I was on and off with the Challenge since 2018. I had a very unhealthy lifestyle: I ate poorly, didn’t have energy, and never exercised. At my heaviest, I was 300 pounds and couldn’t find a knee brace that fit when I strained my right MCL. My knee was so inflamed I could hardly get up and down the stairs, but I still had to wait a month before I could start physical therapy. I got to thinking, “What can I do in the meantime to heal?” I knew I needed to lose weight and decided in that moment I would make a lifestyle change.

My first step was to give up red meat and dairy. 

At first, it was tricky because I didn’t know what I’d eat as substitutes. But I started learning more about plant-based foods — as well as processed foods and how they could negatively impact my health. I did research and realized I wanted to go vegan. So I stopped eating meat and eating out, and started drinking more water, using fewer processed oils, and enjoying food swaps like chia seed pudding for snacks. I made the transition slowly, which helped a lot.

I picked up the Challenge again in October when my co-worker, Joe O’Laughlin, encouraged me.

Now, I’ve gone gluten-free as well and I’ve become a health resource for my family. I come from a traditional Mexican-American household, so I grew up eating a lot of meat and dairy, as did the rest of my family. When I began transitioning to a plant-based diet, they were a little unsure of my decision. They thought being a vegan meant being malnourished — but they got to watch me become stronger, and it changed their minds. Now they like to try what I eat, and my sister is slowly becoming a vegan, too.

Looking back three or four years ago, I never thought I’d become a vegan or could lose a lot of weight — but I have. 

I’ve also embraced working out and look forward to doing it every day. Joe is a personal trainer and helped me put together a workout plan. Gyms weren’t open at the time because of the pandemic, so I invested in some weights and found ways to move my body in my own space at home. I focused on lifting and I started running outside, and now I do cardio and strength training at the same time. I feel more energized and it turns out, I’m walking better too. I didn’t realize how my knee pain affected my stride until someone told me, “You’re walking better!” 

I have better time management, and I’m making time for myself too.

I like to pick up new hobbies or crafts to challenge myself and get involved in new communities. I’m also sharing more of my story online to connect with other people on their own journeys. The Challenge has pushed me out of my comfort zone and motivated me to put myself out there. I want to inspire other people — whether it’s posting a video of my workout or answering questions about what I eat, I like to help others and want to encourage them to overcome mental hurdles just like I did.

—Erica Camacho, Distribution Center #7024; Sterling, IL; $5K Winner

Through the Thrive Challenge, our community is making Better Choices, seeing big results, and winning big.