Molly Cranna for TIME
Wellness

I Tried to Lose Weight for Years. Here’s the One Thing That Worked

May 4, 2016

It had nothing to do with diet or exercise

I had finally reached my breaking point. It was spring 2013, Easter Sunday to be exact, and I was tired, out of shape and perpetually uncomfortable. As a girl who always had a sunny disposition and grew up in a family of glass-half-full thinkers, I didn’t feel right. After an indulgent dinner that evening that left me feeling awful, I’d finally had enough. I realized this was not the kind of life I wanted to live.

As I went to bed that evening, I thought about all of my previous attempts to adopt healthier habits and wondered where I’d gone wrong. In that moment of reflection, I realized it wasn’t necessarily the exercising or nutrition that I needed the most help on—it was my perspective.

During any given attempt at being “healthier,” I’d focus on everything that I wasn’t doing: the weight that I wasn’t losing and the things that I shouldn’t have been eating or drinking. I didn’t give myself credit for any of the ways in which I’d treated my body well, and I certainly didn’t enjoy the process. Restrictions led to negative thoughts, which meant I would further restrict myself until I ultimately gave up because I was trying to abide by unrealistic rules.

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So that evening, I decided to radically change my perspective and be kinder to myself. To me, that meant moving away from self-shaming and focusing on the positive in every situation. There would be no diet, no fads and no quick fixes. I would approach each day with patience and understand that the road to health isn’t about quick fixes. And I would use any struggle as motivation. In essence, I would live kindly.

Something really amazing happened along the way. Establishing this new perspective for one aspect of my life directly affected everything else, from work to relationships to the way I approached new situations. Friends and family began to notice—and they started treating themselves better and taking care of their own health, too. It was really neat to see them post #livekindly on social media.

Making life decisions that were thoughtful and intuitive helped me lose more than 130 pounds and get to a better place physically and even financially. But more importantly, I experienced an emotional shift that helped me love my life.

If you’d like to start living kindly, I recommend starting with these steps.

1. Cut yourself some slack
I had the opportunity to ride with a group of women who were faster and stronger cyclists than me. I struggled up a tough hill while they quickly became spots in the distance. I was bummed — I wanted to be able to keep up. A few minutes later, one of the women turned around to ride next to me for the duration of the ride. I thanked her and apologized for being slow. She quickly and adamantly responded, “No apologies, no saying sorry—you’re not doing anything wrong.” She was right—I didn’t have anything to beat myself up over. It was in that moment I learned to stop apologizing when I’m trying my hardest and have nothing to say “sorry for.

Find out how to use music to motivate yourself:

2. Rethink your goals
Throughout my journey, I’ve lost weight and I’ve gained weight. I’ve had days where I could get in a creative headspace easily and others where I’ve had to turn to podcasts for motivation or meditate on a topic to generate ideas. Life is full of ebbs and flows. Priorities will shift. Simple pleasures might turn into daunting tasks. Living kindly and being good to yourself is all about shifting your goals and your perspective so you’re able to enjoy the process. When you lose your myopic focus on seeing results as quickly as possible and make getting there in a sustainable, pleasant way your main priority, you’ll notice inevitable setbacks become a lot more bearable.

Read more: 3 Weight-Loss Myths You Have to Unlearn If You Want to Actually Lose Weight

3. When you make a misstep, look at why
I slip up a lot, especially when I don’t have regular “check-ins” with myself. I think of this similarly to not looking at your bank account for a few days, then logging in to see you’ve spent more than you thought. If you don’t know where you are, it’s easy to run off-course.

While I try not to spend too much time dwelling on the past, it’s usually productive for me to get to the heart of why I made a certain decision and try to understand it.

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This is where learning to understand yourself and your behaviors are paramount. Perhaps the reason why you are on a break from exercising and eating healthy is because you’ve set unrealistic expectations and implemented a lifestyle that’s not sustainable. (That’s what my problem always was!) Check in with yourself frequently, understand your decisions, and you’ll be better equipped to move toward your goals in a way that brings you happiness.

Kelly Krause is a publicist, cyclist and writer living in Austin. Watch her Creative Mornings talk.