Sometimes your biggest challenge becomes your greatest gift.
This has been the experience for Stacy Cacciatore and her journey toward a healthier life.
Cacciatore, a 33-year-old corporate communications manager and freelance writer, said for her it was all about "going back to the basics."
Looking back, Cacciatore, a resident of the Balmoral neighborhood in Fort Mill, S.C., said she realized she'd never had a healthy relationship with food.
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She was an overweight child growing up in south Charlotte's Starmount neighborhood.
And then in sixth grade, she had a substantial growth spurt and towered over her classmates at 5-foot-10.
Her height did have its advantages. It balanced out her weight and she even began modeling at 12 years old for Action Talent and Modeling Agency, gracing the runway for Seventeen magazine in 1990.
Modeling brought on a new set of weight challenges. Trying to stay slim and competitive, Cacciatore struggled with anorexia through her teens. With the support of her family, she overcame the illness by 17.
Unfortunately, her weight issues didn't dissipate, and she gained weight steadily after marrying her high school sweetheart, Shane Cacciatore, at age 19.
The turning point for Cacciatore was when she looked at a photograph taken of her with two friends around Christmas 1998. She said she was standing between them and it looked as if she was as big as both of them together.
At 220 pounds, Cacciatore realized it was time to change her life.
"I had always hated exercise," Cacciatore said.
As a teen, she was a cheerleader but avoided other sports.
Now, she realized there was nothing else she could do but get moving. Cacciatore started out slowly in 1999 by walking on the treadmill and eventually joined the YMCA.
By December 1999 she lost 80 pounds.
Little did Cacciatore know that she would have to lose the same 80 pounds again, gaining all the weight back during her pregnancy with her first child, Joshua, now 9. It wasn't until October 2007, after her daughter Emily, now 5, turned 1 and stopped breastfeeding that she was able to start losing the weight for the second time.
With the help of Danielle Carlton, a former nutritionist at Carolinas Medical Center, Cacciatore was able to get back on track and lose 70 pounds by fall 2008.
One of the most important things she learned while working with Carlton was her food options, how to pair proteins with carbs and how to track her food based on quality and calories versus just tracking the number of calories, a poignant issue that haunted her during her bout with anorexia.
Now Cacciatore lives by this: "Focus on what you can have and not what you can't."
Her positive approach to eating smart and exercising regularly has changed her life in more ways than just the number on the scale.
Cacciatore's first eBook, "Guilt-Free Cupcakes: Indulge Without the Bulge," details how to make healthy cupcakes that taste good. She has sold about 100 copies since October 2011 through her publishing company, Stained Jem Press.
She also has a second ebook titled "Culinary Duct Tape" and another one titled "Candy Around the World" coming out before Valentine's Day.
Cacciatore now loves to exercise, challenging herself to try new ways to get fit. She ran the Disney marathon in September 2011 and will run the Disney's Princess Half Marathon this month.
Last year, she also began doing triathlons and placed first in her age category at the Baxter Triathlon and second place in her age category in Tri-Ballantyne.
"The old me would think it's impossible to accomplish what I've done," Cacciatore said.
This is why she advises those starting out to not get discouraged.
"Weight loss doesn't always happen quickly, but if you stay with it, it will happen," Cacciatore said. "Make it a part of your everyday life."
Cacciatore encourages her family to stay active by spending time playing outside and doing yoga together.
She also serves as the community fitness chairwoman at Sugar Creek Elementary in Fort Mill, where her children attend school. For two years, Cacciatore has published a health and fitness newsletter called "The Right Bite" for parents and students. It includes activities for children plus recipes and tips for parents on how to help kids stay active.
Cacciatore said the best part of the process has been giving back to the community through what she has learned.