Congratulations on your progress. Several points resonated for me.
“…while I knew intellectually that my body was changing, I honestly did not ‘see it’ in the mirror.”
It works both directions. I never see the weight gain in the mirror either.
“This is why scales and tape measures matter.”
Years ago I started “measuring” myself against the GE Health by the Numbers program: 0–5–10–25 were the target numbers (http://www.longwoods.com/newsdetail/1726). The numbers translate into goals of 0 cigarettes smoked each day, 5 portions of fruits or vegetables consumed each day, 10,000 steps walked each day, and body mass index of 25 or less. After several years of keeping track of my progress on an Excel spreadsheet with an automatically generated chart that marked each of the four metrics against the goal, I added one more metric: waist size of 35 inches or less. For men the number is 40.
Now I no longer keep track of the 0 or the 5 because I don’t smoke any longer and my eating strategy sticks to a plant-based diet with a high nutrient to calorie ratio that means many more than 5 portions or fruits and vegetables each day. So long as I stick to that eating regime (I resist using the word “diet” because that implies I can stop it, but I know I can’t), I am well under the target BMI of 25, and my waist is under 35. So increasing my physical activity by counting steps is the only challenge I must work on until it becomes a habit like not smoking and eating fruits and vegetables.