Tara Sol managed to lose weight and change her life in less than a year, but achieving her healthy state was a surprise to Sol herself. “I’d only ever known being overweight,” Sol tells PEOPLE.
She was raised in a household where her diet was primarily convenience foods, like drive-through pickups or pre-packaged microwavable meals. In her family, their Friday tradition was to go to an all-you-can eat buffet, and food was often used as the way her family bonded.
“I saw food used as comfort within my own sister and parents. We’d just sit in front of the TV and I’d eat a half a bag of chips or a box of cookies, or popcorn,” Sol tells PEOPLE. “Also, it was for sure how my dad showed love or affection. It was getting us a candy bar when we’d go through the cashier line—he would always do that sort of stuff for us. If I got a good report card, I got to choose my restaurant for dinner.”
Once she became an adult, the 36-year-old mother of six began sneaking food and eating it in secret before she would dine with the rest of her family.
“I would grab a handful of cookies and eat them and then it would be time for us to have dessert and I would eat it,” Sol says. “Nobody knew I already had the four cookies.”
At her heaviest, Sol weighed 261 lbs. “Walking for five minutes was a challenge,” she says. “I couldn’t even bend over to tie my own shoe. That’s how overweight I was.”
Often, she was bullied for her weight, causing her to be “a very introverted and hidden person.”
“I had this dream where I was just in a fat suit, and I could just unzip my suit and walk out and look at the person, and reveal myself to all of those people that would bully me and say mean things about me,” she says. “I’d say, ‘But look at who I really am.'”
Although she had avoided doctors for most of her life because she “didn’t like having to get put on a scale,” in 2014, as a social worker who was employed by a hospital, she had to visit the doctor for routine blood work and they discovered her blood sugar levels were off the charts. They diagnosed her with pre-diabetes before she had her full testing done that gave her a definitive Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis.
“I was in significant denial about my condition and though I took the medication, I did not change my diet or tell a single person about my diabetes diagnosis,” Sol says. “I even stopped going to my doctor. I was lucky that she happened to refill my prescription for a couple of years.”
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Sol’s doctor wrote her a letter informing her that she would stop prescribing her oral medications if she didn’t come in for an office visit. “That finally was my rock bottom.”
So the next day, Sol signed up for Real Appeal, a digital weight loss program that provides you with a personal wellness coach, diet tracking, exercise programs, and online group sessions to help you meet your goals. She was initially drawn to this program because she didn’t have to go to weigh-ins in front of other people.
She visited her doctor and asked her for a three-month extension on her prescription refill, and told her about her new weight loss commitment.
Sol started with small, achievable goals, such as moving her body for 60 minutes each day and cardio workouts she could do in her own home. Within three months of starting the program, Sol’s labs were normal and she no longer had Type 2 Diabetes.
“My doctor actually called the lab to make sure it wasn’t an error,” Sol says. “My labs were just so different in just that three months.”
On the first day of her lifestyle change, Sol also set a goal to walk 1,000 miles in one year—a goal she achieved in just 140 days.
“I was getting little bits of hope,” Sol said. “I was getting these tangible, actual, true things that were validating what I was doing and it fueled my fire and I just also wanted to obviously keep going and getting better and better. I made this commitment to my doctor and I wanted to show her I was keeping my end of the deal.”
In just ten and a half months, Sol reached her goal weight, losing 114 lbs. Today, she’s maintaining a healthy weight of 144 lbs., but she says she’s not “hyper focused on a number on the scale.”
In early 2018, Sol had a skin removal surgery, and now, on top of walking, she enjoys mountain biking, hiking and interval training. She also tracks her calories in MyFitnessPal to maintain her healthy eating habits, and tries to slow down when she’s eating a plate of food.
“I can’t be mindless about what I put in my mouth,” she says, but admits that she still loves food and isn’t afraid to indulge every now and then.
She also says her husband and children have been supportive through the journey, and her healthy eating habits have influenced them.
“I want to be a role model,” she says. “They’ve gotten an understanding of what a healthy lifestyle is by being able to watch my transformation.”
She also adds that her weight loss has allowed her to be a more present mom. For Christmas, her family gives experiences instead of gifts, and she’s been able to participate in fun things like snowshoeing and laser tag, which she couldn’t do before.
“They don’t lose me to the bag of chips while I’m vegging out to the Real Housewives on TV,” Sol says. “They actually get a mom that wants to be more interactive with them. I have energy.”
Aside from her family, Sol says that since losing the weight, her life has changed “in any possible way it could change.”
“That whole concept of ‘if you can’t love yourself, no one else can love you’ is so true,” she says. “[I have] better self esteem, and feel that I am worthy of love and affection and people’s attention. Because I feel so much better about myself and I’ve gotten rid of so much of that hate and shame, it’s definitely just changed my world in that I allow people to be part of my life and my journey now where I never did before.”