''I lost more than 90 pounds—and found myself.''

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Can someone be addicted to eating? For Amberlynn, the answer was a resounding “yes.” At her lowest point—and her highest weight, 213 pounds—food was in complete control of her thoughts, emotions and actions. Today, after years of hard work, determination and the support of a strong online community, she has reclaimed her life and found true happiness.
If you ask Amberlynn to describe the person she used to be—the one who used food as a drug—her choice of adjectives isn't very flattering. Small-minded. Selfish. Depressed. Negative. She paints a picture of a young woman who was lost, lacked empathy for others, blamed others for her own misfortunes and pushed away the very people who loved her most. Today, Amberlynn recognizes that her callous ways were just a mask, one she wore to hide her self-hatred and insecurities.
"When so much of life felt dark and hopeless, food was the one thing that made me feel good," she says. "It was like a treat after a long, hard day." After years of this food abuse, Amberlynn found herself at the brink of obesity.

The Turning Point

After gaining 85 pounds, Amberlynn woke up one day and decided that something had to change. There wasn't any specific event or trigger, but more a series of little moments that added up to a moment of realization.
"That very day, I threw away my cigarettes and did a workout video in my room," she says. "Then I went to my kitchen and started clearing out all the junk food." After so many years of feeling hopeless and sad, Amberlynn was suddenly angry. "I was mad at myself for letting it go that way for so long," she says. "I felt something in myself that I hadn't felt in a long time: Determination. It was scary, but also exciting."
After so many years of neglecting her health, Amberlynn knew there was no quick fix, but she was finally ready to start down the path to recovery.

Small Sparks Toward Big Success

Amberlynn started slow, with small changes. She cut out unhealthy foods from her diet one at a time. "I gradually realized I needed to avoid certain things, like sugar and greasy foods. Both are big enemies to my waistline, skin, mood, gut...you name it!" She also began exercising every day, for small amounts of time.
She stopped making excuses.
"Every day, I got a little stronger, ran a little farther, breathed a little harder and got a little smaller," she says. The chronic back pain that had plagued her for years—and had even impacted her ability to work—was gone. Her clothes no longer fit, and she had to shop for smaller sizes.
The improvements weren't limited to just losing pounds and inches: Before long, Amberlynn started gaining a stronger sense of discipline and self-respect. She worked on strengthening her communication skills, accepting her past and learning to forgive people's transgressions, including her own. She realized that before she could change her body, she had to change her mind.
"I stopped looking for all the things I did wrong and started paying more attention to the things I did right, which was quite a bit when I actually looked for them," she says. "I stopped telling myself I wasn't enough, and started proving to myself that I was plenty."
Four years later, Amberlynn is finally the person she has always wanted to become—not a millionaire or a super star or a president, but simply the best version of herself: A healthy, happy and confident person.
"When I started this whole thing, I just wanted to be skinny," she admits. "I never even realized all the other benefits to being fit. This process doesn't just change your body; it completely rearranges your insides, too. The emotional baggage you shed amounts to more than the physical weight. And that's the real beauty!"

Running Down a Dream

A weight loss journey is filled with ups and downs, a mix of trivial, tedious routines and moments of triumph. For Amberlynn, one of the high points came the day she ran her longest distance yet without stopping. She'd always claimed to hate running, mainly because she couldn't physically do it. That day, she decided to try it, just to see how far she could go.
"I didn't get tired for a long time, and all the while I felt a smile start to spread across my face," she says. "Joy! I felt joy while running! I've heard so many people tell me it's not so bad once you start doing it, and I would look at them like they were crazy. Now here I was, with no more back pain and more energy than I'd ever had before—and I was running!"

Appetite for Success

Amberlynn has a busy schedule, so she usually chooses easy foods that are high in protein and fiber to keep her full and energized.
Breakfast usually includes fruit and Greek yogurt or oatmeal. Because she works in a restaurant, the temptation to eat out can be tough. She always packs her lunch, typically a turkey sandwich on honey wheat bread with yogurt, a portion of mixed unsalted nuts, string cheese and a granola bar.
On the occasions when Amberlynn does order from the menu at work, she makes healthy choices like fruit, a salad, grilled chicken breast and broccoli. "When eating out, I don't hesitate to place special orders and ask questions," she says.
For dinner, Amberlynn usually makes a typical household meal, but substitutes for the not-so-healthy ingredients. "One of my staple meals is spaghetti, and I like to use fiber-filled noodles and ground turkey instead of beef."

Amberlynn's Weight Loss Tips

If there's one thing Amberlynn has learned about weight loss, it's that no single strategy fits all. "Everyone is different, and everyone loses weight differently," she says. That said, she does want to share these tips that helped during her journey.
  • Take your time. "Don't force it," she says. "Change is a process, not a race." Amberlynn's path wasn't without its plateaus or setbacks—she recalls one three-week period when she didn't lose a single pound, and another rough stretch when she gained back 15 pounds—but she never lost sight of her goals. "Patience is one of the hardest things to learn, but when you do learn it, you will know peace of mind."
  • Start today. "For those of you who are reading this and thinking about how you want to make a change, I was you! I talked about it, I thought about it and I kept saying, 'Tomorrow. I'll do something tomorrow.’ My advice to you is to get up and make the change—today!”
  • Embrace baby steps. Amberlynn's results began when she decided to ditch the "all or nothing" mentality. "Use whatever time you have, whether it's 10 minutes or an hour," she recommends. "Make small changes to your diet."
  • Make a list of goals to motivate you. With her journey underway, Amberlynn made a list of things she wanted to accomplish in her "new life." These included going camping, going hiking, running a marathon, taking dance classes and becoming a personal trainer—all things the "old" Amberlynn would never have had the confidence or ability to tackle.
  • Make it a lifestyle. After losing more than 90 pounds, Amberlynn faced the arguably tougher challenge of keeping the weight off. To continue with her new healthy habits, she learned to listen to her body and heed its cues. "Your body will tell you what it needs," she says. "You learn what makes you gain weight, and what exercises work best for you. You learn what foods make you feel the best."
  • Don't be shy about selfies. Amberlynn took photos of herself every week so she could see the small changes along the way. Even during those weeks when the scale didn't budge, the images showed her that all the hard work was paying off.
  • Never put yourself down. "If you think a bad thought, immediately take it back and replace it with a positive one," she says. "It's exhausting to be negative all the time. Letting go of the pain and the guilt and the anger is just as rewarding, if not more so, than shedding the weight."
  • Skip the fad diets. Amberlynn reiterates that there are no tricks or shortcuts to achieve real results. "The only thing that works is work."
  • Ditch processed and preserved foods. "If a food has a long shelf life, it doesn't belong in your life." She also recommends cutting out sugar.
  • Invest in good gear. When she made the commitment to regular exercise, Amberlynn's first purchase was a good pair of athletic shoes. "I love Nike's line for men and women, but there are many good brands out there to fit what you need." She also recommends a speedometer or fitness tracker to track your progress, music to boost motivation, and a camera and measuring tape to gauge results.
  • Portion control is key. Learn how to moderate what goes on your plate.
  • Set small goals and celebrate them. "No victory is a small one, so rejoice in each one. Be proud of every effort you make, because even the smallest of them are leading you to a better life."

Inspiring Others to Make a Change

Amberlynn's transformation has sparked her husband to start his own journey. Since joining her on the path to health and wellness, he's lost 70 pounds. Today, their relationship is stronger than it's ever been.
For those who are where she was just a few years ago, feeling hopeless and dejected, Amberlynn has a message. "I can't tell you how to find your path or what it will look like, only that it is possible. It's your journey, and one you will never forget and will never regret. Are you ready to take the first step?"