Stress caused Ashley Witter's weight to reach an unhealthy range, and it wasn't until she got a tip from a family member that she realized she needed to get help.
After enduring some difficult life changes and dealing with a high-stress job, she turned to food as a comfort. Her aunt told her about a weight-loss treatment center called Structure House, where Ashley was able to lose almost 100 pounds in less than a year. But to her, it was less about pounds lost and more about how she felt — she wanted the "old Ashley" back. She got what she hoped for, and then some. It took a lot of work, but Ashley quit her job, took matters into her own hands, and found happiness and health in the process.
POPSUGAR: What made you decide to start your weight-loss journey?
Ashley Witter: I hit my breaking point in my high-level corporate job working numerous hours, not eating throughout the day, and not sleeping at night. I was turning to food, wine, cheese, and whatever I could find late at night. My energy level had depleted, and I had gained close to 40 pounds in a year and couldn't do it anymore. I was sick, so I finally decided enough was enough and put in my resignation at my job. I had to find my old self again and get better. That's when my family suggested I go to Structure House.
PS: What do you think contributed to your weight gain?
AW: STRESS! The first thing I was taught when I went to Structure House was why we overeat as humans. The three reasons are stress, boredom, and habit. I was stressed all the time. My cortisol levels were off the grid, and my metabolism was suffering. I was skipping meals and not eating the "right" foods. I was tired, had low energy, and wasn't getting the physical activity that I used to. Gradually, over the course of probably four years, I continued to gain more and more. The more stressed out I got, the more weight I packed on.
PS: What drew you to Structure House specifically?
AW: I chose Structure House because my aunt had been twice and told me about what a wonderful and safe place it was. I didn't think I had a problem — denial at its best — but I knew I needed help. My family tried to kindly tell me I had a weight problem and that they were worried, but I didn't want to listen. I felt like, "This was my life and these are the cards I was dealt." Once I hit my breaking point, I knew that I needed to go to Structure House and get help. My family was fully supportive of my decision and helped me along the way.
PS: Had you tried other methods of weight loss before Structure House?
AW: Unlike others, I never really struggled with my weight until the past four or five years. Bad breakups, high-level corporate jobs, and simply life itself began to take a toll on me. I was always very active, played sports, and loved the outdoors, but yes, I tried some weight-loss methods such as powdered shakes, staying away from gluten, quick-fix type of things. Besides losing some immediate water weight, none of these diets ever worked or were something that could be maintained. Plus, when I cut my portions too much, I would hardly have the energy to work out. I was doing it all wrong.
"The more stressed out I got, the more weight I packed on."
PS: What's your favorite way to work out?
AW: Again, I have always loved sports my entire life and even when I was heavier I kept pushing to be active. I love backpacking, hiking, kayaking, snow skiing — pretty much anything outdoors. I have found in the past year that I really love boot camps and circuit training.
PS: What's your weekly exercise schedule?
AW: I was taught by Structure House to get at least 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a week. I do just that. I mix my workouts between cardio, strength training, and flexibility exercises. I hit the gym maybe three times a week as well as doing a group bootcamp class, running on the treadmill, or hitting the weights doing arm/leg workouts and repetitions. I love yoga, so I try to do a class or so a week of hot yoga. I wear a Fitbit and try every day to get at least 10,000 steps a day. That means when I am at work, I get up and move — this is key. On the weekends I am hiking, kayaking, or running. I also allow my body to recover, so I believe in letting your body have rest days as well.
PS: How do you keep workouts exciting?
AW: I am all about changing it up and keeping it exciting. I love to exercise in general, so I find hiking and backpacking are my favorite activities. You can enjoy the beauty of the outdoors and not even realize sometimes that you are getting a great workout. I have also had fun running 5Ks with my boyfriend. He is active as well so we help keep each other accountable, while having fun at the same time.
PS: How much weight have you lost?
AW: Since my stay at Structure House in October 2015, I have lost 95 pounds in 11 months and have maintained that weight. My weight has plateaued, so now I am more focused on building lean body mass.
PS: What was the first big difference, other than the number on the scale, that really made you feel proud and excited?
AW: For me, honestly, it wasn't really about the pounds lost, but more that I felt so much better. I came back to life again, and my energy was back. I found the old "Ashley" again, and that is what made me so proud. I didn't ever think that would be possible.
PS: How do you track your weight loss?
AW: Structure House gave us a diary to record our food. When I left the facility, I continued to use my diary and maintain my 1,400-calorie intake. Every time I finished a book, I would call Structure House and have them send me a new one. I don't use my diary much anymore because I have a pretty good hold on what I am taking in terms of calories, but if I ever feel like I am slipping, I start recording again. It was a great way to hold me accountable for what I was eating.
PS: What's a typical day of meals and snacks?
AW: I follow myplate.com pretty much for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I make sure at every meal that I have a protein, plenty of veggies, fruit, a dairy, and carbs. I eat nutrient-dense food that keeps me full. I have eliminated as much salt as possible and make healthy choices. I am pretty consistent on what I eat — lots of veggies (I love roasted brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes), lean meat, berries, Greek yogurt, and 100-percent whole-wheat options. I stay away from processed foods as much as possible. I read labels to make sure foods are low in trans and saturated fat and low in sugar and sodium. When I snack, I usually have a Kind bar or something simple made with whole ingredients.
Ashley: Before and After
PS: Do you count calories?
AW: Even though I have lost 95 pounds, I am still mindful of the calories that I am taking in. I am mindful and aware, and that is what has helped me be successful in my journey. Most people do not even realize the amount of calories they are taking in. So yes, I do keep track. I stick between 1,400-1,500 calories per day of nutrient-dense foods. If I eat something that is not as healthy, I am aware and only eat a little. Moderation is key in weight loss. Making change takes time, so having a treat every now and then is not a bad thing.
PS: What are the healthy staples that are always in your fridge?
AW: I eat egg-white omelets almost every morning, so I stock my fridge with good veggies and fruit. I buy a lot of chicken and lean meats so I have a protein. I buy a lot of 100-percent whole-wheat sandwich thins and wraps. I love avocados and salsa. I pretty much mirror my food choices based off of what was cooked for me at Structure House.
PS: How do you strategize for meals out?
AW: Again, I am pretty boring, so I eat the same thing a lot. I am pretty consistent with my meals, so it hardly seems like work anymore. When I go out to eat, I research the restaurant first to figure out the healthy options I can choose from. I love Longhorns because they have a calorie counter for all the food. I can have an incredible meal for 430 calories.
"It wasn't really about the pounds lost . . . I came back to life again and my energy was back. I found the old Ashley."
PS: Do you use a fitness tracker? Which one, and how do you think it helped you?
AW: I use a Fitbit. I have bought one for all my family members as well. It has helped me a lot, plus it is a great thing for everyone. I love that Fitbit allows you to compete against each other. My dad is now super competitive with my brother and me. It's a win for everyone. Also, I know when my steps are down that it is time to move.
PS: What role did Structure House play in your journey? Would you recommend it?
AW: Structure House changed my life! I have told this to all the staff: I wouldn't be the person I am today without them. They gave me the tools to regain my life back. Not only am I back to my old self, but I have never felt better. I now work at a job I love, and I got asked to teach the Health Coaching certificate program at an accredited university in Georgia. My work lets me run weight-loss challenges, and I am creating my own health coaching website to help others. I met an incredible man, and I just couldn't be happier. I have realized that you have to love yourself before you can love others. I can't thank Structure House enough.
PS: What advice do you have for anyone starting out on a weight-loss journey?
AW: Take a leap of faith and make yourself happy. You have one life to live, and make it the best it can be. There is no reason to go through life unhappy and unhealthy. We are all in charge of our own destiny, so why not make this life the best it can be? Also, you are not alone. So many people struggle with weight issues, but there is hope — I promise.