Ashley Kaye Fumagalli was very active growing up and danced competitively until the age of 17, practicing between five and six hours a day.
But during high school she started piling on the pounds and began being bullied about her weight, which took a huge toll on her confidence.
Ron Lester was a Hollywood actor who became famous for playing Billy Bob, the 500-pound high school football player in the 1999 blockbuster movie, Varsity Blues. He also starred on the WB Television series, Popular. At age 30, after his massive obesity had caused him to have four arthroscopic knee surgeries and two “mild” heart attacks, he had gastric bypass surgery and eventually lost 349 pounds, going from 508 pounds down to 159 pounds. After that, he had 17 plastic surgeries to remove his excessively-stretched skin. In 2008, he was the keynote speaker at the ObesityHelp National Conference. In 2016, at the very young age of 45, he died of kidney, liver, heart and lung failure caused primarily by damage from his years of massive obesity.
My lifestyle before this past year was extremely social. However, the majority of that revolved around extravagant dinners and constant cocktails after long nights at the office. I was eating whatever I wanted, often ordering an appetizer before my meal and dessert afterward. On top of that, I’d consume three, sometimes four or five glasses of white wine. Eating was something I did with abandon. I felt like I was perpetually hungry, even after I’d just eaten. I’d make excuses to attend fancy dinners and partake in all the culinary splendor New York City has to offer.
On quiet nights home, I’d cook for myself, making decadent recipes from cookbooks to try to enhance my culinary skills. Looking back, those portions were enough for two or sometimes three people.
I never exercised, and I made excuses to avoid going to a workout when others invited me along. Sometimes I felt motivated and started walking consistently each day, but I always went alone. That way I could make it easy. Eventually, people stopped asking me to join them.
I hated my life and how I felt. Worst of all, I had absolutely no sense of self-worth. I was unhappy in almost everything, especially my job, where I felt like I was constantly being beaten down. I was in a bad place, but because I was paid well, I covered up how I was feeling with fake friendships, parties, food, and a social circle.
Ana Barboza had been steadily gaining weight since moving to a new state and dealing with a hormonal imbalance. Before she knew it, she was 262 lbs.
“I had a bad relationship with food,” the 5’3″ IP docketing systems coordinator, 30, tells PEOPLE. “I grew up in a Latin culture and my parents were always telling me, ‘You have to eat all your food!’ And they gave me massive amounts of food.”
She put on more weight when she relocated from New York to Washington, D.C.
“I used to live in New York, and I was more active and moving around. When I moved to D.C. for work, I gained 35 lbs. and I couldn’t drop it,” she says. “I also have PCOS [polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal disorder that can cause irregular periods, unexplained weight gain and difficulty getting pregnant], which makes you gain weight. I was pre-diabetic, my feet would swell and my cholesterol was through the roof. I was a heart attack waiting to happen.”