‘I unexpectedly conceived the same month I reached my goal weight.’: Woman thanks weight loss for giving her life ‘purpose’ again

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“I do not consider what I went through as being a weight loss journey. This ordeal was originally focused around my health. I am not sure exactly when my health started to deteriorate, but it definitely deteriorated after I went to college.

I went off to university about eight hours away from where I grew up in 2009. My boyfriend at the time who had been living with my mother and myself moved up to school with me. Even though we were together and both of us knew other people in the town, I felt an immense loneliness and loss of passion. I began to spend most of my downtime playing World of Warcraft, and when I moved out of the dorms with my boyfriend and friends, I started to drink. I remember thinking to myself how much I hated my life and that I should totally buy an entire cheesecake and bottle of champagne because at least that was enjoyable. I knew I was getting fat. I had no delusions about that fact or why it was happening. I was simply filled with self-loathing and purposely chose to live my life this way.

College girl sitting on floor on computer with box of beer in front of her before she loses weight
Dannie Cooley

This went on for about five years. For medical reasons, I had to leave university two semesters before finishing. I started working 60 hours a week on a ranch as a meat packer and sanitation worker. I moved on to work for a plastic factory, then ended up at a popular coffee shop. Working at the coffee shop was the turning point of everything, although I am unsure I realized it at the time. I was able to make money without killing my back or working ridiculous hours. I worked with great people, including my boyfriend and housemates. Overall it was a positive environment.

A few months into working there I realized I wanted to go back to school and finish my degree. The issue was that I still needed to work full time to provide for myself, and in order to maintain that I had to have an open availability. I found out one of the schools I had been accepted to back in high school had an online degree program, so I decided that would be perfect. My journey up to this point made me reevaluate what I wanted to major in, and since this university did not have my old major offered through the online school, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to change course.

Girl at college party holding blue solo cup before losing weight
Dannie Cooley

Although this was all very good news, it became apparent I was not able to do work and school full time. During my spring semester of that year it became clear to me that I needed to change things. I spoke to my mother and my then fiancé about the possibility of moving home so I could focus on school. We came to an agreement and moved that summer.

When we moved in with my mother, it became clear how far I had fallen. My asthma and allergies were untreated, I was obese, and I slept, drank, and ate far too much. There were many arguments between the summer of 2014 and April of the following year about how I was living. I didn’t want to change, and my mother was worried.

Woman smiling while holding her hair up in bathroom
Dannie Cooley

In May 2015 my husband and I got married in a small ceremony in my hometown. Things went well; everyone involved was happy, and my husband and myself enjoyed a short honeymoon in a rural area outside of town.

Bride smiling with flower crown on
Bethany Zabrosky at Zabrosky Photography

Although my husband and I have been together since 2008, it was not until we got married that I began to picture the future. Even though I asked him to marry me, I was unable to picture anything but the life we had been living since we left for university. My educational career being at jeopardy was what made me break that lifestyle, and getting married made me think about what I want to work towards as a married couple.

When I got the wedding pictures in April 2015, I came to the horrifying realization that I was sick. I did this to myself; I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t know what it looked like from an outside perspective. I had an out of body experience that shook me to my core. I cried. I thought a lot of terrible things about myself, but the thought that stayed with me was, ‘What is the next step?’ I didn’t ask myself that in a proactive sort of way, but as an accusation. A person gets married: what is the next step? Children? Some sort of stability? I looked at those pictures and stability was the last thing I thought of. I saw chaos and indifference.

Close up of bride on wedding day wearing flower crown
Bethany Zabrosky at Zabrosky Photography

I began to make a check list of things that needed to be done. I needed an allergist for my allergies and asthma, I needed a gym to weight lift in and slowly build up the strength of my lungs through running, I needed a dentist, and I needed a general doctor. I also separated issues into categories. The gym was associated with improving my posture, helping my asthma, and letting off steam, and food intake was associated with weight loss. I purposely separated the gym from weight loss so that I would not cheat on my food intake and so I would see the gym as a place of self-improvement rather than punishment. I downloaded MyFitnessPal, methodically counted my calories, quit drinking alcohol in excess, and slowly learned what foods filled me up. I never stopped myself from eating something, but I knew that if I ate something ‘bad’ then I had to stick with that choice. I slowly cut sugar and processed foods out of my diet simply because they wouldn’t sustain me.

Before during and after of woman's face on weight loss journey
Dannie Cooley

From April 2015 until January 2018 I slowly lost weight until I lost 80 pounds. I was 200 pounds on my wedding day, and 120 pounds when I reached my goal. During that time I made the Dean’s list, improved relationships with my husband, my mother and the rest of my family, and started to plan for a future after university. When I got to my goal weight I knew that I had not reached some end. I knew that my ‘diet’ was really a lifestyle choice that made food about a mathematical equation that had little to do with me. Rather than stopping my meal recording habit, I just increased the amount of calories I could eat and learned how to maintain myself.

Woman who lost weight has on wedding gown that is now too big for her
Dannie Cooley

Then I got pregnant. I unexpectedly conceived late in January, the same month that I reached my goal weight. I thought that that was pretty fitting, since the question that I demanded of myself that lead to me losing weight involved reproducing. Being pregnant has made my gym goals more difficult, different, and more important than ever. I make myself do everything I did before but at a fraction of the weight or speed, focusing on form and enjoyment rather than pushing myself to the limit. I eat the amount and type of food the doctor recommends and continue to log my food to make sure I am following those guidelines. Sugar in large quantities has become unbearable for me, so it’s been easy to stick to my healthy eating.

Woman stands in wedding gown that no longer fits her after losing weight
Dannie Cooley

I have always wanted children, or felt that it was part of my purpose to reproduce. My immediate family is very small, so I was driven as a young child to do my best so I would be able to provide for one whenever that would happen. When I went off to college I lost sight of that purpose. I lost the reason I wanted to succeed. Family is very important to me, but distance made it difficult to hold onto that light. Through this experience I found that purpose, and it is so perfect that I am now pregnant when this was always what I wanted to do. Everything I want and need to provide for a child is coming together, or at least I can see the possibility for it to come together. Graduating from school, looking at career opportunities and doctorate programs, having an amazing husband who has grown as much as I have through the years, and having a mom who believes in me all make for a strong start to motherhood. I could not ask for a better environment, inside and out, to bring this child into the world.

Woman who lost weight smiling in mirror selfie with shirt up to reveal pregnant stomach
Dannie Cooley

Right now my life is the polar opposite of what it was when I started. I am graduating in May, I am healthy, I have a support system that I confide in, and I am excited. I do not regret the past 10 or so years since I first left home, even though I found a darkness inside of me that I didn’t know I possessed. I understand what it is like to fail and indulge in your worst self. I do not relate to that person any more, but I would never trade having been her. For me this has not been about weight but about trying to become the strongest, most able version of myself, and attempt to succeed toward a stable and productive future.

The reason I am sharing this is that throughout my journey, reading about other people’s experiences helped me. I did not feel so alone in what I was going through when I could see how other people dealt with similar issues. I do not think that everyone who has struggled with weight or mental health issues has had my same experience, or that those two issues are related for anyone else. I just know what was true for myself, and that was that being obese was a deeper problem then just eating too much.”

Side by side of woman on her wedding day and her now after losing weight
Zabrosky Photography/Dannie Cooley

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Dannie Cooley, 27, of San Diego, California. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best love stories here.

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