If there is one, single question that I get asked the most, it would be…
“Ashley, how do I get fit, healthy and in shape?”
Now, for those of you who have or are currently struggling with body image, self esteem and your relationship with food (like I have in the past) this can be a very personal, sensitive, ‘touchy’ subject. We often sweep our insecurities under the rug like they don’t exist or we choose to avoid the conversation all together. But I want to let you know, I am here for you. I’ve been ‘that’ girl. I’ve walked in ‘those’ shoes. I know what it feels like to be a slave to negativity and trapped in a body you don’t recognize, want or accept.
I know what you’re thinking, “yeah right Ashley, you’ve been skinny your whole life. You don’t understand”. But yes, I do understand. Being skinny in NO WAY determines whether or not you’re healthy and a few years ago (in 2012), I was living proof of that.
‘Happy weight’ is the weight that your body naturally tends to stay at or around. For me, my ‘happy weight’ has always been around 125-130 lbs. But there came a time in my life where that was no longer good enough for me. Although, I never considered myself anywhere close to being overweight, I was obsessed with the idea of always improving. I wanted to be smaller and weigh less than I ever had before and I was willing to do just about anything to get there. I thought if I could just see those numbers flash across the scale than I would FINALLY be content, satisfied and happy.
For about 2-3 months, I deprived and starved myself to get to my “goal weight” of 110 lbs (almost 20 pounds less than what my body naturally stays at). I restricted myself to 500 calories a day, some days I would get even lower than that (300-400 calories). As if it couldn’t get any worse, I was running 5-6 miles, 5 days a week. I am still awestruck and in disbelief as to how my body could possibly function without completely shutting down or collapsing each time I stood up.
This was me at 112 lbs (2 lbs shy of my “goal weight”). I remember how sad, unsatisfied and unfulfilled I was. I kept getting smaller but I wasn’t any happier. I continued to lie to the people I love and like most people who struggle with body image issues or eating disorders, I didn’t tell anyone what I was going through. To this day it is still hard for me to look at this picture, better yet share it with all of you, but thanks to Willie, my supportive family and my faith I was able to change my negative self image and learned to truly LOVE who I was on the inside as well as the outside.
No matter how ready and eager you are to start living a ‘healthy’ lifestyle, you must FIRST deal with your health from the inside out. No amount of progress, weight dropped, inches lost, hours in the gym will make you happy, until you are first happy with yourself. Sometimes self-love is the hardest thing to do, when we are constantly surrounded and force fed societies definition of what beauty should look like.
In the same respect, I am in no way saying being super skinny is unhealthy. For some people, it is the norm – a part of their genetic make up. Just like I was born with a petite/athletic body type, they were born with a slender/thin body type. Just because these women are skinny does not mean that they don’t have insecurities or body image issues like the rest of us. While we struggle to lose weight, they struggle in the same way trying to gain weight. I feel like these women often get the short end of the stick and face much more criticism and insensitivity towards their feelings just because they do fit ‘societies’ definition of beauty, therefore are expected to be happy with how they look and feel (however this is not always the case). It is important for us women to encourage and support instead of judge and gossip. Remember… We are all human and we all have feelings.
Looking back, I wouldn’t change my situation or experience, for it taught me so many things about health, fitness, happiness and life. It taught me what being “healthy” really meant. It taught me that numbers on a scale should never define who you are. It taught me how to fix my relationship with food. It taught me how to workout in a wholesome way. It taught me how to be strong and confident no matter what. It taught me that being YOU and loving YOU is the best gift that you can give yourself. It taught me to always have hope and see the good in every situation. Lastly and I would say most importantly, it taught me that by embracing and sharing my past, I could possibly help someone’s future.
Which brings me here…
Now, if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram it’s no secret that I am VERY passionate about living and promoting a healthy, active, well balanced lifestyle. As you can see, it’s not been easy or something that I just woke up one morning and started doing. It’s something that I have had to develop, work on, and tweak throughout the years.
A lot of this is common sense and nothing that you probably haven’t already heard before. For those of you looking for a magic pill, quick fix diet, flab to ab workout, you won’t find it here. If there’s one thing I have found through my years of being healthy, fit and active it is that this is a lifestyle choice. You can’t work out every day and still eat junk and expect to get results. On the other end of the spectrum, you can’t eat super healthy and not workout and expect to get results. Unfortunately, our bodies are not wired this way. It takes hard work and dedication both in the kitchen and in the gym to ultimately get where you want to be (this was a lesson that was hard for me to grasp at first).
It is important to remember that we are all different so what has worked for me, may not necessarily work for you. We all have different shapes, body types, heights, weights, ages, fitness levels, physical limitations and that’s okay because being different is what makes us unique and beautiful.
Today, I want to share with you a day in the life, my routine, my favorite exercises and what’s in my kitchen.
Lets first talk about everyone’s favorite subject… FOOD!
Breakfast of course is the most important meal of the day. It always has been and probably always will be, but for good reason. This meal is what starts our day, energizes our bodies and wakes up our minds (which is pretty darn important if you ask me). My breakfasts’ vary from day to day and depend of course on what I have to work with, however I try to always include a protein, carb, fruit and/or vegetable. Here are my go-to breakfasts’…
Note: I don’t have all this in one breakfast, I combine a few things from this list on any given morning.
7-8 AM: Toasted whole grain bread or bagel, low fat/low sodium turkey bacon, 3 egg whites scrambled topped with a little cheddar cheese or pico de gallo, low fat yogurt mixed with granola, protein cereal with unsweetened almond milk, ham, cheese, spinach omelette (egg whites), protein shake, bananas and all sorts of berries.
Between breakfast and lunch and lunch and dinner, I make it a point to eat a small, healthy snack. Not only does this help prevent hunger and cravings that can set you up for overeating later, but it also keeps your metabolism up for more fat burning throughout the day. Here are my go-to snacks…
10AM and 3PM snacks: bowl of pineapple, banana, apple with peanut butter, protein shake and Lenny & Larry’s The Complete Cookie (which packs 16g of protein, not to mention they come in so many delicious flavors).
12 noon and 6PM: Lunch and dinner: Lunch is usually a quick turkey and cheddar sandwich on whole wheat with some sort of fruit and protein shake or either it’s leftovers from whatever I cooked the night before. Lunch can be as fun as you want it to be, however for me I just need something easy that I can grab on the go. Dinner is where I get a little more adventurous and creative (needless to say my husband has been the guinea pig for many of my recipe successes and failures). My favorite places to look for dinner inspiration are online and flipping through various cookbooks. I usually start with the protein I want to cook that night and develop the meal and sides from there.
“Cravings” by Chrissy Teigen
As for cookbooks, this has been my favorite in recent months. Now, as you can see from the title this isn’t a strictly “healthy” cookbook, which is why I like it. It combines indulging, yummy recipes with healthy, fun recipes, which is similar to the way I try to live my life, balanced. Not to mention, she throws a lot of humor and personal stories into the mix which is bound to get you laughing (gah, I just love her)! Go buy this book!
As for online, I pull recipes from multiple different sites, but one site that I can always count on is (www.strawberrymint.org). My friend Kelsey is the creator and chef behind it all. Not only is she talented and creative in the kitchen, but she works with clean, unprocessed, wholesome ingredients, which is a plus for those of you like me who sometimes get stumped when it comes to ‘healthy’ meal ideas. Go check out her site and recipe box!
I’m now going to share with you my must haves (the things that I always have on hand and have been crucial to successfully living out this lifestyle).
Must haves: now for any cook (healthy or not), you’ve got to build up your stock pile of spices, sauces, dressings, broths and marinades. For me, this is what changes those boring, generic, healthy, bland meals into fun, festive, memorable dinners. This isn’t even all of it, but here are a few that I work with on a weekly basis. Also, not pictured, I usually always have a few onions laying around. It’s the universal base of flavor, so be sure to grab a few the next time you’re at the grocery store (plus they have a long shelf life if stored properly).
Must haves continued: I go to the grocery store about once a week, so I’m able to buy enough produce to last me without it spoiling before I get the chance to use it. However, I always keep back ups. Frozen vegetable packs are an easy solution for those of you who can’t get to the grocery store or farmers market every week and aren’t signed up for produce delivery services. Yes, fresh is best, but most frozen vegetables are promptly blanched, boiled or steamed and then frozen within hours of being picked, a process that helps lock in both fresh taste and nutritional value (not to mention, less prep and cook time). So if you’re unable to get fresh produce every time or you’re worried about your fresh vegetables spoiling don’t feel guilty for opting for frozen. If you’re still skeptical about store bought frozen vegetables, you can always cook ahead and freeze them yourself.
Must haves continued: PROTEIN, PROTEIN, PROTEIN! Men need 56g, women need 46g and pregnant/breastfeeding women need 71g PER DAY! It is important that we meet the requirements, but also that we get that protein in healthy ways. Eating large amounts of meat a day can be unhealthy (especially if that meat is red meat), which is filled with saturated fat and is high in cholesterol. Many people don’t know or forget that we can also get protein from plant-based foods, such as beans, whole grains and legumes, which in turn can help reduce your risk of developing heart conditions associated with eating meat in large amounts. As for me, I try to incorporate a variety of protein sources in my diet: meat, plant based and supplemental. Everything in moderation.
MHP Probolic-SR 12 hour (Flavor: Chocolate)
Here is my protein supplement. I usually have a shake after my workouts, but every now and then I will have one as a snack or with a meal if I feel I’m not meeting my 46g of protein per day. It is important you find the protein supplement that best fits what you’re looking for and what your body responds to. For me, this supplies all that I want out of a protein powder and it tastes great! If you’re new to the supplement world, it can be overwhelming going into GNC or Vitamin Shoppe, so I would suggest speaking with a knowledgable employee, nutritionist or fitness specialist to see what best meets your needs.
If you think I’m bad, this isn’t even half of my husband’s supplement stash.
And guys say we’re complicated…
I’ve talked all about the health and wellness side of things, but what about those cravings and ‘cheat days’… Do I have those too? Yes, of course! That’s all a part of living a balanced lifestyle, except I don’t call them “cheat days” anymore, instead I use the term “free days“. For me, it was important to get rid of that term “cheating”. You should never get to the point where you feel guilty or like you’re doing something bad by having occasional treats that you want. Instead, use the term ‘free day’ because you’re taking care of your mental health and well being, which in turn will help you make good, smart decisions for your long term health. My ‘free day’ indulgences for the most part stay the same, I guess because the only things I really crave are the foods I love most: cheese pizza, hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked ice cream, red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, bacon cheese fries with ranch (and Bojangles would be on this list if Hawaii had one).
Alright… WHEW! Who knew talking about food could be so exhausting. If you’re not exhausted yet, you will be soon because it’s time we talked about… WORKING OUT!
Whether it was BS’ing in high school PE class, running from the cops at a busted party or lifting weights in the gym, at one point or another we have all taken part in some form of physical fitness. Many of us struggle with finding the motivation to want to workout and if we do have the motivation we don’t necessarily have the time. My only response is if you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way to make it work.
Sometimes health, wellness and fitness require us to get creative. Some people don’t have the luxury of a gym or the means of transportation to get them there. Some people have full-time jobs, kids to take care of and a messy house to clean. Some people don’t workout because they don’t know where to start or what to do. Some people don’t have any support or encouragement to back them up. Some people have lost hope or have accepted their bodies ‘as is’ after having children. Some people refuse to go anywhere near a gym in fear of judgement from others. Some people are heavily influenced by the bad habits and negativity of their friends and family. Some people at one point were on track but got off somewhere along the way and are having trouble getting back on. Whatever your circumstance, there is a way around it.
However, taking that first step is always the hardest because it requires us to have faith in ourselves – faith that a lot of times we don’t have. Sure, it may be inconvenient, uncomfortable and mentally and physically draining for awhile, but with time it does get better. I won’t say it gets easier because nothing worth having is easy, you just learn to adjust and get better at working around the obstacles of everyday life.
Somewhere along my health and fitness journey, I was led to believe that CARDIO alone was the answer to all of my problems. Despite the fact that I never really liked running in the first place, I ran miles upon miles in hopes of getting that dream body that I had always wanted. Through lots of inconsistencies, failed attempts and plain boredom of running aimlessly, I branched out and tried other forms of fitness in hopes to spark my interest, motivation and love for working out again. I then found weightlifting and strength and resistance training.
Since the only equipment I ever really used was the treadmill, and occasionally the elliptical and stationary bike, this was a whole new concept to me. I was a little intimidated first walking over to the dumbbells, weights and racks. For starters, most of the people in that area were guys with muscles as big as my head and the few girls that were there could probably bench press me with one hand behind their back. However, after a lot of research, observation and help from Willie, I figured out how to hold my own.
Since going through my entire workout routine would literally take forever (on this already lengthy post) I will spare you all and just mention a few of my favorite exercises that I believe to be totally worth the effort. Remember, your form is most important, so don’t worry so much about the number of reps or weights (that can be added on later). We focus on the form first because you want to really make sure your targeting the muscle, getting the most out of the work out and not putting yourself at risk for injury.
*Click on each exercise to see a demonstration/correct form video.
By far my FAVORITE exercise is SQUATS! Unfortunately, I was never blessed with a behind, but within the past year I have really upped my weight and reps in squats and the pay off has been incredible! This is definitely one of those exercises that if done correctly can really make a huge difference in the long run. My booty used to be a part of my body that I was self conscious about, but have grown to be proud of because of the hard work I’ve put in. It’s definitely not an exercise that will give you fast results, but overtime you will begin to see the subtle changes.
Next on this list, ABS! Now, abs is pretty broad so let me share with you my favorite core exercises that really get my tummy burning.
Mountain climbers never fail me. Do these these non-stop for 1-2 minutes and tell me you don’t feel it. If you don’t feel it, make sure your form is correct (watch yourself do them in front of a mirror).
Jack knife crunches will also do the trick. I do these with EVERY workout! No matter if you just worked out upper body or lower body, it’s so important not to forget about our core muscles.
Plank yep, you should’ve known I was going to throw this one in there. What I love about the plank is you can measure your progress easily. When I first really started incorporating core exercises into my fitness routine, I could just barely plank for 30 seconds before plopping on the ground. Now, I’m up to 2+ minutes (which is challenging, but it is amazing to see just how much your body can withstand).
Burpees love/hate relationship. This is such a great core/full body workout while also challenging your cardio/stamina (I’m winded after 10). It’s important to remember that these are hard for EVERYONE no matter what fitness level you’re at, so don’t feel bad if you’re not awesome at them right away. With all these exercises it is important to get down form first then start to add intensity.
Alright, last but not least, lets talk about ARMS/SHOULDERS! My favorite shoulder exercise is a seated dumbbell press. These seem rather simple and easy to do, but after a couple I promise your deltoids will be burning. As for arms, I have 2 exercises that are my go-to’s… Tricep push ups are little different from your average push up so making sure your form is correct is crucial. These may be a little challenging to get the hang of at first (especially for those of you used to doing normal push ups). But remember these are targeting your triceps, so focus on that muscle when you’re doing them. Lets not leave out those beautiful biceps… I’m sure most of you are somewhat familiar with bicep curls. This is a great arm burning exercise for obvious reasons.
I understand weights aren’t for everyone, just like running isn’t for everyone and that’s okay. The most important thing is that you do what makes you happy and do what makes you feel good. If you’re not the “gym type” thats fine, there’s SO many other things you can do to stay active that don’t require a gym (sports, at home yoga, walking in your neighborhood, swimming in a pool, dancing, heck even cleaning the house is a work out). It’s all a matter of taking those baby steps because eventually your thoughts will become actions, your actions will become habits and your habits will become a lifestyle.
I have changed and evolved in so many wonderful ways over the past few years. Fixing my relationship with food, forgetting the scale and focusing on being happy with where I’m at, has made all the difference in my life. I am so thankful to have gone through what I did because I am able to share my story and help other people who may be in a dark place. This journey hasn’t been easy and I know going forward it will continue to challenge me, but knowing that I was made in God’s image is something that I will forever hold onto.
“You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.” -Song of Solomon 4:7
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” -Psalm 139:13-14
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” -1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Don’t forget to love yourself because you are worth loving.