DaleLynn Settle was genetically lucky as a kid — she could eat whatever she wanted without gainging weight, including her family’s hearty dinners of fried chicken, mac and cheese and cornbread. But that all changed when she got older.
At age 20, Settle got married and a year later had her first child. On top of those major life changes, she started suffering from anxiety and depression. Within a few years, she had hit 302 lbs.
“I wasn’t really dealing with my emotions and what got me there in the first place, and so over time the weight just started to pile on,” the 32-year-old tells PEOPLE for the 2019 Half Their Size issue. “And then I became a stay-at-home mom after my daughter was born. So not being active, being at home with the newborn baby, and just feeling like my dreams for school, and my dreams for work and employment, were gone because I had this new family. That caused the weight gain.”
Settle had her second child by age 25, and at that point was “eating whatever I saw.”
“I was never full,” she says. “I’m a sugar addict, and I would eat at least a bag or two of Skittles a day.”
Her weight, coupled with her depression, meant that Settle spent most days at home.
“All I wanted to do was lay in bed,” she says. “I didn’t want to move. I had two children and I couldn’t chase them or play with them. My husband would come home on his lunch break and take care of the kids because I was in so much pain with my knees.”
Settle tried “every diet out there” to lose weight, but could never stay consistent. Then, in January 2014, her sister Nikki died suddenly from a burst blood vessel in her heart at age 34.
“I was in complete disbelief and shock,” Settle says.
The autopsy report revealed that Nikki’s condition was partly caused by high blood pressure, something that runs in their family and can be treated with diet and exercise.
“I knew I had to do something immediately,” Settle says. “That same month I started my weight loss journey.”
For more stories of women who lost half their size, pick up a copy of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
She initially had a lap-band put in and lost 90 lbs., but then became pregnant with twins and stopped eating well, causing her to gain the weight back. Settle had the lap-band removed in 2017 and decided to lose weight without surgery — just with healthy eating and exercise.
“I started working with a trainer who worked out with me six days a week and taught me meal prepping, and totally transformed my diet,” she says. “I cut my calories in half and now I’m baking or grilling chicken instead of frying, and instead of having lots of starches with my meals I eat vegetables like green beans and broccoli.”
Over the last year and a half, Settle dropped 145 lbs., and is training for a half marathon in February.
“To lose the weight and keep it off not only feels good physically, but mentally,” she says. “For the first time I felt proud of myself and like I can do anything.”
And Settle thinks it helped her manage her depression.
“I still deal with the highs and lows, just like anybody else. I still have my moods and days when I want to be in isolation. But the difference now from when I was 302 lbs. is that I have the coping skills to fight the depression. I used to retreat to my bedroom. That was my safe haven. Now the gym is my safe haven.”
“I’ve changed the way that I handle the depression,” she continues. “It’s still there, I still deal with it every day, and I would never want anyone to think that weight loss is the cure for the depression. It just helps me cope, and it helps me manage already stressful situations.”
Settle’s physical health — including her blood pressure — is also “excellent,” for which she credits her sister.
“Nikki’s memory helped me through my weight loss journey. She saved my life.”
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