To say losing weight was (and still is) emotional would be a total understatement. Through the challenging moments and hurdles, there were so many things I'd tell my former self now, looking back on that time. Here are seven things I wish I knew before losing weight.

In college, I lost 70 pounds. That weight-loss was transformational in so many ways. The outside appearance, for sure. As someone who for a long time found it difficult to walk into a mall and find clothes that fit her shape and size, it was freeing to have more options. However, the lessons I learned about myself and the mental toughness and resilience I developed on a journey of self-discovery made me better.

To say it was (and still is) emotional would be a total understatement. Through the challenging moments and hurdles, there were so many things I'd tell my former self now, looking back on that time. Here are seven things I wish I knew before losing weight.

1. Cardio isn't everything

When I was going through my big transformation, I was made to feel like I needed to do hours and hours of cardio every day to get to my big goals. I would get up onto an elliptical and watch entire movies, solely because I thought that was the thing that would help me get to where I wanted to be. The truth? Strength training is super important, especially because it builds muscle. Fun fact: Muscle burns more calories than fat—up to three times more— according to some estimates.

2. You can't over-exercise a bad diet

I definitely went through periods where I thought that I could overwork poor eating decisions. In time, I learned that's not how it works. While I'm of the mindset that losing weight is about balance and being able to eat what you want at times (read: Italian tri-color cookies come the holidays or the pizza on Friday nights)—the fact is that if you eat more calories than you burn, then overtime you gain weight.

If you're constantly putting high-sugar, high-calorie foods into your body, then that's no good for you—period—even if you are spending an hour on the treadmill a day. It's really about figuring out how to incorporate good quality macronutrients—the carbs, fat and protein your body requires to provide the energy needed to maintain body functions and navigate daily life—consistently.

a woman stretching with her eyes closed in exercise clothes on a designed background
Credit: Getty Images / JLco - Julia Amaral

3. You need to focus on lifestyle changes

I just made mention of macronutrients, and this is important. Losing and maintaining weight loss is really about figuring out what habits you can incorporate into your regular routine that will then become part of your lifestyle. Going on a restrictive fad diet where you completely eliminate a food group (or multiple food groups), for example, likely isn't something that is sustainable for the long term. Find good-for-you habits and foods that you enjoy, and that will be one of the biggest pieces to the lifelong puzzle of balance.

4. You'll need to exercise your "no"

There are going to be situations where you feel uncomfortable on your journey. Perhaps it's one-too-many invitations to go out to dinner three weeknights in a row or weekly lunches at the office filled with fast-food options and fast-food options only. You have every right to say "no," if something makes you feel uncomfortable (this stands true for when you're not in the middle of this chapter, too). Saying "no" will empower you to own your value, and exercising that "no" will get easier with time.

5. Make sure to have a strong support system

Losing weight isn't an easy thing to do. It's important that you surround yourself with friends and family that support you in your journey, and they can be an outlet for you as you navigate the highs and lows. Be open with them. They are there for you. The last thing you want to do is keep the difficult moments to yourself. It's OK to ask for help and bounce ideas off of someone else. The right support system will be happy to help you on your way.

6. You need to do work on the inside, too

Oh man, the emotions that come with this chapter. It's really important that you make your mental health a priority, just as much so as the number on the scale. A 2014 study of 1,979 overweight and obese people found that those who lost 5 percent of their body weight were nearly twice as likely to feel some symptoms of depression (compared with those who stayed a similar weight). If you don't prioritize doing the inner work (I'd highly recommend speaking with a therapist), no amount of weight loss will truly make you happy. You've gotta find that happiness within yourself, too.

7. It's an ongoing journey

Sure, I lost 70 pounds in college, but this is a journey I'm on forever. There have been points in my life where I've gained some back, and others where I've lost some more. Recognize that this journey has empowered you to handle all of the chapters to come, and that you have to have grace with yourself as you navigate each and every one.