Haley Smith decided to lose weight after being "ashamed" of the way her body looked in proposal photos

Haley Smith was overjoyed when her now-husband Matt popped the question last year – until she saw photos of the proposal.

“I saw them and didn’t even recognize myself,” Smith, 24, tells PEOPLE. “I cried because this was one of the happiest moments of my life, but I was just so ashamed. I didn’t understand how Matt could want to be with someone like me. After seeing those, I knew I needed to change.”

The graduate student in psychology decided to make “slow habit changes” to effectively lose weight.

“I had tried drastic diets or workouts in the past and always failed after a matter of weeks,” says Smith. “With the small changes, I would just pick two habits and after about a week or two of sticking to it, I’d pick two more.”

Hayley Smith
Credit: Source: Hayley Smith/Instagram

The Amarillo, Texas-based newlywed started with not eating after 8 p.m. and only eating out twice a week. Then she began logging her food and tracking her water intake.

“Tackling those small, feasible changes made snowballing into running three times a week and adding strength training so much more doable,” she says.

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In just over a year, Smith lost about 110 lbs. – but it definitely wasn’t easy for her to always stay on track.

“Motivation has been such a tricky thing,” explains Smith. “Even with the small habit changes, I go through so many cycles of being bored or discouraged. When I am, I really try to find different ways of staying motivated. For example, I have decorated my scale, I hang motivational quotes and signs all over my house, I love daily goal charts that I can physically check off having completed a task, I bought a Fitbit, and one of my biggest motivations has been starting my fitness Instagram account. It really helps to keep me mindful of all of this while being held accountable.”

Her hard work paid off – last week, Smith got married in the wedding dress of her dreams and felt more confident than ever.

“It is so surreal,” she says. “I thought for sure I would get married in a long-sleeve ball gown dress to hide my whole body, but I ended up picking a strapless mermaid dress. I felt so beautiful in it! Instead of being self-conscious and hiding or sweating the whole time, I was able to feel confident, relax, enjoy my family and friends.”

“I honestly never thought I would feel so happy and carefree about myself on my wedding day,” Smith adds.