Jill Whitcomb
Jill Whitcomb in 1993 with her then 1-year-old son. (Jill Whitcomb)

Fast forward to 2015, and Jill is now a size 16 due to her lifestyle changes. (Jill Whitcomb)

I can still remember that day in 1998. I was shopping at the Plus-sized clothing store in the mall. I'd been buying plus-sized clothing for years. But something changed that day: I hit The End. That is, I had gained so much weight over the years-from stress eating, over eating, and junk food eating that I was wearing a size 28 pants. Not a waist 28, but a size 28. How did this happen? How did I manage to double my weight in 14 years? Something had to change. Later on that week, I was listening to a Paul McCartney CD and something clicked in my head. Paul was vegetarian. His wife, Linda, was vegetarian, as were their four children. So I thought, "What the heck, if it works for Paul McCartney, I'll try it."

I started to read various magazines that featured vegetarian recipes. I bought vegetarian cookbooks. Over the years, my cooking skills improved. I became more daring in the kitchen, cooking things I'd never even imagined before. I was cooking Indian curries, Thai stir-fries, Jamaican red beans and rice, Tex-Mex cheese and vegetable enchiladas, pumpkin soup with a popcorn garnish, and a variety of Italian dishes from scratch. Even my breakfast changed to banana-coconut-macadamia pancakes, oatmeal with walnuts and chopped apples or a vegetable stir-fry with two eggs on top. Finding new vegetarian recipes, and thinking of new ways to eat healthier, became a pleasure. Friends started to rave about my cooking when they never had before. Things were working for me. I felt healthy, and happy, for the first time in years.

The extra pounds started to come off. I wasn't counting calories, or fat grams, or carbs. But I was eating better and healthier than I ever had before. I was eating more whole grains, less junk food, and much more vegetables. As long as the pounds continued to drop, I didn't worry. I wasn't working out for hours, either -- simply walking an hour or so a day and doing some light yoga stretches.

It took a few years, and the weight came off very slowly. These days, I'm no longer a size 28. I'm proudly wearing a size 16. I'd still like to lose another 20 or 30 pounds, and I can do it. For me, it isn't just about the weight loss. I enjoy eating healthier, and I'm a much happier person. Many years ago, a doctor told me that I'd "never" lose weight without surgery or medication. Another doctor told me that I'd "always" have to take two hormonal medications "for the rest of my life". Whether the credit goes to losing a ton of weight or changing to a healthy vegetarian lifestyle, I will never know; but these days, I take no prescription medications for anything, or have any health issues. Nor do I take any over-the-counter medications. My last trip to the hospital was in 1992, when my son was born.

However, maybe you are thinking, "Well, I could never give up meat forever." There are options for you, as well. There are many people who find health benefits being a Flexitarian. That is, they eat anything they want, but do a Meat Free Monday. Monday is the only day where they avoid all meat, seafood, and fish. Just one day a week, and that is it. That sounds pretty easy, doesn't it?

Other people follow a Vegetarian-before-6 PM lifestyle. They avoid meat, seafood, and fish before 6 PM. But then, they eat the meal of their choice at the end of their day. Other people chose to follow a vegetarian diet during the week, and then enjoy their burgers, pizza, and wings on weekends. Do a little experimenting, and find out what works for you and your lifestyle. We all deserve to feel healthier. This is especially true if we have been neglecting our health, and our happiness, for years. Believe me, I've been there.

Change can be scary -- but it doesn't have to be.

Jill Whitcomb is a North Dakota-based writer who is currently residing in Grand Forks. Jill has written for newspaper, magazine, and Prairie Public radio. Jill also writes a blog, SeekYourBliss.blogspot.com, which has garnered readers from 75 countries. Jill enjoys reading, vegetarian cooking, and a strong cup of British tea.