This article originally appeared on People.com.
Before making the choice to have vertical gastric sleeve surgery, Jessica Adkins looked to social media.
“I searched weight loss hashtags, most specifically weight loss surgery hashtags, and I was so inspired,” says Adkins, who underwent the procedure in 2016 and has since been documenting her journey on YouTube and Instagram.
But it wasn’t just the impressive transformation photos that made an impact — it was other users’ comments. “Everyone was so positive and supportive and I knew this was a community I wanted to be a part of. I also wanted to be able to help others the way hashtags helped me,” she says.
Starting at 285 lbs., Adkins recorded her very first meeting with her bariatric doctor, kicking off her official weight loss journey. She chose to continue posting candid videos about her triumphs and struggles, and soon incorporated food product reviews as well. (She now follows a keto diet).
“A weight loss journey is about more than just the weight coming off. It’s a huge mental struggle as well,” says the administrative assistant, who hit her goal weight of 150 lbs. on her 30th birthday: July 7, 2017. “I feel if I only talked about the positive parts of this, I would be doing my viewers a disservice…the largest compliment I get is when others tell me that watching my videos helped them be more prepared for things they have encountered.”
Adkins has come a long way. She went from consuming quick food three times a day, five or six days a week, to eating a low-carb/low-sugar diet. “They say alcoholics can tell you the very day of their last drink. I can tell you the last time I had a piece of bread: August 5, 2016,” she says. “I no longer eat bread, rice, or pasta of any kind.”
She is also committed to staying active by attending fitness classes at her local gym and walking 3 to 5 miles a day.
And the Pikeville, Kentucky resident has a message for those also considering weight loss surgery. “It is not the simple way out,” she clarifies. “You had surgery on your stomach, not on your mind. You still might want the things you had before, so you really have to get willpower.”
Now at 143 lbs., Adkins hopes to get down to 135 lbs. with continued hard work and the support of her social media community.
That’s why her advice is to join a group online. “Having people you can talk to, people who will encourage you, means more than you realize,” she says. “Losing weight is hard — it helps to be able to talk to others going through the same stuff.”