Tara Kavanagh lost 145 lbs. by making healthy swaps and using Jillian Michaels' app
Credit: Courtesy Tara Kavanagh

Tara Kavanagh has several obese family members, so she always believed she was “destined to be fat.”

The 5’7″ self-employed mom-of-three from Rapid City, South Dakota, 35, was already over 200 lbs. when she started having children, but her pregnancy weight brought her up to 304 lbs. After having her second child, she knew she wanted to make a change.

“I was a young mother of two little girls and in my early 20s when I decided I didn’t want to live the rest of my life obese and unhealthy anymore,” she tells PEOPLE. “I wanted to be an active mother and be able to play with my kids. I also wanted to live my life, not just exist. I wanted to experience new things and felt my size was holding me back.”

Some of Kavanagh’s family members had opted to undergo weight loss surgery, but had all ended up gaining their weight back. So she became determined to go a different route.

“For a long time I felt surgery was my only option for how big I was — there was no way I could lose so much weight on my own — but after seeing my relatives gain their weight back, I knew it wasn’t about the surgery,” she says. “It had to be about lifestyle, and I was determined to figure it out to prevent myself from spending all that money and going through all the pain of surgery for something that I never saw work long-term for anyone I knew who had it done.”

Tara KavanaghCredit: Courtesy Tara Kavanagh
Tara Kavanagh before
| Credit: Courtesy Tara Kavanagh

Kavanagh admits she had never stuck to workout routines in the past because she would get bored before seeing any results. When she started doing Jillian Michaels’ workouts (available on her app and FitFusion), she finally found a fitness program that she could stick to.

“Jillian’s workouts are always fun and I look forward to doing them,” she says. “Right when I would be getting the hang of one workout, another would come out, so I never got bored. Over the years I have also appreciated that there are a variety of intensity levels to most moves, so no matter what weight I was at I could get a good workout. I still do the same workouts as a fit person that I did as a 300-lb. person, I just up the intensity level now to get my killer workout!”

Tara KavanaghCredit: Courtesy Tara Kavanagh
Tara Kavanagh
| Credit: Courtesy Tara Kavanagh

She also began paying more attention to what she ate.

“I used to eat because I was bored,” says Kavanagh. “I never thought about what I was eating, how many calories were in it, the quality of it, etc. I ate because it made me feel good.”

FROM PEN: Half Their Size: Find Out How This Mom-of-Two Keeps Off The 133 Lbs. She Lost

Initially, Kavanagh ate the same foods she always had, but started decreasing her portions.

“I knew if I changed too much too fast I would get overwhelmed and quit,” she says. “After the weight started to come off, it was addictive for me to learn healthier ways of eating. I turned my focus on calories after that, living by what I learned from Jillian: my calories in needed to be less than my calories out. I used her app along with a fitness tracker, and the weight came off so easily!”

Tara KavanaghCredit: Courtesy Tara Kavanagh
Tara Kavanagh
| Credit: Courtesy Tara Kavanagh

Now Kavanagh focuses on eating unprocessed, non-GMO and organic as much as possible, and follows the 80/20 rule when it comes to eating.

“I still need my treats once in a while!” she says.

Losing 145 lbs. has given Kavanagh a whole new lease on life.

“The best part of losing the weight has been gaining the confidence to really live my life and try new things,” she says. “I don’t let my body hold me back anymore.”