How I Changed My Life and Lost 100 lbs

Much like Oprah, I’ve struggled with weight my entire life.

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Awkward teenage years – exact age unknown

Most of my childhood memories include some  variation of being called these names:

Fat.

Whale.

Obese.

Fatty.

Shamu (This a slightly less offensive term than Whale, because at least you get a proper name).

Big Girl.

Massive.

Huge.

Beast. (I am OK with this now – if it implies that I am a bad ass. But being called a beast when you’re 10 isn’t  cool).

Big boned (this term is probably the least offensive because I truly do think my bones are big, or at least that’s why I tell myself at night).

I have memories of hearing these words walking home from school, riding my bike, swimming at the pool (THE WORST time to be called any of these names), and playing with neighborhood kids.

To be clear, my parents and immediate family were ALWAYS supportive. They told me I was beautiful every time I cried about being called one of those names. They reminded me that beauty comes from the inside too. My family is so supportive and encouraging -I LOVE YOU GUYS!

I’ve always worried about my weight.

I’ve always struggled with body image.

I’ve never felt confident with my body’s outward appearance.

I never felt strong or powerful.

Until this year. This year, everything changed. My body changed, no doubt about it. But most importantly, my mind changed. My perspective and heart changed too. To date, I’ve lost 100 lbs! I gained 50 lbs while pregnant with my son three years ago. At my heaviest, I weighed nearly 300 lbs!!

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December 2013 to December 2016

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December 2013 to December 2016

I made sure to love something about my body every step of the way. For example, I used to have a bodacious booty. It was round and bubbly. I loved it. Well, today – I’ve ran my butt off. Literally. It’s flatter than ever before. BUT, my belly is also flatter. And my shoulders are way stronger.

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You must love your body at every stage of the journey.

Because guess what? Here is what I looked like before:

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Staying positive and practicing self-love and acceptance is critical to your overall happiness.

I smiled in every “before” picture. I celebrated every new size I could fit into.

Today, I finally feel like my body represents the person I’ve always felt on the inside.

I look in the mirror, and I feel like my body finally tells the world part of my story. I still have my stretch marks. These marks started long before I had Cooper. My body has been expanding and shrinking again most of my life.

But when I look at my body today – I feel like it tells people that I love being active.

I love competing in races. I love strength training. And I truly do love eating healthy.

My journey wasn’t easy. It’s been one of beautiful highs and devastating lows.

Every day, I experience some level of pain and side effect of a condition that tries to control my body and life.

Most days, my pain is overwhelming and controls my world. I find myself laying on the couch – strapped with every heating pad in our house – and even using my laptop for an extra heating source. Often, the pain I live with controls where I go, what I eat, how far I can push myself at the gym.

I’ve proved that the human body is strong. That your body can be pushed in unimaginable ways. But ONLY, and I repeat ONLY – if you mind is strong first!

I’ve fought through incredible pain to achieve these goals and work toward this body of mine.

I suppose I should start there. I should start by telling you what triggered my transformation.

Because you see, I didn’t lose weight to fit into a bikini. Or look great for vacation.

I lost weight because my health and life depends on it.

The Doctor’s Appointment That Changed My Life

“Well, you’re mostly healthy,” the doctor said. “Your blood pressure good, and we will send off your labs today. But you definitely need to lose more weight.”

“I know,” I said. “I’ve been working hard. So far, I’ve lost 65 lbs and I am doing a triathlon this year.”

“Well,” she said with a long pause. “You need to lose more. A lot more.”

Ouch.

I starred at her with disbelief in her tone and lack of empathy.

“That’s my plan,” I said. “I just have a hard time losing weight. I eat well. I exercise 5 days a week. I don’t know how I could work harder.”

She then asked me a series of personal questions.

Do you feel moody often?

Do you ever feel depressed or anxious?

Did you have a hard time breastfeeding?

Do you have hair loss?

Are you tired often?

Are your periods painful and irregular?

“Yes,” I said to every question.

“I also have been trying to get pregnant for the past 8 months, but we haven’t had much luck.”

“Well, you probably have PCOS,” she said. “I’ll be right back.”

She walked out of the room and I started Googling PCOS. I didn’t even know what that meant?

Cysts?

On my ovaries?

Are they cancerous?

Does this mean I am dying? (I am not dramatic at all).

She came back in and handed me a piece of paper with a definition of PCOS, common symptoms, and ways to treat it.

“We could put you on a birth control to help, but since you’re trying to get pregnant – that doesn’t make sense. So, as you know see here – you just need to lose weight. A lot more weight. And you’ll have a hard time. You need to work 5X harder than the average person. You need to eat under 1,500 calories – a lot less than the average person. You must work very hard and it will be hard.”

I don’t know what I said next. I had a million questions running through my mind. I just know I walked to my car, and started crying.

I was confused.

Overwhelmed.

Scared.

Discouraged.

That was 2.5 years ago; that moment is what changed the course of my life.

Like I said, I didn’t decide to lose weight for a dress or beach vacation. This time, losing weight wasn’t about looking good or fitting into a certain size.

This time, losing weight was about fighting to live.

How PCOS and Endometriosis Influence My Life

Women with PCOS are more prone to diabetes, heart disease, and depression. These conditions dramatically change your life and how you can live. PCOS women die younger.

In addition to PCOS, I also have endometriosis. This condition makes me live in some level of pain every single day.  Endometriosis is disease in which tissue that normally grows inside the uterus grows outside it. The pain will be so bad that I physically get sick. There are days when I am loaded up on Advil and have heating pads wrapped around every part of my body.

Along my journey, I’ve faced beautiful high moments. I’ve achieved incredible goals and milestones such as cutting 20 minutes off my triathlon time! And getting a 30 minute PR on my most recent half marathon time.

But, I hit rock bottom. I fell flat on my face many times. I felt so depressed some days that I could barely get off the couch. At times, my anxiety was so high I couldn’t breathe. I remember one day, I was laying on the ground and couldn’t get up.

“Get up and dance with us, mommy,” Justin said.

He had the music playing in the living room. The windows were open. Bruno Mars “Uptown Funk” was playing, Cooper’s favorite song. The sun was shining bright.

But I felt like the world was caving in around me. I felt like someone was standing on my chest and pushing me down. I felt incapable of standing up and joining them.

That’s what depression and anxiety feels like – you feel like someone or something is holding you down so you can’t get up. You can’t see clearly or breathe normally.

To me, things would worsen when I started to feel guilty about my emotions. I have a healthy family. A great job. A beautiful house. Why could I be depressed? What make me anxious?

That’s what PCOS does to me. That’s how PCOS controls my life.

But these diseases aren’t winning. PCOS is not defining who I am. PCOS and endometriosis are not controlling my future.

I am fighting.

I am overcoming pain every single day of my life.

So, when someone asks how I lost 100 lbs?

The short answer is this: I was an advocate for my health and body.

I fought hard to find answers and never gave up until I got them. I went to see many doctors. I relentless in my search for clarity and an understanding of my body.

I did not let the fear of the unknown stop me.  I can’t tell you how many people I know avoid the doctor because they don’t want to know the answers.

You want to lose weight?

You want to get healthier?

You MUST start with a perspective of health. You must start by getting answers – even scary ones.

I got some scary answers, no doubt about it.

My ovaries are FILLED, and I mean filled, with cysts. I have endometriosis building up all inside my body. I have a retroverted uterus (yes, I had to Google that one too), which means all my cramping and period pain points to my back. All of these factors make it hard to lose weight. Hard to have children. And nearly impossible to live a pain-free lifestyle. The number one goal for all of these conditions – lose weight, eat clean, and exercise 5 times a week. That’s what they want you to do, regardless of the pain.

When I say I eat clean, I mean this:

  • I don’t eat dairy. That’s right- no cheese. It was nearly impossible at first. And I spent many years living in denial. But dairy is bad for women with PCOS. It causes pain and makes me bloat. The month I gave up dairy, I lost 10 lbs! It was the harsh and sad reminder that my body can’t tolerate dairy.
  • I avoid processed meats. And yes, that means bacon. I try to eat black bean burgers and vegetarian options whenever possible! Now, I am human. And there are TIMES when I do eat bacon or processed meats. I just do it like once every 4 months.
  • I don’t drink booze often. Ok, I do drink some wine and vodka here and there. But I’ll never have the body that allows a glass of wine a day. Or even a week. I drink on special occasions, and when I am catching up with friends – or playing Gossip Girl trivia. But my body doesn’t handle alcohol well – I bloat, swell, and gain at least 5 lbs if I have a few drinks. It’s painful – and often, the pain is simply not worth it.
  • I eat a lot of vegetables, fruits, and raw nuts! I don’t follow a certain diet plan – We strive to eat from the earth, reduce our carb intake, avoid sugars, and keep away from anything processed!

My exercise routine isn’t for everyone. I train for Iron Mans (this year), half marathons, and triathlons! But – there is no reason you can’t find 30 minutes a few days a week to exercise. If you have a short amount of time, here is my recommendation:

  • 5 to 10 minutes of heavy cardio (running, biking, elliptical)
  • 20 minutes of strength training (if you don’t know where to get started, I’ll be sharing my workout plans in more details over the coming weeks – Pinterest has a TON of resources of strength training routines and plans)!

15 Tips That Helped Me Lose 100 Lbs

  1. I signed up for races. Staying competitive and following a plan kept me motivated and track. I also found a training partner to keep me accountable and share my journey with – it’s a huge help!
  2. I created goals. My biggest goal was to lose 100 lbs. But, I created small goals along the way. Hit a certain 5K time. Wear a certain paint size. Run a certain distance without stopping. Swim a certain number of laps. Both big and small goals are important!
  3. I deep cleaned the pantry. There is an episode of Wife Swap where a HILARIOUS kid named Curtis gets SUPER upset because the new mom makes him throw away bacon and spray cheese. Listen, I hear you. If there are tortilla chips and salsa in the house, I can easily eat the entire bag. If there is bacon in our refrigerator – I will eat 4-5 pieces for breakfast every day. I am self-aware about these binge eating habits of mine. So, I try to keep these temptations out of our house!
  4. I stopped drinking my calories. On top of cutting back on booze, I also don’t drink pop or lattes. I stick with unsweetened tea OR black coffee. My drink of choice is a strong and dark Americano.
  5. I started to taking supplements. I consulted both my chiropractor and doctor about the best types of supplements for my body. I take fish oil, probiotics, Methyl B or FloPlex supplement via my doctor, and Vitamin D.
  6. I started taking the  right medicines. Women with PCOS can benefit from taking a medicine called Metformin. At first, it made me terribly sick. I could barely tolerate it. But after a few weeks, my body adjusted and I started to feel a little better. I also take a prescribed water pill. In addition, I take a birth control pill to help control my PCOS and endometrioses pain and symptoms.
  7. I stopped feeling sorry for myself. Listen, you’re in control of your body. YOU are the only person who shoves food in your face or decides to skip the gym. This entire weight loss journey depends on YOU being committed to your overall health and goals.
  8. I surrounded myself with positive people. I have eliminated negative people from my life as much as possible. I don’t have time for rude and hateful people. And neither do you! Focus on positive and uplifting people. Build a village of people to reach out to for support.
  9. I started reading. There is an abundance of research about healthy eating and exercises. Follow inspirational people on social media. One of my favorite Instagram accounts is Whole30 Recipes! They make healthy eating look fun! I also follow a lot of triathletes and Cross Fitters because their videos motivate me!
  10. I transformed my relationship and perspective on food. For three years (in high school), I struggled with bulimia. Some people close to me know how terrible this condition was for me. It controlled every aspect of my life. I had a very unhealthy relationship with food. I used food as control. As power. But the reality is – food controlled me. I let myself be dictated by what I was eating and when. This past year, I looked food totally differently. I stopped eating for emotions or satisfaction. I looked at food as fuel for my body. I stopped eating to the point where I couldn’t breathe or had to unbutton my pants.
  11. I tracked every single calorie. I log all my calories and exercise in MyFitnessPal. This app has made me self-aware about my eating habits. It’s opened my eyes to tracking food beyond a calorie intake. I also look at grams of fat, carbs, sugars, and sodium!
  12. I stopped putting ranch dressing on everything. If you know me, you know that I love ranch dressing. And I mean LOVE. But it’s full of fat. And my PCOS body can handle either of those very well. So, I have cut back on my ranch dipping habits. I used to dip everything in ranch. I used it on salads. I used for pizza. I used it for French fries. I used it for pork chops. I used it for baked chicken. I recently came across a Whole30 recipe for ‘dump ranch’ – I have not tried this yet, but I have heard wonderful things! I’ll let you know how it tastes!! To replace ranch, I try use guacamole and salsa. I also use balsamic vinaigrette OR honey mustard. There is life after ranch. Who knew?
  13. I cheated. I believe in cheat meals – just not cheat days! If I know I am eating a “bad” dinner – then I will try to eat super healthy for breakfast and lunch. Life is ALL about balance.
  14. I got my husband on board. Once Justin found out how bad my conditions and diseases are – he immediately joined me in my quest to eat healthy and exercise. Again, my health and future depends on changing my lifestyle. Since September, he has lost nearly 30 lbs! He looks better than ever! And we are even doing a triathlon together this Fall! It’s great to have health and competitive races in common!
  15. I bought fun workout clothes. Fine, I’ll admit it. I love looking cute. I love flashy workout clothes. And having fun styles and crazy leggings keeps me motivated. I love letting my personal style come across in my fitness wardrobe.

If you only take away 3 tips, follow these:

  • Advocate for your health. Only YOU know your body – if you are spending countless hours at the gym and you eat pretty well – but still can’t lose weight. Talk to your doctor! See what else is going on inside your body!
  • Find a sport or exercise that makes you happy and excites you. I personally LOVE lifting and doing competitive races that include biking, swimming, and running. Maybe you’re a YOGA person. Maybe you love basketball. Perhaps volleyball is your jam. Or maybe you love dance and Zumba. Find something you’re passionate about and keeps you active at least 5 times a week for minimum 30 minutes. If you can’t squeeze in your normal workout, find workout routines that you can do at home – squats, ab exercises, wall sits, push-ups, lunges, jumping jacks, burpees, etc. There is always a way to be active for 30 minutes a day!
  • Don’t eat like crap. It’s plain and simple. You can’t eat processed foods, sugar, and bad carbs and expect to lose weight. My transformation DID NOT happen until I fixed my relationship with food. Do I miss bacon cheeseburgers? Heck yes, I do! Do I dream of mac and cheese at night? OF course! Do breadstick farms exist in my dreams? You betcha!! But, all of those foods make me feel terrible. And when I feel terrible, I don’t exercise. And when I eat awful and don’t exercise, I don’t advocate for my health and strive for a better future. You see how they are all connected?

You will stumble. You will break down. You will cry. You will feel burnt out. But that’s just on the bad days.

But on the good days – man, you will feel like a NEW person. You won’t believe how strong your body can get. The other day, I looked at my naked body in the mirror. And I couldn’t believe the person I saw standing back at me. I still have my “problem” areas – but I am strong. I have fought through pain, depression, anxiety, and everything in-between for this body. And I’m just getting started…my journey is HARDLY over. But here is how far I’ve come:

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Take care of your body. You will feel happier, healthier, and more confident.

You will feel a sense of pride and accomplishment.

You will start to motivate those around you, too!

Overall, this was the year that I let go of the past and focused on the future. Now,  I use these words to describe my body:

Strong.

Unstoppable.

Powerhouse.

Badass.

Triathlete.

To celebrate my 100 lb weight loss goal, my friend Staci Starks Photography took some pictures of me doing what I love – trying on dresses and feeling sassy! Here are some of my favorite shots:

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You can color your hair or find new clothes to change your appearance. But I can promise you, real change comes from within. Real change transforms both your mind and body.

I’m living proof that your body is incredible. You are stronger than you realize. You are more beautiful than you see today.

Here’s your simple formula for success:

  • Fall down.
  • Get up.
  • Repeat.

Much love,

Ashley

6 thoughts on “How I Changed My Life and Lost 100 lbs

  1. Alissa says:

    That is awesome.. I too am on the same journey… I have lost almost 25 pounds since October 24th..i too have PCOS and have the same struggles… My husband and I have struggled with many years of infertility.. So I decided on October 20th 2016 it was time to lose weight… My goal is 100 pounds.. But your story is a true inspiration for me

  2. Heidi says:

    You are an amazing woman and you look so incredibly awesome. I miss our email chats from a few years back. So great to see your beautiful face!!

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