My college friend Chrissy was in Florida this weekend, and I was lucky enough to meet up with her Sunday night for dinner and again on Monday morning for coffee at the airport, before she caught her flight back to Pennsylvania.

Chrissy and I were on the equestrian team together for four years and on the Mortar Board (an honor society) our senior year.

Winter 2005, with our “awards” at the end of the fall semester banquet (about six months into my weight loss journey)

Spring 2006, at a collegiate horse show in New Jersey

Chrissy’s visit got me thinking about my time on the equestrian team. I didn’t ride much at my heaviest — I reached that weight my junior year, the same year I was editor-in-chief of the college newspaper, and I wasn’t very active on the team. But I was still a pretty heavy girl, yet I was out there riding horses.

This was at the same show in New Jersey, about a year into my weight loss. See how my helmet strap is cutting into my double chin?

I do want to note that an overweight person riding a horse isn’t necessarily a cruelty. Most horses can handle a lot more weight than you’d think, and owners and trainers know when an older horse or one with back problems can’t. The instructors I worked with cared very much about their animals and would not have wanted to put their horses — or me — in a situation that could be dangerous for both of us.

It makes you wonder, though: How could someone so fat be doing something athletic? Because while I was fat, I wasn’t lazy. I wasn’t nearly as active as I am now, but between horseback riding, walking around campus and walking my dogs when I visited home, I wasn’t completely sedentary. This is why, if I were forced to choose, I would pick exercise over nutrition as the key to weight loss, based solely on my own experience.

Even though I weighed 300 pounds, my blood pressure was perfect (now it’s even lower). I did not have any joint troubles and got around campus fine. When I started working out, I was able to start out with 20 minutes on the elliptical and feel good, not totally exhausted. The biggest problem I had when I was obese was being way too hot, almost all the time.

I definitely had age on my side; I was 20 years old when I started to lose weight. But there are lots of obese 20-year-olds out there who have high blood pressure and can’t walk to the end of the block without getting winded.

All of my other weight loss attempts had been food-based: Eat less — less fat, fewer calories, less food overall. Eat crazy combinations that will burn fat and build muscle (that never works, if you’re even considering it). They never really included exercise, and they never really worked. I’ve found that the more I exercise, the more compelled I am to eat right, because my body craves the foods that will fuel it best.

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