'My Therapist Helped Me Make One Small Change At A Time To Get Healthier—And I've Lost 85 Lbs.'

·8 min read
Photo credit: Ashley Smith
Photo credit: Ashley Smith

My name is Ashley Smith (@movedatash), and I'm 37 years old. I live in Alabama, and I'm a public relations specialist. By finding the right therapist to help me improve my relationship with food, getting on the right Weight Watchers plan for me, and starting Zumba, I was able to lose 85 pounds in five years.

I've been overweight for as long as I can remember. I've tried every diet that was touted as the newest and so-called best: low fat, Sugar Busters, Atkins, South Beach, and others. I would dedicate myself to a diet and lose weight quickly, only to gain more weight back than I had originally lost.

I yo-yoed up and down and up again, year after year, until I became pregnant with my daughter in 2013. Naturally, I stopped trying to lose weight when I was pregnant, and found myself in the “eating for two” mentality. My weight climbed higher.

After her birth in 2014, I was sure breastfeeding would help me shed the baby weight. Instead, the opposite happened. Hunger from breastfeeding, combined with postpartum depression and anxiety, just led me to gain more weight, which made my depression and anxiety worse. I was stuck.

I realized that I was not in a good place regarding my mental health.

While I knew that my relationship with food was not healthy, I did not know how to address it. I also knew that the way I had dieted in the past had not worked, so there had to be something I was missing. I wanted to work on losing weight again, but I wanted to find a healthy way. In 2016, at age 32, my weight reached 343 pounds.

My daughter was 2 years old at this time and very active. I was finding it extremely difficult to play with her or even just care for her. She always wanted to play, but I could not get on the floor with her because it was so difficult to get back up. I could not run and play with her outside like she wanted. I realized that my weight was preventing me from being the kind of mom I wanted to be.

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Additionally, it became difficult to find clothes. I could no longer shop at my usual plus-size stores. I was having pain in my legs and feet when I would sit too long, especially in the car. I could hardly tie my shoes. The misery of the weight I was carrying (and the related issues I had with food) had begun to infiltrate every area of my life. It was affecting everything: my marriage, my friendships, my work, my mental health.

I knew I had to do something, but I didn’t know how.

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It was at this lowest point that I sought out a therapist to help me unravel what I was dealing with and begin making changes.

I have been fortunate enough to work with a therapist who specializes in eating disorders and disordered eating. The work I have done with her has been life-changing. With her help, I began addressing the issues I was facing and began to make real, lasting changes in my life.

With my therapist's guidance, it was important for me to choose a plan that did not restrict any specific foods or food groups, and one that did not use meal replacements like shakes or bars. These guidelines were important to prevent me from feeling overly restricted or deprived, feelings which ultimately would lead to overeating or quitting my plan altogether.

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I chose to follow WW (formerly Weight Watchers) and do the Green plan, which I felt was the best choice for me because it helps me stay accountable for portion sizes and also allows the greatest flexibility of food choices. To me, WW’s flexibility is what makes it sustainable. No foods are off limits, but the points system helps guide you toward nutrient-dense foods and appropriate portion sizes. It is a great plan for my lifestyle that also supports my mental health when it comes to eating.

Here’s what I eat in a day:

  • Breakfast: Coffee with collagen protein powder, zero-calorie sweetener, and sugar free creamer. Omelet with ham and cheese.

  • Lunch: A pre-made frozen meal ordered from cleaneatzkitchen.com, which are fresh and delicious, and saves me time not having to meal prep.

  • Snacks: Fresh fruit and cheese stick or low-fat Greek yogurt and graham crackers.

  • Dinner: Salmon and asparagus cooked in the air fryer.

  • Dessert: Fresh strawberries and sugar-free Cool Whip or a Klondike mini ice cream bar.

Unlike previous weight-loss efforts, this time I began exercising before I began dieting. At the time, beginning yet another diet felt insurmountable. My therapist encouraged me to make one small change at a time that did not feel overwhelming.

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The first “one small change” I made was to begin going to a Zumba class.

I had taken Zumba before, and knew I liked it, but that class was no longer being held. I found a new class with a new instructor and I absolutely fell in love. This class, and its instructor and participants, were positive, uplifting, and encouraging. I found myself smiling while I was working out, and I knew I had found something I could stick with.

Eventually, Zumba just became a regular and enjoyable part of my routine. The longer I went to Zumba, the more confidence I gained in myself and my capabilities. After several months, I decided I was ready to work on my nutrition, and joined WW. Several more months passed before I found myself ready (and confident enough) to try going to the gym.

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Once I tried strength training for the first time, I was hooked.

Suddenly, my body was getting strong and doing things I’d never thought possible. Strength training allowed me to see my body with a new perspective, focusing on what it could do instead of how it looked.

I started slow, and at first even refused to do any exercises that required me to get on the floor (because I could not get back up). Within a few months, strength training improved my mobility and flexibility enough that I was getting up and down easier, and I could do things like crunches. I felt like a new person.

Now, so many years later, I still do all these things, with a few additions. My husband and I purchased a Peloton bike in late 2019, which wound up being a blessing when COVID hit a few months later. I also began taking yoga classes to support the mobility and flexibility I’ve been gaining over the years. Currently, I have a very solid workout routine, which looks like this:

Monday: Strength

Tuesday: Peloton (cycle)

Wednesday: Strength

Thursday: Peloton (cycle)

Friday: Strength

Saturday: Zumba and yoga

Sunday: Rest (and sometimes more yoga)

The biggest surprise for me in all this has been the enjoyment I have found in exercise. I promise you, I never thought it was possible. I was one of those people who swore that they hated all exercise and always would. Turns out, I was totally wrong. The key truly is finding things (or even just one thing) you actually enjoy doing. Personally, I hate walking. It’s so boring. So why would I ever want to walk? Dancing is far more fun. Just move your body in ways you enjoy, and that’s enough.

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These three changes made the biggest difference in my weight-loss results.

  1. I started going to therapy. I had issues surrounding food and eating that were preventing me from losing weight and keeping it off. I had to address those issues before I was ever going to be successful. It has not been a quick process, but it has been the single most impactful thing I have ever done for myself.

  2. I started strength training. Strength training allowed me to change my focus from what my body looked like to what my body is capable of. When I think about my thighs, I focus on how they can deadlift 200-plus pounds.

  3. I removed deadline-based weight loss goals or expectations. Telling myself I needed to lose X number of pounds in X amount of time was just setting myself up for disappointment and a feeling of failure. Instead, I focus on goals that I can directly affect, like eating on-plan a certain number of days per month.

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In total, I have lost 85 pounds so far.

This has been a long journey for me. I’m going on year five. I’m proud to be a testament to the benefits of slow and sustainable weight loss, and also to never giving up.

I still have a long way to go before I’m near my goal weight. In fact, I’ve weighed less than I do now many times in my adult life. But, I’ve never been as happy and healthy as I am right now. I’m fueling my body with a well-rounded mix of nutritious foods, and enough of them to not feel deprived. I’m moving my body in ways that I enjoy and in ways that are improving my quality of life. I’m working daily on repairing my relationships with both food and my body.

We put so much emphasis on the scale, but the scale is only one tiny way to measure your progress on a life-changing journey like this one. There are so many other things you can measure, like how many pounds you can lift or how many minutes you can dance. You can see an improvement in your cholesterol (my triglycerides dropped from 250 to 109 with only diet and exercise changes) or other health markers. You can make the process of finding clothes easier, and maybe even enjoyable.

This time around, my weight loss journey has changed my life because I consider the number of pounds I’ve lost to be the least important part of the process. What I have gained is far more impactful: health, mobility, strength, flexibility, stamina, self-confidence, and happiness.

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