In 2015, Julie Phillips was lost. After suffering a miscarriage and the end of her romantic relationship in the same week, she assessed where she was in life and didn’t like what she saw.
Weighing nearly 300 pounds, dealing with depression and the lack of motivation, she realized she’d never truly experienced the feeling of full health — physically or emotionally. Mired in a perpetually negative mindset, she constantly felt stressed, and her food choices didn’t help. Pizza, fast food, sweets and soda left her addicted to sugar and plagued with headaches and mood swings.
“I was consuming a lot of calories, but I was deficient in the nutrients I needed to be healthy,” the Auburn, California, resident recalls. “The food I was eating left me with no energy, so I was very sedentary. I wanted to lose weight but had no idea how and didn’t even believe in myself enough to do it.”
Just 25 years old, she realized her life was at a crossroads. She could either continue on her current path and fall deeper into despair or she could trust her faith — and herself. With these thoughts churning, she took a walk in a park near her home and began to notice the way being in nature made her feel. She walked again the next day, and the next, praying and thinking along the way.
Before long, that daily walk became a healthy routine that sparked other changes. She started tracking her food choices and doing research on the effects of sugar and processed food, while integrating more protein and vegetables into her meals. Seeing the data and numbers behind her healthier food options gave her a much-needed reality check, as well as a solid route toward making better choices.
“Tracking made me accountable,” she says. “It was a big eye opener when it came to seeing the difference between eating junk that made me feel depressed and eating healthy foods that made me feel good about myself. I fell in love with eating that way, and with myself, too.”
Phillips started slowly, gradually cutting out sugar, soda and junk food, while adding more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Surprisingly, she found herself craving healthy food more often, instead of the sugary, processed options she once craved. Phillips jokes that she used to hate sweet potatoes, but now, she can’t imagine life without them. She also developed better strategies to keep herself on track, like bringing almonds, bananas and a big water bottle wherever she goes, avoiding the temptation to grab fast food while running errands.
For the first time in her life, Phillips felt strong and empowered. She lost 127 pounds, joined a gym, dropped her BMI from 42 to 24 and completed a nutrition course. She’s also been able to rekindle an old love: horseback riding.
When she was younger, Phillips adored trail riding and horse shows, but had to stop when she gained so much weight. In 2017, she got on a horse for the first time in 12 years and immediately felt like a piece of her heart had returned.
“Until that moment, I didn’t fully realize the depth of how my weight had been holding me back from living,” she says. Although she’s thrilled with the physical changes she’s seen, Phillips feels most grateful for the profound shifts she’s felt in her mind and her heart.
“I spent so many years being miserable and unhealthy, so now that I feel happy and healthy, it keeps me motivated to continue and never go back to my old way of living,” she says. “On this journey, I created a positive mindset about life, and I can honestly say now that I love who I am.”
Written by Elizabeth Millard, a freelance journalist specializing in health and fitness. She’s also an organic farmer, yoga teacher, obstacle course aficionado and 5K junkie. Her work has appeared in SELF, Men’s Health, CNN and other publications.