12/09/2013 08:26 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Jennifer Smith Changed How She Thought About Food And Lost 165 Pounds

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Name: Jennifer Smith
Age: 37
Height: 5'9"
Before Weight: 350 pounds

How I Gained It: My first memory of being overweight was when I was five years old on my first day of kindergarten. I had been blissfully ignorant of the fact until that day, but since, have been reminded every day. My entire life I have battled with obesity, never understanding why I had such a strong desire to eat. Over the past year I have realized that I never allowed myself to "feel" anything, I was numbing all emotions with food.

In June 2012, I weighed 350 pounds. I was no longer able to work, as I could hardly take 10 steps without having to sit down and rest. The simplest, everyday things had become difficult for me. I had all the health problems that one would expect from someone my size: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes (just to name a few). I was on 17 different medications, and on 800 units of insulin per day. I always say I had a heartbeat, but I wasn't alive.

Breaking Point: During a visit to see my endocrinologist, I said to him, "I am just so insulin resistant, I think I could take the whole bottle of insulin and it wouldn't help!" That's when the doctor said, "Jennifer, you are out-eating your insulin."

His statement made me cry for two reasons. One, it was humiliating, and two, why would I do this to myself? I remember this day so profoundly because it's the day my life was forever changed.

How I Lost It: It was there at the Greenville Free Medical Clinic that I met Nursing Director Mark C. Johnson, RN. Mark told me something I hadn't heard in a very long time. He said, "I believe in you, and I know you can lose this weight." Mark can never understand why this meant so much to me. Perhaps it's because I had given up long ago and never expected to hear those words again. It sparked something in me that day and I believed him.

Mark asked me to write down everything I ate for one week and then bring it to him so we could go over it together. After I did that, I met with him and he made simple suggestions that were easy to do. For example, he said, "Instead of five pieces of bacon, have two." What I heard was, "I can still have bacon." He made everything seem possible.

For the first time I was forced to see what I was doing. When you are looking at such a large amount of weight to lose, it seems hopeless, but Mark gave me hope. He taught me that food is not my enemy, and that's where I had gone wrong so many times before. Cutting out certain foods or food groups for a time only made me binge on them later. Instead, I have learned to nourish my body with all types of food. I am not on a diet, I have changed the way I think and feel about food. I now know what foods are going to make me feel good and which ones make me feel bad. I keep a food journal, and I'm careful to follow serving sizes on nutrition labels. Mark has taught me to be mindful of what, when and why I'm eating. I was able to meet with him every week for a year.

Exercise is also a critical part of my weight loss. Mark is an ultra-marathon runner, and he often used his running experiences as a way to relate to my weight-loss journey. I started to think maybe I could run, too. At the end of November 2012, at 300 pounds, I started to run. Not for long: I think it was about 30 seconds before I had to stop and rest. But every day I was back at it, trying again and again. I learned I'm not weak-willed or lazy, and I am very proud to say that in June 2013 I ran my first 8K. Running has tamed the "beast" of my food addiction. Now I run five or six days a week, and I'm training for a half marathon.

My life has changed so much since last year. I am working again at a job I love, and I am able to volunteer at the clinic two days a week leading a nutrition and weight loss class. I have gotten off most of my medications, and I am no longer diabetic. I can never thank the wonderful staff and volunteers at the clinic enough for all their exceptional care and continual encouragement. And, a special thank you to Mark, who saved my life.

Current Weight: 185 pounds. I have 25 more pounds to go to reach my goal.
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