(CNN) — Teena Henson’s “journey to life” began with a newspaper ad.
She remembers wishing they had an Anytime Fitness in her hometown of Gilmer, Texas. She specifically wanted to join Anytime Fitness because it is open 24/7 and is made for men and women of all levels of fitness.
“Then there was an ad in the local paper that Anytime Fitness was opening,” she said. “It was like, ‘Here it is; it’s in your hands. Now, what are you going to do with it?’ ”
Determined to get herself on the right track, Henson signed up at the gym while it was still under construction.
It was March 2011; Henson was 5-foot-4 and 332 pounds. She knew that her poor diet and inactivity were not the path to a long, healthy life. She didn’t suffer from any serious health problems, but her parents and three brothers were all diabetic so she knew the potential consequences.
Henson, 54, is very close with her family. Loved ones, especially her mom, would often approach her with concerns about her health, telling her she should lose weight.
“I think the older I got, the more concerned my mom became because she knew she wouldn’t be there to take care of me,” Henson says. “She was my No. 1 supporter on my plan to exercise and lose weight.”
In the past, Henson would put herself on diets to make everyone happy, but they wouldn’t last long.
There was an endless array of rules, from eating nothing but grapefruits to nothing but carbs, until she realized that “diets” just weren’t for her.
“For me, ‘diet’ is a four-letter word for failure,” she said.
What she was looking for was a lifestyle change. And not because her friends and family wanted it for her, but because she wanted it for herself.
With Anytime Fitness’ hours, Henson had no trouble finding time to work out. She goes to the gym every day after work for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. She even created a mantra:
“I have a desire to work out. I keep a determination to work out. I created a discipline to work out, and I choose to work out.”
What she struggled with most was changing her eating habits.
She started by cutting out soft drinks and dropped 18 pounds in the first month.
Her mom, known as Mama Henson to many of Henson’s friends, cheered her on daily and was excited to see her daughter start to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
“Every day she would ask me, ‘How much you lose today?’ I would laugh and say, ‘Mom, I can’t lose every day.’ But she would tell me that I was trying and that’s all that matters,” said Henson.
After cutting out soda, Henson started making healthier food choices.
She continued to eat at fast food restaurants because it was convenient, switching out fried chicken for grilled, a side of fries for a side salad.
By December 2011, Henson was down 64 pounds and healthier than ever. Unfortunately, her mom’s health was deteriorating. Mama Henson had suffered several seizures and mini-strokes that severely weakened her.
Henson’s healthier lifestyle would help provide the mental and physical strength she would need in the final months caring for her mother.
Two months before her mother died, Henson remembers walking into the house after a workout. She had lost 100 pounds at this point. Her mother looked up at her and said, “You’re pretty.”
“We both just started crying,” Henson said. “I don’t have a clue why she said it; it was a memorable moment.”
Mama Henson passed away in August 2012.
Whenever Henson loses sight of why she’s working out or skipping sweets, she thinks of her mom’s smile and how much she wanted her daughter to be happy.
“I knew she was proud of me for losing the weight,” Henson said. “I know she felt I was going to be OK now that I had lost the weight.”
In the past year, Henson has made even more changes to her diet. She has started to eat products like quinoa, whole wheat bread and fresh vegetables.
“There was a time when you couldn’t have gotten broccoli anywhere near me.” But now she roasts it and includes it in her meals for the week. She cooks in bulk on the weekends, freezing meals in individual containers for during the week so she knows exactly how many calories she’s eating. She aims to eat 1,200 calories a day.
In less than three years, Henson has lost 166 pounds, or 50% of her body weight. On March 8, she celebrated the three-year anniversary of her first step into Anytime Fitness.
Losing the weight has helped her find an inner strength. It allows her to see a glimpse of the strong, accomplished woman her mother always saw.
One of Henson’s passions has been participating in 5K walks for charity. Since she started working out three years ago, she has participated in five walks and recently finished one in 46 minutes, her personal best.
Henson’s transformation has been so complete that her doctor, who has been monitoring her progress since she started losing weight, uses her pictures to show patients what a little determination can do.
“The smallest of changes one can make in their present lifestyle can garner big changes,” Henson said, “not only in the physical body, but in the mind.”
By Maggie Blaha, Special to CNN
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