EXTREME WEIGHT LOSS - "Rachel" - Born with a winning spirit, Rachel began dancing at three years old. As Rachel grew older, her spirit was hampered by mixed feelings towards love, sex and religion, so she turned to food for emotional support and became obese. Now, looking to "get her groove back," Rachel's yearlong transformation will be featured in the episode of "Extreme Weight Loss" airing on TUESDAY, JULY 28 (9:00-11:00 p.m., ET/PT) on ABC. Three-time Grammy Award winner Ne-Yo guest stars in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Rachel to choreograph a dance routine for the hip-hop star. (ABC/Rick Rowell) RACHEL

The realization strikes her when she does squats with a barbell or when one of her dance students jumps on her back. She’s reminded when she looks in the mirror or when she sees her reflection in a window.

Rachel Paul, who weighed 309 pounds just a short while ago, is still getting used to the number that pops up when she steps on a scale: 164.

“It’s weird when I think about it. It’s the size of a person,” the Santa Monica resident said. “And this was every day. I still don’t know how to articulate it. It’s just strange.”

Paul’s journey toward shedding nearly half of her weight was documented on ABC’s television series, “Extreme Weight Loss,” in an episode that aired July 28.

It was the culmination of a yearlong transformation that required determination and dedication, but for Paul it’s also a landmark in a lifelong battle against temptation, addiction and doubt.

Paul was very active as a child and began dancing when she was 3-years-old, later joining the UCLA dance team and becoming a dance coach for area high school, community college and university students.

But someone close to her sexually abused Paul at a young age, an experience that crippled her self-worth. Then, at around age 22, she went through a difficult breakup after finding out the man she thought she would marry was cheating on her.

Food became her crutch.

“It was a way to blur out the pain,” she said. “You eat until you don’t feel anymore. I gave up on myself and my happiness. I was a lost cause.”

Paul, 36, tried to lose the weight on her own. She read books, tested a variety of diets and counted calories.

“But it always came back,” she said. “When I got on the scale and saw a ‘3’ in front, I was like, ‘This is bad.’ … The biggest thing was that I wasn’t facing what made me start overeating to begin with.”

Seeking a drastic change, Paul reached out to “Extreme Weight Loss,” whose co-hosts Chris and Heidi Powell lead participants through intense dieting and exercise.

During the first three months she was stationed at the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center in Colorado, where she did a variety of cardio training for 2-4 hours each day. Activities included hiking, stair climbing and running.

“They were good at exposing us to a lot of stuff,” she said. “You have to find something you like, because that’s what’s gonna get you to go to the gym every day.”

Paul also followed a specific food plan and cooked her own lean meats and fresh vegetables.

She returned home for the following six months of the program, exercising for at least two hours each day. She found that she enjoyed workouts at CrossFit Santa Monica, which is close to where she lives, and she ended up going there every morning.

“They’ve taken me under their wing,” she said, adding that she’s now planning to coach and teach there.

There were difficult moments for Paul, to be sure, especially because she was no longer under constant supervision.

“It was hard to change habits,” she said. “It was tough to navigate good food choices. But I’d meet every week with a trainer, and Chris and Heidi were always available. We would text and chat all the time.”

At the six-month benchmark, as a reward for her progress, Paul got to meet Ne-Yo and be the hip-hop singer’s backup dancer for a day.

“It was so much fun because it actually looked good when I was moving,” she said. “I was like a kid on Christmas. I was just giddy.”

Nine months into the program, Paul had surgery to remove excess skin. And then, at the culmination of her 365-day journey, she emerged for her “after” ceremony in a size 4 dress. Memories of size 26 remain fresh.

“I’m still a work in progress,” she said. “The addiction is something I’ll always deal with, and I have more tools now to deal with it. But I’m never done. I’m always going to have to make good choices. … I do hope others are inspired. It’s never too late.”

jeff@www.smdp.com

Photo credit:ABC/Rick Rowell

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