I thought I would be happy when I lost the weight. But after going from 254 pounds to 140, and rocking my way from winded Zumba classes to bodybuilding competitions, I still wasn’t happy with my results.

Through healthy eating, exercise, and therapy, I'd worked so hard to lose 114 pounds, but my skin was still weighing me down. Extra flesh added inches to my waistline and covered up the six-pack that I'd chiseled out. 

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I also can’t overstate how uncomfortable it was: Every fun run felt like pounding the pavement without a sports bra. I got into pole-dancing fitness classes and became a part-time instructor. I loved teaching, but when I maneuvered my abdomen around the pole, my skin snagged and pulled. I named my tummy skin Carlos and joked that “Carlos is getting in the way again.”

That’s not to say that I didn’t have excess skin in places other than my stomach. But the skin around my inner thighs wasn’t that big of a deal to me, and I had made peace with it since it wasn't holding me back. 

A photo posted by Diane (@divinefitness) on

Sayonara, Skin
A couple of years after losing all of the weight, my parents jumped in and offered to help me finance the skin-removal surgery that I wanted so badly. Getting the extra skin removed was always my plan, but the $10,000 price tag kept me from doing it sooner.

The reason it cost so much was because my insurance wouldn't cover the surgery. Apparently, I didn’t have enough excess skin to be at risk of infection. My surgery was considered purely cosmetic. Mhm

So, I started checking out cosmetic surgeons. I stood in doctors’ offices in my bra and underwear as doctors and nurses stretched the skin to try to show me what my body would look like. Even though I found a doctor I trusted, I was terrified.

The day of the surgery, the sight of the surgical table freaked me out. It was shaped like a giant T, so that my arms could be strapped out to the sides during the surgery. I assumed the position on the table, was hooked up to an IV, and conked out in less than a minute. 

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The surgery took about three hours. During the procedure, the doctor made a giant almond-shaped incision close to my pelvic bones and extending to my sides. He removed a 10-pound piece of skin, and then pulled my skin and abdominal muscles together. Doing it this way would lift some of the excess skin from my thighs, too. The team also performed some liposuction on my sides to make sure that everything would lie smoothly. No puckering here.

Everything Hurts
I went home that afternoon and was in a lot of pain. I had a drainage tube and a gross-looking bag filled with blood and other fluids coming out of my pelvis. A big compression wrap—that looked somewhat like a corset—held a piece of foam and other bandages in place firmly against my stomach. 

After two days, I was allowed to take off the wrap to shower. It was awful. Standing up straight pulled my newly tight skin, and I was so weak that I could barely keep from curling up in the fetal position. 

After a week, I decided to go back to my desk job. But halfway through the day, I had to go home. Between the all-over pain and extreme fatigue, I couldn't get anything done. (Plus, I had to bring my drainage bag with me.) I took the rest of the week off. 

Three weeks after the surgery, I convinced my doctor to remove the drainage tube and bag. It felt good to have some freedom, but I took things slow and began walking on the treadmill

Hello, Body!
The recovery process sucked, but the immediate results of the surgery were awesome. Even with the stitches, surgical tape, and swelling, I saw my ab muscles for the first time when I took that miserable shower. I realized that I even had that “V” cut below and to the sides your belly button. With 10 pounds of skin and tissue gone, I could see everything that I had worked hard to achieve. 

It hasn’t even been six months since my surgery, but running is already so much more comfortable and enjoyable than it used to be. And I don’t have skin pulling on the pole during pole-dancing classes anymore!

For safety’s sake, I wear a sports compression garment around my abdomen when lifting heavy. It helps keep my body stable, and takes some of the strain off of my healing abdominal muscles.

When I’m in the gym, at work, or just walking down the street, I’m definitely standing taller. I finally feel at home in my own skin. 

This article originally appeared on WomensHealthmag.com.