It still amazes Jessica when colleagues ask her for advice about healthy food choices, exercises or Texas Health Resources' BeHealthy wellness program. That's because five years ago, Jessica took daily blood pressure medication and weighed 103 pounds more than she does today.
"People ask my advice. They email me. They share their struggles and say I'm an inspiration," says Jessica, operations manager for Texas Health HEB's laboratory. "It's a great feeling to be a role model. I never thought that would happen."
Almost 14 years ago, she collapsed and was rushed to the Emergency Department at Texas Health HEB, where she was already working. Doctors determined that she had a heart murmur and high blood pressure.
"My father had open heart surgery when I was in my 20s. I almost lost him," said Jessica, who is now 30. "After seeing what he went through and after having my daughter in 2008, I decided I had to make a change."
In 2008, Jessica joined Weight Watchers @ Work, offered through BeHealthy. At that time, she weighed 265 pounds and committed to a starting weight loss goal of five pounds.
Her weight loss was dramatic the first year as she made healthy eating choices and started an exercise regime. She credits the structure and accountability of the Weight Watchers program for helping keep her on-track.
Now, five years later and more than 100 pounds lighter, Jessica no longer needs blood pressure medication. She brings her lunch every day and enjoys cooking meals at home. Her favorite recipe to make is Weight Watchers' taco soup.
Jessica's exercise program includes 60 to 90 minutes of cardio in the gym five to six times a week. She's also mapped out a one-mile walking trail around Texas Health HEB.
"I enjoy doing a combined high-speed and high-incline walk on the stair machine, treadmill or elliptical. It really makes me feel like I'm challenging myself," Jessica said. "I also enjoy weight training, and now I can say with no shame I love getting into my swimsuit and going swimming! I have reprogrammed myself to live a healthy lifestyle and enjoy doing it."
Jessica has even registered to run in her first marathon in February. And, even though she's lost 103 pounds, Jessica's goal is to shed 21 more pounds by this August.
"I have lots of accountability," she said. "We have a weigh in every Thursday and now that people know my story, they watch me! I have to do what's right. It's for me but also for them. I don't want to let them down."
The American Heart Association recently commended Jessica's journey and success. She received the organization's Fit-Friendly Recognition Award from the Dallas chapter.
"Jessica has made great strides in health improvement and lifestyle change. We are very proud of the progress she has made," said Kami Gilbert, a Texas Health Wellness Administrator, who nominated her. "It is exciting to see our employees embrace wellness and make lasting lifestyle changes to improve their health."
Jessica's advice to anyone who wants to make a lifestyle change is to be structured and disciplined.
"It's never too late to start. It's never too hard. Just take baby steps and have a strong will," she said. "If your will doesn't match your desire, you'll never make your goal."