This Model Lost Over 240 Pounds And She’s Speaking Out About The Harsh Realities Of Major Weight Loss

Rosie Mercado is a 36-year-old plus-size model who currently weighs around 170 pounds. Back in 2011, though, her weight was much higher. That’s when Mercado, who weighed 411 pounds at the time, got a harsh wakeup call courtesy of flight attendant who told her she’d need to buy an extra seat if she wanted to remain on the flight she was on.

After the incident, Mercado began losing weight steadily. With diet and exercise, she lost 100 pounds, but getting her body to where she wanted it to be was going to take more than that. While shows like The Biggest Loser make it seem almost easy to lose hundreds of pounds, the reality is that even their contestants struggle keeping the weight off due to how much one’s metabolism slows down after major weight loss. That’s when Mercado decided she needed help. But like Mary Maxwell, another woman who transformed her entire body after her family members died of obesity-related reasons, she soon learned that getting bariatric surgery wasn’t a quick fix.

Here’s what Mercado told People about her experience, which she refers to as the most painful journey of her life:

“I don’t think you could be prepared for the work that has to be done psychologically,” she says, noting that she had to completely eliminate soda, dessert, pasta and rice from her diet, or else she felt extremely ill.

“Anything that bloats just completely went away,” she says. “You start really educating yourself on eating healthy, eating lean and eating really small portions. You go out with friends and you order an appetizer and eat half of that, and you sit there waiting for everyone else. It psychologically plays with your mind.”

Mercado says that surgery isn’t just the “easy walk” people imagine it might be, and it’s not a “guaranteed success.” In order to make her weight loss work, she had to completely transform her way of thinking and eating in order to make it work for her. She says it’s a “tool,” not a cure-all:

“You have to deal with being low-calorie, and deal with the adjustment to your body as you’re dropping weight,” she says. “You learn what you’re allowed to do and what you’re not allowed to do. If you do what you’re not allowed to do, you’re going to feel like crap.”

And after she lost all that weight, Mercado had one more hurdle to overcome: surgery that would remove pounds and pounds of excess skin from her body. That’s not due to vanity–Mercado tells People she never wanted to be thin, only healthy — but because 20 pounds of excess skin presents problems many of us never have to think about:

“I had to be in Spanx the entire time,” she says. “I couldn’t run without Spanx because of the weight of the skin. You lose all this weight, you’re excited, and then you take your clothes off and you have all this excess skin. New issues start coming up.”

The surgery and recovery were also incredibly painful. But now that Mercado’s where she wants to — a size 12/14 instead of a 36 — she says she’s also happy that she chose to undergo her life-changing transformation. Is Mercado perfect? Absolutely not. She says she’s still got cellulite but the freedom and confidence her weight loss has given her is worth it, even if she is sometimes “slammed” by people who criticize her for taking all that weight off because she’s no longer truly plus-sized. But that doesn’t bother her. She’s committed to staying healthy and living a long time and, as she says, it’s her body and we should all do the things that make us feel best in ours.