Ashleigh Bowling: I have found the happiest version of myself

When I was in high school I was obsessed with the idea of being “healthy” + “fit”. The summer before senior year, I spent every day on an elliptical for at least 1 hour. Some days I would also add in a P90X ab workout or a workout from the Nike app. If I would miss a day, I would make it up by doing two or three more hours the following days. I read about IIFYM and decided to start counting my calories + macros on the MyFitnessPal app. With my current height + weight it told me I had to eat 1400 calories to lose 10 pounds. Every morning I would wake up, weigh myself + take a “progress” pic. I would then eat a protein smoothie for breakfast and workout for an hour plus. After my workout I would weigh myself + take another picture. I’d keep track of my weight + how long my workout lasted in a notebook.

I only ate “healthy” things such as egg whites, spinach, oatmeal, protein smoothies, etc. I held myself so strictly to eating these healthy foods that even when I would go out to eat with family, I would either order a salad or just not go out at all. I still remember one time when my family stopped for ice cream, + I didn’t order anything. Instead, I watched my family enjoy themselves. I thought if I ate ice cream, then all of my hard work would have been ruined. My “healthy eating” got to the point where I considered drinking milk to be “treating myself.” I started using the app religiously to count my calorie intake.

One day, I thought, “if I eat less than the calories it said I needed, I could lose even more weight.” So, it became a challenge for me to see how many calories I could end up with as “extra” at the end of the day. I remember one day I was SO happy I had a 500 calorie deficit. I went to bed being so pleased with how “healthy” I was. Remember how my goal was 1400 calories/day? By having a 500 calories deficit, I ate 900 calories that day [this isn’t counting the calories I had burned while exercising]. As prom was getting closer, I increased my daily deficit to 500 calories or more. I continued this cycle throughout the summer, because I had to look “good” going into my freshman year of college. My need to workout only strengthened while I was in college. The gym was a two minute walk from my dorm, so I would go every day, sometimes even twice a day. I started to fall behind in my classes because of how much time I was spending in the gym, but to me this was always time well spent. This cycle continued until my sophomore year, when I officially joined CHAARG.

The picture above [on the left] was one of my progress pictures. I remember thinking how fat I looked and was so frustrated that eating “healthy” wasn’t working. After taking this picture I remember completing P90X twice, + spending an hour on the elliptical. I ended the day with a deficit of 450 calories.

My first semester in CHAARG I still dealt with eating way too little calories + spending hours at the gym. Then, I started getting closer with the girls in my Chapter + really got into using my #inCHAARG instagram [@ashleigh_inchaarg].

I saw girls sharing their struggles with weight loss just like me, but also how they would treat themselves. I saw girls eating GOOD food like pizza + donuts, working out, + looking HAPPY while doing it. Nobody was bragging about having calorie deficits or how long they spent on the elliptical. These girls were taking pictures of their huge dinners with actual healthy food. Rice, sweet potatoes, + salads with DRESSING. Girls were completing FitPlans + treating themselves [at the same time!] — I wanted to be like them. During the Spring of my Sophomore year at Pitt I signed up for the CHAARG Spring Break FitPlan. I constantly posted in the Facebook group and commented on posts about meeting up to complete the workouts. Through these meetups, I found some girls who ended up becoming very close friends, + I even ran a race with two of them! I was finally seeing how working out could be fun, ++ not just something I had to do to feel good about myself. That semester I also signed up for my first half-marathon. I had a rude awakening during my training; my body could not physically handle the added workouts without getting more fuel. I talked to other CHAARG girls’ about eating while training + listened to their advice wholeheartedly. I immediately went out and bought alllllllll the carbs. During these months of training, I finally learned what it meant for food to be fuel.

CHAARG’s mission is “liberating girls from the elliptical” + I am literally one of those girls. CHAARG has not only liberated me from the elliptical, but from my unhealthy “healthy” lifestyle. I honestly do not know where I would be today if I had not joined CHAARG. I probably would not have been healthy enough to run TWO MARATHONS, or participate in over 8 FitPlans.

This will probably be the first time many people, including my family, hear about my story. I was never diagnosed with any eating disorder by a professional, but when I look back at my behaviors, I wish I had been so I could have been helped sooner. Luckily for me, I found CHAARG + I was able to realize I had a serious problem. Even though I am in a much healthier place, these unhealthy thoughts still come back. When I’m feeling down + feel like I’m gaining weight, or look at old pictures of me being super tiny, my first thoughts are to just “eat less.” Thankfully, I have my boyfriend + the CHAARG community to help me overcome these impulses.

It sounds so cliche, but I honestly do not know where I would be if I had not joined CHAARG. I have found some of my best friends, but most importantly I have found the strength to be the happiest, healthiest, STRONGEST version of myself.  

++ Ashleigh [@ashleigh_inchaarg] // Pitt CHAARG 

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