Kaci DeWitt-Rickards remembers being a chunky kid with a steady diet of Burger King chicken tenders, vanilla milkshakes and Papa John's pizza.
By her sophomore year in college at the University of Miami, her adolescent pudge had ballooned into a weight problem. The 5-foot-4 exercise physiology major hit her heaviest weight ever that fall in 2010, weighing in at 167 pounds.
She felt bad about herself and didn't have a lot of energy. But most of all, she felt like a hypocrite as she studied for a career to help people stay fit.
"If you're going to go out and teach a healthy lifestyle, you have to live it," DeWitt-Rickards remembers a professor saying that fall semester.
"That really struck me, because I wasn't living it," she said.
After winter break that school year, DeWitt-Rickards returned to college from her home in Forest, Va., determined to lose weight. She started by cutting out three of her weaknesses: soft drinks, pizza and french fries. She also started an exercise plan.
Months of hard work paid off, and these days DeWitt-Rickards weighs 110 pounds. The 23-year-old, who is studying for a doctorate in physical therapy at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, will talk about her journey to weight loss on an episode of the "The View" on Thursday.
DeWitt-Rickards is part of a group of fans chosen to appear on the talk show because they had success losing weight through eating better and exercising. The show's producers hoped to demonstrate that weight loss can be achieved without the personal chefs, trainers and other luxuries available to wealthier people, a spokeswoman said.
DeWitt-Rickards answered a query on "The View's" website. Producers liked that she was a younger viewer with a story about gaining weight in college to which many people could relate.
The first month was hard without her favorite foods, but her cravings soon started to disappear, DeWitt-Rickards said. It helped that she was on campus and not home in Virginia, where she had learned all her bad eating habits.
In Miami, the weather was also better. She could walk to many places without having to drive. She also started a treadmill workout — walking five miles in an hour and 15 minutes — in between classes. It was during this workout, she said, that she started watching "The View" and became a fan.
The more she exercised, the faster and stronger she got. Soon she was running instead of walking. She had newfound energy and started missing her workouts when she skipped one. The weight started to melt away.
What she learned in her classes helped DeWitt-Rickards. For instance, she figured out how to cut enough calories so that she would lose weight but not starve herself. When the body doesn't get enough nutrients, it stores fat, inhibiting weight loss.
While some people hit plateaus and regain weight, DeWitt-Rickards became almost too good at losing weight. She soon weighed less than 100 pounds, with what she described as the body of a 12-year-old boy. She stopped having periods. She was always cold because she had no fat to insulate her body.
"I did not feel feminine anymore," she said. "It is some kind of feeling to see yourself in the mirror and not look like a woman."
The once-plump woman found herself learning how to eat again. Now, DeWitt-Rickards said, she no longer deprives herself of food. She eats high-fiber cereals or veggie omelettes for breakfast. She is also a fan of rice and stir-fry.
"I don't hold back when I have a craving," she said. "If I feel like I want a treat, I'll have that treat."
She was making tacos with friends while on vacation in Miami when she listened to a voice mail from producers of "The View." She had spent much of the day lounging in a swimsuit she wouldn't have dared worn in her college days.
DeWitt-Rickards was excited when she got the call from producers. Now she's feeling just a tad bit anxious about appearing on live television.
"I am slightly terrified," she said.
But she's also eager to tell her story. Healthful living has become a part of her being. She even inspired her father to take up exercising. He lost 40 pounds and at one point was walking 10 miles a day.
"She inspired me," DeWitt-Rickards' dad, Tom, said. "She worked at it quite a bit and was determined and focused. In the end, she felt so much better and was happier."
DeWitt-Rickards sets new fitness goals to keep herself trim. She plans to run a sprint marathon in the near future.
"Growing up, I was always the chubby kid," she said. "But I am definitely not anymore."
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