Weight Loss Journey: How She Lost Nearly 90 Pounds Despite Health Issues
After years of health scares, depression, and weight gain, Ashley-Linda Alva decided to take charge of her life.
Ashley-Linda Alva, a 31-year-old internal audit manager from Chicago, spends two to three weeks traveling each month for her job. She shares her tips for staying on track even when you’re away from home, and says, “If you don’t take care of you, who will?”
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What made you decide to finally commit to losing the weight for good?
As far as I can remember, I have always been on a diet. I was overweight as a child and I remember thinking it was cool that I weighed the same amount as my second-grade teacher. In 2010, I started gaining weight while working the night shift at a hospital. By 2011, I had gained 150-plus pounds. I was diagnosed later that year with polycystic ovary syndrome. I gave up trying to lose weight and fell into a depression. I found myself at 361 pounds in 2016. In October 2016, I was hospitalized with a mysterious illness. Finally, they diagnosed me with cytomegalovirus (CMV), which is extremely rare for a person my age. In early 2017, I decided it was time for me to take charge of my health. I knew that my system was weak and the food I was putting in it didn’t help. I was not sure why I contracted CMV, but I knew that my lifestyle was to blame. That hospital visit was very scary—it was one of the first times in my life that I was actually afraid to die.
How much weight have you lost and how did you do it?
I had support of my family and friends, but I found a network with people facing my same struggles on Instagram. I realized that there was a supportive community where you could share anything and be accountable for yourself. Additionally, I found a lot of resources about meal prep and modified exercises that I could try. My lowest this year was 274 pounds. Currently, I am 292.
You’re open and honest about your setbacks and your health issues on your Instagram profile. Are you ever afraid to share those struggles?
I started my account because I wanted to look back one day and have a live diary of how far I had come and because I wanted to be hope for that one person like me, trapped in a body that does not feel like their own. I wanted to let the world know that weight-loss journeys are not always linear. There are gains and losses, good times and bad. There are times you will fall off track and struggle to get back on.
When I first started out, I felt so lost. One day I was on Instagram and started up looking up weight-loss hashtags. I stumbled across a few that were so inspirational and decided I was going to do this. This community that exists is supportive and rooting for you.
When I went on Instagram, I was afraid I was going to get backlash, and then nothing. My goal is: If I can find that one person like me who tried for years and years and has a breakthrough, that’s all I care about.
Who/what inspires you to keep going?
I remind myself that I am not looking to be skinny or a certain weight. I am hoping to be healthy. I want to be able to fit in my rose gold romper one day! I want to be able to go hiking without being winded. I want to go to a restaurant without fear of fitting in the booth. I want to be able to sit comfortably on an airplane without the glares of fellow passengers because I am spilling over the armrests. What inspires me to keep going is the reminder that only I can do this, and I have a very supportive network around me who keeps me going.
What does your typical day look like?
I travel a lot for work. You will often find me working on two- to three-week audits in international locations. When I am home, I like to meal prep for the week. When I am abroad, you will see me with my protein shaker, trying to make the best of the food that is available. I actually bring my protein powder with me, as this can be difficult to find in some areas. Dinners can be challenging while traveling because I do not always have the choice to pick the restaurant and I am inclined to shy away from healthy food and order the same delicious food as my coworkers. I like to work out between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. I am not a morning person and this time works best for me given my schedule.
When you are home and can meal prep, what kinds of meals do you prepare?
I used to be horrible at meal prepping. I would compare my meal preps to those online and felt mine were subpar. I had to remind myself that my prepared food is better than eating three double cheeseburgers from McDonald’s. I began to use Instagram as a place to find ideas for meal prep. My meal prep varies week to week. I try to listen to my body and decide what I will make on Sunday before the work week. I may have meals that are heavier for breakfast with light dinners and vice versa. I prefer to have a good amount of carbs in my diet so I don’t crash and start craving candy and other unhealthy foods.
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What are your go-to snacks?
Snacks are super important! I don’t have a lot of time to prep each week, so I choose to bring an apple, yogurt and my fave, Sargento Snack Packs. Most people try to remove everything "bad" from their meal prep and by Wednesday they are eating the whole house!
Do you have a “go-to” tool that keeps you on track?
I have my meal plans in a template I created in Google Sheets. I used to track calories daily and felt very overwhelmed. Now, once a week I begin my meal prep. On Sunday or Monday, I will take all of the foods and calculate out my macros within Google Sheets. I will make the same foods for five days and count the calories only once. I allow myself to eat reasonable foods on the weekends.
What is your favorite way to work out? How do you motivate yourself on the days you don’t want to exercise?
My favorite way to work out is walking. It’s free and most everyone can do it. I just started strength training. I absolutely love working out my legs but am still struggling to work out my arms. I bring resistance bands on work trips and try to take advantage of hotel gyms. It is hard to find motivation to exercise. I remind myself that fitness and health are something that money cannot buy. Sometimes I do the 5-4-3-2-1 method and by 1, I am forcing myself out of the door to go on a walk or to the gym. Working out is the one thing that only I can do myself for my body. No one can do the workout for me!
Do you have any favorite exercises or walking routines?
I love walking along the lakefront. I often walk my dog since Chicago has such an amazing lake path. I began my weight loss initially by walking.
When I am at home, I use a 24-hour gym and start with at least 30 minutes of cardio (typically an elliptical) and then I begin strength training on various machines. I do not target a certain set of muscles a day—I try to get in a well-rounded routine. I find HIIT routines on YouTube and warmup exercises on Instagram. I also absolutely love the Lazy Girl Workouts. This reminds me that I don’t need a gym to make sure I get in a good workout.
When traveling, I work out in my hotel room with resistance bands that I bring with me. I will also check out the hotel gym. I like to keep my routine of visiting the gym for at least 1-2 hours a day. I also like to explore when traveling, so I get in quite a bit of steps each day and track my progress with my Fitbit Alta HR. I use YouTube on trips, too, and will often do Vinyasa flow yoga to combat work stress.
How has your weight-loss journey affected your life and your health?
I have learned a lot on my weight loss journey this time around. I realized that fad diets and quick fixes do not work. I learned that the changes I make in my life have to be incorporated into each day in order for me to adopt the lifestyle. I learned that this is less about a physical journey and more of a mental journey. Anyone can exercise, but if their mindset is not right, they will end up right where they started. I realized it is OK to be open and let others know you are struggling. It is OK to fall off track, but you must not sit in the shame/guilt cycle and must get back up!
What advice do you have for other women who are struggling with weight loss?
Adopting a healthy lifestyle doesn’t happen overnight. There is no quick fix. Whether you are beginning your journey, in the middle of your journey, or stopped and struggling -- be kind to yourself. Make each day count. Whether it’s working out or parking further away from the store, these baby steps will add up.
Remind yourself of your goal and have a realistic game plan to get there. Not everyone loses 10 pounds a month; not everyone wakes up and runs. These things take time.
My advice to everyone: On your worst day -- take a picture! I know it’s so counterintuitive. However, these photos become the “before” pictures on our journey. If you fall off the wagon, you can get back on. There are no penalties for falling off. Some people lose weight quickly; others don't. We are all different. Not every diet plan, supplement or workout routine works for everyone. Do what you think is best for your body and mind.