Weight was never something Vannessa Cross paid attention to. Even at 442 lbs., she never thought her size was an issue.
“I felt like I was living a good quality life because I still drove, I still walked around,” the 44-year-old tells PEOPLE. “So my mentality was I’m fine I’m perfect the way I am. I could still do things. Yeah, I have little skin issues and problems but nothing big.”
The 1000-Lb. Best Friends star says it wasn’t until she talked to best friend and costar Meghan Crumpler that she decided it was time to make some lifestyle changes. Cross admits that seeing Crumpler commit and start to lose weight “struck a nerve with me.”
“I was like, ‘Okay, well yeah I’m fine being big, but God look at her!’ She’s walking easier, she’s not using her oxygen so much, she’s doing so much better, she’s getting attention,” Cross says, sharing that it sparked her weight loss journey. “I just got fed up with all that — so done with it.”
At that point, Cross began preparing for bariatric surgery by losing some weight on her own. She cut out bread, sugar, and soda — minus the occasional Mountain Dew — from her diet. However, what really helped her get ready to maintain the eventual results of the bariatric surgery was addressing her unhealthy relationship with food.
“I started mentally figuring out why,” she says, sharing that she started going to therapy. “I opened my mind to try to understand what in my brain is making me want to stay fat and stay helpless. Why do I have to eat three cheeseburgers and two fries instead of one cheeseburger like a normal person?”
“I lost almost 50 lbs. on my own before I had surgery. That was not easy,” Cross adds, noting that she was down to 398 lbs. the day of the weight loss surgery.
Cross says she’s no longer a “broken woman” after surgery and is now unfazed by many of the unhealthy foods she used to go crazy for. She’s replaced soda and fried food with vegan smoothies and fruits, and is learning new healthy recipes at home with her children. Cross has even incorporated fitness into her weekly routine, something that was nonexistent in the past.
“I put a pair of pants on that never in a million years did I think I could fit in,” she says, boasting her current weight at 229 lbs. “I’ve changed everything in my life and started living.”
“Food is no longer something that I look at for pleasure, for joy, for happiness, for comfort. I’ve now had to figure out in my head what else can I do,” Cross explains. “Now when I get that real heavy craving, I’ll go for a walk or I’ll go to the gym. I just gotta get that out of me. I get my joy, my comfort, my anxiety levels down, everything, from pushing myself more and more in the gym.”
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The TLC star adds that she can’t believe that she’s exercising three times a week now, praising the support from her family and best friends Crumpler, Ashely Sutton and Tina Arnold. She says they all give her hope and inspiration to continue pushing herself in the gym.
“I’m working my core. I’m doing upper, I’m doing lower, I’m doing everything I can. And I’ve seen a pretty good bit of results in my weight loss,” she says. “I never thought Vanessa Cross in a million years would say, ‘I’m gonna go to the gym today.’ But I’m doing it.”
Cross says her current goal is to get down to 180 lbs. so that she can qualify for skin removal surgery. In the season finale of 1000-Lb. Best Friends, she visits plastic surgeon Dr. Amy Alderman who said she won’t perform the procedure as soon as Cross would like.
“It usually takes a year, year and a half to get to your ideal weight,” Alderman tells Cross in PEOPLE’s exclusive clip. “And then I want you to be there for at least six months to a year to stabilize because if you do a skin tightening procedure and then you lose more weight it’s not gonna help my results.”
Cross admitted that she’s “scared to death” about whether or not she can reach and maintain 180 lbs., but tells PEOPLE that she’s dedicated to getting it done.
“I want to do whatever to be beautiful. That is one of the most important things to me,” Cross tells PEOPLE. “When I get there, that’s when Vannessa gets to shine the way I’ve always tried to shine, but I’ve had that big fat person in front of me blocking me.”
She continues, “So when everything’s done and I reach my goals and have the surgery, I get to stand up, stand strong and say, ‘This is Vanessa Cross.’ This is who y’all want to know.”
The season 2 finale of 1,000-Lb. Best Friends airs Wednesday, March 8 at 10pm ET/PT on TLC and discovery+.