Karen Kelly, now 40, started her weight-loss journey in September 2012. She struggled with being overweight her entire life and decided there was one thing she could do to finally make a change: buy a dog.
Kelly knew dieting wouldn't work for her, but figured if she had a dog that needed to be walked constantly, she'd be forced to exercise. She found someone on Facebook who was selling "high-energy" puppies — and luckily enough, there was just one left.
"I jumped in the car and picked up the dog, named Mia," remembered Kelly, who lives in Burin, Canada. "I took her to the vet and they told me that once she was four months old, I'd need to walk her every day. So I had four months to prepare to change my life."
Here are the steps Kelly, with her Labrador retriever Mia in tow, took to lose 200 pounds over the past four years.
1. Make a serious commitment to yourself.
For Kelly, a near-death experience led her to realize she needed to change her life once and for all.
"A truck was on the wrong side of the road (coming towards me), and my whole life was playing in my head — and I didn't turn out of the way," said Kelly, who has struggled with depression and anxiety her entire life. "At the last minute, the truck pulled away and I thought, 'Oh my God, this has got to stop.' I needed to start living."
2. Find a plan that will work for you and your lifestyle.
"I knew a diet wouldn't work for me," Kelly said. So, she decided to get a dog.
It's important to establish a plan that will work for you, for the long haul — not just a few weeks.
3. Stick with it.
"On our first walk, I weighed over 350 pounds. I couldn't breathe I was so out of shape," said Kelly. "We walked to the hair salon in our town, and I cried and it hurt. But the dog was so excited her tail was wagging. Every time I doubted myself, she'd pull me to go a little bit further."
For Kelly, those first few days led to weeks and months — it didn't matter if it was rainy or if there were strong winds, she and Mia weathered it all. After a year, Kelly was down 70 pounds. Today, they walk five miles every morning.
4. Get out of your comfort zone.
For Kelly, this meant getting out of the house and trying something new. After two years of walking, she decided to try something new and went to a Zumba class.
"I remember sitting in the parking lot and thinking, 'I don't know how I'm going to get to the door,' but I did it. And I kept going back. Eventually, I realized I was actually looking forward to my Zumba classes," Kelly said.
Zumba opened up her world — she made friends through the class and joined a softball league, started taking boot camp classes and doing Shaun T's Insanity workouts at home. Last year, Kelly decided to become a certified Zumba instructor and now teaches four nights a week.
5. Be more mindful about what you eat.
As mentioned above, Kelly was not into dieting, though she decided she needed to take a closer look at what she was eating. When she did, she realized she should cut down her portions. Instead of eating three pieces of chicken, she cut it down to two.
She stopped nighttime eating, but still gave into her cravings when they hit.
"I realized the better I felt, the less I wanted to eat the food that made me sluggish and bloated," she said. Today, she loves protein shakes, eats a lot of chicken and has the occasional treat.
6. Realize that you're not alone.
Prior to losing weight, Kelly lived life in isolation. She said no to events like birthday parties and weddings because she couldn't find appropriate outfits that fit her. She suffered from depression and rarely left the house.
Once she lost some weight, she met new friends and realized there are people to help you through it. Today, Kelly is an inspiration to her community. She organizes workouts for friends, and wants to provide free workouts to seniors and children.
"People think they're alone, but they don't see outside of the wall they've built up," she said. "The world is scary and society can be cruel, but it's OK to ask for help when we need it!"