Ten women open up about the strategies that worked for them, including all the weight loss stuff no one really tells you about.

By Julia Malacoff
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Photo: Shutterstock/NIKITA TV

Anyone who has been through it can tell you that weight loss isn't easy. And while it's totally okay to *not* have weight loss as one of your fitness goals, the reality is that many people do want to shed a few pounds for a variety of reasons ranging from better health to simply wanting to feel more comfortable in their skin. (BTW, you can totally change your body without losing weight. This fitness blogger proves that weight is just a number.)

That's why we asked members of Shape's #MyPersonalBest Goal Crushers Facebook group who have successfully lost weight to share what they wish they had known at the beginning of their journey, along with what they would tell themselves at the start if given the opportunity.

Unsurprisingly, their responses were much less about looking a certain way or even a specific style of eating that was game-changing, and much more about nourishing their bodies, getting their heads in the game and feeling their best. Here's what they had to say.

Calories aren't everything.

For those just starting out on their weight-loss journey, Rachael Lenzmeier Jencks, 43, wants you to know that cutting calories blindly, without thinking about the nutritional impact of the foods you're eating, isn't the answer. "The one thing that I would tell myself is that skipping fruit and veggies to save calories isn't EVER going to do the trick," she says. "What you put in your body does matter and no amount of exercise can undo a bad diet." (Need a little inspo? Check out the best pre- and post-workout snacks for every workout.)

Having your head in the game is just as important.

"Anyone can work out and lose weight, but if you don't deal with the six inches between your ears, you will miss the most important part of the process," says Janelle Spady, 35. "What brought you to where you're at? What has caused you to struggle? Once you can get to the heart of the matter, everything else will follow suit."

When it comes to food, less isn't always more.

Marie Rose Yardis, 38, wishes she'd known from the start that there's no need to go as low as possible with calories. "I worked with a trainer that told me I had to increase calories to support my workouts," she says. "It felt impossible, but I did it and lost a good amount of weight as a result! We all see in the media that cutting calories equals a smaller body. But when you are combining your nutrition habits with tough training sessions, you can really do a disservice to your body by underfeeding it!" (More on that here: Exactly How to Cut Calories to Lose Weight Safely)

Community support makes a huge difference.

"Probably the most important lesson I've learned is that it's a constant struggle, but I've also learned that I am not alone in the battle," says Cara Lynn. "I've managed to find like-minded people who battle the same demons and who slay similar dragons. The fitness community is like no other I've ever been a part of, and I'm thrilled to have found it." (Here's more on how joining an online support group could help you meet your goals.)

Food tracking can be a game-changer.

"I've worked out regularly for over three years now and for the first two and a half years, my weight didn't move," says Tara Bird, 38. "It wasn't until I consistently started tracking everything that I ate that I saw the scale start to go down. I figured out what my maintenance calories were and created a deficit of 300 to 400 calories. Progress has been slow, but I've lost 23 pounds in the last year. Ideally, I would like to lose another 15 pounds, but I'm happy with my progress. Slow and steady!"

It's easier than you think when you're properly motivated.

"About a year ago, I went to the doctor for my annual exam. I had just turned 30, and the number on the scale was the highest it had ever been, and my cholesterol was high," says Lauren Zarzour, 31. "I joined Weight Watchers and ClassPass. I'm now 30 pounds lighter and have developed a better understanding of nutrition and a passion for the gym. I've learned how much more you value food when every day isn't an indulgence, and how amazing it is to be strong. I wish I would have known how easy it could be, but I don't think it would have been easy if I hadn't had that epiphany." (Related: How to Rekindle Your Weight-Loss Motivation)

Take things one day at a time.

"I woke up every day and made a promise to myself to make good choices for that day," says Samantha Huyett, 41, of how she met her weight-loss goal. "I would tell myself: 'Tomorrow I might not exercise, I might eat cake, but today will try my hardest.' I never started anything with my diet or exercise that I couldn't do for the rest of my life."

Small changes make a big difference over time.

For Gretchen Schupbach, 40, the key was sustainability. "I started with a lifestyle change from eating out every day to once a week. I started walking every day. When that got easy, I would add five more minutes until I worked myself up to an hour. Then, I started lifting weights every other day. I swapped white bread and rice for whole grain. I tried to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into my day, and brushed my teeth right after dinner so I wouldn't eat after," she says. By making these slow, steady changes, she was able to meet her goals.

You can learn to love working out.

Yup. Here's what Josie Brady, 36, would tell herself about hitting the gym at the beginning of her journey: "It's not a chore anymore. Your legs are going to look and feel great. Keep working on that pull-up game. This journey is going to be for the rest of your life, so if the results you want take a little longer, so be it!" (Related: How to Make Exercise a Habit You Love)

It's never too late.

"No matter how bad off you are when you start, you can still be successful," says Dawn Sabourin, 50. "Don't look at how far you have to go because you will become overwhelmed and quit." And playing the long game can help you feel more in control. "Accept where you are starting and take one step at a time in the right direction. They will build, as will your confidence and success." (Next up: 10 Trainers Share What They Wish They Could Tell Their Younger Selves About Fitness)

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