Kimberly Barrett Verrastro never thought of her weight as a problem until she hit her late teens. "Growing up, I was always the skinny girl," Verrastro tells Shape. "But after graduating high school, that changed out of the blue and the weight started to creep on. I also wasn't aware that the antidepressant and anti-anxiety meds I was taking caused weight gain, which contributed to the spike."
When she went in for a routine checkup a few years later, her blood tests raised some red flags with her doctors. "I was just 24 years old and they told me I had high cholesterol, which was pretty concerning," she said. "Without exploring other options, the doctors suggested that I go on cholesterol medication, but I wasn't having any of that." (Related: This App Compares Prescriptions for You with Advice from Real Doctors)
When she learned about her high cholesterol, Verrastro was already in the process of getting off her antidepressants and reluctant to add more meds into the equation. "I really didn't feel like I needed to take cholesterol medication at my age, and my husband agreed," she says. "He encouraged me to be aware of how I was feeling overall and take control over my health." (Related: Why Even Healthy People Should Work With a Nutritionist)
So, Verrastro took matters into her own hands by booking an appointment with a nutritionist. "Food wasn't really something I thought about too much," she says. "My whole life, I kind of just ate whatever tasted good regardless of whether I was getting the nutrients I needed to be healthy. But after meeting with a nutritionist, I learned about portion control, and how the foods you put in your body really affect your health and your mood."
Over the next couple of months, Verrastro started experimenting with foods that made her feel good and developed a love for cooking. "I found this website called Skinnytaste, which has so many healthy, delicious recipes, and it helped me appreciate fresh and healthy foods as being fuel for the body," she says.
As she started on her wellness journey, Verrastro also started forcing herself to go the gym. "I'd go three to four times a week and I absolutely hated it," she says. "I tried so many different workouts and classes, but nothing clicked." Eventually, Verrastro realized that doing something she didn't like wasn't sustainable. (That's exactly how this woman felt at first, too. Read more about why we're obsessed with her "don't know, don't care" approach to the scale.)
That's when one of her friends introduced her to a workout that completely changed her approach to fitness. "It was so random but one of my friends said I should try out this hula-hooping class, and I fell in love with it instantly," says Verrastro. "It put me in a meditative state and provided a killer workout at the same time—working literally every single part of my body. The most important part though, was that it was fun and it made me realize that being active doesn't have to be a chore. You just have to find something that motivates you." (Related: This Woman Can Hula-Hoop with Literally Every Part of Her Body)
Before she knew it, her body started to change. "I had stopped weighing myself completely, but I could tell my clothes weren't fitting me anymore, and that I was looking more trimmed and toned," she says. (Related: Why I See a Therapist for My Fear of Stepping On the Scale)
Once Verrastro felt herself getting stronger, she says she became more open to trying workouts that used to make her feel discouraged and disheartened—like spinning, which she now does several times a week, in addition to hula-hooping whenever she can.
What motivated her most along the way, though, is the support of other people like her. She met them through her spin classes or through online motivation groups just like Shape's #MyPersonalBest Goal Crusher's Facebook page. (More Awesomeness: The 40-Day Crush Your Goal Challenge with Jen Widerstrom)
"I'm not a very active person on social media," she says. "But that page provides such a nice community of like-minded people that I'm comfortable stepping up and talking about my journey. To see so many women sharing how they put their health first is such a huge motivation—not to mention the overall positivity and support goes a long way to brighten your day."
Verrastro says that in the years since her high-cholesterol scare, she's only stepped on the scale during doctor's visits—until one day recently when she weighed herself for the first time in years. (Related: How I Started Using the Latest Health Tech to Finally Ditch the Scale)
"I started taking out my spring clothes and realized nothing fit and it made me curious about how much I weighed now," she says. "I stepped on and found out I was over 40 pounds lighter than when I started my wellness journey four years ago."
She also found out from her docs that her cholesterol was back to normal. "Being able to take back control of my health without weighing myself all the time and doing what I love was a huge deal for me. It felt like such a huge accomplishment."
Now, Verrastro says she wants to inspire other women in her shoes to do the same. "No diet or workout fad is going to help you reach your goals long-term," she says. "If you're trying to take back control of your health, you have to find your 'why.' In my case, it was achieving a healthy lifestyle without the help of medications. Once you've found your 'why,' find motivation through things you love doing—that's something you can actually stick with for the rest of your life."