“I felt like I was in the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes, as I listened to all the talk about health, fitness and obesity,” says Coke employee Elsa Velez.

At the time Velez was working as an events and community coordinator at Coca-Cola in Atlanta and was attending just about every company event during the 2009 Live Positively sustainability campaign.  At the events, she began to feel exposed, thinking that all the talk was directed at her. She never ran as a child and healthy habits such as exercising and eating well were not part of her adult life either.

“I was listening, really listening, and it made me feel embarrassed,” she recalls. “It was uncomfortable, but I needed that in order to make a change. I needed 21 days.”

She had read that a person needs 21 days to break a bad habit, so she thought it would take the same amount of time to build a good one.

The Journey Begins

Elsa Velez and husband

On Sept. 9, 2009, Velez began a 21-day journey. By December, she had lost 25 pounds from her starting weight of 254 pounds.

“It changed my life,” she says. At the time, Velez was battling Type 2 Diabetes and high cholesterol—she couldn’t afford to wait any longer to take control of her health. She started walking as a form of exercise for the first time ever and, after an annual physical in January 2010, she changed her diet.

The weight kept dropping off. By the time the Kaiser Permanente Corporate 5K came around, Velez had lost more than 70 pounds. She started running, experiencing the “mythical” runner’s high for the first time.

Elsa Velez

She also became an inspiration to others, including her family. Her husband started running and eventually lost 40 pounds. Her success story was featured in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Her 28-year-old daughter suddenly caught the running bug and the Velez family began a tradition of running the Peachtree Road Race together. Now every year, Elsa, her husband, along with their two daughters and son, take to the starting line alongside 60,000 other runners who travel to Atlanta to be a part of the famed July 4th 10K race. In 2012, they ran the Atlanta Marathon as a relay team.

What's On Her Plate

Elsa Velez

At  HealthWorks, the gym located inside Coke headquarters, personnel got to know Velez and found inspiration in her journey, adding her to their Wall of Fame based on her accomplishments. Velez sought all the advice she could in order to stay on track.

“I learned how to eat and how to snack from HealthWorks nutritionist Missy Maslia. Velez drinks a lot of water throughout the day, keeps a sensible diet including Coke Zero. She believes the obesity problem in the U.S. is due to a lack of movement. The sedentary lifestyle of the U.S population, among a growing number of global cultures, coupled with big food portions, are the real problem, she says

Velez is not only surprised by how her life has changed—the 127 pounds she managed to lose and keep off -- but also by her transformation.

Elsa Velez

“I’m still shocked at times when I see my reflection and realize that I’m looking at myself,” she says. “I think it is part of the process. What I have done is not impossible; gradual change can help you achieve a healthy lifestyle and it is never too late. I started when I was 50.

She is not resting on her laurels; on June 1, 2013, she finished her first half-marathon with a time of 2:36:18. Next up, a full marathon…