Laura McNemee can point to the exact day she knew she needed to do something about her weight. In the summer of 2018 her son Jacob, who has severe autism, ran away from her. “I almost couldn’t catch him. And I realized if I didn’t change something, I wasn’t going to be able to take care of him. For him to be safe, I needed to change,” she said.

McNemee’s weight gain followed her son’s diagnosis with autism. “I was in a pretty dark, depressed state because of his diagnosis,” she said. “I dove deep down into trying to help him and forgot about myself. I was eating my feelings and my stress rather than dealing with it.”

By the time Jacob ran off, McNemee’s weight had climbed to more than 300 pounds. She made a deal with herself. For two weeks, she was going to get up and exercise in the morning, and she was going to eat better. “I told myself if I didn’t feel better, I could stop,” she said.

McNemee focused on clean eating, exercise and building a community as part of her weight-loss journey.

She ate clean, whole foods and started walking. “To be honest, the first two or three days were pretty rough. I was still kind of detoxing, I guess. But I made myself that promise. And after that, I started feeling more energy,” she said.

And she noticed something that surprised her — she felt happier: “I wasn’t as depressed. I wasn’t as anxious. The mental health benefits were a shock to me.”

She added weightlifting to her workout routine. “That was a big game changer for me, building muscle,” she said. And thanks to the mental health benefits, it’s been easy for her to stick with her weightlifting routine: “I work out every day when I get up. It’s my favorite time of the day sometimes.”