CNN -- At 400 pounds I had little self-confidence. I measured my value not by my abilities but by the number of pounds on a scale.
No matter how reassuring friends, family and co-workers were, I saw myself as a failure because I couldn't manage my weight or my diabetes.
After a move to the U.S. mainland from American Samoa almost two years ago, I picked up walking and swimming, and started eating more fruits and vegetables. I avoided anything that came in a can or a box.
As the weight came off slowly, I started believing in myself -- and in my ability to turn my life around.
Figiel on the morning she ran her first non-stop mile. After our first Fit Nation meeting in Atlanta, I committed to walking in the mornings and training in the evenings. My walking partner would pick me up at 7 a.m. daily, and we would go to Tampa's MacDill Park, where we walked two miles.
Every morning we saw a girl running nearby, and we would marvel at her speed and form. She ran with such grace.
"One day," my friend told me, "you're going to be running just like her, mi amiga!"
There was passion in her voice when she said it -- a passion that meant she believed in me. But I found it hard to believe it myself. After all, the runner was smaller. Much smaller. And there wasn't an ounce of fat on her body.
Up until that point I was walking for five minutes and then jogging for a minute. That minute felt like an eternity. Before I even got to the 30-second mark, I would be gasping for air.
But each morning I saw the runner, I felt inspired. I knew I needed to put more effort into my workouts. Each week I added another 15 seconds to that minute until finally, three weeks later, I decided to give it a shot and run two consecutive minutes.
Fit Nation team works out with Hawks To my surprise, I kept running long after the two minutes were over -- until I realized I had run my first mile nonstop.
Two weeks later, I ran four miles nonstop in a time of 1:04. I remember being so excited and needing to tell someone. But my sons didn't quite get it when I rushed through the door, breathless, and told them I had just run nonstop for an hour. All they said was, "Cool, Mom, what's for breakfast?"
In the past, this lack of encouragement would have stopped me. But I've since realized I don't need to be reassured by anyone. There's something that happens once you chose to believe in yourself; out of nowhere, you'll sprout wings you never knew you had.
Each Saturday since, I've been running for four miles. Last Saturday I ran my best time of 57:55, with one of my laps at 13:27.
My goal is to run a 10-minute mile.
Beating my own time is my newest joy. It is a rush that keeps me going daily.
There's nothing like hearing my sons complain when we're walking to school in the mornings. "You're always running, Mom. Why can't we just walk?"
I may not be the most graceful runner on Saturday mornings, but I'll keep going till I get to my goal.
I've learned that you don't have to be thin to run. You just have to believe that you can.
From CNN.com/HEALTH and UPWAVE
(upwave.com) -- As the days grow longer and warmer in spring, it's good to take a few notes from the kids we see tirelessly playing in the park.
Unlike most adults, they're almost constantly active -- without even realizing that they're getting health-boosting exercise. (Where do we sign up?)
Even for adults, exercise can boost health in many invisible ways (while also helping prevent cancer and heart disease). So if a schoolyard workout isn't for you, try doing these sneaky forms of exercise for an hour. They'll help keep you in shape practically without you realizing it!
5 exercises to avoid Replace your desk chair with a stability ball
Even though stability balls are usually found at the gym, they're also beneficial and fun to use in settings where it's more difficult to exercise.
"You'll be constantly moving and burning calories because you have to rotate your body to stay upright," explains Dr. Pam Peeke, author of the New York Times best seller "The Hunger Fix."
If you have some downtime during your lunch break, twisting your body or rolling yourself over the ball -- before you eat -- can feel fantastic. "The ball goes right over your glutes and massages your hamstrings," Peeke says.
Wrestle the weeds in your garden
"Gardening requires a tremendous amount of work," explains Peeke. "You're moving heavy bags of compost, pulling weeds and bending up and down."
Because you'll be focused on the task at hand, exercise probably won't be on your mind -- even though gardening burns an average of 200 to 400 calories per hour. If you can remember to, try switching the hand you're digging with, to mimic the way you'd switch sides when "officially" working out.
Really looking for a challenge? Minimize your use of electric tools and garden by hand as often as you can.
Dance it out
Dancing is an excellent form of cardio, so try turning on some fast-paced songs or going out to a dance venue instead of letting hours pass by in front of the TV. It's a full-body workout that reduces stress, increases flexibility and can be performed almost anywhere.
"When we dance, we're not thinking about repetitions or calories," Peeke says. "Dancing tends to be a workout in disguise because we're thoroughly enjoying ourselves."