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Losing weight — whether it’s 20 pounds or 200 — is incredibly difficult. People who successfully do it and keep it off transform their lives, not just for the short term, but forever. Healthy eating and exercise remain a big part of their lives.
While most people expect to eat new foods and start exercise routines, they experience many surprising changes.
These seven women share 13 things they wish they knew before losing at least 100 pounds.
1. A pair of fat pants can inspire you.
As soon as Jamie Lanigan — who dropped 145 pounds thanks in part to a lunch club at work — started losing weight, she happily donated her clothes to charity. But she regrets not keeping a pair of pants she wore when she weighed 400 pounds.
“I really wish I kept one pair of pants from my start weight so I could have a tangible reminder of how far I’ve come. Some days, sticking to the plan is a bit more of a challenge than other days, so having that symbol of your hard work could help you keep your goals in sight,” she told TODAY, via email.
2. Sometimes being too healthy is unhealthy.
Using food to comfort herself after the deaths of her mother and husband meant Justine McCabe's weight ballooned to 313 pounds. She realized she needed to drop pounds to be healthier. To stay motivated, she snapped a selfie every day, and with diet and exercise, she lost 128 pounds to weigh 185.
But she became obsessed with being healthy.
“I wasn't aware how easily you could swap one eating disorder for another,” McCabe said. “I became so engrossed in my efforts that it was all I could see and it clouded my ability to realize how far I'd already come. It created a very powerful cycle of over training, binge eating and body dysmorphia.”
She spent several months focusing on her self-worth and finding balance. Today, she feels happy with herself.
3. Take it one day at a time.
After getting stuck in a turnstile at Disneyland because she weighed 510 pounds, Jacqueline Adan started her weight-loss journey, dropping 350 pounds in four and a half years. But thinking about losing over 300 pounds felt daunting. She wishes someone told her to focus on the little wins.
“Take it one day at a time, one pound at a time,” she said. “Focus on making a lifestyle change, not just a quick way to lose weight.”
4. Your entire body changes.
Misty Mitchell lost 143 pounds after quitting drinking, cutting carbs and exercising. She knew she’d be shopping for new clothes, but had no idea weight loss changed just about everything.
“My skin cleared up, I am no longer a shade of pink, my heels aren’t cracked, my hair is coming in thicker,” she said. “You get your body back … You feel healthy and pain-free again.”
5. Friendships change.
After realizing she could eliminate the medications she took for high blood pressure, cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes if she shed some weight, NaTasha Glaspy started going to the local YMCA. In two years, she lost 160 pounds — and some friends with bad habits.
“My relationships with old friends have changed mainly because we don't do the things we used to do, like go eat,” she said. “Most (of my new friends) are really into a healthy lifestyle and fitness.”
6. There are haters.
Betsy Ayala failed to shed the baby weight after having her daughter, but reading a nasty text exchange about her weight motivated her to change her eating habits and start exercising. In three years, she went from 262 to 157, shedding 105 pounds. While she feels confident today, not everyone supported Ayala.
“Not everyone is going to be happy that you are a better version of you. Sometimes, people are comfortable with who you were before and when you find a new happiness or you change, sometimes people react in different ways,” she said. “I think some people feel left behind.”
7. You’re no longer invisible.
When she weighed 300 pounds, no one noticed Misty Mitchell. Since losing weight, strangers approach her.
“I can feel people look at me all the time and it’s because I look good and it feels nice to feel that energy again, to have people smile back when you smile at them, for people to start up conversations with you," she said. "I’m not invisible anymore."
8. Your mind, not your body, can stop you.
When NaTasha Glaspy began losing weight, she thought her body held her back. But she soon realized it was her brain creating the roadblocks.
“Your mind will put a limit on what you are capable of. Challenging yourself is also very important,” she said. “To continuously see results, you have to advance your workouts and leave your comfort zone.”
9. You forget your actual size.
After making a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, Lexi Reed lost 236 pounds in a year, with the help of her husband, Danny, who lost 62 pounds. While she knows she’s experienced a great transformation, she still forgets she fits on roller coaster and airplane seats, or booths at restaurants.
“I don't feel I've had many bad experiences since losing weight other than the struggles of not realizing mentally how much smaller I am sometimes and still questioning if I can fit,” she said.
10. A number on the scale doesn’t make you happier.
Justine McCabe noticed many people think they need to be a certain weight and arbitrarily pick a number to reach. She did that, too. But she soon realized being healthy felt more fulfilling.
“A number doesn't translate into happiness,” she said. “I would advise anyone to really listen to their own body and needs, and not compare themselves with anyone else.”
Betsy Ayala agrees:
“I also wish people told me not to obsess too much on the numbers,” she said. “When I was at my lowest, I was a senior in high school and I was around 150 pounds and I was a size 10, so I kept on thinking I want to be 150 … Now I'm 157 pounds and I’m a size 8; it's not so much about the number on the scale, it's about how you feel.”
11. Extra skin is physically and mentally painful.
After losing 350 pounds, Jacqueline Adan has skin hanging off her body. She never expected this would still impact how she feels.
“It hurts,” she said. “There are still some days I feel ‘fat’ and like that girl I was before. I still get pointed at and laughed at and called ‘fat’ because of the way my skin looks. That is definitely something I never would have imagined would still happen after losing 350 pounds.”
12. Nutrition is an important part of your journey.
What you eat makes a huge difference with weight loss. But it seems easier to add more workouts than give up fatty food.
“I wish that someone would have told me from the beginning how important nutrition is with exercise. It took me about four months to really learn what nutritional lifestyle changes would work with my body,” NaTasha Glaspy said.
13. It’s OK to fail.
Some weeks, the number on the scale doesn’t move. Or the crunches aren't flattening that belly. That's OK. Everyone's been there; failure is part of losing weight.
“I’ve had ups and downs, a few injuries and setbacks happened, but I put trust in the process and I try to remain consistent with developing healthy habits. It’s the consistency through the setbacks that have helped me get closer to my goals,” said Jamie Lanigan.
Justine McCabe agreed.
“No one gets into this kind of journey without struggling,” she said. "It's never a straight trajectory to success."
For more stories like this, check out our My Weight-Loss Journey page for inspiration.