At age 21, Tanisha Washington tipped the scales at 276 lbs. But in addition to juggling college and a newborn son, she made a choice to lose the pounds — and still graduated at the top of her class.
Washington, now 25, dealt with bullying throughout her childhood years.
“I was always the big girl,” the Austin, Texas, native tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “I even got the nickname ‘Twinkie’ in middle school. I have the most horrible memories because I was associated with all that weight I was carrying.”
As a high school senior in 2010, Washington would start her day with three doughnuts for breakfast; have a candy bar as a mid-morning snack; eat a lunch of chicken tenders, fries and a biscuit with gravy; munch on a crispy rice treat or a bag of chips for an afternoon snack; plus another bag and two pepperoni pastries for dinner; and finish out her day with cookies and ice cream.
But with graduation on the way, Washington realized she could cut out her bad habits and get a fresh start in college. She successfully dropped 50 lbs., only to gain it back and more when she unexpectedly got pregnant at the end of her junior year.
“At that point I realized that the weight wasn’t going to come off on its own, and I really needed to educate myself on how to lose the weight properly,” she says.
Learn more about Tanisha and the five other women who lost 100 lbs. in the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.
After trying various programs, Washington found that Atkins was the best system for her.
“At last I was able to understand how the food I was putting in my body affected me,” she says. “The first few weeks were extremely difficult, going from eating a lot of carbs to just a few, but it was really fulfilling.”
“When I started eating leafy vegetables and proteins, I started to have more energy throughout the day, and it got easier,” she says. “It just made the diet so much more fun, and it really wasn’t a diet for me at that point. It turned into my lifestyle.”
Washington then started strength training to tone her body, and in 2016, she had surgery to remove 2 inches of excess skin from her stomach. Now she’s proud of her 173-lb. body.
“My favorite things to show off are my legs,” she says. “Before I’d want to hide them all the time, and now I’ll throw on shorts and heels and just feel like a supermodel.”
Plus, Washington knows she’s setting a good example for her son, Liam.
“He’s now 3 years old, and I’m proud that I’ve taught him healthy habits,” she says. “It’s just so great to be able to make sure that he doesn’t have the childhood I had growing up and getting bullied. He understands the importance of staying healthy and staying active, and I think that’s the best gift I can give to him as a mother.”
Have you lost more than 100 lbs. or half your size? Send us your story at firstname.lastname@example.org