Dawn Elizabeth Smith was always overweight. And while she was confident, anytime people brought up her weight, it was a sore spot. She knew early on she needed to make a change.
“I was always emotional. I always wore my feelings on my sleeve,” she tells ESSENCE. “I told myself, if I stay like this I won’t be successful at anything if I always let other people’s perception of me make me feel a certain way or let their opinions become my own.”
So she tried to make those changes early on. She was active and attempted to be healthier throughout high school, but by the time she went away to college, things hit a wall. Smith was free to do what she wanted, eat how she wanted, and was no longer in tune with her goals. Then tragedy struck.
Her best friend was killed in 2018 and she spiraled into a depression. To make matters worse, soon after, she got bit by a snake while on a trip. Her emotions came to a head, both the grief of losing her friend and the frustration over a lack of mobility due to her injury. She was fed up with feeling uncomfortable internally and externally.
“When I was on the couch I sat there and cried for one week,” she recalls. “I said ‘Ok, Dawn, you’ve got to put your health first.'”
At that time, then a student, she was 311 pounds. She was struggling to get around campus as the snake bite left her hobbling, without crutches, on one foot. While her foot healed, she started planning how she was going to give it her all to feel and be her best. January of 2019, she got to work.
“When I started, I started,” she says. “I never imagined I’d be where I am today.”
Three years later, she’s lost more than 150 pounds and is more physically active than ever. She recently ran a marathon and is far from the young girl “who could just eat up the whole table.” When her mindset changed, her life changed, and it started with food. No more salads all day and depriving herself with this journey. Instead, a friend helped her understand macros, fats, proteins and carbs and she focused on that, only going to the gym twice a week for 30 minutes.
“I would do simple stuff that I knew, squats, crunches and jumping jacks,” she says. “At the end of my workout I would get on the treadmill for one minute. That’s how I got into the habit of running.” Eventually, you couldn’t get her out of the gym because she began to enjoy it so much.
But it was the app MyFitnessPal that really was the tool that helped her turn things around. She realized it’s all about what you eat. She could see how eating a lot of fast food took up a great deal of her daily allotment of calories.
“It helped me realize how many different things you can eat,” she says. “You can get more food for less calories.”
She started learning how to make healthier eats, like baked chicken and more, which helped her be in control of what was in her food and allowed her to keep her calories low. But she does find a way to treat herself.
“I still have a dessert every night because that’s what keeps me going and it fits in my macros,” she says. “Plus, I know that being on this journey for three years, any time I restrict myself it always ends up bad. So I make sure that I still eat what I love while prioritizing healthier foods.”
She even logs food in MyFitnessPal that she will eat days in advance to stay on track. Her use of it has encouraged so many others, like her more than 67,000 Instagram followers, to download the app.
“The first step of being on a weight-loss journey is being aware of what you’re eating, not necessarily if it’s good or bad but how much you’re actually eating,” she says. “That’s a good way to start knowing how much is on your plate.”
In 11 months she lost 150 pounds and has continued to shed moderately as the years have passed. It wasn’t easy, as she admits she initially would sabotage her efforts by going out to drink with friends every weekend. When she realized how counterproductive that was, she stayed committed to being consistent, logging her food, being active and utilizing rest days. She was consistent even when she didn’t see results quickly.
“I didn’t worry about the results,” she says. “I decided to fall in love with the journey. “
It’s helped Smith not have end goals. What keeps her motivated these days is the people she has had the opportunity to physically train, people who are where she once was.
“We’re all working together, we’re all on the same mission,” she says. “When I had my first class in my driveway, so many ladies showed up. That just let me know I could help them. But when I started getting clients to commit to the process and get great results…that’s the best thing about being a trainer.”
The journey hasn’t been a straight line for her, and it’s had its hiccups, but Smith stays driven by the women she supports and by the memory of the “unaware” and “carefree” woman she used to be.
“I always tell myself, ‘Dawn, you might slip up a couple times, but just never ever let yourself go back to the old you,” she says. “I gotta keep going. I don’t know what my body can do but I’m going to find out everything it can do before I leave this earth.”