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After losing 208 lbs. naturally, Smith gets her last skin removal surgery – and discusses her journey, her future and fat shaming

By Becky Randel
Updated September 21, 2015 03:00 PM
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Credit: Courtesy Kaitlyn Smith

After losing 208 lbs. through diet and exercise, PEOPLE.com blogger Kaitlyn Smith underwent her third surgery to remove excess skin on Sunday. “The scars don’t bother me,” she says of the culmination of her journey. “They just show how far I’ve come.”

Smith, who turned 20 in August, spoke to PEOPLE as she prepared for her final operation. “I’m nervous and anxious, but ready,” said the Portland, Tenn.-based Smith. “There are a lot of emotions.”

Like the first two procedures performed earlier this year – which removed excess skin from her stomach, arms and more – Sunday’s operation was performed by Dr. Michael Salzhauer. The Miami surgeon, (known as Dr. Miami), originally agreed to perform Kaitlyn’s surgeries pro bono after reading about the teen’s amazing, all-natural weight-loss journey in PEOPLE’s “Half Their Size” issue.

Sunday’s surgery took five hours and removed roughly 20 lbs. of skin. “It’s the hardest for her to recover from because it’s such a big incision along the legs,” says Salzhauer.

Before going under, Smith shared how the skin removal process has changed her, as well as some new experiences she has had along the way. On this trip she actually got all the way into the ocean for the first time. “I’d never been far out where it covered my whole body,” she says. And it was her first time in a bathing suit since she was a little girl. While she was nervous to be so exposed, all went well. “In your mind I guess you think people are going to stare at you and laugh and make comments, but no one cared,” she says.

Recuperation from this surgery will take 8 to 10 weeks and will require four drainage tubes. Thankfully, she will have a support network by her side, including her sister Kristen, her mom Kim, her trainer-coach Kina Wald and her boyfriend. While Smith knows it will be a long road, she can’t wait until this is all behind her. “It’s exciting to think after this recovery I’ll be back to working out and toning this body that I’ve worked so hard for.”

Smith is also eager to begin the next phase of life after spending the last three years so committed to her health. “I was going to start college, but instead I focused on my weight loss. Now I’m ready to start my career,” she explains. Smith has been so motivated by her journey, in fact, that she plans to study to become a personal trainer and dietician.

She won’t have to wait long to help others, though – she’s already started an online weight-loss coaching group to aid people with their own transformations. And with 55,000 Instagram followers, she says she receives hundreds of messages a day from people inspired by her story and her courage. “Throughout my journey I’ve been open and honest. I put the raw material out there, and people connect with it,” she explains.

Smith doesn’t shy away from the emotional aspect of weight loss, either. “The hardest part for me isn’t the physical work or eating healthy, it’s working through the inner demons and critical thoughts about myself.” Recently she started speaking at high schools. Healthy living, she says, “starts when you are younger. There’s no reason a high schooler can’t start to take control of his or her own life.”

Smith is so sympathetic to the challenges that accompany weight issues than she offered a compassionate opinion on the recent fat-shaming video from comedian Nicole Arbour. “When these negative videos come out, people don’t realize that you’re already so hard on yourself, you don’t need someone else doing it,” she explains. “A lot of people want to start their journeys, but feel like they aren’t worthy enough or they don’t mean enough to do it.”

Luckily, Smith’s own future is looking bright. In addition to her educational plans, she’s working on a book and hopes to one day start a family. “I want to be one of those active, fun moms,” she says. “I feel like this chapter of my journey is closing, and the next one is opening.”

This Woman Lost 208 Lbs. – Here’s What She’s Doing Next