I've kept 70 pounds off for more than 10 years. Here are 10 key lessons I've learned along the way.

Emily Abbate
January 25, 2021
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Credit: Emily Abbate

From a young age growing up in the Connecticut suburbs, the number on the scale ebbed and flowed as my relationship with sport did as well. At age 14, I was a soccer whiz, running laps up and down the field feeling confident and great. Come 17, I didn't make the junior varsity volleyball team because I couldn't run a sub-10:00 mile, and my interests became a lot less active. As I leaned heavily into the arts and a local youth group, the pounds crept on. Despite feeling excited by my extracurricular activities, I began feeling self-conscious and uncomfortable in my own body.

This carried on to college, and like many, I gained the freshman 15—or perhaps the freshman 30 would be more accurate. In the spring of 2007, I was procrastinating studying for a final exam when I decided to step onto a dusty scale I had tucked under my bunk bed. After what felt like an eternity, waiting for the screen to populate, the number that glared back at me from the floor took my breath away. I was forced to come to terms with a harsh reality: I had to change. While I believe that people can find health at different sizes, for me—I was definitely not healthy or more importantly, happy. I knew that making changes wouldn't be easy, but even so, I was ready to start.

Over the next three years, I lost 70 pounds through making healthier eating choices and learning to love running. Today, movement is my medicine, enabling me to better show up both personally and professionally. Now a nine-time marathoner, certified personal trainer and run coach, and wellness coach with her own podcast, I've learned a handful of lessons along my journey that empower me to give back to others and help them determine what wellness looks like for them. Here's what I learned during my personal transformation, plus some insight into why I feel like a forever work in progress.

1. You've got to meet yourself where you're at.

Especially in the age of social media, it's easy to compare yourself to others. Your journey is just that: Yours. Instead of being made to feel like you're not good enough based on what you see someone else doing, focus on where you are and progress from there. This is important in all aspects of wellness, whether it's trying out a new strength training routine or shifting your eating habits. Just because you can't do a difficult movement like a dumbbell snatch, for example, doesn't mean you won't get there one day. Have some grace, embrace honesty, and the rest will come with time.

2. Never eliminate anything completely.

Many popular diets advertise cutting things out—at least in small portions—like carbs or sugar. When we eliminate things from our diet, it's almost guaranteed that you will crave them more. In my experience, I'd binge the very thing that I told myself I couldn't have. (The restrict/binge/repeat eating cycle has been long examined in research.) Instead of eliminating things from your life, the practice of moderation and portion control is a much safer alternative. It's a practice that truly helped me along my journey. (Here's why a dietitian eats dessert every day.)

Instead of nixing my college's famous banana chocolate chip ice cream completely, for example, I let myself have a scoop on Fridays. When it came to indulging in Grandma's Sunday sauce, I made sure to also serve myself a hearty helping of salad in addition to the oh-so-good pasta bowl. By embracing the foods that made me happy in smart amounts, I was able to enjoy the process without feeling like I was missing out.

3. You can do anything you set your mind to.

I really, really wanted to love running. But in the earliest stages, I felt as though I would never. I felt as though because I wasn't "good" at it (see the high school volleyball reference above), it would never be for me. Toward the beginning of my personal weight-loss efforts, I worked at a summer camp, without access to a typical big box gym. This really encouraged me to give running another hard try, as it was one of the few ways I could get active and really break a sweat without any equipment.

The first week of running was awful. I did it for about 15 minutes per day, and ran the exact same route every single time. However, after a week of sticking it out, I slowly got to a place where I realized that it was nowhere as bad as I had been making it out to be. With time, the enjoyment grew. I didn't have to be the best runner. I just had to be me—running. This realization empowered me to try and stick with other things that felt hard in the past. (Here's how jogging and running can help you lose weight.)

4. Your get-moving options are endless.

I went through phases over my three-year journey dabbling in a slew of different fitness modalities. I've done it all, from barre and Spin class to dance cardio and even CrossFit. Some of these love affairs lasted longer than others, but what I most enjoyed about the process was that I had the opportunity to mix up my routine as often as I liked. There was no reason to stick with something that didn't bring me joy or light me up. By diversifying my go-to sweat method, I had a lot more fun, and even made some great friends along the way. Plus, research has shown that adding variety to an exercise program can improve adherence.

5. Invest in your own personal wellness.

During the summer of 15-minute runs, I lived in Hanes white v-neck T-shirts and cotton leggings from Target. Over time, I began to realize that if I wanted to perform better and feel more comfortable, I needed to invest a little bit more in my workout wardrobe. The good news: There are tons of great options out there, from Old Navy to Champion, that have technical gear at lower price points. Rather than buy six-packs of T-shirts every month, I started to accrue a collection of gear that lasted the washing machine test, and also made me feel more confident when the workout began.

6. Reward yourself for the small wins.

When I started my weight-loss journey, I didn't set out and say "I want to lose 70 pounds." Rather, I set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) goals that helped me go in the right direction. For instance, a goal like "I want to drink three bottles of water every day before 6 pm."

If I made it through two weeks of this goal, I would take some time to celebrate the positive progress, whether that be with a trip to the local mall or simply setting aside some "me" time to take an extra long walk come the weekend. When the journey is long, the small wins are what keep your tank fueled up and help you stay motivated for more.

7. You will not be perfect.

How many times have you told yourself "OK, today I'm going to have a good day of eating," and then a few bites of a chocolate bar later, you feel as though you've completely blown it? Listen, we've all be there.

Here's the thing: That all-or-nothing mentality isn't going to do you any good. Have some grace with the idea that from time to time, things aren't going to go as planned. There will be slip-ups. Rather than get angry and throw your hands up in the air, be proud of yourself for prioritizing your own wellness in the first place. Every single second, you have an opportunity to start with a clean slate.

8. Water really is your BFF.

I've never been "good" at drinking water. I don't particularly love the taste of it (which sounds weird, perhaps) and making sure to get enough felt like a total struggle. Alas, H20 accounts for 60 percent of our body-or about 11 gallons or 92 pounds inside a 155-pound person-and is essential to every cell.

When I made getting healthier a priority, I started downing at least six glasses each day. With that, I started to notice a real difference. I felt better, my skin looked better, and I performed well when it came to my regular workouts, staving off that ever-annoying headache that likely was a result of previous dehydration. (Related: How Water and Health Are Connected.)

9. The mental transformation is just as important as the physical

Honestly, I'm still working on my inner dialogue and being kinder to myself (here are 3 easy ways to practice body positivity right now). When a big transformation happens on the outside, it's important to take the time to really think about who it is that you are, what's important to you, and who you want to be going forward. As a self-proclaimed forever work in progress, I find that regular journaling and making time to reflect on my feelings helps me stay grounded. I'll never forget about the teenage girl who had trouble finding jeans that fit standing in her local mall. But I know, now, that she's not who I am anymore.

10. If you want lasting, permanent change—it's about your lifestyle.

This is something I can't stress enough. No amount of exercise will help you against a bad diet. Remember how you feel once you hit your goal weight. Returning to that feeling of pride and happiness will empower you to continue to make healthy decisions going forward. This makes maintenance easier, and helps you keep a level head when it comes to the occasional overindulgent meal or streak of exercise-free days (and those can be important, too!). We want to focus on lasting change and better health for years to come.