Get Inspired by These Incredible Weight Loss Transformations
These men and women transformed their bodies through healthy eating and a dedication to fitness
Linda Migliaccio: Lost 189 Lbs.
Ever since high school, Migliaccio felt like she was "battling" her weight. She started dieting at age 15, and for years afterwards the New Jersey native, who has since been diagnosed with a binge eating disorder, would yo-yo back and forth — Migliaccio estimates she's lost and gained a significant amount of weight at least 12 times.
Her highest weight of 349 lbs., though, came at “the lowest point in my life, when my mom passed away,” she tells PEOPLE. While caring for her mom, Migliaccio had gained 200 lbs., and after a fall in her bathroom she tore her ACL and meniscus in her right knee. A surgeon said she was too heavy for him to repair the injury, and predicted that she would be wheelchair-bound in a year if she didn't lose weight.
"He did me the biggest favor of my life being blunt like that," she says. "It was what I needed to hear, and that's what turned me around.”
Migliaccio started a nutritarian diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts, and didn't cut out any foods, allowing herself to have a cheesesteak or ice cream when the craving struck. That 80/20 split of healthy and more indulgent foods helped her stay on track, along with her friends and her TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) weight loss support group. In two years, Migliaccio lost 189 lbs., and didn't even need knee surgery.
“I’m finally starting to tap into what makes me happy,” she says.
Ann Wulff: Lost 207 Lbs.
Wulff felt like pregnancy was "permission to just eat whatever I wanted,” the 39-year-old teacher tells PEOPLE. Through three pregnancies, she gained more than 100 lbs. and kept going from there, eventually hitting 360 lbs.
“I convinced myself that it didn’t matter if I ate unhealthily because I was already overweight,” she says. “I was busy with a full-time job and three little girls, so did it really matter if I eat the ice cream?”
But Wulff started to notice little issues — she lacked the energy to walk the five minutes to the park with her daughters, she had to twist into odd positions just to get the car seatbelt to buckle and she was struggling with constant headaches.
“I was in my mid-30s, and I realized that very quickly that there were going to be things that I absolutely could not do.”
Wulff joined WW, paying for a full year upfront, and focused on losing just 5 lbs. at a time to stay motivated. With healthy dinner swaps and walks around her neighborhood, she lost 207 lbs. in just over two years.
“I feel so much lighter, and I don’t mean physically,” she continues. “I just have so much more energy, I’m more positive, I’m more likely to put myself out there. I’m a better teacher, a better wife, a better mother. A better everything.”
Crystal Benes: Lost 201 Lbs.
Benes spent most of her life overweight. She was obese as a child, and by the time she was 25, Benes weighed in at 376 lbs.
“Every choice I made regarding what I fueled my body with and how much exercised I did was all up to me,” she says. “I had no one else to blame for my poor decisions that led me to being nearly 400 lbs.”
But that changed on April 2, 2018, when Benes decided to sign up for a local weight loss program in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Over 15 weeks, she dropped 100 lbs. thanks to a personal trainer, nutrition coaching and regular bootcamp classes. But the hardest part, she says, is when that ended and she had to do it on her own.
“I had to understand that this was no longer a diet, and that it had to become my lifestyle,” she says.
Benes kept up her daily workouts and nutrition plan, and by January, just 10 months later, she was down to 175 lbs. She’s maintained that now, with a few pounds of buffer, for the last year with the help of Real Appeal, a weight loss support program.
“My weight-loss journey came at a point in my life where my weight was something I faced every day and led me to a constant state of depression,” she says. “Through the struggle I encountered during my journey, I came to realize that the most difficult road had led to the most beautiful journey of my life.”
Marsha Parker: Lost 155 Lbs.
As the single mother of a newborn, Marsha Parker faced a lot of pressure — and it took a toll on her health. The Bronx, N.Y.-based Parker had to take a lower-paying job with flexible hours so she could take care of her daughter, Kumari, and any money she made went to feeding Kumari healthy meals while she ate $1.25 fried chicken.
“I was stressed and I think I was going through a bit of postpartum depression without realizing it,” she says. “Kumari would be asleep and I would be crying, eating chocolate pudding and drinking Pepsi. I would buy foods that I knew were bad, but they gave me comfort at the time.”
Her weight continued to climb. By the time Kumari turned five, Marsha was up to 290 lbs., had developed high-blood pressure and was pre-diabetic. It was Kumari who pushed her mom to lose weight.
“I would have headaches from the food and she would say, ‘I need you to be healthy, I’m really, really worried about you. Please eat healthy.’ I realized that my health was connected to her wellbeing.”
Parker started taking kickboxing classes and switched to a healthier diet, drinking green smoothies with Kumari and prioritizing lean proteins like fish, chicken and eggs. That, along with a newfound love of weightlifting, helped Parker lose 155 lbs. She now balances five-days-a-week workouts with her job as an online teacher, Ph.D. classes and homeschooling Kumari.
“Kumari saved my life,” Parker says.
Lindy Cellucci: Lost 150 Lbs.
After eight years of weighing nearly 300 lbs., Lindy Celluci reached her breaking point during a vacation with friends in 2014.
“There’s this place called Hopewell Rocks that goes down to the ocean floor, but you have to go down about 500 steps. I stood there and knew I couldn’t do it,” she tells PEOPLE. “I could see them laughing and talking, and I’m up top and I said two words to myself: ‘It’s time.’ ”
The mother of two began researching healthy recipes and tracking her steps with a Fitbit, and lost 82 lbs. in 16 months. That's when Celluci noticed a suspicious lump on her chest. She was quickly diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo rigorous chemotherapy treatment.
But Celluci was determined to maintain a healthier lifestyle. When she got the all-clear in 2017 from her doctor, started walking again and took Zumba, boot camp or aqua swim classes. The weight kept coming off.
“I lost weight every week for a full year,” she says. “I was just determined. If I put a bit on, which happened a couple of times after that first year, I didn’t let it derail me. You’re going to have ups and downs.”
Cellucci, now 60, hit 150 lbs. down in October, and credits her life to losing weight.
“I never would have found that lump if I hadn’t lost weight,” she says. “It saved my life twice. It saved me from having a heart attack, and it saved me because I found that lump.”
Kimberly Brown: Lost 109 Lbs.
When Brown, 34, decided to make a change and lose weight in 2015 she was coming off of a tough year — she had recently suffered a miscarrage, her childhood pet had just died and a broken ankle left her unable to walk on her own for several months.
"It got the best of me," Brown says.
Plus, her health was suffering — Brown had high blood pressure and frequent migranes, and her doctor thought that losing some of her 239 lbs. would help. Brown decided to join Nutrisystem, and she immediately had success, dropping 10 lbs. the first week and around 2.5 lbs. every week after. Four years later, she's healthier and 109 lbs. lighter.
"I currently weigh 130, I no longer have to take any medication for my blood pressure and I impress my doctor with my cholesterol and other levels every year on my physical!" she says. "I now have confidence in myself, courage to do anything, and pride in how far I have come!"
Jennifer Riveira: Lost 76 Lbs.
Jennifer Riveira was always tired and so had trouble keeping up with her young son.
When her doctor told her all of her tests came back normal, but her fast-food habit may be to blame, she realized it was time to make a change.
“In reality, I had just given up on myself,” she tells PEOPLE. “Everybody became more important than I did and fast-food became my way of life. It was fast. It was easy.”
So Riveira cut out greasy food and substituted in meal replacement shakes. She also got active.
Now she exercises regularly and can keep pace with her now 13-year-old son.
“The challenge itself is to feel better about yourself, to be the best version of you, whoever you are,” Riveira says.
Kristen McLaughlin: Lost 133 Lbs.
When McLaughlin "became sedentary" in college, the weight piled on, and it only got worse when she started dating a "larger guy."They would order in for almost every meal — pizzas, burrito bowls, cheeseburgers and fries — and rarely cook, which put McLaughlin at 270 lbs. She joined Jenny Craig in 2016 to lose weight, and managed to drop 60 lbs., but felt guilty that her MBA candidate-boyfriend had to fend for himself, and the weight went right back on.
Then in late 2017, five years into their relationship, McLaughlin's boyfriend became "distant," and said he had feelings for someone else.
“At that point I’m like, ‘This is cheating, this is dumb, I can’t do this anymore,’ and I said I was leaving,” she says.
In December alone, McLaughlin broke up with him, moved out of their apartment and happened to start a new job. It was overwhelming, but the clean slate she needed to lose weight for good. “I literally got rid of every excuse that I’ve ever had,” she says.
McLaughlin joined Jenny Craig again in Feb. 2017, and over the next two years lost 133 lbs. — nearly half her size — with the pre-made meals and a newfound love for group fitness classes and weight training. She now cooks for herself and maintains her weight loss.
“I think I’m more myself now, funnily enough, than I ever was the previous 30 years,” she says. “I say yes to things now, I’m more outgoing, I’m more likely to be social."
Mary Jane O'Toole: Lost 135 Lbs.
When O'Toole got engaged in 2016, she was thrilled to marry her longtime boyfriend, but their relationship hadn't been good for her health. After six years of fast food dinners and minimal exercise, she weighed 281 lbs. and was having knee problems — at 25 years old.
Plus, O'Toole was dreading buying a wedding dress at her size.
“I didn’t want to buy a plus-size wedding dress, because they cost way more than straight sizes,” she says. “I felt like I was paying this fat tax — I didn’t have the ability to buy affordable clothes because I was bigger.”
Along with her fiancé, O'Toole started tracking her meals and calories with the LoseIt! app. She dropped 75 lbs. in a year, and started incorporating exercise into her routine. By her wedding day in Nov. 2018, O'Toole had lost 135 lbs. and was able to buy the dress of her dreams — in a size 6.
“The ideal dress that I had in my head was cleavage-baring with a dramatic accent, and then I went with a long-sleeved dress that went up to my neck with a bare back. I had never pictured something fitted, but I felt awesome in it because I had done it and lost the weight,” she says.
O'Toole has kept up her weight loss habits, and though she's frustrated with the loose skin she's accumulated, she tries to focus on the "non-scale victories."
“The biggest one is being able to shop out of my friends’ closets — I had never been able to do that before,” she says. It’s so cool, it’s like I have double the closets, and what I had always dreamt about doing in high school!”
Randi Vasquez: Lost 80 Lbs.
Randi Vasquez was a "chubby" kid growing up, but it never bothered her — "I was always feeling myself," she says. That is, until she hit a "post-grad slump" when she couldn't find a job she loved and started drowning her sorrows in boozy brunches and fast food.
“I was getting heavier and heavier,” Vasquez, who eventually hit 240 lbs., says. “I started to notice that my confidence was going down, and I wasn’t motivated to do anything. It started to click that if I didn’t change my life that it would just get worse and worse.”
Vasquez knew that a major diet and lifestyle overhaul wouldn't stick, so she started small, and in fall 2014 found a gym class at her local YMCA that she loved. Within a few months she dropped 18 to 20 lbs., which inspired her to keep going. From there, Vasquez started cooking healthier meals and started doing Kayla Itsines' popular BBG workout plan.
“Year after year, month after month, I made small little goals and just kept going,” she says. “I hit 80 lbs. down in fall 2017. That was such a big moment for me."
Since then, Vasquez nailed another big goal — running a half marathon — and focuses on maintaining her weight.
"I don’t feel like my weight can hold me back anymore," she says. "I was happy before but there was so much I was held back from that I didn’t even realize.”
Tara McGinty: Lost 122 Lbs.
Tara McGinty will never forget the first time she was bullied about her weight. She was in 8th grade when a ketchup dispenser exploded on her clothes and she had to change into her friend's too-tight shirt.
"I never ate at school or in front of people again," McGinty, now 33, tells PEOPLE.
Instead, she would starve herself until 4 p.m. and then go home and eat "anything and everything" in sight until bedtime. McGinty's weight kept crawling up, eventually reaching 260 lbs.
But it wasn't until she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and in so much pain she was unable to hug her children, that she decided to change her lifestyle. She started using Isagenix dietary supplements, going to high-intensity interval training workouts and adopted a "clean-eating" diet to reduce inflammation. McGinty now weighs 138 lbs., and her arthritis pain is "under control."
"Snuggling and cuddling with [my kids] was so painful," she says. "Nowadays I get all the hugs I can and they can even wrap their little hands all the way around my body."
Alan Christiansen: Lost 317 Lbs.
At 538.8 lbs., Alan Christiansen knew his relationship with food was unhealthy. His typical lunchtime meal involved stopping at three fast-food restaurants to satisfy his cravings, totaling over 6,000 calories, and he struggled with everyday tasks.
"I couldn’t stand up in a shower for ten minutes,” he tells PEOPLE. “Even doing dishes and cooking required a chair.”
Still, it was coming home to his 3-and-5-year-old daughters pushed Christiansen to lose weight. So he committed himself to diet and exercise and signed up for Optavia, a coach-based wellness program. In just 18 months, he slimmed down to 221 lbs.
“I’m a better man, spouse, dad, employee, son, brother and friend to everyone around me,” he says. “I truly feel free from my chains that bound me for so many years — free to live the best life and take advantage of what life has to offer.”
Shamirum Benjamin: Lost 151 Lbs.
At nine years old, Shamirum Benjamin started sneaking pieces of pound cake from the fridge. The urge to hide her food continued through to her adult life, when she would often order entire meals from two fast food restaurants at a time and eat them in her car.
"I hid my worst eating habits — overeating or binging to the point of being in pain — so I couldn’t be embarrassed about how I ate in front of others. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t feel shame," Benjamin tells PEOPLE.
In February 2011, near her 29th birthday, the customer success manager for a software company hit her highest weight ever, and decided to signed up for WW, then called Weight Watchers.
"I changed my mindset," Benjamin says. Along with ditching her fast food meals and eating more fruits and vegetables, she also began walking and doing daily light exercise. Four years later, she had slimmed down from 291 lbs. to 140 lbs.
Now, she continues to maintain her weight one day at a time, and focuses on eating foods low on WW's point system or limiting portion sizes.
"I just seem to feel more alive in general," Benjamin says. "I get to be free and myself in a way I never thought I could when I was heavier."
Janine Johnston: Lost 145 Lbs.
When Janine Johnston tried on the wedding dress she had ordered online, she knew she had to make a change.
"I wanted to cry because of how I looked," the 36-year-old tells PEOPLE. "What was supposed to be a memorable, happy moment was depressing and embarrassing."
So in June 2016, weighing in at 299 lbs., Johnston set a goal to lose 100 lbs. by her wedding a year later. She started by making healthier meals, and set a daily step goal on her FitBit.
Once the pounds started to fall off, the health services worker joined a local kickboxing gym and supplemented her walking with high-intensity cardio classes.
Five days before her wedding, Johnston met her goal. But she didn't stop there: after her wedding, she continued working out and dieting to slim down to her current weight of 154 lbs.
"I’m a much happier person now," Johnston says. "Buying clothes is fun, cooking is fun, and my health is at the best its ever been."
Jenna Leveille: Lost 140 Lbs.
Although she had a major sweet tooth as a kid, Jenna Leveille always considered herself to be fit and athletic. But after she became pregnant with her daughter in 2000, the global sales director at SpaFinder continued to put on weight.
"I started trying quick fixes and that’s when the vicious crash diets really started," Leveille tells PEOPLE. "A few of them worked but just for a minute. I would lose 20lbs and gain back double."
When her weight hit 270lbs., Leveille considered getting weight loss surgery, but first wanted to try her hand at losing it naturally. She adopted a high protein, low carb diet and began exercising. "I ditched the sugar and put on my sneakers," she says.
She reached her goal weight of 130 lbs. in 2014, and created a Facebook community called "Getting Closer Everyday," meant to inspire people's weight loss journeys and provide support.
"The change for me has been more than I could ever dream of in this lifetime," she says. "It’s never too late to change your life no matter how long you’ve been stuck."
Nicole Ferrigno: Lost 204 Lbs.
Nicole Ferrigno grew up thinking "that chips were a normal side dish, that pasta was a thrice weekly dinner staple, and that fresh bread was a must for both lunch and dinner."
But by the time she was able to make more autonomous food choices, she tells PEOPLE she was a "habitual eater."
"I would consume one Big Mac, one McChicken and one large order of French fries [for lunch]," she says, and would sometimes add another medium order of fries.
At her heaviest, Ferrigno weighed 350 pounds, and when she was unpacking after moving back to her hometown, she saw an ad for Beachbody's "21 Day Fix," a program that combines portion-controlled eating with 30 minutes of exercise per day.
Ferrigno decided to try it out, and slowly but surely she slimmed down. By December 2017, she reached her goal weight of 146 pounds. Although she primarily sticks to a diet of vegetables and small portions of carbs, "nothing is off limits," and she still allows herself to splurge on bites of desserts or small bags of chips.
"I try dresses on and cannot believe that it is me," she says of her new body. "I am so happy with my decision to take care of myself."
Holly Wallis: Lost 162 Lbs.
As a kid, Holly Wallis says she was always "chubby," but it wasn't until high school that she became an "emotional eater." At home, “The rule was if you put food on your plate you had to finish it before asking to be excused from the table,” she tells PEOPLE.
"For more than half of my life I've been considered obese," Wallis tells PEOPLE.
At 48 years old, Wallis went in for her annual doctor visit weighing 308 lbs., and her doctor wrote on the after-visit summary that she was “morbidly obese,” and suggested options for how she could slim down. “It made me feel like he really cared about my health and wanted me to be healthy," she says.
That day, she set a goal to lose half her weight by her 50th birthday.
So she began a high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb keto diet and tracked her goals, eating habits and exercise in an app called “Lose It!” Wallis also opted to bike to work instead of drive, and do an additional 30 minutes of exercise each day. Now, at 146 lbs., Wallis is able to bike 29 miles and ran her first half marathon. “I feel empowered,” she says. “I could have given up, but I persevered.”
Scott Leopold: Lost 193 Lbs.
Scott Leopold attempted his first diet at 19, when he weighed 438 lbs. He was in college and often drank alcohol and finished the night off with fatty foods such as chicken wings or sweets and chips. "I wouldn’t think twice about eating two whole pizzas," he tells PEOPLE. After he lost his first 100 lbs., he and his friends "celebrated" at a buffet.
"I ate at least eight plates full of fried shrimp, crab legs, and hush puppies," he says. "It seemed reasonable at the time.”
The now 46-year-old says gradually, he put the weight back on and reached 363 lbs. He always considered dieting again, but it wasn’t until 2015 that he decided to make a lifestyle change since he couldn't catch up with his toddler. “I tried to run after her but couldn’t get above a moderate walk,” Leopold says. “All I could do was watch her.”
Leopold knew he wanted to be more active in his kids’ lives, so he discovered Real Appeal, a digital weight loss program that provides you with coaches, support groups and helps set daily goals for diet and exercise. He stuck to a strict 800-900 calorie diet, (and gradually increased it to 1,300) and went running or walking every day.
Now, at 170 lbs., Leopold is able to run 5Ks with his daughters and go on hikes. “I’m happier, healthier, more energetic and far more active,” he says. “I can keep up with my girls and be there for them in a way I never could before.”
Kara Cline: Lost 95 Lbs.
When 32-year-old Kara Cline started experiencing panic attacks after having her second child, she knew she needed to make a major life change to be healthier for her family.
Cline told PEOPLE she worked out vigorously in high school but when she went away to college, her routine changed.
“I became complacent and the weight just kept piling on,” the certified public accountant says. “I didn’t really work out, didn’t go for walks and I just hung out with my friends and ate a lot of food I shouldn’t have eaten.”
In September 2016, after spending a few months reforming her diet, Cline discovered Daily Burn, a health and fitness app that provides workout videos and nutritional guidance.
“They’ve got a bunch of different programs you can choose, but then they also have the Daily 365 workout,” Cline explains. “It’s a 30-minute streaming workout that changes every single day. I really liked that it kept me intrigued and I didn’t get bored.”
Cline says she did the workouts at home in her living room three to four times a week while her kids, ages 5 and 2, were nearby.
“Since they were quick workouts, I fit them in whenever I had time with little ones running around,” she says. “I focused on interval training as well as cardio and body-weight exercises. The trainers always offered modifications, so it felt more personable.”
After losing nearly 100 lbs., Cline is now proud of her 185-lb. figure.
“That time was an emotional roller coaster. I moved to a new city. I kind of completely redid my whole entire life, but all for the better. I feel great and am no longer ashamed by my weight,” she says. “It really boosted my confidence and my comfort level to just try everything and live a more active, healthy lifestyle.”
Dr. Kevin Gendreau: Lost 125 Lbs.
Dr. Kevin Gendreau's motivation for losing weight was rooted in tradgey.
“When my sister was diagnosed with an aggressive, rare form of cancer, I decided to change my life,” Dr. Gendreau, who had reached 300 lbs. by consuming “a diet full of bread, pasta and chips," told PEOPLE. “For me, being obese was a choice. How could I literally eat myself to death while my poor sister was fighting for her life?”
The primary care physician started on a high fat, low carb diet and tracked his progress through MyFitness Pal.
“As my sister’s condition worsened, I became more motivated than ever to eat healthfully because I knew my niece [Sophia, now 7] and nephew [Henry, now 3] would need me to be at my best,” said Dr. Gendreau. Sadly, his sister passed away in June 2017.
On his new whole food diet, he saw "astonishing" results by eliminating processed carbs and sticking to fruits, vegetables, nuts, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, non-fat Greek yogurt, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and non caloric spices and seasoning.
After his weight hit a plateau, he turned to intermittent fasting, which helped him shed the last 50 lbs. of the 125 lbs. he lost.
Now, he eats from only 12pm to 8pm every day. Outside of that window he allows himself black tea, black coffee and water.
He even began recommending his routine to patients. “Intermittent fasting has been life changing for many of my pre-diabetic and diabetic patients,” Dr. Gendreau said. But he cautioned, “Intermittent fasting is safe for most people, but not everyone. You should definitely talk to your own doctor before starting any diet or exercise plan.”
Brianna Bernard: Lost 107 Lbs.
When Brianna Bernard got pregnant she "used it it as an excuse" to indulge in comfort foods.
"In reality, you’re only supposed to eat a couple hundred extra calories a day, but I was eating 1,000 extra,” Bernard, 32, tells PEOPLE for the 2018 “How We Lost 100 Lbs.” issue. “I assumed it would all fall off pretty easily after the baby was born.”
But after giving birth to her son, now 5, Bernard continued her poor eating habits and "didn't take the time for self care," she said.
Bernard eventually signed up with a personal trainer at the gym, Bodies by Burgoon, and started training two to three times a week in weight lifting, pylometrics, boxing and more. She also revamped her diet, ditching her processed, carb-heavy meals for lean proteins, healthy fats and vegetables.
A year later, she had dropped 100 lbs. and started powerlifting competitively. She even became a trainer at the gym that helped her lose weight.
"I feel like a completely different person, and I am in so many ways,” she says. “Not just physically — that’s obvious — but the way I feel in my mind. It’s hard to even look back. It feels like a lifetime ago. Now I feel like there’s nothing I can’t do. If I can lose 100 lbs., I can do anything.”
Rachel Saintfort: Lost 121 Lbs.
Rachel Saintfort had never let her weight be a source of stress.
"In high school I hit 200 lbs., but I was blessed to be a confident person," the Lakeland, Florida native tells PEOPLE for the 2018 “How We Lost 100 Lbs.” issue.
However, she continued to gradually gain weight and reached her highest, 291 lbs., after the birth of her daughter in 2007.
Saintfort decided to try dieting, but nothing stuck. Then, in January 2017, she got a wake up call. Her daughter, now 10 years old, said a classmate had called Saintfort "fat."
“She looked so sad, and she’s trying to act like it wasn’t a big deal. At that moment it hit me that she’s suffering, and she’s being picked on or laughed at because of my laziness or my unhealthy choices,” Saintfort says. “That definitely inspired me to get it together, because I didn’t want her to feel that way.”
The case manager, 32, decided to cut out fast food and soda and started doing daily 3-mile walks around the lake in her town.
Less than 12 months later, she reached her goal. “I cried,” she says. “It was an amazing feeling."
Gwilym Pugh: Lost 93 Lbs.
At 280 lbs., Gwilym Pugh was overweight, out of shape and living a sendentary life.
After a "5 to 7 year" weight loss journey, which included a lot of "trial and error," Pugh, 33, lost 93 lbs. and found a new career.
"Due to injuries, I’ve struggled with high-intensity work, but I’ve found low-intensity cardio pre-breakfast has been great," says Pugh, who now sees an osteopath and a trainer, and aims for 20,000 steps per day.
As for life as an in-demand model and social media influencer: "This life is something I had never even thought to dream of," says the London-based Pugh. "Every aspect of my life has improved, from physical and mental health to personal and professional relationships."
Mariah Stolfi: Lost 84 Lbs.
A self-described "binge eater," Mariah Stolfi reached 150 lbs. by the 5th grade.
The Wisconsin native also struggled with health issues. In her early teens she was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and sleep apnea. “It is extremely difficult to lose weight and maintain weight loss with PCOS,” says Stolfi, who hit her highest weight of 286 lbs. at age 18. “And the lack of good sleep caused me to be lethargic, which meant I didn’t have the energy to work out.”
In July 2017, Stolfi, 19, decided to undergo vertical sleeve gastrectomy surgery.
Now down 84 lbs. – she hopes to lose an additional 60-70 lbs. – she is sharing her journey on social media.
“Once I discovered the weight loss surgery Instagram community I knew I had to be a part of it,” says Stolfi, whose candid photos and videos have garnered her more than 14,000 followers on Instagram and YouTube combined.
As for her best advice to those struggling with their weight: “This journey is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical. If you don’t fix your mindset you will not succeed on your weight loss journey.”
Kathleen Golding: Lost 178 Lbs.
Growing up, Kathleen Golding had always been overweight. By 21, she had turned to food as a "coping mechanism" while wrestling with anxiety and depression.
"I was stuck in a constant cycle of daily binging," the New Bern, North Carolina resident, whose highest weight was 331 lbs., tells PEOPLE. "I was eating fast food for every meal and enormous quantities each time."
She finally decided to make a change and turned to gastric bypass surgery, which she underwent in June 2016.
“For some reason, weight loss surgery is seen as 'cheating' or being weak, but for me, I found strength in being able to say 'I can’t do this on my own. I want to be healthy, but I need help,'" says Golding, now 26.
After the surgery, the weight began to "melt off," says Golding, who eventually dropped 178 lbs. by making healthy dietary changes and exercising.
Now, Golding says she is finally at peace with her body. "I have some loose skin and it definitely has its imperfections, but I worked hard for this body," says Golding, who also documented her weight loss journey on Instagram. "I spent so much time hating it but I’ve realized that this is the only body I’ve got and I’m going to take care of it."
Bonnie Wiles: Lost 162 Lbs.
Growing up, Bonnie Wiles ate a lot of starchy foods, and by 18, she was over 200 lbs.
"I tried diets but kept gaining weight after getting married and having four children," Wiles, 58, tells PEOPLE in the 2018 Half Their Size issue. "It wasn't until my first grandson was born in 2011 that I committed to get healthy."
The Fayetteville, Arkansas, resident joined TOPS, a weight loss support group, and started using MyFitnessPal.
"It tells me if I'm overeating and helps keep track of how much I walk—usually 50 miles a week," says Wiles, now 148 lbs.
And she is loving her new lifestyle.
"When I was heavy, I had to ask for a seatbelt extender on a plane. Now I can't wait to go with my family to Hawaii, where I can show off my favorite body part—my arms."
Jeremiah Peterson: Lost 92 Lbs.
After a family hiking excursion proved too taxing for his 290-lb. frame, Jeremiah Peterson decided to change his lifestyle.
"I remember being bent over heaving just trying to catch my breath," the Missoula, Montana-resident tells PEOPLE. "When I looked up, I saw my wife and three kids [10, 8 and 7] easily hiking, talking and laughing with each other — without me. It was a hard-hitting moment."
He entered a transformation challenge for motivation. Then, switched over to a keto-based diet consisting of healthy fats, lean protein and green vegetables, started taking twice-daily hour-long hikes, and lifting weights.
Peterson, now 198 lbs., ended up dropping 82 lbs. during the 150-day transformation contest, called the 1st Phorm Transphormation Challenge — and he won the $50,000 grand prize.
He says: "I feel like I have drive and ambition like I have never had before in my life — and I’m almost 40!"
Robin Janes: Lost 280 Lbs.
Janes, 28, can't remember a time when she was ever small. “Not even in a baby picture,” she tells PEOPLE for the 2018 Half Their Size issue. “I was always overweight, and it continued through adulthood.” By then, Janes couldn't fit on a normal scale. “I went to my friend’s family business where they weigh huge industrial tubs,” she recalls. “That’s how I found out I was 450 lbs.”
Her real turning point, though, was when she realized she could no longer fit in the desks at her college, and had to put her education on hold.
Ready for a change, Janes started with Isagenix meal replacement shakes, and taught herself to cook healthy meals. She also began working out slowly, with short walks and swims. Now 280 lbs. lighter, Janes loves playing volleyball and hitting the gym, and is working on her degree once again.
“I’m back in school. I can work anywhere. I’m not limited,” Janes says. “I feel like before all the doors were closed for me. Now they’re all open.”
Melody Perdue: Lost 180 Lbs.
As a child, food was one of the few constants in Perdue's life.
“My mother wasn’t able to raise me fully,” Perdue, 34, tells PEOPLE in the 2018 Half Their Size issue. “I always associated food with happiness. I thought, ‘Food is not going to leave me.’ ”
With a diet of six to eight chocolate bars a day, fried chicken and macaroni and cheese, Perdue was 308 lbs. by age 29, and was pre-diabetic, had sleep apnea and a mild form of polycycstic ovary syndrome. But it wasn't until a life-threatening car accident in 2012 that she decided to make a change.
“I was on my sister’s couch, and I sat there and I cried to God,” she recalls. “I said, ‘I’m sick and tired of feeling like this.’ ”
Perdue signed up for Optavia, a packaged meal plan, and learned how to eat balanced meals of a protein and three servings of vegetables. That along with 30-minute walks helped her lose 180 lbs.
“Now I have so much energy,” she says. “I was able to ride a bike for the first time at 33.”
Megan Rachow: Lost 170 Lbs.
Rachow, 30, remembers the exact day she decided it was time for a change.
“I had been living a life of obesity for a few years and was exhausted both physically and mentally,” the physical therapist tells PEOPLE. “I felt like I had gained so much weight that I would never get it back off. I still remember the day that the switch flipped for me — July 19, 2014 — and I decided I was done living like this.”
The Medina, Ohio, resident says until that point she was drinking five or more cans of soda a day, eating large quantities of food and stopping at the drive-thru daily.
“Exercise was out of the question as I could barely walk up the stairs to my apartment,” she says.
Spurred into action, Rachow says she started small, first cutting out soda and only eating food she cooked at home.
“The weight starting coming off,” she says. “I remember I lost 9 lbs. my first week. After I had lost 100 lbs., I started trying more adventurous exercise. I became fascinated by fitness and seeing what new things I could accomplish with my body. I do things that I never dreamed were possible like running races, lifting heavy weights, and completing a sprint triathlon.”
Mike Bauler: Lost 225 Lbs.
After Bauler's father-in-law went on life support following a heart attack in 2010, the Madison, Wisc., resident said he knew he needed to change his own ways.
“At this time I was 28, had two young boys, Eli (2) and Carson (6 months),” he says. “I recall all of the family standing around crying and sad. This was the trigger for me as I knew if I didn’t get my life together soon, I would be the next person in that hospital bed.”
A few weeks after his father-in-law was admitted to the hospital, Bauler, who weighed 450 lbs. at his heaviest, signed up at a local gym. He first focused on exercising and eventually made changes to his diet, sticking to 1,500 calories a day and smaller portion sizes for one year.
Now the 35-year-old runs everyday and has completed endurance competitions like Ironman and Ragnar.
“I lost most of my weight (200 lbs.) in about 18 months so I have had to stay busy to keep it off,” he says. “I am extremely competitive and have an amazing network of friends and the From Fat To Finish Line (FFTFL) community. I like to join training groups and training clubs because of the friendships and accountability it creates. It would be easy for me to blow off a 10-mile run at 5:30 on a Friday morning, but I know I have two friends meeting me, who I would never let down.”
Katia Powell: Lost 170 Lbs.
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 was overweight as a child, eating a diet full of processed foods and little water and vegetables. In 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, 38, who is now a holistic health practitioner and fitness trainer who has founded the company Black Girls Nutrition.
Powell joined her local YMCA, gradually increasing her workouts until she was going 4 to 5 days a week for 60 to 90 minutes. She also changed her eating habits, replacing sugary sweets with fresh fruit and vegetables. Within the first six months she lost 100 lbs., and has since lost another 70 lbs.
Powell, who has kept the weight off for 12 years, says she now 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.
Sara Cloutier: Lost 151 Lbs.
Cloutier, 36, always felt like an outsider growing up. She weighed 220 lbs. in high school, and never enjoyed shopping or playing sports with her friends.
“I cannot remember a time when I didn’t feel like I was the biggest girl in the group, and I hated it,” Cloutier tells PEOPLE for the 2018 Half Their Size issue. “I was always the odd one out.”
After her first pregnancy with her daughter in 2003, Cloutier hit 301 lbs., and was ready for a change. "I didn't want to die," she says. "I wanted to watcher grow up and give her healthy habits." By working out with a trainer and choosing healthier meals, she successfully lost 151 lbs., and maintained a healthy weight through her second pregnancy in 2008.
As she worked to get back into a postpartum fitness routine, Cloutier discovered Zumba, and fell in love with group fitness classes. Three weeks after her first class, she became a certified trainer, and started teaching classes. By 2013, the demand had gotten so large that she opened her own fitness studio, and now runs it along with her full-time job.
Cloutier is now getting ready for another big change — her third child.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about gaining the weight back, because gaining weight is still scary, and having to purposely do it is scary,” she says. “But knowing the difference between a healthy pregnancy and an unhealthy pregnancy is huge.”