Over the past year, I’ve been on an incredible health, fitness, and personal journey. Just a small part of that was losing 18 pounds—by eating a lot. More than I used to, more than my friends and family do. I did so by eating foods I truly enjoy and love. And that includes carbs. And chocolate.

Let me say, though, that there is not one solution that works for everyone. What worked for me may not work for you. I want to try to get rid of the unhealthy mindset and relationship that many have with food. I want to deter the idea that food is solely fattening, is a cause for guilt-trips and shouldn’t be enjoyed. 

cheese, pastry, honey, cake, sweet, grilled cheese sandwich, pancake, bread, butter, toast
Christin Urso

You’re probably currently thinking that I’m lying, that there’s no way, that it isn’t possible. I must have been taking a pill, or participating in a weird program, or eating weird food, or getting procedures done. How could it be true, you ask? Everyone knows that eating more makes you gain weight, right?

Not necessarily. Forget what the weight loss industry is telling us. Forget the misconstrued idea that the only way to be healthier is to eat less, to eat only vegetables, to cut out carbs and to never see never see chocolate again again. Quite simply, there are other ways. Better, easier, more sustainable and more enjoyable approaches to achieving that dream bod and making progress towards your fitness goals.

butter, peanut, peanut butter, banana
Sophia Gribbs

I eat over 2,000 calories a day, easily. This normally includes three meals and two snacks minimum. I don’t diet, deprive myself, count calories or feel guilty when I treat myself to a burger or pizza on the occasion.

I don’t weigh myself. Ever. Stepping off the scale was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The only reason I know my weight is because of checkups at the doctor where you’re asked to be weighed. Yet I’ve lost 18 pounds in a year and I’m very satisfied with my fitness progress.

So what did I change at the start of 2015 to actually see fitness progress and weight loss for the first time in my entire life? I changed what I was eating- I simply ate different foods and completely adjusted my lifestyle. I also adopted a new, intense workout regimen that has me sweating 6 days a week.

Fresh, farmer's market, green beans, pasture, vegetable, radish
Caroline Ingalls

For more information on that, check out Kayla’s Bikini Body Guide and join #teamkayla to get in on the fun. Keep in mind that I am able to eat so much each day and continue to see progress because my heightened level of physical activity and frequency of the healthy foods I consume have increased my basal metabolic rate.

You’re probably thinking “I should’ve listened in school when they preached the food pyramid and food group guidelines.” As much as we don’t want to admit, they were correct. I aim for five servings of whole grains a day, five servings of vegetables, three fruits, two lean meat/ proteins, two low fat dairy, two healthy fats and lots of water. Sustainable weight loss and fitness journeys are all about balance.

cheese, lettuce, tomato, vegetable, spinach, basil, salad
Sophia Gribbs

This means getting enough, but not too much, of each food group. An example day for me includes: oats (breakfast), two eggs on two pieces of 100% whole wheat toast with fresh spinach and tomatoes (lunch), a banana and natural peanut butter (snack), grilled chicken, quinoa, and lots of veggies (dinner), more fruit (snack).

I do not eat anything I don’t genuinely enjoy eating. There is no reason to force yourself to consume foods that don’t make you happy. Unpopular opinion—I don’t like avocado—instead I replace it with a handful of fresh spinach or cucumber. Disclaimer: I’ve tried to like avocado and recognize its health benefits but just do not enjoy it.

I also cut out processed sugar and refined flour. This means no white bread, white pasta, prepackaged food, cookies, brownies, ice cream, etc. I don’t eat anything processed from a box or a vacuum sealed bag—no mac & cheese, oreos, chips, PopTarts. Instead, I eat complex carbs and incorporate other sweeteners like honey and stevia.

juice, grapefruit, citrus, lemon
Justin Schwebel

You’re probably wondering how I resist all the foods that make up the stereotypical college diet. I hate to break it to you, but you’re probably addicted to sugar that is oh-so sneakily hidden in these products. I never crave sugar or foods such as pizza and chips. I do allow myself one cheat meal and one dessert each week, though.

They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. Once this occurs for you, eating well and exercising regularly becomes second nature. The two go hand in hand, one is not more important than the other. I hardly think about these anymore, when I’m hungry I automatically reach for a banana and peanut butter. I don’t keep junk food in my apartment—therefore, I cannot eat it.

I’m not going say that making a big lifestyle change is easy by any means. I’m not going to tell you that it takes one day to be healthy for life. I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t fail many times, have more than one cheat meal a week, indulge in Ben & Jerry’s (or that cone while in Paris) or miss a workout. It doesn’t matter how many times you fail, it’s how many times you pick yourself up.

gelato, wafer, waffle, chocolate ice cream, ice cream, cream, ice, chocolate
Amelia Hitchens

Remember, YOU CAN DO IT. This is coming from a girl who previously hated how she looked and felt it was impossible to make a change.

This is coming from a girl who had no self-confidence and was about to give up, about to accept that she was stuck with her unhealthy body and mindset for life.

This is coming from that same girl who persisted and turned her life around, who is now healthier, stronger, more energized and happier than ever.