These men and women transformed their bodies through healthy eating and a dedication to fitness
College was a major adjustment for Lexlee Hudson. Along with gaining more independence, she was also “stressed, working multiple jobs, and I didn’t know what I should be eating.” That meant she was grabbing what was easy and convenient on a college budget — a ton of pizza and any food she could get during breaks from her waitressing job. And within about a year, she had gained 180 lbs.
“I started having a lot of health issues,” she told PEOPLE. “My back was hurting all the time. I had PCOS and I was on the spectrum for pre-diabetes and high blood pressure. I love to ride horses — I have my entire life — and I couldn’t anymore. I became super insecure and withdrawn, and I stopped going out with my friends.”
Meanwhile, her mom and grandma were both following the weight loss program Optavia and had dropped 80 and 75 lbs., respectively. They had tried getting her on board for years, and in January 2018, after Hudson finished college, she finally agreed to join the program. Hudson started setting alarms for every 2½-3 hours to remind herself to eat healthy snacks, and swapped out the pizza for ones with cauliflower crust or made Taco Tuesdays with lettuce wraps instead of tortillas.
Over the next two and a half years, Hudson consistently lost weight, eventually dropping 187 lbs. She’s now a health coach, and helps people “get healthy.”
“I tell people that before I felt like I had a mental cloud over my head. I didn’t always put me first,” she said. “My whole life has changed.”
Linda Migliaccio: Lost 189 Lbs.
COURTESY LINDA MIGLIACCIO; COURTESY GRACE HUANG
Ever since high school, Linda Migliaccio felt like she was “battling” her weight. She started dieting at age 15, and for years afterward, the New Jerseyan, who has since been diagnosed with a binge eating disorder, would yo-yo back and forth — Migliaccio estimates she’s lost and gained a significant amount of weight at least 12 times.
Her highest weight of 349 lbs., though, came at “the lowest point in my life, when my mom passed away,” she told PEOPLE. While caring for her mom, Migliaccio gained 200 lbs., and after a fall in her bathroom, she tore her ACL and meniscus in her right knee. A surgeon said she was too heavy for him to repair the injury, and predicted that she would become a wheelchair-user in a year if she didn’t lose weight.
“He did me the biggest favor of my life being blunt like that,” she said. “It was what I needed to hear, and that’s what turned me around.”
Migliaccio started a nutritarian diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts, and didn’t cut out any foods, allowing herself to have a cheesesteak or ice cream when the craving struck. That 80/20 split of healthy and more indulgent foods helped her stay on track, along with her friends and her TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) weight loss support group. In two years, Migliaccio lost 189 lbs., and didn’t even need knee surgery.
“I’m finally starting to tap into what makes me happy,” she said.
Ann Wulff: Lost 207 Lbs.
Ann Wulff felt like pregnancy was “permission to just eat whatever I wanted,” the teacher told PEOPLE. Through three pregnancies, she gained more than 100 lbs. and kept going from there, eventually hitting 360 lbs.
“I convinced myself that it didn’t matter if I ate unhealthily because I was already overweight,” she said. “I was busy with a full-time job and three little girls, so did it really matter if I eat the ice cream?”
But Wulff started to notice little issues; she lacked the energy to walk the five minutes to the park with her daughters, she had to twist into odd positions just to get the car seatbelt to buckle and she was struggling with constant headaches.
“I was in my mid-30s, and I realized that very quickly that there were going to be things that I absolutely could not do.”
Wulff joined WeightWatchers, paying for a full year upfront, and focused on losing just 5 lbs. at a time to stay motivated. With healthy dinner swaps and walks around her neighborhood, she lost 207 lbs. in just over two years.
“I feel so much lighter, and I don’t mean physically,” she said. “I just have so much more energy, I’m more positive, I’m more likely to put myself out there. I’m a better teacher, a better wife, a better mother. A better everything.”
Crystal Benes: Lost 201 Lbs.
Crystal Benes spent most of her life overweight. She was affected by obesity as a child, and by the time she was 25, Benes weighed in at 376 lbs.
“Every choice I made regarding what I fueled my body with and how much exercised I did was all up to me,” she told PEOPLE. “I had no one else to blame for my poor decisions that led me to being nearly 400 lbs.”
But that changed on April 2, 2018, when Benes decided to sign up for a local weight loss program in Fort Wayne, Ind. Over 15 weeks, she dropped 100 lbs. thanks to a personal trainer, nutrition coaching and regular boot camp classes. But the hardest part, she shared, is when that ended and she had to do it on her own.
“I had to understand that this was no longer a diet, and that it had to become my lifestyle,” she said.
Benes kept up her daily workouts and nutrition plan, and by January, just 10 months later, she was down to 175 lbs.
“My weight-loss journey came at a point in my life where my weight was something I faced every day and led me to a constant state of depression,” she said. “Through the struggle I encountered during my journey, I came to realize that the most difficult road had led to the most beautiful journey of my life.”