When she was just 8 years old, Dena Shahani looked at the scale and wished she weighed less, but that was only the beginning of her unhealthy relationship with the scale. Flash forward to the present day, after Dena has lost a remarkable 110 pounds, and she said there's one thing that will always be a work in progress even after losing the weight: her confidence.
The San Diego-based woman, who is known by her 82K Instagram followers as @defywithdena, dropped pounds by counting calories and doing extreme cardio, and she would often watch The Biggest Loser for motivation, which unquestionably was the most difficult part of her journey.
"Weight loss is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical," Dena told POPSUGAR. "Getting motivated isn't easy, but what kept me going was seeing my results and seeing the pounds drop on the scale. The scale had always been my savior, yet it was also my tormentor. If it said I gained half a pound, it ruined my day. However, now, the number on the scale doesn't define me, my progress, or my goals."
As for her goals? Well, she's working on self-love. Dena was once 260 pounds, but no matter how different she looks physically, the emotional struggle remains the same. "If you don't love yourself before, you won't love yourself after," she said. "I still feel like I have the exact same insecurities about myself as I had when I weighed 45 kilos more."
That's the thing about losing weight: who you are inside is exactly the same, and this is a misconception about weight loss that some people don't always understand. For Dena, it wasn't just about changing her body, but about changing her life.
"Insecurities are ever present," Dena told us. "I still feel like the girl who everyone looks at and can't believe how big she is. I still feel like I'm embarrassed to grocery shop because people are looking at the items in my cart and judging me. There's no easy way to alter one's mentality about self-love other than being conscious about your thoughts and changing negative ones to positive ones as they flood your mind."
Surrounding herself with uplifting individuals on social media and in real life is what keeps Dena smiling. She doesn't hold back on Instagram, often confronting her biggest insecurities on the platform, and when people message her about their own similar struggles, it's how she knows she's not alone in this battle. "They think I'm helping them, but really they are helping me," Dena said.
If you're reading about Dena's journey and wondering how she did it, she wants everyone to know that it wasn't easy. She's fallen off the wagon, found herself binge eating and helplessly in need of motivation, but the most important thing is to "always hit the restart button at anytime and get back on track," she shared.
If she found herself in these low places, Dena had a routine to snap out of it, and it's pretty inspiring. "I would remind myself how horrible the feeling of self-loathing was and how great the feeling of self-improvement was and get back on track," she said. "If I made one bad food decision during the day, I would say to myself, 'Well, now the day is over. Might as well eat whatever I want.' Then I'd binge. But now I try to remind myself to not let one bad decision turn into a bad day and bad week. Persistence is key to seeing progress and seeing results keep me motivated."
Like many of us, Dena's journey is still a work in progress, but it's a different journey. "As of the last year, I've shifted my focus from weight loss to fitness," she told POPSUGAR. "I've stopped obsessing over the calories burned on the treadmill and started focusing on the weights on the squat bar." Dena's story is a reminder to anyone of the importance of self-love.