To say that losing weight is difficult is a huge understatement… especially in a country where Dollar Menu items are much easier and cheaper to acquire than anything that’s remotely healthy. Even after losing more than 280 pounds over 10 years, I’m still battling with obesity issues. While it’s been hard losing the weight and keeping it off, I’ve learned where my overeating stems from, have overcome many of the issues that brought me into this, and have finally gained control of my own body. But the journey has been a long one, and there have been many surprises along the way.

1. You have to learn to think incrementally.

Even if you are hundreds of pounds over your goal, every ten pounds lost matters. I like to think about my weight-loss journey like a tightrope walker trying to cross a gap. I want to maintain the balance of a fitness lifestyle while being wary of falling into the abyss of my obesity issues. Having faith in myself is the wind blowing (or staying blessedly still) in the middle of my high wire act.

2. The rewards trickle in daily… and they’re not always what you expect.

During my battle with obesity, I’ve discovered countless upsides to being in control of my disorder. I’d anticipated some of them—like being able to walk upstairs without shortness of breath and agonizing knee and back pain—but there were other sheer joys I hadn’t even thought to expect. For instance, when I no longer had to face the embarrassment of asking a first date to move to the table instead of the booth so my gut could fit… that was a pretty miraculous day.

3. Emotionally charged backslides happen—and they hurt.

Even with all the rewards, this process is emotionally complicated and requires you to take a full life inventory. When I fell off my tightrope, some of the most painful parts of my life resurfaced—I realized that at the core of my food addiction was a desire for more time with my father, who had passed away when I was in high school. This realization drove my addiction to food into hyperspeed, and I began to overeat again—sometimes it felt like I was eating more than any other human had ever eaten before. But I regained control and felt proud of my first 100-pound weight loss, which marked the anniversary of my father’s death.

4. Your goals will change.

Even now, as I maintain a healthy weight on the other side of grief, I still battle with emotionally charged eating, but I now have the drive to make the rest of my life the best of my life. However, I still face the anxiety that comes with getting older and the challenges of weight management. By 2014, I had lost 220 pounds, but the last 60 pounds I lost came just as I turned 30 years old. When I realized my own mortality, I began working even harder.

5. You have to relearn to see yourself… over and over again.

I should view my excess skin as a medal of honor; it serves as a daily reminder of who I used to be and how far I’ve come. But seeing yourself this way can be difficult, especially in the fitness industry, where looks feel like they’re everything. Our current fitness culture, which is so dependent on social media, can feel like the opposite of love, acceptance, and appreciation for who you are. I’ve learned to cope by helping other people identify their disorder and start the process of becoming who they want to be.

6. The worst parts can become the best.

I remember the embarrassment I felt when I first walked past the gym veterans to the far back of the cardio deck. While it was originally a big source of anxiety, cardio—along with strength training—really helped me build self-esteem. I’m currently on the other side of that battle; now I’m the gym vet with a new view from the front of the cardio deck. Of course, I still struggle with my self-image, but I have peace of mind knowing I am learning to be happy with me.

Vinson Smith is the cofounder of HardBody Fitness Personal Training Group and player development coach at Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte, NC. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @VinsonSmithCLT.