Now, at 36 years old, Jennifer runs five days a week, either on the treadmill (with intervals and inclines) or if the weather is nice, outside in the park—sometimes with one of her shelties in tow. She’s conquered a 10K, and together with her boyfriend, plans to do another race in 2017 (“at least a 5K,” she says).

Related: 18 5Ks to Fill Your Race Calendar

But perhaps the most inspiring part of Jennifer’s weight loss journey is the fact that now, it’s not about the weight at all. For the past year, in pursuit of a healthier body image to match her healthy body, Jennifer put the scale aside. Through the process, she learned that while tracking weight can be a helpful guide, it’s not the be-all and end-all. “You can talk about exercising and you can talk about healthy eating, but there is so much on the inside that changes. For me, that’s where the huge wins come in.”

Here are the nine things she did to take the weight off and begin to feel healthy and happy.

Be Patient

“I didn’t become 245 pounds overnight and I sure as heck cannot expect magic fat-melting power to happen in super-human time either,” says Jennifer. Her journey involved lots of small steps. At first, exercise was simply a quarter-mile walk. She slowly but surely increased the distance by quarter-mile increments. Within six weeks, after reading about the cardiovascular benefits of running, she began incorporating jogging into her walks with 10-second intervals. She worked her way up from there, and ran her first full mile within nine months. “I’m not a naturally patient person,” says Jennifer. “I’m an A-type personality, and I want everything yesterday. But if you told me at the beginning of my journey that I’d be where I am today, I would have never believed it. Maintaining that perspective day-to-day can be hard, but if you can look back over a three, six, nine, and 12-month period and see the progress you’ve made, it’s an amazing thing.” (Torch fat, get fit, and look and feel great with Women’s Health’s All in 18 DVD!) 

Set Daily Targets

Instead of fixating on her end goal, Jennifer stayed on track by setting small, realistically achievable goals on a daily basis. Goals like take the dogs for a 10-minute walk, eat a healthy breakfast, and don’t buy a sugary drink at the gas station helped her maintain focus and stay positive throughout the long journey.

Be Kind To Yourself

“You will not have perfect eating days. You will not have perfect weeks,” she says. “It’s really OK. Learn how to balance the good and the bad.” She followed (and still follows) a 90/10 philosophy, which allows her the occasional indulgence. “I don’t beat myself up if I have a cookie,” she says. “And by allowing myself that treat, I’m also not as likely to then eat 10 cookies.” For Jennifer, this self-kindness also involves rewarding herself for reaching certain fitness milestones, like buying a pair of bright purple workout pants when she looked in the mirror and realized she felt proud—and not ashamed—of her legs. “When you’re heavy, you only wear black,” Jennifer explains. “For me, finally wearing those bright colors was a sign of great progress.”

Check out these fat-blasting moves that can help you lose weight.

Eat Protein, Carbohydrates, And Fat

Another thing Jennifer doesn’t believe in? Restrictive diets. “There’s so much more to weight loss and being healthy than restricting calories,” she says. Pre-weight loss, Jennifer’s eating habits were inconsistent. She’d consume a large breakfast sandwich and a sugary latte and  go hours without eating, only to binge on snacks—cheese, chips, fruit, and pepperoni—followed by an oversize order of takeout. When she began her quest for a healthier self, the focus shifted to mindful eating, balanced nutrition, and advance preparation. “Preparing your meals ahead of time can really set you up for success,” says Jennifer. Today, a typical breakfast involves eggs, grain bread, and nut butter, while snacks include nuts, whole-wheat crackers, yogurt, grilled chicken, dark chocolate, and fruit smoothies. Dinner is often a homemade veggie and protein-packed soup or salad.

Related: 7 Healthy Foods a Nutritionist Prepares Ahead of Time

Ask For Help

“Everyone needs a little extra push, a cheerleader in their corner,” says Jennifer. “Go find yourself a mentor and a support system. It is good for the soul and great for motivation.” Jennifer seeks advice on everything from nutrition to proper running form to weight lifting safety. “You have to realize that you don’t know it all,” she advises. “You have to be willing to say ‘I need help’ to people with lots more experience than you.” And in asking for that help, she suggests seeking others who once struggled with weight issues themselves. “Look for support from people who have been there,” she says. “When you’re 245 pounds, it’s hard to take weight loss advice from someone who has never been that heavy.”

Vary Your Workouts

The workouts that helped Jennifer lose most of her weight were walking and running, but looking back, she wishes she had incorporated more variety to her exercise routine—both in intensity and duration—to reduce harmful, repetitive motion on her joints and muscles. Midway through her journey, the lack of cross-training and stretching left her with an inflamed hip bone. Today, she enjoys everything from running to boot camp classes to cardio machines, and combines both indoor and outdoor activities to keep things fresh and interesting.

Take A Break From The Scale

Twelve months ago, Jennifer quit weighing herself cold turkey. The reason: “It was sabotaging me,” says Jennifer. “It was sabotaging my goal of repairing my metabolism.” While Jennifer describes the scale separation as mentally challenging, the results were worth it. “My body physique has improved dramatically.” To get a benchmark for her 2017 resolutions—which involve continuing her running routine while building new muscles and revving her metabolism—Jennifer just checked in on her weight on January 3, 2017. She was stoked to see she’d managed to gain early 25 pounds while still keeping the same clothing size, meaning she’d significantly lowered her body fat and upped her muscle mass. Through this she learned, “It’s not about the weight—it’s about body composition.” She plans to retire the scale once after her current 16-week fitness program wraps.

Have Unwavering Confidence In Yourself

A strong inner self is what Jennifer says helped her push past the many roadblocks along her journey. “So much of weight loss and overall fitness is about digging deep and having confidence in yourself and your abilities to keep moving forward,” she says. “At the end of the day, you need to be the one to get up and put your feet on the floor.”

Related: This Motivational Trick Is Incredibly Powerful

Lift Heavy

“I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my weight loss journey how important heavy lifting was,” says Jennifer. She began incorporating weights 11 months ago and says that the addition has transformed her body anew. “I’m trying to show people what can happen naturally and how long it takes.”

The article The 9 Life Changes She Made to Lose 120 Pounds—and Feel More Confident Than Ever originally appeared on Runner’s World.