Smith, 20, reflects on her weight-loss journey, now that her skin surgeries are behind her

By Stephanie Emma Pfeffer
Updated December 30, 2015 09:00 AM
Credit: Courtesy Kaitlyn Smith; David McClister blogger Kaitlyn Smith may have lost 208 lbs., but she’s not resting easy just yet.

“I am in the middle of this journey, and I still have a long way to go,” says the Portland, Tenn.-based Smith, who dropped the weight naturally by changing her diet and exercise habits, only to be left with loose, hanging skin that made her self-conscious, rubbed raw and got infected.

The story of Smith’s amazing weight loss journey – she weighed 414 lbs. in high school – was first published in PEOPLE’s Half Their Size issue last year. Miami-based plastic surgeon Michael Salzhauer (known as Dr. Miami) read about her progress and offered to donate his services to help Smith shape her new body. In the past seven months he removed loose skin from her stomach, chest, back, hips, arms and legs in three separate procedures.

The surgical process and its recovery is long and arduous, says Salzhauer. “But Kaitlyn has been a great patient and I am very proud of her. She is an inspiration.”

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

Next on Smith’s agenda? Hitting the gym full-force once she gets the doc’s OK – but only after she has fully recovered. “I am trying to focus on healing, accepting my body and loving myself rather than obsessing over a number on the scale,” says Smith, 20, who doesn’t want to weigh herself until the swelling has gone down from her final surgery in September, and until she restarts her exercise routine.

For more amazing transformations and the hottest Hollywood slimdowns, check out PEOPLE’s Half Their Size issue, on newsstands now.

“Since my first surgery in February, I haven t been able to work out like I used to, which is a mental struggle, she admits. “But I try not to be too hard on myself.”

Watch How Susan & Steve Lost Half Their Size!

In the meantime she sticks to clean eating – mostly veggies and protein – plus one or two carbs early in the day. She relies on her family, boyfriend and social media fans to keep her spirits up, and tries to stay positive by focusing on the amazing progress she has made.

“Now that the skin is gone,” she says, “I feel beautiful. I feel like a whole new person.”