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By Julie Compton

Rebecca Thomas began her major weight loss journey with a walk.

In 2010, Thomas, a restaurant owner who was overweight at the time, decided to go outside and explore the trails near her home in Virginia.

Rebecca Thomas, after her 50 pound weight loss.Courtesy Aaron Spicer

“My legs didn’t hurt, I felt like I did something, and more importantly, I felt good, my body felt good and that is what made me want to get back out,” Thomas told NBC News BETTER.

Thomas, 47, also changed her eating habits. She gradually began to lose weight, she says — about three pounds a month. Over time, she lost about 50 pounds.

She says walking helped her realize she could be active without having to be a superstar athlete.

“I was never really an athletic person, but I had this self concept that is just wrong,” she says, “which is that there are athletic people who can do things and then there’s you, and just because I’m not a competitive athlete does not mean that I can’t be athletic.”

Here’s how Thomas, who authors the popular weight loss series “Not Another Diet,” turned her life around through walking.

She built walking into her day-to-day life

To make sure she walked every day, Thomas, who lives in Richmond, Virginia, incorporated walking into her daily routine, like walking to the grocery store.

Thomas says she doesn’t track how much she walks or how many calories she burns. For her, walking is about getting outdoors and enjoying where your legs take you.

“It naturally builds on itself,” she says, “as opposed to shoving and pushing yourself into things that you feel marginal about.”

She asked herself: 'What can I do today?'

When you’ve been sedentary for a long time, the idea of signing up for a big race, or an intense gym class can be overwhelming, says Thomas.

“It’s just too big of a leap to all of a sudden throw yourself into an exercise regimen,” she says.

Instead of committing to a gym, she committed to a promise: every day, she would do some kind of physical activity, whether going for a walk or riding her bike.

I started small. It’s completely fine to start small. Honor your body where it is right now.

Rebecca Thomas

On days when she felt good, she would push herself to go a little further.

“And on the days I wasn’t feeling great, I had to fulfill the minimum, and that’s still my promise, that’s still what I do,” she says.

After she began to lose weight, her walking routine slowly evolved into running. Eventually, she ran her first 5K.

“There was a point where I was out walking and thought I would like to run and so I did,” she says.

She made the gym supplementary

Thomas doesn’t dismiss the gym, but says it serves as a supplement to her walking and running regimen.

“There are days when it’s just not feasible for me to get out on the trail due to weather, or I need to do a shorter burst of something, or I need to lift weights, and so that’s a gym day,” she says.

She ditched the notion of "exercise clothes"

Walking doesn’t require expensive gym outfits, says Thomas, so she wears whatever is comfortable.

“Feeling the need to be dressed a certain way in order to exercise only puts more obstacles for yourself,” she explains. “It’s just one more hassle to talk you out of what your body naturally wants to do, which is go outside, enjoy the trees, and take a walk.”

She was kind to herself

Being kind to yourself means becoming active regardless of what others think of you, Thomas says, and not limiting yourself.

“Being kind to yourself is getting up and trying and just not shoving yourself forward, and not artificially limiting yourself either,” she says.

How to get started

If you are overweight and have been sedentary for a long time, Thomas advises starting small and building up your walking routine in increments.

“Walk around the block one time, and then the next day, walk around the block two times,” she says.

She adds: “I started small. It’s completely fine to start small. Honor your body where it is right now.”

Lastly, Thomas says not to dismiss walking as a “lowly form of exercise.”

“Walking has the power to get you somewhere both literally [and] to allow you to take leaps in your mind about what is possible for you and your body,” says Thomas.

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