“I was always feeling myself,” the 27-year-old tells PEOPLE. “I wasn’t scared to wear a two-piece bathing suit or trendy outfits. I wasn’t always the happiest about my image, but I didn’t let that hold me back.”
But after she graduated from college, Vasquez found herself in “a post-grad slump.”
“I couldn’t find the job that I wanted, and I had trouble adapting,” she says.
Living in Chattanooga, Tenn., she and her friends would go for hours-long, mimosa-filled brunches every weekend and dine on fried chicken and waffles. And her other meals were just as caloric — Vasquez relied on fast food and remembers one day when she and her roommate ate at the southern burger joint Krystal’s three times.
“I was getting heavier and heavier,” she says. “I started to notice that my confidence was going down, and I wasn’t motivated to do anything. It started to click that if I didn’t change my life that it would just get worse and worse.”
“I remember one proposal session on a mountain and I had to run up and down this trail,” she says. “I couldn’t keep up with the couple and I remember that day was a big moment because I felt so out of shape. I was so embarrassed because I was so exhausted.”
“Within a few weeks my body started to change and that helped me stay motivated,” she says.
Vasquez also started cooking more of her meals and going for healthier options. She stuck to a low-carb diet as much as possible, but didn’t cut out fast food completely — “I didn’t want to restrict too many things,” she says. One of the biggest moments in her weight loss journey came when Itsines shared one of Vasquez’s progress photos on Instagram.
“That was one of the best moments for me, because it helped me break down a wall I had up,” she says. “Before I was heavy and I didn’t want anyone to know that I had gained weight after college and that I was struggling, but having that out in the world tore that wall down. It helped me share my story and meet other people like me who were tackling their weight problems.”
And slowly but surely, the weight started coming off.
“Year after year, month after month, I made small little goals and just kept going,” she says. “I hit 80 lbs. down in fall 2017. That was such a big moment for me. That was my original weight loss goal. I had these jars with marbles in them, and every time I lost a pound I would move a marble to the other jar. When I hit 80 lbs. down and moved that last marble it was such an amazing moment.”
In the year-and-a-half since, Vasquez has worked on maintaining her weight loss with a few ups and downs — she opened up to her now-72,800 Instagram followers in January that she was “constantly yo-yoing” in weight during 2018 and wanted to find a better balance. And in the months since, she accomplished one of her bucket list goals: running a half marathon.