Ten Things I’ve Discovered Throughout My Body Transformation

Ten Things I’ve Discovered Throughout My Body Transformation

After the holidays, people start thinking about their new year’s health and fitness goals. But many people abandon their resolutions before the first month. That’s why I recently decided to share my own transformation—a risky move for me.

Julia Malacoff
Julia Malacoff

I took the left photo in April 2017.

I liked my body and enjoyed working out. But I felt like I should be leaner for all my gym work. Working in the fitness industry taught me about various diets and exercise regimens that were *supposed* to help me get the body I desired, but I couldn’t get it.

On the right, 20 months later, my mindset, diet, and workout routine have changed. I’m still a writer and editor, but now I’m a personal trainer. I finally have the body I wanted. I’m sure I can keep it.

But it took a lot of work to get here. It took me 20 months to change my body after years of trying and failing.

1. No secret

This is probably the most unpopular opinion, but it is true. I was convinced I was missing some simple secret to getting my best body ever.

I went dairy-free. I got into CrossFit. For three months, I did dance cardio. I contemplated Whole30. I tried fish oil, creatine, and magnesium supplements.

None of this is wrong. All of them probably made me healthier and fitter. But the results I desired? Nothing happened.

I was missing the big picture. One big shift isn’t enough.

Nothing helped me change my body. Not just one big change, but a bunch of small ones.

2. In the gym, more isn’t always better.

In my “before” photo, I was exercising 5-6 times per week. What I didn’t realize was that this was unnecessary for my body and goals, and may have hindered my progress. Why Workout Less and Get Better Results?

Because I overestimated my calorie burn through exercise, I ended up overeating due to my increased appetite. While this isn’t true for everyone, I’ve found that cardio workouts increase hunger, making it difficult to stick to nutrition goals.

Plus, intense workouts without adequate rest can lead to overtraining, which hinders weight loss. I’m starting to think that the fatigue and difficulty losing weight I was having a few years ago was due to overtraining.

Now I only work out three to four days per week. Allowing myself plenty of rest between workouts makes me work harder when I am in the gym.

When going to the gym didn’t feel like a daily chore, I started to enjoy it more. Instead, it became an opportunity to increase my weights each session. That’s important because progressive overload accelerates results.

3. You don’t have to feel dizzy after every workout

HIIT is a well-studied exercise method. Plenty of advantages. It’s quick, burns a lot of calories, and gives you an endorphin rush.

What else is well-researched? Workouts. I started working with a new trainer about a year ago. I told her I did HIIT four days a week and heavy lifting two days a week.

Less HIIT, more weightlifting, she advised. Simply put, it wasn’t necessary. Exercise Has Many Health and Fitness Benefits

Lifting weights was the most efficient way to reshape my body and lose weight. Why? Lifting weights helps you maintain (and sometimes even build) muscle mass while losing fat. (It’s also called recomposition.)

Trying to lose weight and gain muscle is counterproductive. Muscle mass not only helps you burn more calories at rest, but it also shapes and defines your body. In the end, many women want to gain muscle, not just lose fat.

So, my coach encouraged me to keep doing HIIT once or twice a week if I liked it, but after a few months, I realized I didn’t. I didn’t need a sweaty face to feel great about my workout. Instead, achieving my first chin-up (and then five more), my first 200-pound trap bar deadlift, and my first double bodyweight hip thrust became more rewarding.

Plus, lifting heavy weights gave me a huge heart rate boost. My heart rate would drop between sets, then spike again at the start of the next set. I realized I was already doing HIIT, so I ditched burpees and squat jumps.

No ignoring diet.
For years, I resisted the hard truth that exercise alone would not get me where I wanted to be. You’d think that if I do CrossFit five times a week, I can eat whatever I want. Wrong.

A caloric deficit is required to lose weight. That is, eat less than you burn. In addition to four glasses of wine, cheese boards, and late-night pizza orders, I was also refueling my body with plenty of calories. I started seeing results once I started tracking my meals and controlling my calorie intake (I used macros, but there are many other ways to do this). (Related: The IIFYM or Macro Diet)

5. Dieting is HARD

Now I knew why I resisted changing my diet. I enjoy eating. And I do.

I never had an issue with overeating until I got my first full-time job after college. Because of the high-pressure environment and the knowledge that if I failed at my job, there were hundreds of other qualified candidates who would gladly take my place, I was working long days and stressed.

After work, all I wanted to do was reward myself. And it usually came in the form of food. I gained 10 pounds in a year after graduating college. I gained 15 more pounds over the next six or seven years. Some of it was muscle from my long-standing workout habit, but I also knew it was body fat.

It wasn’t easy to change my diet. I realized I was using food for more than just nutrition and pleasure. I was using it to relieve deep-seated discomfort. Then what? I had to deal with them in other ways.

Exercise is great, but I also called friends and family, took care of myself, and hugged my dog a lot. I also learned how to cook a lot of healthy meals, which is calming. Spending time with my food helped me connect with it and become more aware of my intake.

6. Don’t give up your faves

Just because I cooked healthy doesn’t mean I didn’t have fun. At least that’s how I felt when I cut out my favorite foods from my diet. (Research has shown the harm and inefficiency of the restrict/binge/restrict/binge eating cycle.) Instead, I learned to eat them sparingly. I know, I know.

I used to hate it when super-fit influencers shared their unhealthy treats. I couldn’t help but think that if I ate that, I’d never be able to look like them.

But I was dead wrong. Everyone has unique genes. Some people can eat anything and still keep their abs. But what about the majority of fit people who enjoy pizza, fries, and nachos? They’re taking it easy on them.

So, what? Instead of finishing it, they take as many bites as they need to feel satisfied. And they’re probably eating whole, nutrient-dense foods the rest of the day.

But, ultimately, life is too short to stop baking or avoid wine night with friends. Having just one cookie, a few pieces of cheese, or two glasses of wine changed my life.

7. Find something positive about healthy eating and exercise that isn’t about weight loss.

Let’s face it: No 12-week challenge will permanently change your body. Progress takes time. Changing habits takes time.

Aim to lose 15 pounds or less. You can’t just stop drinking soda or alcohol and magically lose weight. Less body fat is harder to lose.

That means if you go all out for three months with your diet and workout routine, you’ll see some results and lose weight, but you’ll be disappointed if you don’t reach your goal. You may be disappointed if you gain weight due to reverting to old eating habits.

So how can you progress?

Putting visual changes and progress on hold is a highly effective way to enable yourself to actually achieve your goals.

I took the focus off weight loss by cooking, chasing PRs, and challenging myself with new movements (hello, plyo push-ups). Yes, I wanted to improve, but I didn’t think about my weight (or appearance) every day. This allowed me to lose weight slowly, rather than losing 15 pounds of both fat and muscle at once.

8. Perfection thwarts progress.

If you’ve ever been on a diet, you’ve felt “f*cked up.” That thing where you say “no” to the cupcakes at work and end up eating five. If you’ve already ruined your diet, why not go ham for the rest of the week and start fresh on Monday?

Before my Body Transformation, I used to do it constantly. Starting and stopping my “healthy” diet. I didn’t realize I was doing it because I sought perfection. What good was a diet if I couldn’t follow it perfectly?

In reality, perfection is unnecessary. And striving for perfection? It leads to self-destruction. With self-compassion, I accepted myself as not perfect, just doing my best. So f*ck it mentality had no place in my brain.

So what if I get an unexpected cupcake? Then it was back to business as usual. One cupcake won’t stop you. Do you need to be perfect? Yes.

9. Photographing progress is amusing. You’ll be glad you did it.

As you can see in my before photo, I was nervous. My hips are sideways, and my posture is uncertain. It shows how far I’ve come physically and emotionally, and I’m *so* glad I have it. On the right, my body is different, but I’m also confident and strong. Transformations that show weight loss isn’t the only factor

It’s difficult to track changes in your body over time, and many don’t show up on the scale or in girth measurements. I lost 17 pounds in 20 months. My progress was steady and slow. But if I had only used the scale weight, I would have been discouraged.

Photos aren’t the end all be all of progress, but they can be very useful.

10. Having your “dream body” won’t make you love yourself more.

It’s easy to believe that changing your appearance or weighing yourself will improve your self-esteem. Sadly, no. In April 2017, I would have given anything to body-morph into my current body. But I still see my flaws.

Finding something positive to say about your body can be difficult if you dislike it. But focusing on what my body could do helped me love what I already had. That’s what kept me going.

And if all else failed, I tried to focus on being grateful for having a healthy body that allowed me to get up every day, work out several times a week, and still get everything done. I reminded myself that many aren’t.

That doesn’t mean I’m perfect in my self-esteem and body image. Myself photos still make me wonder if the angle is right for me. I still find myself wishing for a slimmer or fuller body part. So, self-love is probably always going to be a work in progress of Body Transformation for me.

My main takeaway? Find something to love about your body, and the rest will come.


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