Losing weight is no easy task. I have struggled off and on with weight loss, often putting more on than off, if you know what I mean. But my friend, Ashley Phelan, has blown me away with her personal commitment and success. Hope you are as motivated as I am as Ashley shares her journey to weight loss and self-discovery.

Looking back at myself two years ago, I NEVER would have believed you if you told me I would be where I am today:  1)Starting my week at 5:30 A.M. on Sunday mornings (usually my only day off), to make it to the gym by 6A.M. to put in a killer workout then leaving straight from there to beat the afternoon crowd at the grocery store to get everything for my weekly meal prep. 2) Spending my Sunday afternoon measuring and prepping meals, and planning everything for the upcoming week. 3) Scheduling workouts around my hectic work and school schedule. 4) Packing a gym bag daily and keeping it in my truck so that I could go to the gym straight after work 5-6 days a week, and training with a trainer two days a week. I would have laughed at you, because, the Ashley I knew two years ago wouldn’t have even had the confidence to step foot inside of a local gym, much less have the guts to use a trainer.

 I grew up eating moderately healthy, I loved fruits and veggies all my life—still do. My mom never allowed us to have a lot of junk food growing up, but after high school I fell into bad eating habits that stuck, causing my weight to fluctuate up and down over the years. That once strong, healthy teenage metabolism was now, much slower, and that young age was now pushing 30. I was a single mother working full time and going to school. Because I was focused on being a mom and juggling everything else, I had put my health on the back burner.

My turning point came following my annual wellness exam two years ago. I had gained a significant amount of weight from having my daughter, and from what additional weight had stuck over the years. The results from the check-up were my wake-up call. Tests showed signs of increasing blood pressure problems, the risk of becoming diabetic, and my cholesterol climbing. If that wasn’t enough, I weighed in at the heaviest I had ever been in my life: 287 pounds. Because my BMI (body fat) was so high at 42.1%, I was labeled morbidly obese! My doctor sat down with me and explained that if I didn’t start making changes soon, I was going to be dealing with a lot of issues in the future. I went home afterwards and bawled my eyes out. I was ashamed and embarrassed. I had been so focused on everything else in my life, I didn’t realize how bad my health had become. I had always wanted to get healthier, but I never truly got motivated. Something had to change.

Over the next few months following that visit, I made small changes at first, taking baby steps and transitioning slowly so that I would stick with it. I started by cutting back on certain foods and being more active outside of work. It was extremely difficult at first because I had started this journey alone. It was hard to get motivated, and there were times I wanted to give up. Honestly, it took a little time to really commit. The basis for the turning point was thinking hard about that doctor’s visit. How embarrassed I felt knowing I was responsible for my bad health. Besides setting a bad example for my daughter, I risked not being there for her—to do the things I love to do with her. That motivated me.

I started with my biggest obstacle: cutting out soda and watching my sugar intake. I had eaten these sugary foods and drinks so long, that after about a week I was having sugar withdrawals. It wasn’t easy or fun to detox from them. But I fought, and fought hard, I kept staying persistent and I pushed myself to finish out that first week. I made it! So, I pushed myself to do another week and before I knew it a whole month had passed. I kept going, kept thinking about how much better my body felt without it, and kept challenging myself with each month that passed. Fast forward to today, and I am still soda free, over two years now. My soda intake daily used to equal about two liters! I now make much healthier choices like water or unsweetened tea.

 After about two months, I started watching my food choices, and cut my servings in half, (which come to find out later were sometimes twice as much as they needed to be!) I stopped eating out as much, I stopped eating junk, I stayed committed to my meal prep, I replaced sweets with fruit, and got rid of as much processed foods as I could.

I got in touch with my good friend Jaime who educated me about macronutrients and keeping track of my daily intake of my proteins, fats and carbs. She introduced me to a fitness app called MyFitnessPal. It helped me really see what I put into my body. She kept in touch with me weekly and always kept me motivated even when I wasn’t seeing the big picture yet or the results right away. I started paying attention to labels, and really watching my sugar and salt intake. Once I got comfortable with that plan, (about a month in), I went to Walmart and bought some disposable containers. After searching on Pinterest, (and with the help from some fellow healthy eating friends on Facebook), I transitioned into a clean eating program that I created myself with a little help from Jaimie, Pinterest, and suggestions from fellow healthy eating friends.

While I continued with my transition into eating better, I also started walking and doing workouts at home with an at home workout DVD series whenever I could fit in time after work and between classes. I started doing that about two to three days a week, and my friend Danielle gave me a spare Fitbit that she had, and I started tracking my steps daily, making sure I got in extra steps during my workday. Using that Fitbit was a game changer for me, it motivated me each day to beat my step record. Each day I would try to walk more steps. 

I had always wanted to join a gym, but the fear of being judged and criticized always steered me away from it. So, I made a promise to myself, that if I stayed consistent with my at-home-workouts and stayed active that I would join the local gym once I thought I could handle it. I never gave that motivation a chance to die down, I was starting to feel better, breathing easier, inflammation in my body was decreasing, I was getting more energy to keep up with my daughter, even my mood improved. Right before that first year ended, a few weeks before Thanksgiving, I got enough courage and I went to the gym and started my first month-by-month- membership.

I would like to say that I took off right away and went “90 to nothing,” but I didn’t. I went for two days, and then I didn’t go again for weeks. Being around the holidays, temptation was everywhere. My schedule was crazy busy, and I couldn’t get the doubt out of my head. I was nervous. I didn’t want anyone to make fun of me, I was still overweight, not where I started, but still not where I wanted to be. I was afraid of judgment and I started to lose my drive. Then, I saw that they were offering a trial session with a trainer a few days a week. I went for it. I thought to myself. I’ll just go this one time and see what it’s about, and maybe it will be enough to keep my motivation alive. Plus, I would get a chance to learn a few workouts.

That was one of the best decisions I have ever made on this journey. After that first session with Trevor, I was hooked. I thought it was going to be a “cake-walk,” it wasn’t. We evaluated my status, talked about my goals, and planned one to two times a week for me to start coming in after work to do my sessions with him. The sessions were very hard for me at first. I felt like dying. I got scared during my workouts when my heart rate got higher and during my first HIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workout. I remember, I hated getting short of breath, it was the scariest feeling in the world for me. I felt like I was going to have a heart attack or something. It made me feel weak, sick, and like I couldn’t do it. I felt embarrassed at first that I had let my body get in such a bad state, but I kept listening to him and kept pushing. Some days I could push hard, and others I felt like I failed. Some days I loved my sessions. Other days I dreaded them because I felt like I would never be strong enough. I remember watching others run on the treadmill and wishing I could do it, wishing I could lift the weights they could, do the HIT workouts they could, and feeling defeated that I couldn’t. I remember being so sore that I could barely walk. I experienced sore muscles every day, feeling so nauseous after workouts that I didn’t even eat dinner some nights, wondering if this was even going to work. I doubted myself, and almost gave up, but instead I decided to keep fighting and see what might happen if I didn’t.  No matter how hard those sessions were for me, I showed up every day ready to go, I tried my best not to complain, even though there were times I did. I still gave it all that I had, or all that I was able.

The workouts weren’t hard because they were too tough, they were hard because I was out of shape, and he was pushing me. He saw the determination I didn’t realize I had yet. I honestly didn’t know it at the time, but now I know it was all a learning experience for me, for my body to get stronger, to test my limits and make new ones, to push me and keep me motivated to fight for that ultimate goal, that I thought was impossible. Sure, enough after I trained long enough and I built up endurance, sometimes we would do a couple of three-times-a-week sessions. My workouts improved, my workout times got better, I started building muscle, getting stronger, lifting more, and listening to my body and my trainer. I could run on the treadmill, push through a HIT routine, do tougher workouts. All goals I thought I would never be able to reach! I never would have learned any of it had I quit and given up. Talk about the perfect fuel for my motivation. As the weight continued to drop, my confidence was building, and I stayed committed, and when he switched gyms to train at another one, I cancelled my membership at that gym and joined the new one!

It is with great pleasure to say that I STILL train with Trevor today! We train together usually 2 times a week now because we both have full schedules. Not only have I maintained a consistent weight loss because of his dedication to keeping me on track, and showing me my true strength and potential, but I have gotten stronger, mind, body, and soul, thanks to him always believing in me! He always works with my schedule and makes sure to help keep me accountable with my workouts. He keeps me motivated, focused on my future goals and makes sure I get the most from my workouts, pushes me to go harder and continues to set the bar higher, so I always stay ahead instead of falling behind. I never would haven’t gotten here without him! I have a great amount of respect and appreciation for him and am so grateful that he didn’t give up on me, he has always pushed me, and worked consistently with me and showed me the potential I didn’t know I had!

My conditions at work changed for a little bit late last year and for about 4 to 5 months, my job duties were more sedentary, I got discouraged at first and was afraid that since I wasn’t as physically active during work that I would start to gain my weight back. Rather than quit, I kept pushing, supporting my goals until things at work changed. My progress slowed and it took longer to see weight loss, and I honestly did get discouraged, I felt like “this was it” and this was my stopping point. But I remembered to always hold on to that drive, because I knew that drive was going to be my “vehicle” to keep me going, so I didn’t give up. I kept pushing, I stayed as motivated as I could. I tried to move around every chance I got, made sure I had healthy options near me and did my best to stick to my plan. School got busier because I’m nearing completion of my degree, so sometimes stress eating set in, I had good and bad days, but again rather than quit and let it defeat me, I held on. Sometimes I honestly had made bad eating choices a few days a week, but I didn’t “fall off the wagon” indefinitely. I made sure to get back on track the next day, or I didn’t let those bad days turn into weeks. I learned to focus and regroup the best I could to stay motivated. If I just couldn’t get passed something I would turn to Pinterest and screen-shot fitness and motivation quotes on my phone and go back to them. Or I’d message fellow fitness friends, and they would keep me encouraged.

I know sometimes it’s hard to find friends to be supportive, and people may have to make journeys like this alone. I know there were times in my journey that I had to go it alone. So, I joined a few fitness groups on social media that were private and positive only. I’d keep my quotes and post them, save them, carry them with me. My secret to the biggest success of this journey was keeping that drive burning!

So now here we are current day. I am mother to a beautiful 5 year old baby girl, working a 50+ hour work week, attending college part time for my process degree, maintaining my workout days at the gym and training days with Trevor the best that I possibly can. Right now, I do my best to stay committed to workout 5 or 6 days, but if I only get to make 4 days, that’s totally okay too. If I’m completely exhausted from work or I have to do homework for class and just can’t push through a gym session that’s also okay. I take a rest day and get back on “on the horse”. Sometimes I have to pick a less healthy option that isn’t what I really prefer, but I still try to make the healthiest one. Some days I can have a killer workout, others I have to just do what is called “active recovery”: low intensity workouts like walking, stretching, or yoga. Sometimes I only have 30-45 minutes to work out, but the point is I still show up, I still put in the time!  Sometimes life gets busy, and me or Trevor have to cancel a training day which kills me because I “live” for those days. But I still do my best to go in if I can and put some kind of workout in or make up for it the next time.

 There have been times where I have had to miss a WHOLE week from the gym, or I ate badly for my evening meals or too late at night for a week because of my schedule. I try not to not let that week discourage me, I use that to motivate myself and push myself to improve the next week. My body has changed so much since the beginning, in ways that I hate and ways that I love. I still struggle with the scale, and letting that number define me. But now I am learning to go by how things fit my body, and how to feel confident in my body, embracing my positive changes. The growth that I have seen in myself is something thing that I’ll never forget. Anytime I feel discouraged I use that discouragement as fuel to keep pushing harder. I know what it’s like to start from square one. To be honest, in the beginning I didn’t even feel like I had a square. Every time I have thought about quitting when it got tough, I thought about where I started. How grateful I am now for this long journey. Two years ago, the road ahead seemed untouchable and now that I am here, I am amazed at where I am, and am actually further than I ever dreamed. I still have a journey ahead of me, I always will. But I will always remember through any of it there is no better motivation for anything in life than your own self!”


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