I finished Jillian’s 30-Day “Making the Cut” program last Tuesday, one week ago today.

I almost called this post, “What Didn’t Kill Me Made Me Stronger”! Jillian’s program on a low carb/no sugar diet was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done; people are still telling me I look tired! By the last week of the workouts, I went to the gym each day uncertain whether I could even finish the routine. But it was “only” 30 days, and I’d come so far! I had to push through.

Here are the best before and after pictures I have to show the results:

Before: Jan. 8, 2012 and After: Feb. 13, 2012.

I was pretty psyched to see such a difference in just a month! I started out fit, so I was even less sure what to expect. But now my abs and waist — especially that back fat that aggravates me so much! — are visibly defined, toned up, and slenderized. I also see subtle definition in my shoulders, back, and legs, and more lift in my butt. I just look leaner overall, more beach-body, more photo-shoot-ready.

Keep in mind that I gained weight by the second picture!

Even if is is a bit (or a lot) embarrassing, I would highly recommend this before-and-after photo approach. I’ll be using it more going forward. There are things you’ll never pick up if you go only by your subjective sense of what has changed. Changes occur in tiny increments, and you stop picturing where you started very accurately — so you tend to underestimate how far you’ve come! I honestly wasn’t sure if or how anything had changed, until I saw the pictures.

There’s another thing I’d recommend that I didn’t do this time, which is get a before-and-after body fat reading. A lot of gyms offer the “Bod Pod” now, which measures body composition by how much air you displace. I wish I would have done that here! Clearly¬† my body composition is what changed; I must have lost fat and gained more muscle. But my body fat scale is so all-over-the-place each morning, that I have no idea what the true measurement is.

My weight did go up three solid pounds. I constantly see complaints on fitness forums about this phenomenon — people start exercise programs and their weight climbs, which freaks them out. What they don’t fathom is that this is due to positive changes. That’s why the photos and the body fat measurements are so critical. If you could pick whether to be three pounds heavier or lighter, most people would automatically pick three pounds lighter. But if you could pick whether to look more like my Before or After, I’m pretty sure you would pick After!

I have the photo shoot planned for mid-March. I read one woman on Jillian’s forum who claimed she has done the “Making the Cut” program for a year, twelve times in a row now! She says it’s done fantastic things for her body. Nowhere in the book does Jillian suggest doing this program back-to-back, and I don’t think I could take it! Every night I tried to fall asleep with soreness between my shoulder blades and down my legs, and every morning I crawled back out of bed. I think I need to do something less stressful now — like a triathlon!

Truly, I would like to return to sport-specific training instead of all the gym work now. I’m not completely sure, with the photo shoot still a month away; but with the MUSF triathlon just two months away, I think I have to do so to be ready. I’m curious how my new strength will help me in racing. So that’s what I’ll be focused on next — switching my training focus to endurance sport, while monitoring the effect on my body before the photo shoot.

And remember this before-and-after example when they say “weight is just a number.” It really is!