It was early 2008 when Jenny Hodges of Land O’ Lakes decided she wanted to live.
But to do that, she had a lot to lose.
The weight hadn’t come on suddenly, Hodges said. When she graduated from high school, she was about 170 pounds. By the time she was 20— 250 pounds.
A crash diet before her sister’s wedding got her back down to 200 pounds, a weight she maintained until she met her husband in 1999. When they married in 2000, she was back up to 250.
By 2008, at age 37, she had reached 369 pounds.
A stay-at-home mom of three young children and a full-time graduate student at the University of South Florida, Hodges spent all of her time studying and taking care of other people.
But with her health in decline, she realized that if she didn’t start taking care of herself, she wouldn’t be around to take care of anyone else, she said.
“I would try a diet for a day,” Hodges said. When it didn’t work immediately, she would give up.
“In all honesty I didn’t really do anything,” she said. “ I just thought ‘What’s the point?’”
She struggled with finding a balance in her daily life that would allow her to make the changes she knew had to be made. It seemed an "insurmountable task," she said.
Still, it was do or die.
“One day I looked at my kids and made the decision and said, ‘I want to join a gym,'” Hodges said.
Though she made the decision that day, nothing came of it right away, she said.
Her husband, who never said a negative word about her weight, shrugged off the idea, saying she would never use a gym, Hodges said.
Six months passed.
Then one day, after realizing her resolve, he came home with the membership to on State Road 54 in Land O’ Lakes.
“And I found that I loved exercise,” Hodges said. She made it a part of her daily routine, never less than 30 minutes a day, seven days a week.
In the first three months, she lost 30 pounds.
“At first I didn’t change my diet,” Hodges said. But once she saw the results of regular exercise, she wanted to do more.
To make those changes, Hodges faced another hurdle.
“I grew up not really knowing how to eat,” Hodges said.
As a child growing up in the 1970s, dinner came out of a box, or from a fast-food restaurant, she said.
“The veggies went bad in the fridge.”
What she needed was an overhaul of habits she’d developed over a lifetime.
“So I started Weight Watchers,” Hodges said. And within a month she lost another 20 pounds.
“It just started dropping off,” Hodges said.
Hodges chose not use the boxed Weight Watchers meals, she said, because she wanted to stay away from packaged, processed foods. Instead she attended the weekly meetings and used what she learned to implement changes in her family’s diet: more fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and healthy oils.
“I needed to learn how to eat and cook,” she said.
The weekly meetings helped change her habits and provided accountability.
And the resulting weight loss “really gave me the motivation and confidence that I could complete this journey,” Hodges said.
Even more encouragement came from her son, Ronin, who was three at the time. Hodges was dropping the kids off at the gym’s child-care center when he “grabbed my butt and said ‘Mom, your butt is getting so much smaller!’"
That’s what was eye-level for him, and that’s what he noticed, Hodges laughed.
I thought ‘Dude, you just gave me the motivation to work out harder today!’" Hodges said.
By April of 2011, 32 months after she first stepped foot in the gym, Hodges had shed 212 pounds.
She lost the weight of entire person, and found herself.
“It was just a journey of self-discovery,” Hodges said. "Without the journey, I wouldn't be the person I am now."
After six weeks of maintaining her goal weight, she earned Weight Watchers lifetime status. The end of that 6-week period marked a tremendous accomplishment, but not the end of the journey.
Instead it was the beginning of a new journey, which kicked off with a whirlwind of attention she never saw coming: a national commercial, an appearance on a popular TV show, an infomercial.
And it all started on Facebook.