The biggest struggle one woman faced on her journey to lose more than 100 pounds: 'I felt totally hopeless'

Weight-Loss Win is an original Yahoo series that shares the inspiring stories of people who have shed pounds healthfully.

Ashley Lavigne is 27, is 5-foot-3, and currently weighs 123 pounds. In 2014, after struggling with her weight for most of her life, she decided to get healthier for the sake of her young son. This is her weight-loss story.

The turning point

I can remember being self-conscious about my weight when I was as young as 10 years old, though looking back, I was barely even considered chubby at that point. I think my unhealthy relationship with food and my body started largely because of comments my mother would make about my eating habits or my weight when I was a very young teen. At 14 years old, I was 165 pounds. When I got pregnant with my son at 17, I was 195 pounds. I was always self-conscious but also in denial about it. I used to daydream about the day I would look different and have a normal relationship with food and my body. I hoped I would just wake up one morning and that would magically be my reality.

Just after Christmas when I was 22, my grandma emailed me photos she had taken of everyone in the family opening gifts, having dinner, and celebrating. I remember looking through them and thinking, “I can’t believe that’s really me.” I had been unhappy with my weight for quite some time, and I did know it was a problem before then, but that was really the moment that caused me to ask myself what I was doing with my life. I was 22 years old and 235 pounds with a 4-year-old son, a drinking problem, and a very unhealthy relationship. I thought of my own strained relationship with my mother and about how she could barely take care of herself, let alone my siblings or me, and I knew I wanted better for myself and my son.

“I knew I wanted better for myself and my son.” (Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Lavigne)

The changes

It was a very slow and painful road starting out. I couldn’t even walk up a flight of stairs in my apartment building to do laundry without getting short of breath, so initially I didn’t incorporate any exercise. I didn’t even really eat healthy, just less.

Eventually I fell into intermittent fasting, and that worked for me for a long time. After a while, I started going to the gym five or six days a week and doing 20-30 miles a day on the bike. It became unhealthy. I started restricting myself too much and found myself struggling with non-purging bulimia, bingeing several times a week followed by overexercising and heavily restricting my food. Rinse and repeat.

I had a lot of days when I felt totally hopeless — like this whole process was pointless and I would never be able to make a lasting change. This was just who I had been for so long, and maybe I wasn’t meant to be anything more. There were many slip-ups for me along the way, but through it all, I always stayed accountable to myself. I wrote on my calendar every day whether it was a good or bad day. Ultimately, I knew I wanted to be at a place in my life where I was healthy, both emotionally and physically, and I knew that I would never arrive there unless I was really willing to put in the work and stick with it, despite how many bad days or weeks or months I may have along the way.

“My life has changed in so many more ways than I could have ever anticipated.” (Photos: Courtesy of Ashley Lavigne)

The after

My life has changed in so many more ways than I could have ever anticipated. I first decided to lose weight because I wanted to feel like I was someone who was attractive to others. I wasn’t focused on, or even really thinking about, how losing weight would affect almost every aspect of my life. I’m now able to keep up with my 9-year-old son. I was fortunate enough to decide to make a change early enough in his life that he doesn’t really recall a time when I was anyone other than who I am now. My relationships have improved, not just romantically, but my familial and platonic relationships as well. I’m in a place where I don’t have self-hatred constantly acting as a barrier between me and anyone I try to get close to or connect with.

I remember thinking at the start of my journey that I was sure I would hit about 150 to 160 pounds, and that would be as low as I could or should go. I spent all of my teen and early adult years under the impression that I had a stocky frame. It really surprised me, and continues to surprise me now, that my frame is actually quite small. At 5-foot-3 and 123 pounds, I have a 25-inch waist. People comment on how little I am, and it still catches me off-guard. It also surprised me how much nicer people are to me. I guess part of it is because I’m seen as more conventionally attractive now, but I think the main reason for the shift in others’ attitudes toward me is that my attitude toward myself has shifted. I’m comfortable and happy with myself, and I think that shows. People gravitate toward someone who is kind and confident in themselves.

“I’m now able to keep up with my 9-year-old son.” (Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Lavigne)

The Maintenance

I’m now at a place where my relationship with food is finally in the healthy range. I haven’t restricted or binged in months. I don’t go to the gym, but I do have a very physically demanding job that allows me to really utilize my body’s strength and endurance. I still find myself occasionally obsessing over my weight, or feeling guilty if I deem what I’ve eaten that day to be “too much,” but I’ve been steadily improving every day. I’m feeling good and hopeful about my future relationship with my body for the first time in my life!

I no longer eat when I’m bored or in an attempt to fill some sort of emotional void in my life. I still eat junk or have a drink with dinner now and then, but it’s a much more mindful and conscious decision now than it ever was before. I think about what I’m putting into my body and the effect it will have on me, both on a day-to-day basis and in the long term.

My inspirations today to stay motivated are many: my son, my job, being able to be happy with myself, my personal relationships, looking in the mirror and actually loving the person I see looking back at me. I think of the person I was before all of this, and how sad she was all the time. It’s almost like looking back on a completely different person living a completely different life. But I know that that person was me and that she deserves everything I’ve worked so hard to give her. She will always be my biggest motivation.

The struggles

I still struggle somewhat often with my own perception of myself. I didn’t anticipate how long it would take for the way I see myself to catch up to who I am. There are times even now that I wonder if I will ever be able to really and fully accept the changes that I’ve made. Another big struggle for me is loose skin. When I stand in front of the mirror and look at myself naked, I often don’t see all of the progress I’ve made. I see physical reminders of a very dark time in my life. I’ve made the decision to get breast augmentation surgery and a tummy tuck. I know that I’ve made a lot of progress, but ultimately this is something I need to do for myself to really be able to feel like I’ve moved on from that chapter of my life.

“Be kind to yourself.” (Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Lavigne)

Advice

The best piece of advice I can give to anyone is to be kind to yourself. Always. It took years and years for me to gain the weight and fall into the negative headspace I found myself in, so of course the change that I sought wouldn’t happen overnight. Even now, I remind myself that progress and growth can be painful at times, and that taking one step forward and two steps back occasionally doesn’t mean you are a failure. Spend some time focusing both on the day-to-day and on the big picture. There are times when I feel like nothing at all has changed, but if I really sit and think about who I was four or five years ago, I feel impressed with myself for all I’ve persevered through to get to where I am now. I am strong, even when I don’t feel that way. And you are, too. Just be kind and patient and loving with yourself.

Need more inspiration? Read about our other weight-loss winners!

Weight-Loss Win is authored by Andie Mitchell, who underwent a transformative, 135-pound weight loss of her own.

Have a weight-loss win to share? We want to hear it! Tell us at YStyleBeauty@yahoo.com.

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