She's keeping the weight off with a balanced diet and regular exercise.

Jillian Kramer

Photo: Courtesy Lindsey Leichthammer

At the beginning of 2018, Lindsey Leichthammer-then, about 240 pounds-felt terrible. "While I tried to ignore the self-consciousness I felt in nearly every situation, it was always present," she tells EatingWell.

She remembers "cringing as I walked past any reflective surface, always refusing to be in photos, insisting I take the photo-or if I had to be in a picture, you'd find me hiding behind someone else, or sitting on a couch with a throw pillow in my lap." And her embarrassment was even worse when she had to buy clothes. She was frustrated with "not being able to shop in 'normal' stores, always having to seek out a plus-sized section or order things online."

But the real turning point came when Leichthammer's mother had a stroke. The health scare shook her. "She pulled through and is now doing well," Leicthammer said. But "it sent a bit of a shock wave through me, realizing how important health is. I didn't want that to happen to me."

So, she snapped photos of herself in the mirror and kept them on her phone until January 2018, when she completed a no-drink January challenge and "cleaned up my eating," she says. Which meant actually eating instead of going from coffee all day to some wine after work, and eating maybe one meal a day. "I began to eat breakfast, meal prep, and pack my diet full of whole foods like vegetables, meat and eggs. And I drank more water." She began to make other changes, too. She enrolled in spin, boot camp, boxing, and HIIT classes, and got an accountability partner.

Today, Leichthammer, 31, is down to 203 pounds, she says. Her goal weight is 175 pounds.

And Leichthammer says it's not only her weight that's changed. "I think my entire lifestyle has changed. It had to. Taking care of myself had never been a priority. I always put everything else before that. My career was the most important thing and I would put all of my energy into that. I had a completely imbalanced lifestyle." Leichthammer works as a director of catering and events for a company in Burlington, Vermont, and admits it's a demanding career.

When she began her weight-loss journey, she says, "I committed to spending time on things that should be more important than work-myself, and my family." And the work paid off in much more than how she looks. "Eating properly and working out has really changed my entire mindset. I feel so much pride when I complete a workout or check a new goal off my list. This whole idea of pride was new to me. Sure, I was a very good student, and I've excelled in my career-and I've always felt proud about those successes, but it's different to feel proud of my physical self. It's really altered the way I view myself, and I carry myself differently through life now."

To eat more healthfully, Leichthammer avoids eating what she calls empty calories. Now, "I eat more well balanced meals, and am more mindful of what I am eating," she says. "I am cautious about not eating empty calories, and avoid desserts, high fat and processed foods."

Related: 7-Day Mediterranean Meal Plan

Of course, it's not always easy, Leichthammer admits. "This is a daily challenge," she says, and adds her accountability partner, a friend, is a huge help to her. "She and I keep each other going," Leichthammer says. "We schedule our workouts and then we adhere to them. She tells me, 'just a little further,' or I tell her, 'let's do the early class to get it out of the way!' Plus, doing all of these workouts with someone else makes it more palatable."

Leichthammer's husband is also a huge help. "He has never seen anything wrong with me, has assured me that I am beautiful no matter my size. But the most important thing to him is to see me happy, and he'll do whatever he can to help," she says. He even signed up to complete a 5K with Leichthammer!

For those just beginning their weight-loss journeys, Leichthammer encourages people to stick with it. "Have patience," she says. "I've been at this for 15 months now, and while I'm down 40 pounds, sometimes it can feel like, 'I'm only down 40 pounds?' We're playing a long game, and even while the scale stays the same, your body can be changing. It becomes less about the number, and more about how you feel just moving through life."

Related: Forget About Calorie Counting: 7 Ways to Eat Healthier Instead

She says a supportive community can't be underestimated. "Join a gym, talk to people, find a friend who wants to go on a walk," she says. "Schedule it out. Keep yourself accountable."

And, she adds, grace doesn't hurt, either. "When things get rough-and when it feels like you're not making any progress-allow yourself some grace," she says. "This isn't about restriction and punishment. It's not about all the things you can't do. Set some small, attainable goals, and know that sometimes just getting to the gym is enough. The hardest part is getting there. The hardest part is starting. But three, six, nine months from now, you'll be glad you started today."

Ready to get healthy? Start here, with the Cooking Light Diet

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