After reaching her highest weight of 350 lbs. at 26 years old, Boston resident Katia Powell realized her own health didn’t reflect her dreams of becoming a medical doctor.
Powell says as a child she was overweight, eating a diet full of processed foods and little water and vegetables.
“While growing up I was teased a lot for my weight, and that only made me want to find comfort in the food I ate,” she says. “At an early age, my doctor told my mom and myself to put me on a diet. I remember leaving the office in tears and it making an imprint on my life.”
While attending college, Powell says she dramatically gained more weight. “I walked into my apartment, stared at my reflection in the mirror and asked, ‘Who is that?’ It was a defining moment for me,” says Powell, who is now a holistic health practitioner and fitness trainer who has founded the company Black Girls Nutrition.
Without any gimmicks — just through healthy eating and exercise — our 2018 Half Their Size stars shed hundreds of pounds. For more on their stories and weight loss tips, pick up a copy of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
Powell, now 38, says she decided to join her local YMCA, gradually increasing her workouts until she was going 4 to 5 days a week for 60 to 90 minutes. Within the first six months she lost 100 lbs. and has since lost another 70 lbs.
Powell says she also loves cycling, dance and yoga, and “if I am unable to attend the gym, I run or take a walk outside, or workout at home and do a high intensity interval training. My workout routine also includes meditation,” she says.
She also changed her eating habits, replacing sugary sweets with fresh fruit and vegetables, which has helped her to keep the weight off for more than 12 years.
WATCH THIS: Half Their Size: How a Near-Fatal Car Accident Motivated This Woman to Lose 180 Lbs.
But losing weight has had its own challenges — she says she often faces criticism from her family.
“They thought I was too skinny,” she says. “They tried to feed me, and plates used to show up at my house on Sundays. I let other’s definition of me be my stopping point, and I had to change my mindset. I cannot keep digging my grave with my fork.”
Now Powell says she has gained a new sense of confidence.
“I am lighter, healthier from the inside to the outside, more energy, and ready to take on my dreams and goals,” she says. “Before I felt trapped inside of my body, as I knew there was a fabulous diva covered up by the excess pounds.”