When her friend suggested everyone squeeze onto the couch for a picture at a party in 2012, Harshi Suraweera put on a big smile and thought little of it. But the reaction her friends and family had to the photo on Facebook stunned her. People made comment after comment about how surprised they were to see how much weight she gained.
“It made me more depressed and I burst into tears for days,” Suraweera, 29, told TODAY via email.
But that moment made her realize that after a lifetime of being overweight she need to do something different.
“I decided to change my figure and started going to the gym and eating healthy,” said the nurse who lives in Melbourne, Australia.
But it wasn’t easy. At first, she went to the gym three days a week for 45 minutes, but struggled to walk for five minutes on the treadmill. To build up her endurance, Suraweera kept walking at a slow pace. As her stamina improved, she could increase the speed and time that she walked. Then, she started running and visiting the gym six days a week.
“I ... was only concerned with losing the weight,” she said.
She also changed her diet, cutting out sugar and processed foods. Instead of eating two pizzas in one sitting, two or three plates of rice, or drinking gallons of soda, she ate meals filled with lean proteins, vegetables, fruits and other low-carb foods. In 10 months, Suraweera dropped 92 pounds, from 235 to 143 pounds on her 5-foot-6-inch frame.
“My health has completely improved and I feel energetic all the time,” she said.
While she first relied heavily on cardio to lose the weight, she has spent the past four years weightlifting.
“Lifting tones my body as well increasing strength and keeping me fit, which I enjoy a lot,” Suraweera said.
She feels better about how she looks and feels, but she remains surprised by how people treat her now.
“The outside world sees me different(ly) than when I was overweight. I seem to get a bit more attention. People don't avoid me like before,” she said.
Suraweera has maintained her weight loss since 2013 and shares her progress with her 110,000 Instagram followers. Here are her tips for those hoping to lose weight:
1. It takes time.
While she was able to drop the weight in less than a year, keeping it off and toning her body has been a longer process. It’s important to remember it takes years to put the weight on and it takes years to take it off.
“It doesn't happen overnight. It's a slow process. But with hard work and dedication anything is possible,” she said.
2. Small steps lead to big changes.
Suraweera visited the gym for many months before she could run on a treadmill. But starting with just five minutes and building up helped her drop weight. Making any small health change can have an impact on people’s health.
“Start slowly, then build yourself up and keep pushing,” she said.
3. Be flexible!
If it feels too difficult to work out on your own, for example, Suraweera recommended working with a trainer. If the first diet you try isn’t working for you, try a different plan. Asking for help or modifying can help you reach your goals.
4. Find your motivation.
When Suraweera hit plateaus, she thought of all the dresses she wished she could wear.
“That was motivation,” she said. “But the ultimate motivation was the results I saw within myself, that kept me pushing myself.”
5. Get started!
“My advice for anyone wanting to start their journey is to take the first step, doesn't matter how small it is,” she said.