Melissa Jablonski, 40, of Coral Springs, Fla., never imagined she’d be on a reality TV show, but after a lifetime of putting others before herself—at the expense of her own well-being—the single mother and special education teacher did just that.
To cope with the demands of juggling a full-time career with single motherhood, Melissa consistently turned to food for comfort.
“I was a total stress eater,” Melissa admits. “It’s stressful being a single mother—covering car payments and mortgages and taking care of a child all on your own.”
Over time, however, late-night fried foods and big bowls of pasta added up. Tipping the scale at 225 pounds, Melissa knew she was unhealthy, but she felt powerless to do anything about it. “I didn’t know where to start,” she recalls. “You get to a point where you’re well over 200 pounds and you just don’t care anymore. You’re not attractive to others, or to yourself.”
But in fall of 2011, a life-changing opportunity presented itself, offering Melissa the weight-loss salvation she was looking for. When a friend told Melissa that Lifetime Television was seeking contestants for a new upcoming reality weight-loss TV series, Melissa’s interest was immediately piqued. Figuring she had nothing to lose—and desperate for a change—Melissa submitted a picture of herself to the contest.
“I thought it was my one and only chance to get healthy,” she explains.
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A few weeks later, the unexpected news arrived: Melissa had been chosen as one of the show’s four contestants.
The news gave Melissa the motivation she was lacking. “When I found out I was chosen for the show, my whole mindset changed,” she says. “I was in it 100 percent.”
The reality series, called “A Lifetime of Health and Wellness Makeover™,” which aired January 30-August 13 of this year on Lifetime TV’s morning show “The Balancing Act,” chronicled the six-month weight-loss journey of four women. With the help of personal trainers and life coaches, the four contestants struggled to make the changes necessary to lose weight and lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.
Despite getting off to a frustratingly slow start—“I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted to at first,” Melissa says—she refused to give up, powering through her workouts and vigilantly following her diet. “I really just grabbed the bull by the horns,” she says.
Ultimately, when filming wrapped up in July, Melissa emerged as the winner of the competition with a total weight loss of 61 pounds.
For Melissa, who is now down from a size 22 to a size 12, the show was as much about discovering herself as it was about losing weight. “For the first time, I truly believed in myself,” Melissa says. “I felt good about myself.”
The cameras may no longer be rolling, but Melissa hasn’t taken that as permission to slack off on her health and fitness goals. “I realize that it’s a lifestyle, not a diet,” she says. By adhering to a low-carb, 1,200-calorie-a-day diet and hitting the gym 3 to 4 days a week, Melissa has lost an additional 13 pounds since the show ended.
Her transformation was as much mental as it was physical. Bolstered by her new-found confidence, Melissa was inspired to give her life a makeover, too. “Everything in my life that brought me down, I got rid of—the people, my job. I purged myself of everything negative,” she says.
When her previous boss proved unsupportive of her weight loss goals, Melissa accepted a position as an assistant program coordinator and professional life coach at JAPCO, a foster care and adoption organization. “I am so much happier,” she says of her decision to switch careers. “Plus, the women I work with share in my weight loss goals. We track workouts together and support each other.”
Although her hectic lifestyle is still taxing at times, Melissa is now better equipped to handle the stressors of balancing single motherhood with a full-time job. Rather than turning to food for stress relief, she opts for a mind-clearing run or a long walk with her 14-year-old daughter. “We walk and talk and share our days. You don’t even realize you’re walking five, six miles,” she says.
If anything, caring for herself has enabled Melissa to better care for others. She feels that she is now a better employee, mentor and mother as a result of her weight-loss journey. “Now that I feel good about myself, I can truly give to others now,” she reports. “I try to inspire at least one person a day.”
For individuals who have undergone significant weight loss, keeping the weight off in the long run is often the biggest challenge. But Melissa is certain that she won’t stop fighting anytime soon.
“I want to be around forever,” she says. “My daughter’s 14, and I’m all she’s got. I want to be around when she goes to college and gets married. That’s what keeps me going.”
Season 2 of A Lifetime of Health and Wellness Makeover™, now called Mission Makeover™, is currently in pre-production. For more about the Lifetime series and Melissa Jablonski’s journey, please visit http://empower.thebalancingact.com/a-lifetime-of-health-and-wellness-makeover.