06/17/2013 05:06 EDT | Updated 06/18/2013 08:48 EDT

Weight Lost: How Carla "Carley" Cooper Lost 60 Pounds

Carla Cooper

WHO: Carla "Carley" Cooper

AGE: 46

CITY: Barrie, Ont.

By The Numbers: 225 pounds at my heaviest, and currently 165, total weight loss 60 pounds

The Weight Gain: I grew up very skinny — so skinny that kids made fun of me in school. It was that way until college when I started eating more junk food and I gained some 20 pounds. At first I lost it when I worked in some factories doing hard physical work but later on as I started taking medication for my depression, I slowly gained a lot of weight.

When I was at my highest weight I was extremely tired all the time and I had no self-esteem. I went years without wearing nice clothes, jewelry or make-up because I felt I looked too ugly. I refused to shop in the plus-size department and as an overweight woman my health was on the decline. My cholesterol levels were high and my risk of diabetes as well as heart disease was elevated due to both my family history and my weight.

The Final Straw: My biggest motivation to lose weight was to help improve my mental health before it was too late. The driving force behind the reason I pushed myself so very hard through this process was fear. I have bipolar disorder and a social anxiety disorder.

At one point, I was living with a disabled man. My health was so bad that I often couldn't take care of myself, so he took care of me instead of the other way around. When I broke up with this man, I realized that I was about to land in the hospital in the mental health ward. I was terrified and thought I would never again see the light of day. I had gotten to the point where I didn't trust the medical industry to help me. I was newly single, alone and terrified of what was to become of me. My "ah-ha!" moment developed from this dark place. I had no choice but to do something to save myself before it was too late...because no one else was going to do it for me.

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The Plan Of Attack: Because I had spent my early years very skinny and my only previous weight loss was through work, I didn't really know anything about weight loss. I went online to research the process. An online friend recommended I appreciated how I could go at my own pace, and that I didn't have to start '50 new habits' on day 1 of my new program like other programs. Basically, I wasn't at all overwhelmed in the process.

The site helped me learn how to be healthy. It taught me how to count calories and nutrients, and other healthy habits. It also provided me with much needed support for all my health issues. A healthy being is in three parts: body, mind, and spirit.

The Food Element: I’ve learned that eating a lot of processed foods is not good for me. I’ve cut out most of them, along with artificial sweeteners and white flour.

For example, now instead of sweetened cereal for breakfast, I eat probiotic yogurt with berries and almonds mixed in it. I top it off with some granola or a slice of wholewheat toast and a green tea. Instead of having a hamburger for lunch or dinner with a huge white flour bun, I have some lean beef on a whole wheat bun. I cut out the condiments and add lettuce and a slice of tomato instead. I also cut out processed cheese and add a slice of real cheddar. Other times, I may have a spinach salad with vegetables and chicken. For snacks, instead of cookies, muffins, or chips I have a piece of fruit and some nuts.

The Exercise Factor: Before I lost weight, I didn't have an exercise routine. As a matter of fact, I hated anything that could be called physical fitness. Now, I have found a new love for exercise! I go to the park and power walk around our beautiful lake front. I started out walking 10 minutes per day. I worked my way up to an hour, or more on some days. I went from a short stroll down the street to as much as 7 km an hour. I walk five days a week, and I try to do a strength training routine a two to three times a week using resistance bands and small hand weights.

The Current Day-To-Day: Part of my previous efforts to improve my mental health was keeping a mood journal. After I started tracking my nutrition, I saw patterns in connections between certain foods that I ate and my bad bipolar disorder episodes. Cutting out these foods, and eating more of those that help me has changed my world completely. I now live alone, I am independent, and I am building a new career for myself.

For many years, I avoided looking in the mirror because I felt that the face and body that I saw wasn't mine. Close to the end of my weight loss, I was running around one day very busily getting ready to go out. I caught myself in the mirror. It was the first time I'd really allowed myself to look in the mirror since before my weight loss. I couldn't believe what I saw! I looked so good that I had a hard time believing it was me. I stood there crying and repeating to myself: "It's me. I'm back. I'm really back."

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