No one who meets Brandi Jo Middleton would imagine her as anything less than beautiful, strong, and confident. A youthful 40, she is the reigning Mrs. Tennessee International, as well as a wife, mother, and accomplished aesthetician with her own business.

Brandi rocketed herself to this crowning achievement after a challenging journey and two-year transformation. She was anorexic at age 13 and says: “I almost died from it. Back then people didn’t talk about this disorder, and there wasn’t a lot of help.” The challenges of moving to a new school and being unpopular created a sense of helplessness in her life. “The only thing I could control was my food. And though I learned to eat enough to survive, I also learned I could secretly throw up after.”

Bulimia followed Brandi into her 20s. Her relationship with food was at its worst with a cycle of starvation and compulsive overeating. Despite this inner turmoil, other parts of her life were taking off. Brandi became the lead aesthetician at Serenity Day Spa, a job she excelled at and enjoyed. She also reconnected with a classmate from elementary school. “He friended me on Facebook. After our first date, I knew he had every characteristic I was looking for. I fell in love with him immediately,” she says.

They got married and she later gave birth to a baby boy. To focus on her family, Brandi gave up her job to stay at home with her son. “It was a harder transition than I expected. For years, my career had been my identity. I didn’t understand how important that was until I didn’t have it anymore.” Coupled with severe postpartum depression and anxiety, Brandi faced her most challenging moments. “For that first year I literally didn’t want to get out of bed,” she recalls. “I would eat 5,000 calories or more on any given day.”

Brandi’s unhappiness touched every aspect of her life. “I was miserable with myself and took it out on other people. It took a huge toll on my marriage. I wanted to make changes, but my all-or-nothing mindset ruined me. If I made one little mistake with my diet, I decided I had blown it for day and then caved into a binge.” Not only did her weight creep up to 280 pounds, but all of her tests at the doctor’s office also came back with bad news. “I’ll never forget the moment when my doctor said, ’If you don’t stop what you are doing, you won’t see your son grow up.’”

Those words gave Brandi the motivation she needed to be a better version of herself. She sought help from a high school classmate, Casey Nelson, who owns Fitness 901. “Casey and I had been friends for a long time,” Brandi says, “She knew my story, and I could trust her.  I needed someone who would hold me accountable and not listen to my excuses.”

Casey helped her learn to love exercising. Brandi now weighs 137 pounds, which she maintains through a high-protein, low-carb diet. She also works out about 40 minutes, five days a week doing cardio and weight training.

Brandi’s transformation gave her the confidence to compete for and win the Mrs. Tennessee International crown—although, she’s more interested in the platform than the hardware. As a coach, mentor, and public speaker, she’s created Crowning Confidence, a five-step program to help people of all ages and walks of life overcome personal challenges.

“My program isn’t about weight or beauty,” Brandi explains. “One of the participants got out of a domestic violence situation. In another case, I was called to a middle school to mentor girls who were acting as bullies. My program helped them change their behavior. Those girls were hurting others because they were in pain.”

Brandi has partnered with Shelby County Schools and works with businesses, vocational schools, and veterans. Her rapidly growing Facebook group is called Confidence is Your Crown, which is dedicated to helping women define their identities and use that self-knowledge to set and achieve their goals.

“I want to continue to travel all over the country and internationally teaching my program,” she says. “My goal is to reach one million women in my lifetime and leave a legacy of helping women improve their lives and empower themselves.

By Caroline Sposto

Photo by Tindall Stephens