A life-long battle with obesity is agonizing; and when it interferes with your desire to have children, it’s heartbreaking. Ashlie spent years developing coping mechanisms to live with a body that didn’t respond to popular programs like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, including developing an internal dialogue that was self-defeating, self-shaming, and hypercritical. These mental roadblocks became her biggest obstacle to good health. The Take Control program and her health coach Kat Van Fossen turned out to be the perfect program for, as Ashlie said, “being vulnerable, and really just getting out of my own way.”
When Ashlie enrolled in Take Control, she felt like she had exhausted every option. She had tried every commercial diet program out there, and even though she is a “rule follower,” no matter what she did, nothing worked. Ashlie said that before she started working with coach Kat, “I had a very defeated mindset, and I felt a lot of shame. Because everything I was doing wasn’t working, and I couldn’t figure out why.” In an ironic twist, Ashlie was paired with Kat, a self- described “rule breaker.” Ashlie was scared to begin her first coaching call. She didn’t know if she was ready to be honest about her feelings and get vulnerable; admitting that the deepest fear was being honest with herself. She said, “I hadn’t spoken the words out loud, or acknowledged everything I was thinking, because it was uncomfortable. But it wasn’t as terrifying as I thought it would be. There wasn’t the physical pain that I imagined from opening up to my coach.” Coach Kat pointed out that it can be scary, she said, “each person has to decide for themselves how much digging they’re going to do. Some people are not ready, but Ashlie was so ready to dig in.”
Part of the coping mechanisms Ashlie developed over the years included a hatred of weight scales and mirrors. The fear of a scale developed when she was younger and battling with eating disorders. She saw the scale as a weapon used against her, something that hurt her. No matter what number came up on the scale, she was never happy with it. Conversely, it was also an object of obsession, causing an overall bad relationship. She ended up getting rid of it and avoiding it altogether, which created a blind spot in understanding her overall health. Perhaps even an indication of giving up. Ashlie said that even though getting rid of the scale removed its control over her, after working with her health coach she came to understand it’s value as a tool, rather than a be-all, end-all. For others in her situation, she recommends occasionally using a scale at the gym or a doctor’s office to weigh, to find a way to use it as a tool without having it control you.
In addition to addressing her fear of scales and mirrors, Ashlie and coach Kat slowly began to tackle the many mental roadblocks that had built up over the years. First was Ashlie’s relationship with food, which she strongly associated with guilt. She had assigned labels to various types of food as either good or bad. If she ate foods she considered bad, she was overcome with guilt. Coach Kat helped her change her view of food to one based on nutritional value, or lack thereof. At Take Control, no food is off limits, no food is good or bad. But making food choices based on nutritional value helps you to see food as fuel, and create a healthy relationship with food.
Another mental roadblock was patience. When Ashlie first started losing weight, she was seeing success. But then there was about three weeks when the scale didn’t move. She said, “I’m not a very patient person, so I had to remind myself that this journey is a staircase and not a ski slope. I had to learn that there will be stalls in weight loss, and I have to be patient with myself and make adjustments as I go.” Coach Kat pointed out that our society constantly pressures us by telling us that quick fixes are possible. But you have to put in the slow and steady work to change relationships with food; and even your relationships with the people around you.
After years of avoiding the doctor, Ashlie finally put aside the embarrassment and shame of weight gain, and saw a doctor to begin her journey toward better health. There, she was diagnosed with prediabetes and a hormonal disorder called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Since Ashlie wanted to get pregnant, this was a difficult diagnosis. PCOS makes it more difficult to become pregnant, and can create high risk complications in pregnancy. Her doctor recommended weight-loss surgery, but Ashlie said, “I had a preconceived notion in my head about who gets that surgery and I didn’t think it was me. I thought, no, it’s not for me.”
Ashlie was successful losing weight without having surgery, including enrolling in Take Control, where she lost 15 pounds. But when she was trying to become pregnant, she went to a fertility specialist. The doctor said she wouldn’t work with her unless she lost significantly more weight, and for the second time, a doctor recommended weight-loss surgery. Since she had two doctors telling her the same thing, she put her pride aside, researched the surgery, and attended an information class. Her desire to have children was the driving force that led to the decision to move forward with the surgery. She was in her mid-30’s, and said, “I was sick of sitting on the sidelines watching everyone else pursue their hopes and dreams.”
After weight loss surgery, Ashlie’s weight dropped more rapidly, losing 95 pounds in about 5 months. Paired with the exercise she had been doing over the past year, her body transformed into one that was capable of doing things she hadn’t done in years. She said, “I am living again. I have done things recently that were just dreams before, and now they’re an actual reality.”
One of her first adventures was to take her nephew hiking on spring break, three miles off trail, up and down mountain ridges searching for deer and elk antlers that had been shed in the wilderness. It was something she had done as a kid that her nephew really wanted to try. Even though she was scared to go, it was the first time she got to see all of her hard work pay off. She said “I was out there hiking, climbing, and keeping up with this kid. I got home and was still able to cook dinner and do laundry. A year ago, I never would have been able to do any of that.” Coach Kat reminded her that the next time she does something like that, look in the mirror and say “look at what this body can do!” And not only did she feel great about her physical ability, but they found “two of the oldest sheds in the history of the world, they were almost petrified.”
When asked if she has an inspirational mantra to keep herself motivated, Ashlie replied, “Every single morning when my alarm goes off at 5 am, I say to myself: ‘Show up for yourself.’ I don’t know where I heard that, but it immediately stuck with me. As much as I want everything to be easy and comfortable, no one is going to do the work for me, except me.” Coach Kat says that even when you have people who love and support you, it’s still up to each person to make it happen for themselves. She applauds Ashlie’s willingness to try new strategies again and again, even when some things didn’t work. After a year and a half of stepping into the uncomfortable world of challenging mental roadblocks and showing up for herself, Ashlie’s confidence is at an all-time high, and her health is improving drastically.