(CNN) — Kia Horton was thin as a little girl. “Like fit your fingers around (my) ankles skinny,” she recalls.
But at 5, she says, she became a victim of sexual abuse, triggering more than a decade of poor eating habits. By the time she started eighth grade, she was borderline obese.
At 15, Horton weighed almost 200 pounds. Her father allowed her to sign up for a diet meal delivery service. She lost 30 pounds on the program, but she says, “I hated the food, and the program was not sustainable because eating their food was the only key to success.”
She gained back the 30 pounds and then some. By the time she graduated college, she weighed 260 pounds.
“I immediately joined a gym and hired a personal trainer,” Horton says. “This also proved to be futile because I was not ready to change my eating habits.”
She lost no weight working out with the trainer. “I quit!” she remembers thinking.
Her bad eating habits continued, and in 2006, at 31, the Chicagoan topped out at her heaviest weight of 319 pounds. Horton is 5 feet 4 inches; her body mass index at the time was 54.8, which is considered morbidly obese.
“Every night for dinner I would stop and get two Happy Meals from McDonald’s,” she says.
She didn’t have kids at the time, but Horton acted like she was ordering the meals for her children. She didn’t want anyone to realize she was eating both kids’ meals by herself.
Everything felt out of control, Horton says. She didn’t have a great relationship with her mother, she didn’t feel valued at her job, and some of her personal relationships were in disarray. For weeks at a time, she wouldn’t interact with family or friends outside of her co-workers. She continued to allow food to be her comfort.
“Food was the only thing that was good,” she remembers. “It didn’t talk back.”
She knew starting a weight loss journey would be useless if she didn’t address the issues that led her to gain the weight in the first place.
“There was so much going on in every aspect of my life,” says Horton, now 38. “I would have lasted on a diet for a week.”
At her heaviest weight, in 2007, Horton got engaged. She knew she wanted to look amazing in her wedding gown. But she often wondered, “How can I possibly look good in a wedding dress at 300 pounds?”
She began to consider weight-loss surgery and had the Lap-Band procedure done in March 2006. Doctors placed an adjustable band around her stomach, restricting its capacity, which limited the amount of food she could consume. She was supposed to have the band tightened every three months to continue losing weight. But shortly after the procedure, Horton became pregnant with her first child.
She was ecstatic. But after learning of her pregnancy, doctors told her they wouldn’t be able to adjust the band during her pregnancy or if she breast-fed. Horton had lost 50 pounds by the time her daughter, Asha, was born in February 2007, but she hasn’t had the band adjusted since.
She married a few months later and became pregnant again.
But five months into her pregnancy, she lost the baby. Stress from the miscarriage and other personal problems caused Horton and her husband, Otto, to split shortly after saying their vows. All of a sudden, she was a single mom.
She began eating again to deal with her pain.
Two years later, Horton and Otto reconciled. He moved back home, and they had a son in 2010. By then, she was back up to 300 pounds.
‘You have such a pretty face’
Out with her girlfriends for dinner in January 2012, Horton began chatting with a stranger who was extremely fit and a bit of a health buff.
“You have such a pretty face,” he said. “Have you ever thought about losing weight?”
Usually, Horton would have been offended by such a question. But she realized he didn’t know about her past weight-loss struggles and began to mull over the question he’d posed.
The next week, Horton put a call out to her Facebook friends, saying she wanted a friend to join Weight Watchers with her. She began the program on January 17, 2012, and she hasn’t looked back.
The first week, Horton lost four pounds. “I almost jumped off the scale!” she says. “I couldn’t believe it.” It was just the push she needed to continue. By March 6, she was down 25 pounds.
Lifestyle changes and support
Horton follows the guidelines of the Weight Watchers plan by counting points and taking accountability for everything she puts in her body. She has oatmeal almost every morning for breakfast. For dinner, she sticks to protein and plenty of vegetables.
But at lunch, she says, she eats out every single day. Her strategy? “I literally check out every item on the food menus in my local area, and I make conscious choices and good decisions on what I am putting in my body.”
She also incorporated exercise into her routine. “I have never been very patient, so I knew in order to stick with this I was going to need to see results fast.”
She began to do Zumba with her husband and kids on their Wii game console. She started walking the trail around her neighborhood, then running. By July 2012, with her new active lifestyle, she was down to 225 pounds.
Today, Horton has reached her goal weight of 142 pounds and, to be honest, she doesn’t know what’s next. She’s thinking of dealing with some of the excess skin that she has from the weight loss, but other than that, she says she’s comfortable with her weight and body. She’s lost a total of 177 pounds from her highest weight and says she feels like “a totally different person.”
Horton credits her husband with some of her success, saying he’s been supportive since Day One of her weight-loss journey. She appreciates that he’s never tried to change her eating habits or derail her plan, even though the couple find it costs more to eat healthy.
“I eat about a pound or two pounds of grapes per day. It’s an expensive habit,” she says, laughing. “He hasn’t divorced me for driving us to financial ruin because of my grape habit.”
She’ll also soon start work as a part-time receptionist for the Weight Watchers in her neighborhood. She says she’s excited to help others and considers herself the first line of offense: The receptionist is the person a potential Weight Watcher speaks to about their trials and triumphs when they check in. Plus, it will help her stay accountable because anyone who works for Weight Watchers must stay at their goal weight.
“The best advice I can give to people is to face their whole life down,” she says. Horton says she believes weight gain is a symptom of other issues. “You can’t take control over just one aspect of your life; you have to take control over everything. Once you do that, then your journey can begin.”