Courtesy Katie Gallagher
November 22, 2017 01:52 PM

Shortly after moving to Phoenix, Arizona for a job – and going through a breakup – Katie Gallagher “decided there was no time like the present” to lose the 40 lbs. she had wanted to drop since college.

Gallagher, now 26, began a 10-month journey to shed the weight (she started at 180 lbs. and reached her goal of 140 lbs. in July 2016) that was caused by a diet “full of burgers, pizza, pasta, burritos, chips, soda, alcohol, and bagels,” Gallagher tells PEOPLE.  “Portion sizes didn’t matter to me and neither did calories. I more or less buried my head in the sand when it came to nutrition.”

Relocating to her new city in the summertime also helped her make the change. “When it’s 120 degrees outside, you want to wear shorts and tank tops, so I did. But I just felt so self-conscious and not proud of myself.”

Gallagher teamed up with a coworker who, she says, was “also overweight and unhappy” for support.  “We decided to push each other and work at our goals every single day. Our mindset was just taking little steps at a time. We both knew it was unrealistic to think we were both going to get six-packs in a three weeks. We took it one day at a time,” she says.

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Although Gallagher had “always regularly worked out” the combination of consistently lifting weights, doing cardio and maintaining a healthy diet, did the trick. “We rarely skipped a day in the gym,” says the software test analyst. “We cut out the sugary and processed foods. Our diets were high in protein, and lots of vegetables were consumed as well,” she says. “If we had not been consistent with these efforts, we definitely would not be where we are today.”

Gallagher also achieved a life-long goal. A competitive dancer in high school, she auditioned for the Phoenix Suns dance team in the fall of 2016 – and after trying out earlier in the year and not making it – finally made the team.  “This is my 2nd season on the hip hop squad, and I am loving it!” says Gallagher, who dances for the NBA Phoenix Suns and WNBA Phoenix Mercury.  “I never thought I could say I would be dancing professionally. It is truly like living a dream.”

And though her diet may have changed dramatically, she says: “I do not eat clean 100% of the time – I certainly still allow myself to enjoy my favorite foods but in moderation. I actually appreciate it more now. The days I do get a cheat meal you best believe I savor every bite of that pizza.”

To motivate others, Gallagher regularly posts before and after photos of herself as well as her workouts on Instagram. “I’m just a regular person who was unhappy with how I looked, and so I sought after my goals and made it happen,” says Gallagher, who continues to work hard to maintain her new healthy lifestyle. “I want anyone and everyone who is in the positon I was in to know that they can do it too.”

She continues: “It definitely feels amazing to say that my body is now more in shape at 26 than it was in high school. But what feels even more amazing is to know that what I have accomplished for myself has inspired many others to want to achieve their fitness goals too.”

As for feeling self-conscious in her clothing, those days are over.  “I definitely do not feel shy in a bathing suit anymore, or rocking crop tops,” she says. “I feel more confident in myself than I’ve ever felt. I’ve always loved the beach – even when I was bigger I still wore a 2 piece on the beach but I definitely feel way more comfortable now!”

 

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