When Jessica Battle graduated high school at 225 lbs., she had a slew of unhealthy eating habits. “I honestly would eat a king size candy bar every single day for a two year period of my life,” she reveals in this week’s issue of PEOPLE. “Looking back, that was just what was normal for me, snacking all the time.”
“I have distinct memories of people telling me ‘Oh, you’d be so pretty if you’d just lose 50 lbs.,’ ” recalls the 30-year-old paralegal, who is also known on Instagram by her maiden name, Jessica Metzger . “I remember telling myself I was happy who I am, I was happy this way. I would tell myself positive things, but deep down inside I wasn’t the best version of myself.” She says she got more than a dozen tattoos to “as a way to make myself feel pretty.” She adds, “I dated a few guys who definitely didn’t treat me right, and I felt taken advantage of by friends.”
By the time Battle was 20, she tipped the scales at 280 lbs. But when she was about 25, her father had heart surgery. “It was really an eye-opener for me to see someone so close to me go through such a severe surgery,” she says. “Seeing those health issues really scared me.”
Her first step to getting healthy was heading to her local superstore to buy workout DVDs, and starting to exercise 4-5 times a week. “I knew that doing some form of movement in my living room was better than nothing,” she says. “I had no idea what I would be doing in a gym, and I was completely intimidated by being around people at that size. I did Tae Bo for a couple months, then moved on to different workouts that involved weight training… I still work out in my living room to this day.”
Battle also used My Fitness Pal to keep track of her portions. “Instead of eating an entire frozen pizza, I ate one slice of frozen pizza,” she says. “I knew that jumping right into clean eating and only vegetables and fruits and lean proteins wasn’t going to work for me.” Now, she counts her “macros,” the amounts of protein, fats and carbs that she eats each day, and weighs her food diligently. “It’s tedious, and it’s not always fun,” she says. “I even have a food scale at work… People make fun of me all the time, but I know that to get the results I want, I have to make it a habit.”
For more inspiring weight-loss stories, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
After losing about 60 lbs., she started her Instagram account, @join_jessica_xo, as a way to hold herself accountable during her weight loss journey. About 197,000 followers later, Battle is aware of the power of her influence. “I try to be raw,” she says. “I’m honest about the struggles… I think that women really appreciate that because a lot of time people who share their story only share the ‘ups.’ I’m very willing to share the downs in my journey because I know it makes people feel they’re not alone. We’re all human.”
Battle met her now husband online after losing 100 lbs., and proudly posted her “before” photos on her profile. “Women who have lost a significant amount of weight obviously don’t look like women who have always been thin. I wanted people to know what I’ve been through. Going through extreme weight gain, your skin stretches… I definitely have some loose skin on my body. I definitely have stretch marks everywhere. I’m not completely fit. I don’t look like a fitness model undressed. I wanted somebody that was going to be dating me to realize that.” They married this past March in the Dominican Republic. “I felt absolutely beautiful on my wedding day,” she says. “I know that all
of my hard work getting to this point has paid off. It’s definitely worth it.”
These days, “The best compliment that my husband gives me is when he tells me that I’m strong,” she says. “He is 6’4 and 265 pounds of pure muscle, so for a man like that to tell me that I’m strong is No. 1 in my book.”
Have you lost more than 100 lbs. or half your size? Send your story to email@example.com.