Ashley Donahoo learned she was unexpectedly pregnant at 16 years old. “I went from a very active and healthy teen with two full scholarships waiting on me to a pregnant teenager who had to go finish school at an adult high school so I could be done before I had my son.” Donahoo was so scared and depressed by the pregnancy that she lost weight at first but gained 75 pounds in the last five months. (Read more of The Most Inspiring Weight Loss Success Stories of 2014.)
“The wild and fast fluctuation of weight did a ton of damage to my skin, causing me to have quite a ‘mommy tummy’ afterward, at 17.” Even after losing 35 pounds of her pregnancy gain in the six months following the birth of her son, her body looked so different, Donahoo felt like she had lost her body forever and stopped trying to take care of herself. She spent the next seven years binging on fast foods, prepared meals, sweets, and soda.
No More Meds
Donahoo was 25 when her doctor refused to continue prescribing her medication to help keep her long list of health conditions under control. There was just one underlying condition she needed to manage on her own: morbid obesity. Donahoo, mother of two and 300 pounds at the time, was constantly sick, on five prescription medications, and out of work.
The Breaking Point
Donahoo’s husband heard the doctor’s orders and forced his wife to go for a walk one afternoon. “We didn’t even get to the end of our short city block walking at a snail’s pace, and I was out of breath, my head was pounding, my feet, legs, and back were killing me, and I just started crying,” says Donahoo. “The thoughts of my kids begging me to play with them outside and me telling them: ‘No, I don’t feel good, guys, maybe some other time,’ ran through my mind. Hiding in photos behind people, always being embarrassed of myself, and not feeling comfortable in my own skin—it all came crashing down on me right there in the middle of that street. I lost it.” She resolved to change that afternoon.
A New Gameplan
Donahoo had tried tons of fad diets since her first pregnancy, but nothing ever stuck. This time, she says, “it wasn’t about losing a certain number of pounds, it was about saving my own life, getting healthier, and setting a good example for my kids.” Knowing she needed to lose at least 100 pounds, she went into it without a final weight goal and set small goals along the way.
She started tracking everything she ate on Livestrong.com and slowly started making changes: “I [used] fat free milk instead of 2 percent, egg whites instead of whole eggs, whole grain/whole wheat bread and pasta, bigger portions of green vegetables without butter smothering them, less fast food, and more wholesome cooking at home.” (Read The Right Way to Use Weight Loss Apps.) As an ambassador for Livestrong, Donahoo continues to use her journey to inspire others. She shares recipes from her book Choose the Change: Cookbook & Weight Loss Guide there and on her website.
Progress Over Perfection
When it comes to exercise, that’s Donahoo’s mentality: “Beginner yoga DVDs turned into higher levels of yoga and more workout DVDs with higher intensities; and slow walking eventually turned into short jogs from mailbox to mailbox, then corner to corner, then finally full runs with no stopping. I’m hoping to complete my first 10k in the next few months,” says Donahoo, who has lost 150 pounds.
This year has been hard for Donahoo, though. She’s been out of her routine following complications with skin removal surgery, she lost a job, and got an injury that landed her in the hospital. But she also finished her book, started a new job, and went in for revisions to the initial skin removal surgery. Now she’s back on track and losing again. “Everyone has stuff in life that throws them off, and that’s okay! You just have to get back on the horse when you can instead of wallowing in your circumstances.”
Donahoo’s health is important to her, so she makes time for herself, and is a better parent for it. “I realized that the 30 to 45 minutes [to workout] I had always looked at as ‘taking away’ from my family really made me a better me as a whole—so that I am a better mommy, wife, daughter, and friend.”
To read more about Ashley Donahoo’s amazing weight-loss journey, and find out how her life has changed, pick up the Jan/Feb issue of Shape, on newsstands now.
By Shape Editors