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This Latina Woman Has Lost 120 Pounds With Running, and Is Setting an Example for Her Community

Runner’s World logo Runner’s World 1/13/2021 Jessica Marie Fuentes as told to Andrew Dawson
Liza Del Mundo et al. posing for the camera: Jessica Marie Fuentes was 430 pounds when she decided to start running and eat healthier. Two years later, she’s 120 pounds down and counting. © Courtesy Jessica Fuentes Jessica Marie Fuentes was 430 pounds when she decided to start running and eat healthier. Two years later, she’s 120 pounds down and counting.

Name: Jessica Marie Fuentes

Age: 27

Occupation: Administrative Assistant

Hometown: Houston

Start Weight: 430 pounds

End Weight: 310 pounds

Time Running: 2 years

I was leaving work in July 2018 when, out of nowhere, I fell against a podium in the hallway and chipped my tooth. When I went to get it fixed, my dentist spent 30 minutes telling me how my diet was impacting my teeth and that if I didn’t make changes, I would lose them before I was 30.

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This was eye-opening for me. At that time, I weighed 430 pounds. I also noticed my health deteriorating, and I would get sick every month. I didn’t want to go down this path anymore.

I had tried weight loss in the past. In 2015, when I was 22, my ultrarunning brother encouraged me to sign up for 5Ks and 10Ks. It was slow, but even at 430 pounds, I could finish a 5K in two hours. Through running and working with a nutritionist, I lost 60 pounds.

However, I was not serious about keeping the weight off, because I gained back over 100 pounds in two years. A big part of regaining the weight was because of my depression and anxiety. I will admit, I did not love myself for a very long time, and when I was mad and sad, I coped by eating.

Finally, I decided enough was enough.

When restarting my weight loss journey, I received good advice from my brother. He told me once in a conversation that he could not make any changes for me, and I needed to make changes for myself.

Once I got going again in 2019, I slowly started to lose weight. In addition to running, I also worked on my diet. One of the things I found difficult about sticking to a diet in the past, aside from a poor mental mindset, was that food was always available. If you come from a Latino(a) household, food is a big part of our culture. No diets fit from a cultural perspective.

I thought I was a product of my environment, but I mostly needed to work on portion control. My views on diets finally changed when a friend introduced me to a keto diet. I researched it, and at first, I resisted, because the Latina in me was not able to enjoy traditional foods. However, the more I got into it, the more I started to incorporate Latino(a) style dishes, which ironically led to my love of cooking.

One way I know that the food that I am cooking and eating meets Latino(a) standards is from my mother. For example, I have replaced regular rice with cauliflower rice, which meets my mother’s seal of approval. So finding the right balance on the food that I eat while losing weight and still maintaining my roots has been key to sticking to my current diet.

A year and a half into my running journey, I truly see the impact of losing weight. I am down 120 pounds to 310. Life is different. I feel like I have more energy. My support system tells me I seem happier and smile more. For the first time, I’m able to wear a belt and women’s clothing. I sleep well, and I haven’t been sick in over nine months.

I’m even looking forward to getting inside an airplane when the pandemic is over. I won’t have to ask for an additional seatbelt strap, and when I return to El Salvador to see my grandmother, it will be a new me I hope she’ll be proud of.

My work isn’t done yet. My goal weight is 175 pounds. I also want to keep running and continue getting faster. Currently, I’m 310 pounds and can finish a 5K between 35 and 40 minutes. I even want to run a half and full marathon someday. I ran my farthest on January 10, hitting a new distance PR of 7.45 miles and am excited to try to beat that.

What I also hope to do with my running is bring attention to mental health issues, especially in the Latino(a) community where the subject is not often discussed. For example, Latinos tend to carry the responsibility of being the breadwinner of the house, and Latinas have this stigma of being homemakers.

There are a lot of complexities about our culture, which manifest into the lack of proper nutrition and healthy eating. I am very lucky to have a great support system by my mother and brother, but we are still learning about depression and anxiety, and how to change views that are very much a part of the Latino(a) experience. It is something I hope I can be a voice for.

To anyone like me out there who wants to begin their journey, my advice is to not be afraid to fail. Weight loss and healthy living are not a sprint. They are not even a marathon. They are a journey.

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