From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
THEN 330 LBS.

NOW 173 LBS.

It comes as no surprise to hear Zulekha Haywood admit that, growing up, "I was always physically different." After all, her mother is the Somalian-born supermodel Iman; her father is former NBA All-Star Spencer Haywood. What is surprising, however, is that Haywood's differences didn't make her a natural athlete or cover girl. Instead-weighing in at 330 lbs. by her early 20s-the 6-ft. Haywood struggled just to get out of bed every morning. "I never felt, 'Oh, if only I looked like my mom or dad,'" she insists. "But I never wanted to be unhealthy." So when her doctor diagnosed her with osteoarthritis and high blood pressure at only 27, "It was like, 'Enough!,'" she admits.

Convinced that she couldn't lose weight on her own-she had spent years trying to slim down with everything from brutal workouts to diet pills, a process Iman calls "heartbreaking"-Haywood underwent gastric-bypass surgery in January 2007. Since then, Haywood-who had her stomach reduced to the size of a golf ball during the procedure-has dropped 157 lbs. "It's a very drastic thing to do," admits the 31-year-old business analyst and writer. But the results have been nothing short of life-changing. "She's more active now and able to really enjoy the breadth of life," Iman says, adding, "I'm proud of her for taking such a courageous leap."

For too many years, says Haywood, "I was conscious of what I was eating. I was always hungry, always thinking about the next meal." Although she says she got no pressure to slim down from her parents (who split when she was 7)-"My mom never told me, 'You can't have that,' " Haywood recalls-her weight "was something we were all aware of."

Haywood spent her adolescence yo-yo dieting-never dropping more than 40 lbs. at a time and then always putting it back on. "I consistently gained more than I lost," she says. Eventually, "I grew exasperated from plotting and planning what I was going to eat."

Now down to a size 8 from a size 24, Haywood says, "It's freaky to constantly buy clothes as your body is changing from one month to the next." But as much as her appearance has changed, Haywood, who is single, insists she doesn't notice the difference when she looks in the mirror. "I see what I always saw," she says. "A wonderfully vibrant woman."