After struggling to find a "diet" that she could stick to, Katie Dunlop of Love Sweat Fitness decided to ditch the idea altogether and finally found success.

By Faith Brar

If you've ever visited Katie Dunlop's Instagram profile, you're sure to stumble across a smoothie bowl or two, seriously sculpted abs or a booty selfie, and proud post-workout photos. At first glance, it's hard to believe that the creator of Love Sweat Fitness has ever struggled with her weight or had a tough time maintaining a healthy lifestyle. But in reality, it took Katie years to change the way she treated her body-most of which had to do with her relationship with food.

"I struggled with weight like many women do for a number of years," Katie told Shape exclusively. "I tried fad diets and several workout programs, but still somehow got up to my heaviest. At that point, I didn't feel like myself anymore."

As she tried to find a solution that would stick, Katie says she came to a major realization: "I quickly learned that it wasn't just about how much I weighed or how my body looked, it was more about being in an emotional state where I wasn't motivated to treat myself better," she says of how she used to feel. "More than anything, that came down to what I was putting in my body." (Related: Katie Willcox Wants You To Know You're So Much More Than What You See In the Mirror)

That's when Katie decided that she was done with random diets and was going to focus all her energy on making healthy eating a part of her lifestyle. "We all know what foods are good and bad for us-at least to some extent," she says. "So once I finally started looking at food for what it is-a fuel for our bodies-I was really able to change my relationship with it and embody a more balanced approach."

With that had to also come the understanding that she wasn't going to see results overnight. "I realized that the changes I wanted weren't going to be fast and that was okay," she said. "So I made peace with the fact that even if my body didn't change physically, I was still going to do everything in my power to take care of it to feel better and more confident. That's something I took one day at a time." (Related: The Surprising Way Low Confidence Affects Your Workout Performance)

Being a self-proclaimed foodie, Katie knew her success would be dependent on finding ways to truly enjoy eating healthy foods. Learning how to cook with healthier ingredients and season them to perfection without loading up on salt or sauces played a big role, says Katie. "Learning how to start reducing the extras like salt, oil, and cheese is what really made a difference," she says, and "finding delicious recipes to experiment with was key."

Katie says she also had to rethink her game plan when eating out with friends. For example, she'd ditch the crackers on the charcuterie board, but still allowed herself have some cheese because it was something she really loved. During taco night, though, she realized the shredded cheese didn't really add much to the meal, so she skipped it. It was all about finding out what worked for her and making small substitutions that didn't make her feel like she was giving up anything, she says. (Related: Three Food Swaps to Help You Overcome a Weight-Loss Plateau)

It took a solid six months before eating clean became second nature to Katie. "By that time, a bulk of my weight had come off, but it was a huge struggle breaking those old habits since I was used to not sticking to the same thing for too long," she admits. But she did stick with it and the results showed. "The best part was that I didn't just see a difference in my body, I also felt it," she shares. "And that made me realize how much food affected me."

Today, Katie says she eats five times a day and her meals vary in portion sizes. "My days usually start with egg whites, avocados, and sprouted bread, as well as Greek yogurt and tons of fruit," she says. "From there I try to incorporate nuts, nut butter, lean chicken, protein, fish, and tons of veggies into my daily diet." (Related: 9 Foods Every Healthy Kitchen Needs)

"Never in my life did I think I'd be where I'm at right now: 45 pounds lighter and feeling so confident both physically and emotionally," says Katie. "And that's all because I learned to fuel my body properly and give it what it needs to be the best version of itself."

If you want to change your eating habits (from a small tweak to a total overhaul) and are looking for a place to start, Katie recommends taking it one step at a time."Find what you're struggling with the most, whether that's sweets or late-night snacking, and slowly find ways to start making healthier changes," she says. Rather than sitting down to a pint of Talenti, have a couple bites and then switch to Greek yogurt and honey or fruit to satisfy the rest of your sweet tooth, she says.

The number-one thing Katie says she tries to instill in her followers, clients, or just women in general, is that they deserve to feel happy and confident. "That confidence doesn't just come when you reach your goals, it comes from making those healthier choices all the time. If you're consistent in that, you've proved that you actually love your body enough to take care of it-and everyone owes that to themselves."

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