Growing up, I was one of the heavier kids. When I grew into my body more in high school, I still had a very athletic, muscular build, and I accepted that. I would tell my mom, Im just big bonedIm not meant to be skinny. I was about 120 pounds, and I felt pretty average.
I started doing pageants my sophomore year of high school, and I won Miss Montana Teen USA in 2013. I would read all the blogs and comments about me, even though I knew I shouldnt. People would say things like, Montana has the face to win, but her body might ruin it for her.
After that, I developed an eating disorder, restricting calories and over-exercising. I was underweight when I competed in Miss Teen USA.
When I left the pageant world and went to college, I let myself go.
When I stopped competing and exited that world, I finally felt like I wasnt being judged anymoreand I wanted nothing to do with being healthy. I hated going to the gym, and I hated eating healthy foods, because those things had such negative connotations for me after trying to fulfill a certain ideal for the pageant world. I gained about 80 pounds, and I didnt even realize it at first because I was just so unhappy with myself.
But the cycle of weight ups and downs didn't stop there. I had gone to college with my high school sweetheart, and we eventually broke up. After we split, I noticed that he started going to the gym all the time and got this amazing body. I was like, this is my time! Its my turn to step it up. I definitely felt fueled by that so-called "revenge body" mindset, which also wasn't healthy.
I moved home and started working out twice a day while working three jobs. I was so busy running around all the time that I wasnt making sure I was eating the nutrients I needed. I was just so set on losing all the weight I had gained and getting super fit that I didnt do it in a healthy or sustainable way. In six months, I lost everything I had gainedand more.
One night, at dinner with my family, my grandfather asked me if I was sick and said I didnt look well. That was when I reevaluated *everything.*
All I wanted to do was start over. Im from a small town, and at that point, I felt like everyone was talking about meI was bigger, then I was smaller, then I was bigger again, then I was smaller again. I was over it. I decided to move to Atlanta for a new beginning.
Since then, Ive finally found my happy medium.
When I first started to lose weight, I had a goal that I was working towards, and if I had to work out twice a day to reach that goal, then I would. But once I moved to Atlanta and hit the reset button on my mindset, I had a new goal: to focus on doing what makes me happiest .
So now, I just try to hit the gym three to five times per week and do workouts I enjoy. I fell in love with group fitness classes like 9Round kickboxing and Orangetheory because theyre quick, but intense. 9Round is only 30 minutes, and its a great burn. I love cardio, so Ill sometimes go to the gym in my apartment and run or do HIIT.
I used to hate fruits and vegetables because I thought there was only one way to eat things, but now I love looking for new recipes. For example, I replaced my go-to chips and dip for carrot chips and hummusits so good!
Heres what I typically eat in a day now:
- Breakfast: Avocado toast and coffee
- Lunch: I like to eat lots of small meals throughout the day
- Dinner: Chicken with lots of veggies or sweet potatoes
- Dessert: Toasted coconut-flavored Greek yogurt with dark chocolate flakes
When I was chosen to be a contestant on season 24 of The Bachelor , I knew I wanted to open up about my body-image struggles in my intro package.
I wanted to help other women feel their best, too. TV always projects a particular image of what the perfect woman should look like, but I wanted everyone to know that its not about the size you are. Its about being happy with where youre at.
Ive been completely overwhelmed by the messages Ive been getting from people saying my story inspired them. Its crazy. Im working on developing my own bootcamp program with fun, high-intensity workouts that boss women can fit into a busy schedule. I want to help others achieve their goals in a healthy way.
I still work as a patient care coordinator for a plastic surgeon, which may sound strange after what Ive been through, but I just want to make people happy. Women come in to the office all the time and say theyre worried about appearing vain because they want to make some physical changes to their appearance, but Im like, If youre happy and youre doing what you want, nobody can stop you. I absolutely love my job for that reason.
In the past, I was so fixated on everyone elses judgment that I forgot to realize my own happiness. But now Im at a point in my life where my happiness is all that matters. It doesnt matter what size I am as long as Im happy and healthy where Im at right now. And I can honestly say that Im at the happiest point in my life that Ive ever been.
As told to Amanda Lucci