Native to Nebraska, I was born into an affectionate, loving family. The second of five children, I was always devoting my time to projects and causes I felt strongly about. While attending Marian High School, I sharpened my leadership skills through many activities, including student government, service trips and National Honors Society.

But all along, I had an internal struggle going on that caused me to gain a lot of weight through my teenage years. Since the age of 6, I battled with acceptance and self-love, resulting in a constant struggle with an unhealthy weight. I was bullied at school and would use food as a comfort. I felt alone and misunderstood. I knew I was a good person, so it was very confusing to me that people were judging me because of my size. My over-eating and shame only lead to more weight gain and unhappiness. At my highest weight, I was 271 pounds!

Around the age of 19, I took a good look in the mirror and decided it was time to make a change. I met with a nutritionist and a trainer and started to get my weight on track. The weight loss journey took me two years, but I managed to lose 130 pounds! I have since honed my skills in both exercise and nutrition and have maintained my healthy lifestyle for more than three years with weightlifting and macronutrient meal planning. This was a lifestyle change, not just a diet, and now I control those things that used to control me.

Since appearing on the cover of PEOPLE magazine, I have been speaking at junior high and high schools, as well as colleges and universities, about the power of self-love and how important the inner dialogue is when trying to overcome feelings of shame and confusion. I feel I can be a positive role model for women who struggle with comparing themselves to what society thinks is beautiful.

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