REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Kathy Stephens' head was spinning.

It was the summer of 2001, and standing in the aisles of Walmart, the 305 pounds she carried on her 5-foot-2 frame had finally become too much.

"I was too heavy," Stephens said. "I just asked God to help get this weight off of me. That was my red light moment."

For years, food had been the comfort in Stephens' life. Tipping the scales at a size 26, the Defense Military Pay Office worker was tired of people's stares, tired of feeling constantly out of breath, and tired of feeling not good enough.

"When you're that size, you don't enjoy your presence," Stephens said. "It's just too much trying to breathe and sit down."

In addition to the physical pains of obesity, emotionally, Stephens was at a crossroads. Either she could overcome the fear of becoming a healthier person or allow the health complications from being so overweight take over her life.

"I was afraid of being at a healthy weight," Stephens said. "For a long time, I thought that it couldn't happen to me. But I tackled it, because it's 200 percent mental. What else could I lose'
I took it step by step, day by day and saw myself achieving the goal that I set for myself, removing that negativity from my head."

Looking deep inside herself, Stephens found the courage to begin a new chapter in her life. In January 2002, she started the Atkins diet, filling her diet with low carbohydrate foods and incorporating exercise into her daily life. The initial attention she received was almost enough to hold her back, but Stephens persevered.

"When you're a size 26 and you're exercising, walking for 30 minutes is difficult because you've got to deal with the stares, you've got to deal with the public," Stephens said. "And it's unfortunate that people look at your size when you're trying to do something healthy for yourself. But I made up my mind. It's not about them. I wanted to get fit and healthy so I could enjoy my presence, whether it's alone or amongst people."

Stephens powered through the emotional and physical pain to lose 80 pounds, an accomplishment she sustained through 2008. Wanting to lose another 70 pounds, but knowing that she had gone as far as she could with the Atkins program, Stephens began to research other weight loss methods - Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, even gastric bypass surgery. Instead, she forged her own path, choosing not to diet, but to change her whole lifestyle, by eating lots of fish, skinless chicken, vegetables, egg whites and drinking at least eight glasses of water a day. Upping her workout to five to six times a week, Stephens chose to incorporate both strength training and cardio. Within nine months of developing her plan, Stephens had lost 82 pounds.

"Fitness brings confidence," Stephens said. "It brings self-awareness. It brings success. You appreciate yourself more even though there's a lot of everyday distractions in our lives, whether it's from the haters or the negativity. You can't avoid that. You have to value yourself as a human being to know that you are worthy of any accomplishments you put before you."

Today, Stephens maintains her weight by eating healthy six days out of the week, and allowing for a little wiggle room on the seventh day, indulging in the occasional butter pecan waffle cone or a cheeseburger and fries. She continues to run, now five to eight miles, four or five times a week, and weight trains. Her once size 26 figure now boasts somewhere between a size four or six.

"People ask me, 'How does it feel to be the size you are now'" Stephens said. "A lot of times I feel like doing cartwheels, but most of the time I don't have words for what I feel inside. I can't express it. I feel amazing inside as well as outside."

Stephens new mission in life is to help others achieve that same sense of accomplishment. Starting out small, Stephens has helped friends and family to a better state of wellness. Beginning this spring, Stephens will train individuals in her program, "The Beast," on a case-by-case basis. All candidates will have to submit to an interview with Stephens to determine if they are a right fit for the program.

"It's life changing," said daughter Christina, who has lost 45 pounds on her mom's plan. "She's constantly on it. I see her, and if she can do it, I can do it. All it takes is willpower."

"I know I can't help everybody, but if I can help one or two then I have done what I set out to do," Stephens said. "When you're big and you're getting fit, there are a lot of obstacles, there's a lot of 'you can't.' But you have to find the strength within, and say to yourself I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, and take it day by day."

Stephens advises those looking to get healthier to start with something as basic as walking three to four times a week for 30 minutes or picking up cans of soup for strength training. Allow yourself to celebrate special occasions and give yourself a five pound leeway when setting your goals.

"Start with the mind," Stephens said. "Change the way you see yourself. The way you see food. It's important not to feel deprived. It's not a diet. It's a lifestyle change."