She could see the numbers on the scale, but it took a stranger's comment to make this woman face her out-of-control weight. Tipping the scale at more than 400 pounds at her heaviest, Rosie Mercado will never forget the moment she knew she needed to make a drastic lifestyle change.
Waiting in line to board an airplane, Mercado was stunned when a man ran up to her and loudly said something that mortified her to her core.
"This guy runs up to me and said, 'You need to buy a second seat because you don't fit in one,' in front of everyone," the 36-year-old told TODAY. "I was so embarrassed. You could hear it; some people were like, 'Oh my God, how rude.' Others just laughed. I just started crying. I went to the counter and quietly paid what I had to pay."
It wasn't the first time she'd felt badly about her weight; she also remembered being unable to go on rides with her kids at Disney World.
"When you're 400 pounds, you can't get on the rides. There's a weight limit," she said. "Here I am taking pictures from afar and my kids are getting on the rides with a nanny. That's not quality time."
During the flight, though, as she sat next to an empty sear and a small sign that said "reserved," mercado knew it was finally time to change her life. When she got home to Las Vegas, Mercado, a single mom of three, immediately put herself on a strict diet that included lots of lean protein, vegetables, and no carbs. She also got a trainer and began working out several times a week.
After losing 100 pounds on her own, she decided to try a gastric sleeve surgery to help continue on her healthier path. And now, three years later, she's lost even more weight--and has a jaw-dropping new career: runway model.
After winning a contest presented by New York City's Full Figured Fashion Week, an event dedicated to plus-size women, landed her first modeling gig.
"It was one of those aha moments," she said. "(I realized) this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to be part of the plus-size fashion industry."
She also wants to help spread her empowering message to encourage other women.
"And the biggest thing is that I get to meet women who are inspired and now they're going after their dreams, too, because they realize they're worthy and capable of doing so," Mercado, now a size 14, said. "I love my curves. My body's not perfect and I'm OK with that. I've learned to embrace my body just the way it is — but with health."
Now: See the 13 most DRAMATIC and inspiring before-and-after weight-loss success stories.