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How I lost 255 pounds: ‘Did I want to live or die?’

Jennifer Ellen Branson

Jennifer Ellen Branson

Ottawa, 40

Pounds dropped: 255

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My turning point: One day, back in 2007, after being laid off, I was in my small, very small, washroom.

At 450 pounds, I was having severe mobility issues – just getting on and off the toilet was a struggle. I started to cry, and I remember asking myself two questions right then and there: Did I want to live or die? Who was going to take care of me? I committed to being alive and taking care of myself.

My method: I changed my way of eating immediately: I targeted all of my unhealthy choices, which were all simple carbs. I used to eat boxes of Kraft Dinner, doughnuts, big bags of Doritos, poutine, white bread, the list goes on. Eating this way made me feel full – and satisfied, temporarily, my emotional pain. I would cry for hours, but when eating doughnuts, I could feel a hand extend and rub my back.

So I started by changing my diet. I would eat two salads a day, with a healthy supper in the evening. I combined this with exercise, and I learned, for the first time in my life, to take care of myself. After the first year, I lost 80 pounds. No easy feat, as I was combining intense swims with 45 minutes on the elliptical. I spent five to six days a week exercising, building up my physical activity levels.

Still, I needed more help. I decided to take take drastic measures to get the results I needed. Never once have I looked at my situation from a cosmetic weight problem but a life-or-death health concern. So I opted for gastric bypass surgery in 2009, weighing 375 pounds. By the end of 2010, I weighed, and seemed to plateau, around 195 pounds.

But the transitions didn't stop there. I quit smoking pot and cigarettes early in 2011. I went from smoking pot at 6:30 a.m. every day to hitting the gym every morning. I am currently staying within portion sizes, and try to refrain from eating refined sugar as much as possible. I learned that so much of my health surrounded my emotional issues – which is what caused my overeating – so my next step was therapy, which was started in 2010 and continues today. It will for the rest of my life.

Today, I strength-train three times a week. I do trail running, the occasional road race and obstacle- course races. I've recently applied to be in the Canadian Armed Forces.

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I realize now that the more I invest in my own cause – which is, simply put, to love myself – the more opportunities become available. How things have changed: I now have protein bars that rub my back.

My kryptonite: When I do want a treat, now it's something sweet and small, instead of a big bag of chips.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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