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About six years ago, Anja Taylor was at a low point. She had gained 100 pounds in just one year and weighed 333 pounds at 5 feet 6 inches tall. She was suffering: She constantly had acne under her chin and on her neck; her menstrual cycle was irregular; her knees were bothering her — and her doctor diagnosed her with arthritis at just 20 years old.
“I just knew I was unhealthy,” she said. At the time, Taylor was living on her own for the first time and enjoying a lot of fast food and junk food.
“Not having restrictions led me to eat whatever I wanted. And because I had in my head I was (already) fat, I just gained weight,” the 26-year-old from Denton, Texas, told TODAY.
Taylor was always a little heavier than her friends and thought of herself as "bigger." She figured she'd never lose weight so she didn't really try. While she hated shopping at plus-sized stores that catered to older women, she convinced herself her weight wasn’t a problem.
“You wake up in your body every day. For me, I didn’t really notice that big of a weight gain,” she said.
But then, she began experiencing health problems. By 22, she learned she had polycystic ovarian syndrome, PCOS, which is the reason she experienced irregular periods.
By December 2015, Taylor realized she had to do something, but she didn't know how or where to start. Working out felt overwhelming.
“When your health is not good, it is really hard to get to the gym. To push your body in the gym is even more difficult than people think,” she said.
In February 2016, she went to her first spin classes. Even though she struggled through the 50-minute class, she really enjoyed it and kept returning. She also purchased pre-made meals from local meal service companies, which made it easier for her to eat more vegetables and lean protein and fewer carbs.
“I have full-time school and work so I am unable to meal prep,” she said. “The meal plans offer me variety.”
Shedding weight helped improve her health. She no longer experiences knee pain and her menstrual cycle is regular again. She loves all the new energy she has.
“I am grateful my body is able to perform physically. Prior to losing weight, I was trapped in my own body. I don’t view working out as a chore, but rather a gift and blessing,” she said.
Taylor consistently lost weight from February to December 2016, shedding 103 pounds. But in October, she broke up with her fiancé of seven years, started a new job, began taking college classes full time and got off track.
“I gained about 20 pounds back,” she said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself because of the weight gain.”
While she maintained her healthy habits and didn’t gain any additional weight, it took her months to lose the extra 20 pounds. Now at 230 pounds, she hopes to lose another 50 pounds. She recently has added new exercise classes and more home cooking and meal prep to her routine.
“There are many challenges life throws at you, so it is really hard. You have to overcome that,” she said.
She shared this advice for others hoping to lose weight:
1. Find something you love.
As she struggled through her first spin class, Taylor realized she loved it. In the past, she always forced herself to do workouts that she loathed.
“I was not a fitness fan. I didn’t understand it,” she said. “If you are not having fun, you are going to get burned out.”
2. Set reasonable goals.
In the past when she thought of weight loss, Taylor often thought of shedding huge amounts of weight. But thinking about losing 150 pounds crippled her efforts.
“In previous attempts, I always thought of the big number,” she said. “I focused just on that month."
Taking it month-by-month helped her be successful.
3. Have a buddy.
Taylor met many friends at her gym who kept her motivated even when she did not want to exercise. They supported her when she gained and encouraged her to stick to her healthy habits.
“Have somebody hold you accountable,” she said, adding she was more successful when she realized she was “not alone in this.”