04/07/2014 10:36 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Told She Was Too Fat To Fly First Class, Mother Of Three Loses More Than 200 Pounds

marlo thomas"One of the reasons I started my website is that I wanted a place for women to come together and dream. We women need to know that we don't have to hang on to an old dream that has stopped nurturing us -- that there is always time to start a new dream. This week's story excerpt is from my latest book, It Ain't Over Till It's Over. When phone saleswoman Natasha Coleman's weight had reached a perilous 428 pounds; a humiliating incident aboard an airplane convinced her to address the problem at long last—and in the process save her own life."
-- Marlo,

At five feet nine inches and just over 400 pounds, Natasha Coleman was, amazingly, unconcerned about her weight. Overeating fattening fried foods and sugary desserts was just normal for her family; exercise was not. And this wasn’t so unusual—most everyone in Natasha’s tight-knit African American community in Panama City, Florida, was heavy.

Naturally competitive, Natasha outperformed her coworkers at her job in phone sales. She was so good at closing deals, her company regularly awarded her with luxury trips for being a top performer. It was on one of these trips, in 2010, that she had an experience so mortifying it changed her life.

"When I got to my seat in first class, I couldn’t maneuver my body into it. I was just too big.” As a flight attendant tried to help, the other passengers began to stare, and what she saw in their eyes cut her to the bone. “The looks these people were giving me were cruel and judgmental, as if they were saying, ‘How dare you be so fat that you hold up this plane?’”

Told she’d have to move to a special seat at the very back of coach, Natasha walked down the center aisle of that plane feeling huge and humiliated. To make matters worse, when she arrived at the extra wide seat, the seat belt wouldn’t fit around her middle, so she had to flag down the flight attendant again and ask for an extender.

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Natasha Coleman

At the time, First Lady Michelle Obama was launching her Let’s Move campaign, and Natasha was angered by statistics revealing that nearly half of all African American children were obese. “I started getting mad at food, mad at being surrounded by unhealthy options, mad at my lifestyle.”

So Natasha began what she calls a “fitness journey,” and two years later she weighed 280 pounds—and she felt amazing. “I went on a plane and was able to use the regular seat belt without an extender. That was a mind-blowing moment for me—to just sit down and buckle up like everyone else. I was so proud, I cried.”

Now closing in on her goal weight of 170 pounds, Natasha has added stair-climbing and weight lifting to her fitness routine and remains extremely disciplined about what she eats.

To read this story in its entirety, and to find out how Natasha was able to lose the weight and restart her life, get your copy of It Ain't Over Till It's Over, on sale now.