Ashlee Pledger spent nearly 21 years unhappy with her body. "Growing up, I was always the fat girl," she remembers. "I wasn't an athlete, and I lived off fast food." While her looks were always a source of discomfort, how Ashlee felt was worse. She suffered from psoriasis lesions on her joints, heart arrhythmia, and anxiety. She was sad and defeated with no motivation or goals.
Five years later, Ashlee is happier than she's ever been. She's fit. Her psoriasis lesions are no longer visible, and her heart arrhythmia and anxiety are gone. She's turned her life around so drastically that health is now her career. She graduated in May with a degree in exercise science and now works as an exercise physiologist.
Ashlee attributes her success to making small goals and sticking to them until they were accomplished. When she achieved a goal, she'd set a new one. Along the way, she fell in love with living a healthy lifestyle and discovered a passion for helping others.
This is Ashlee's story.
Why was your weight such a struggle for you as you were growing up?
I think genetics played a role, but I had bad habits all my life. I was inactive as a kid and ate fast food for most of my meals. As I grew older, those habits didn't change. If I had a bad day, I spent the evening with Ben & Jerry's. Unwinding after school meant having a Big Gulp and a bag of chips.
What made you decide it was time to change?
I can't say I have one specific "aha" moment. Everything just came to a tipping point. It was January of 2011, and my 21st birthday was six months away. I just wanted to feel better about myself. I didn't want to enter a new chapter of my life feeling unhealthy and unmotivated, so I made a New Year's resolution to lose 65 pounds by my birthday.
I just started small. I cut out fast food and soda completely. After that, I started reading nutrition labels and paying attention to portion sizes.
I also joined a gym and went every day. I was ignorant when it came to the iron, so I stuck with cardio equipment. I would go straight to the stair machine and spend 45 minutes on it.
Did that get you the results you were looking for?
I didn't take any measurements, but I did weigh myself weekly. I also tracked my progress by paying attention to how I felt and how my clothes fit. Within the six months, I rid myself of 70 pounds. I never say "lost" because it's not lost. I have no intentions of ever finding it again. I surpassed my goal, but it was hard. I can remember days when I didn't want to work out or days where I just wanted to stuff my face with junk food.
On days like those, I remembered why I started and how important my goal was to me. If I had a serious craving, I would go for a walk or down a huge glass of water. It all came down to mind over matter and willpower.
What was your next goal?
After my birthday, I realized I wanted more. This time, I challenged myself to lose another 40 pounds, but I didn't set a time limit.
I changed everything. This time, I stuck to a real meal plan. I started tracking my nutrients and eating a plan that was 35 percent protein, 35 percent carbohydrates, and 30 percent fat. I also did some flexible dieting following the 90/10 rule: 90 percent nutrient-dense foods and 10 percent freedom to have cheat foods like pizza, sushi, and Chipotle. That's the rule I still live by now.
One thing I did was put $1 in a jar for every pound lost. Every couple of weeks, I would use that money to reward myself, whether it was a new outfit or a spa treatment. I could indulge without any guilt, because I earned it!
How did your workouts change?
I still did quite a bit of cardio, but I started to incorporate lifting routines into my gym time. That's where Bodybuilding.com came in. When I first started, I didn't know what I was doing, but I was able to figure things out by getting all of my workouts from the site.
How has your transformation changed your life?
Life is completely different now. I am an athlete, and I absolutely love taking care of my body and challenging myself. I've run numerous 5Ks, two Island to Island Half Marathons, the Disney Princess Glass Slipper Challenge, and three Tough Mudder races.
What's next for you?
I am currently training for World's Toughest Mudder 2017. World's Toughest Mudder is a 24-hour extreme obstacle course that challenges you mentally and physically. It takes place out in the Nevada desert every November.
Do you have any suggestions for other people who want to transform like you did?
- Don't rush the process. It will take time.
- It's possible, but you must be consistent and persistent.
- Don't compare your journey to anybody else's. We are all different.
- Don't set ridiculous, unachievable goals. This can overwhelm you and set you up for failure.
- Blast music! Music can be so motivational and give you that burst of energy.
- Reward yourself! Have a weekly cheat meal (a cheat meal is not a cheat day).