As a kid, I played softball and volleyball and ran track. I wasn't a standout athlete, but I was always active. That changed when I went off to college and threw myself into my schoolwork. The most exercise I'd get was hauling around my textbooks! I also developed some bad eating habits — having waffles loaded with syrup for breakfast every day, and using pizzas to get through a night of studying. By the time I got my master's degree, I'd jumped six dress sizes.
My clothes got even tighter once I entered the working world. I had a hectic schedule as a hospital executive, and on top of that I was finishing up my doctorate in public health and teaching. I never seemed to have time to work out, and my diet was almost as bad as it had been in college.
Things changed a few years ago, after my dad was diagnosed with diabetes. The disease runs in my family, and my grandmother died from diabetes-related complications. I knew that I had to gain control of my life before I ended up in the same position.
But I didn't just want to get on some diet — I craved real, lasting change. So I made gradual tweaks, like eliminating a different unhealthy food every three weeks. First I gave up soda, then juice and late-night snacks, then fast food. The one-at-a-time approach made it easier to not feel deprived.
Soon after I decided to focus on my health, my husband and I separated, and going to the gym became my version of therapy. At first I'd run on the treadmill and do sit-ups, but that got boring real quick, so I started going to group fitness classes. I tried as many as I could — yoga, Pilates, boot camp — and became obsessed! I especially loved the encouragement I got from instructors. I ended up losing 30 pounds in six months.
So many people asked me how I lost the weight that I started a fitness blog, DrKristianH.com. Before long, friends began suggesting that I lead classes myself; within the past year, I've gotten certified to teach barre and yoga and serve as a group fitness instructor. Whenever someone comes up to me after a class and thanks me, it's a feeling I can't compare to anything else in the world.
Plus, once I started taking health seriously, my dad did, too. He's changed his own eating habits —he'll even call me for advice — and has gotten more active, which helps keep his diabetes under control. Cycling has become our special father-daughter activity.
I've found balance in my life and feel so much freer — it's why I can't help but smile during class. What started off as a physical pursuit opened up my whole life. I'm my best self now, and I want to inspire other women to be their best too.
This story originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.