It isn’t that I’ve lost a little weight. It’s that I’ve gained a lot of happiness.

It feels kind of silly writing this because my weight loss has been nothing dramatic. I’ve lost a grand total of 17 pounds in 9 months. You know, really headline-worthy, Weight Watchers before and after commercial stuff, right? I’m not including any before and after pictures. For one, the change is subtle – maybe someone who hasn’t seen me in a year would, and furthermore, the point of this post is that the changes I’ve made in my life that have affected the shape of my body are not, for me, about a visual change. It’s primarily changed the way I feel and experience the world in my own skin.

Late in 2012, I realized the reason I’d been refusing to exercise or eat healthy was a protest against society telling me I should lose weight. I was a size 14 or 16, depending on what store you ask. More than that, just 4 years prior, at age 20, I’d been a size 4. I gained 70 pounds between my freshman year of college, when my lowest weight was 118 pounds, to the year after I graduated college, when my weight topped out at 189 pounds. I went through bouts of working out every day, calorie counting, and I was deeply unhappy. The goal of losing weight felt empty. Who was I trying to lose weight for? A boy? A camera? A clothing store?

Was it possible to live in my 180+ pound body and love myself?

I was angry at being made to feel like I was unattractive and lazy simply because I devoted more of my time to earning a 4.0 GPA in school, devouring books, road-tripping, at different points working hard to perfect my acting craft and at other turns volunteering and working for animal advocacy. Those things were more enjoyable to me than torturing myself over saying no to dessert and slaving away on the elliptical.

So I put my foot on the ground and said firmly I was going to love my body at its “fat” size.

Only I didn’t. I was insisting on trying to love it for the wrong reasons. I was insisting on trying to love it to give fitness freaks and health nuts who had made me feel badly the middle finger. I wasn’t doing it for me.

When I realized this, I adjusted my mindset. A little at a time I put things into perspective. I started looking at my body fat as something to be cherished. Something to be grateful for. I wasn’t starving. I was grateful for every bite of food I ate, and said quiet prayers of thanks every time I had a meal in front of me.

Slowly I began to love my body. I took it more places. I wanted it to enjoy the world it lived in. I went hiking. I walked more outside. I spent a lot of time outside with my dog.

It was when I appreciated my body for what it was in the moment that I started wanting to treat it better. I wanted to feed it better food not because a magazine or an Instagram account told me it’d give me a slimmer waist, but because I wanted to thank my body for what it enabled me to do. I wanted to be nice to my body and myself. Enough people were/are mean to me, to other people. The least I could do for me was be in my own corner.

So I made a small goal. At the time I made this goal, I was almost completely sedentary. I decided I would ensure I would go a little extra mile every day. Literally. I decided I would move my body at least one mile a day. Whether that was running on a treadmill or walking on a treadmill, all I would make myself do was move one mile per day.

Because I like to push myself to be the best I can be, and see how well I can do (this is the characteristic of my personality that my 4.0 has to thank), I started upping it a little bit. I tried to nix the walking and see if I could run a whole mile without stopping. Then it was a mile and a quarter. Then I tried a mile outside.

And then I saw these people signing up for races, taking proud pictures with their race bibs, getting free T-shirts, getting these nifty medals. And naturally I was like, I wonder if I can do that. Well, only one way to find out!

I’ve lost roughly 17 pounds since the beginning of the year. While I can honestly say that the decision to love my body at any size or shape is actually what motivated me to get active, rather than wanting a different body motivating me to want to lose weight, I think the weight loss has improved my speed. Wanting to be a faster runner is honestly the only reason I’d be pleased to lose any more weight. I look in the mirror and love the body I see. It is not the thinnest, or the fittest. I don’t have a six-pack, or even a two-pack. I don’t have visible biceps. I’m a size 12 dress. That’s only 1, maybe 2 depending on the store, sizes down since the beginning of the year.

I have mixed feelings about the things I see on fitness promoting websites or social media pages and accounts. While I know a lot of people are very passionate about fitness and nutrition, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, I see a lot of judgment from those people. And some of them are even the best-intentioned people, who just don’t seem to understand that just because they couldn’t love themselves at 210 pounds doesn’t mean it’s impossible for another person who is 210 pounds to love themselves and their body. I see language about weight loss and self-acceptance and not settling that makes me really uncomfortable about the message it sends.

I’m not a fat person. At times in my life I’ve been called fat, often have called myself fat. “Fat” in those cases was always a word meant as an insult. To me, I believe “fat” should be used and intended simply as a descriptor. It will be a long time before the word “fat” doesn’t carry a lot of negative weight (pun unavoidable?) with it, but I’d like to see a day where “fat” and “thin” simply mean the same thing as “brown-haired” or “tall,” and not an intended indicator of someone’s character – lazy, unhappy, hard-working, whatever.

It amazes me that in 2013 judging people based on appearance, from skin color to weight to gender down to outfit and hairstyle, is still so entrenched in our mindsets.

Loving ones body is not a race to the finish of a goal weight or dress size. As the saying goes – “life isn’t a track meet, it’s a marathon.” Loving myself is a lifelong process, a daily reinvestment in appreciating what my body can do for me and taking what my eyes see in the mirror with a grain of salt. How do I feel? Not how do I look – how do I feel? Today, I felt a little nauseous from too much sugar in the morning, and have been drinking water all afternoon. Today, I feel a little sore from a Body Pump workout on Monday and a good run last night. Right now, I feel strong, hydrated, and anxious to get off work and get up from my desk and out into the beautiful world. Today, I’m excited about my goals and the confidence I have that I can reach them and set more. Today I feel good about myself.

The only reason I know I’ve lost 17 pounds is because I’m not some superhero saint who doesn’t at all care what my weight is or what I look like. Earlier this year I was curious about the quality of my diet and began food journaling, just to see what I was doing to my body by being an emotional eater. I was shocked at how easily and thoughtlessly I was consuming tons of empty calories, so I started being more mindful about whether I was actually hungry when I reached for food. My food journal led me to start weighing myself and obsessing over whether I’d gained or lost two pounds since the last weigh-in. I’ve since stopped food journaling now that I simply have a better idea of how to control my emotional eating urges, and I only check my weight now once in a while. Losing a few more pounds would simply mean I have less weight to carry while I’m running.

But I’m having too much fun with the way things are going now to care that much.

Not the fittest, not the fattest, not the fastest, not the slowest – arguably the happiest.