Kiah Twisselman spent years thinking that she couldn't fight her "genetics," but a fresh mindset helped her get healthy

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Kiah Twisselman’s weight-loss journey started nearly two years ago, but her method is almost tailor-made for life in quarantine. She’s never set foot in a gym, she doesn’t go to weekly support meetings and her food often comes straight from the source: her family’s seven-generation cattle ranch.

“Quarantine life hasn’t looked too different from everyday life,” Twisselman, 27, tells PEOPLE.

But her current situation is certainly different from what it was two years ago. At that point, in 2018, Twisselman was living in Kentucky and working as the Director of Consumer Affairs at the Kentucky Beef Council. While she had a great job and a loving boyfriend who is now her fiancé, years of struggling with her weight had left her at her heaviest: 285 lbs.

“I really battled with obesity for my entire life,” she says. “I went through a lot of fad diets, and it was just this terrible cycle where I would lose weight, but then go off the diet and gain it all back and then some.”

kith twisselman
Credit: Courtesy Brent Burchett(2)

Twisselman had resigned herself to thinking that she couldn’t change.

“I believed for a really long time that it was just my genetics, that I just got dealt a bad hand and there was nothing I could do about it,” she says.

kiah twisselman
Kiah Twisselman
| Credit: Courtesy Brent Burchett

But aspects of her job motivated her to do things differently.

“In my position with the Kentucky Beef Council, I was in charge of their nutrition program, and I had to stand up in front of a group of registered dieticians, a group of influencers, a group of teachers, and I had to tell them about the nutritional benefits of beef, and it made me so uncomfortable,” she says. “I felt so hypocritical up there sharing about the amazing benefits of beef and not looking like an image of health. And I was like, ‘I want to walk the talk.’ ”

For more on Twisselman, pick up a copy of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

Then, during a flight to a work conference — which was already “a reminder that I don’t fit in society physically,” because Twisselman needed a seatbelt extender on plane rides — she read motivational speaker Rachel Hollis’ book, Girl, Wash Your Face.

“That book was kind of my wake-up call to me that if you want to change your life, or live a better life, or create this life that you always dream about, then it is 100 percent in your control and nobody else's,” she says.

Twisselman decided to follow Hollis’ Five to Thrive plan, which focuses on adopting five simple habits: She started waking up an hour earlier, moved her body for 30 minutes a day, drank half her body weight in ounces of water, began daily journaling and practiced intuitive eating.

“I wasn’t going to completely overhaul my entire lifestyle,” she says. “I was going to make baby steps and see what happens.”

Over the next few months — from Oct. 2018 to Jan. 2019 — Twisselman lost 25 lbs., which encouraged her to keep going. She set a new goal of losing 100 lbs. by Oct. 2019. Her weight loss continued to be “fairly steady, but I definitely hit some plateaus,” she says.

“It was about continuing to make those baby step changes forward and not getting too comfortable in my routine,” she says. Twisselman started doing harder workout videos — all on YouTube — and experimenting with different healthy foods to give herself a boost.

But the biggest change, she says, was her mindset, especially when she would slip up.

“When I tried to diet before, if I messed up, I would say, ‘See, you failed, you always fail.’ But this time, I started from a place of self-love,” she says. “I had to love myself enough to show up and do the hard things each day, and when I failed I was more willing to forgive myself and say, ‘What can I learn from this? How can I use this experience to continue moving forward?’ ”

This time around, Twisselman hit her goal and lost 103 lbs. in one year, plus another 19 lbs. over the last seven months. She’s since moved back to her family’s cattle ranch in San Luis Obispo, California, with her fiancé and is working as a life and health coach and running her own marketing company. And now, she says, the number on the scale doesn’t matter so much.

“It’s less about hitting a number or a goal weight and more about showing up and loving myself today,” she says.