I’ve been overweight since I was a child. School put a lot of pressure on me growing up, and I turned to food as a comfort. Of course, as I ate more, I gained weight, which continued to batter my confidence. I didn’t get much activity, and at my heaviest, when I was 15, I was eating probably 6,000 to 7,000 calories a day. I weighed 271 pounds—and I felt awful.

There wasn’t a specific “light-bulb moment” when I realized I had to change things, but my brother-in-law is a personal trainer. He deserves a lot of credit for helping me find the confidence to get healthy.

From the beginning, I wanted to start powerlifting, so I tried to lose weight while keeping as much muscle as possible. I cut my calorie intake to 2,800 a day, alongside 200 grams of protein. I began a 5×5 full-body training program; I also did cardio in the morning and separately three or four times a week.

It took me about a year to start losing weight. Sometimes I used that as an excuse to eat poorly, telling myself I was carb loading—which wasn’t true. Seeing progress, though, did keep me motivated; I could see what was working. People started saying they were proud of me, which spurred me on even more.

It took me about seven months to hit 20 percent body fat—that was down from 40 percent. I went from 271 pounds to 210; at one point I even hit 197 pounds. When I had got to my lowest I was the happiest I had ever felt. I had confidence for once, and, as cringey as it sounds, I felt unstoppable.

My close family didn’t really grasp how much I’d changed until I showed them a transformation photo, but other members who hadn’t seen me for months were shocked at the difference. I got a lot of compliments which, once again, spurred me on even more.

Since I started my transformation my life has improved massively. I feel more confident and comfortable in my own skin. I’m much more motivated and self-disciplined; I’m a lot more open to “the bigger picture.” I look more ahead in life and try to focus on my making my future the best I can.

Looking forward, I want to compete and place in the top three in my next powerlifting competition. I want to one day become a national powerlifting champion. In the near term, I want to be completely self-employed as a personal trainer and coach.

For me, it’s been a real learning experience, and I hope anyone who’s looking to change approaches it the same way. Figure that you’re going to have to learn along the way; it may take time to find what works for you, but don’t be afraid to research. And for some more specific tips, I’d say focus on body fat percentage rather than weight (especially if you’re also trying to build muscle mass). I also say skip cheat days—eat healthy as much as you can, especially right at the beginning. —as told to Jesse Hicks

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