my food choices,” she says. “Like many people, I remember saying, ‘I don’t eat that bad.’ But, I did. I snacked all of the time. I had larger portions of food than what an average-size person ate. I drank more regularly that I thought. And I had a habit of eating in secret and forgetting about it. When I made myself track my food, the honesty hit me square in the face.”
Teeter’s first day of logs included pie for breakfast and cookies with lunch, which helped her realize she needed to make a change.
“I started swapping out junk foods for healthier options little by little,” she says. “I also started trying new foods that I thought I hated like fish, mushrooms, eggplant, avocados and asparagus. I focused mostly on calorie counting for my weight loss, and eventually switched to macronutrient ratios more and more. I firmly believe that because I didn’t have strict food rules, it was easier for me to lose the weight quickly.”
Teeter also became much more active. Previously, her only exercise was walking, but she decided to face her fears of embarrassment and join a gym.
“I had to face the deeper fear that festered below the excuses: people would see me trying to lose weight,” she says. “My weakness would be on public display. Not only was I morbidly obese, but I knew I was… and I knew I needed help. For someone who struggles with ego and pride, this was the most anxiety-provoking part of my journey.”
She began by walking on the treadmill, and then met with a personal trainer to learn how to use more of the gym equipment.
“In a few short months, I was getting stronger, slimmer, and the water retention on my knees fixed itself,” says Teeter.
As she got more in shape, she began achieving many physical feats she once never thought possible.
“Like many people who totally transform their bodies, I did all kinds of things to prove I was a stronger, different person than I used to be,” says Teeter, who lost 150 lbs. through her dedication to living a healthy lifestyle. “I ran multiple half and full marathons, climbed a mountain and even sky dived. But I never did something that showed my vulnerable side.”
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That’s why Teeter decided to sign up to run a naked 5k, which would force her to face her body insecurities head-on.
“The five to 10 lbs. of loose skin I’ve carried around on my body the last eight years has been a vulnerable part of who I am,” she says. “It’s something I used to be devastated about, but as the years ticked by, I started to accept myself more, and in turn accept my body. For me, this was the ultimate ‘If I can do this, I can do anything’ moment. For me, it was a combination of showing myself that I had nothing to hide and to let go of ego.”
Ahead of participating in the clothing-optional Bare Buns Fun Run held at a local nudist ranch, Teeter began training by doing naked treadmill runs.
“I suspected I’d be covered in sweat and chaffed, but I didn’t expect the sounds and smells my body made without any clothes to cover it up,” she says. “I went to the nudist ranch with the knowledge that my body is going to try to humiliate me in more ways than one.”
However, the experience ended up being a much more positive one than she had expected.
“As anticipated, I experienced the loud clapping sound of my butt smacking against my legs with each stride, my breasts and belly skin bouncing with minds of their own, and nowhere for the armpit sweat to go but down,” says Teeter. “But I didn’t need to apologize for my body anymore. Running side-by-side with other naked women and men, I realized I wasn’t any weirder looking (or sounding) than anybody else. Not one person was perfect.”
Crossing the finish line with her husband was an emotional experience for Teeter.
“It’s not often in your life that large groups of people openly accept you and cheer for you despite what your body looks like or your physical ability,” she says. “I’ve run many races, and that kind of genuine love and acceptance just isn’t there in the crowd. To me, it felt like I was being born again… vulnerable, naked, scared… but accepted and welcomed by people who were delighted to see me.”
As an added bonus, Teeter ended up finishing first for her age group.
“I had no idea that was even possible for me,” she says. “It never occurred to me that I could run a naked 5k and be the fastest for my age group. So, my ego was stroked a bit, too.”
Teeter found the experience of being naked so freeing that she and her husband returned to the nudist ranch a few weeks later.
“I didn’t want the 5k to be the only experience I had all year where I could practice body positivity in this new way,” she says. “We hiked about 10 miles naked, we swam naked, and we partied and socialized with the local nudists naked.”
While Teeter says she doesn’t feel comfortable saying she “loves” her body, she has learned to accept it more than she ever has before.
“I’ve had to learn how to go from being humiliated and disgusted with my body to learning to accept it for what it is and what it’s capable of,” she says. “It’s a daily practice of me releasing shame and my inclination towards perfection and embracing the adventures life takes me on instead. Running the naked 5k certainly helped in achieving that.”
For Teeter, losing weight was way more than a physical transformation.
“After losing 150 lbs. I went to college and graduated after being a high school drop-out for 12 years,” she says. “I went from working part-time at a department store to working in government public health, to becoming an entrepreneur and running my own health business.”
“It’s safe to say my life changed more than I ever anticipated it would when I started this journey,” continues Teeter. “I just wanted to lose weight, have more energy and feel pretty. Who knew there was so much more that could happen? The best part of this weight loss journey is the life I’ve gained.”