This Nurse Lost 190 Lbs. After Getting Diagnosed with Diabetes and 'Hitting Rock Bottom'

Emily Gonzales felt hypocritical “lecturing” her patients about their health when she was not prioritizing her own

For years, Emily Gonzales worried about her weight and how it was affecting her health, but she put off making a change.

"I would go to the doctor and be like, 'As long as I don't have diabetes, it's fine,' " she tells PEOPLE for the Half Their Size issue.

Gonzales, 35, was diagnosed with high blood pressure at age 24, and then sleep apnea, but continued to push aside her concerns. As a travel labor and delivery nurse, she was still able to move around the country to any hospitals in need, as well as go on cruises and other vacations.

"My size wasn't interfering with traveling or doing the things I love," she says.

But that changed in 2019. Gonzales was flying to her hometown Alabama for a doctor's appointment and at 350 lbs., found that she couldn't buckle her seatbelt for the first time. Then, at that doctor's appointment, she got confirmation of what she had feared: She had type 2 diabetes.

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Emily Gonzales.

"It felt like hitting rock bottom," she says. "I knew diabetes was going to eventually happen to me. My dad died at 43 and it was absolutely weight-related, and I was headed down that path — I ate crap, and I was not active at all."

Gonzales started feeling like a hypocrite at work, where she would be "lecturing" pregnant women about their diabetes and high blood pressure. "I felt like I was full of crap, telling them what they should be doing when I'm not doing it myself," she says.

Gonzales flew back to Los Angeles, where she currently lives, and "sulked for a few weeks." Then in May 2019, while grabbing lunch, her cousin mentioned to Gonzales that she had lost 30 lbs. using Noom.

"I'm like, well, what do I have to lose besides 200 lbs.?" Gonzales says. She signed up, and then three weeks in went on a planned cruise — and still lost 4 lbs.

"That's when I realized that I was something that fit with my lifestyle and still allowed me to eat normal foods," she says.

Gonzales liked how the app has food tracking and calorie counting, but it starts out with a courses on how to build healthy habits slowly, and by analyzing how she ate and where she could improve.

"I learned how to eat foods in balance and moderation," she says. "You're not going zero to 60 and cutting out sugar and carbs. You're going 2 miles per hour, and then the next week you're going 5. It's just building small habits over time, which helped change the big picture."

Just by slowly changing her eating habits and incorporating hour-long walks three to four times a week, Gonzales lost 100 lbs. in her first seven months on the program. "The whole thing was pretty consistent," she says. "Even though I was making small changes, the more I lost the more active I got and I never really plateaued."

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Emily Gonzales. Cheyenne Ellis

Gonzales initially set a goal of getting under 200 lbs., which she hit after a year on Noom. But she kept losing, and by August 2020 she was down to 160 lbs., where she comfortably sits now. Gonzales hikes regularly, lifts weights several times a week and has run two half marathons.

"Sometimes I'll look down at my legs and be like, 'Oh my god, those are my muscles?' " she says, laughing.

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Emily Gonzales. Cheyenne Ellis

The biggest change, though, is that she no longer has diabetes, or high blood pressure, or sleep apnea. Gonzales was on four blood pressure medications, along with four diabetes pills a day plus a weekly injectable, and is now off of all of them.

"I didn't do it for a number on a scale," she says. "That was a benefit, but I just wanted to be healthy."

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