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When she was only 14, Mele Osai visited her doctor and received some surprising news — she was insulin resistant. While she had been overweight for half of her life, she didn't realize it could impact her health at such a young age.
“I didn’t fully understand what insulin resistance was but I knew it could lead to diabetes, which made me scared for my future,” Osai told TODAY, via email. When someone has insulin resistance, it means their muscles, fat and liver cells do not respond properly to insulin. They can't absorb glucose from the bloodstream — and the body needs more insulin to help the glucose enter cells. This eventually can lead to type 2 diabetes and prediabetes.
At her heaviest, Osai weighed 297 pounds at 5 feet 7 inches tall. She loved eating and often grabbed junk food at the store. But her doctor’s wake-up call prompted a change. She started by cutting out sugary drinks, including flavored milks, milkshakes and the two liters of soda she consumed every day. Instead, she started drinking more water.
While cutting sugary beverages helped her shed pounds, she struggled with portion control. She’d regularly eat two or three sandwiches for a meal. She knew she needed to eat smaller meals to lose weight and she also cut processed foods, such as chips and candy. But she didn’t just take away — she added nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein.
“I made sure to have balanced meals,” she said. “I've learned how to nourish my body and take care of it.”
When she first started her weight-loss journey, the Sydney, Australia teen was too young to join a gym so she improvised. She lifted with old weights in her backyard and used an exercise bike at home. And, she walked as much as possible, a habit she still maintains. She’s since joined a gym where she is now focused on building muscle.
“I lift weights at a gym and try and walk daily to stay fit,” she said.
After committing to her goals, she started to see a change in how she felt.
“I felt so much better physically and mentally,” she said. “My clothes were fitting better, my fitness levels improved and I saw other benefits, such as clearer skin and enhanced energy, which all made me want to keep going.”
Making these changes led to huge results. In two years, Osai lost 143 pounds and now weighs 154 pounds and reversed her insulin resistance.
“I am the healthiest I have ever been in my life,” the now 16-year-old said. “I am happy with where I am now.”
Here are a few of her tips for those hoping to shed weight.
1. Be gentle with yourself.
Hitting a plateau feels awful, but that’s when people need to be kind to themselves, Osai said.
“My biggest advice is to love yourself and not beat yourself up when things get tough,” she said. “Those times you feel like giving up, you have to realize how far you've come and the dark periods will pass.”
2. Ignore the scale.
“The scale isn't always the best way to gauge progress. It's discouraging when you don't see the numbers on the scale move," she said. "It's good to take note of other changes. Progress photos, body measurements, how your clothes fit and most importantly how you physically feel are all good ways of measuring your progress."
3. Do what works for you.
When Osai was focused on losing weight she chose exercise and healthy eating habits that made sense for her. And that’s why she believes she succeeded.
“You must find a way that is sustainable — and that means finding a diet that suits you and your lifestyle, and finding an activity you enjoy,” she said.
4. Put yourself first.
Going to the gym for an hour a day or spending time meal planning can feel selfish. But by caring for your health first, you are better able to do other things.
5. Change takes time.
Transforming your life through weight loss includes many setbacks. Osai said when she thought of weight loss as a change in her overall well being, she could truly commit to it.
“There are no quick fixes to weight loss,” she said. “Your health should be a long-term concern.”
For more inspirational stories, check out our My Weight-Loss Journey page.