Extreme weight loss isn't easy, but after surpassing a size 19, one woman knew she had to lose weight or she'd totally lose control of her life

By Amy Zavatto
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Stephen Hill/Ashley Keller

A traumatic visit to the garment store five years ago made Ashley Keller face the truth about her weight. "I remember sitting in the parking lot after trying to buy pants for work," says 5-foot-6-inch Ashley, 28, who then weighed 250 pounds. "I used to wear a size 19, but this time the pants didn't fit. I couldn't understand it. I honestly thought the manufacturer was saving five cents in material and skimping on the size. But then it dawned on me that the pants weren't getting smaller-my waist was getting bigger. And I had to do something about it." (Check out The Most Inspiring Weight Loss Success Stories of 2014.)

Hungry all the time

Ashley, a public relations representative in Farmland, Indiana, had struggled with her weight as a teen, but it "ballooned," as she puts it, when she went to college. "I love sweets-cookies, cake, pie, you name it-and at school, I just kept eating and eating them," she says. "And I never exercised." When Ashley met her now husband, Brandon, in 2006, she weighed 200 pounds. While they were dating, they often went out to eat, and Ashley didn't hold back. "I could put away a footlong sandwich and chips and still be hungry," she says. She gained another 50 pounds by the time they got married, in 2009.

Brandon told her that he loved her at any size, but Ashley was becoming more and more frustrated by all the things she couldn't do. Walking up a flight of stairs made her lose her breath. Bending over to tie her shoes was difficult. Even sitting was uncomfortable. "I was unhappy with myself," she says. "I knew something had to change."

She was also worried about her health. An uncle had died from a heart attack at age 46, and both of her grandfathers had suffered multiple heart attacks. "I saw myself dying at a young age from heart trouble," Ashley says. "The idea was just terrifying."

Little changes, big success

Soon after her parking lot epiphany, Ashley worked up the nerve to join Weight Watchers, where the group leader set small, doable weight-loss goals for her. Within three weeks, Ashley reached her first milestone: shedding 12 pounds, or 5 percent of her weight, mostly by cutting back on sweets, eating more fruits and vegetables, and limiting her portion sizes. Her next goal was to drop 10 percent of her start weight, or 25 more pounds. She started planning her meals for the week and packing healthy lunches to bring to work. She also began exercising for the first time in years. She took it slowly, walking for 15 to 20 minutes two or three nights a week. Then she found the courage to try Zumba. "I was intimidated at first because of my weight, but I liked to dance in high school, so I gave it a shot," Ashley says. "I loved it!" (Start small to lose weight! Here's an easy Monday-Sunday Diet Plan to Lose Weight in a Week.)

Ashley's small but steady changes paid off. "It took me three years and three months, but I hit my goal weight on July 24, 2013, the day after my 26th birthday," she says proudly. Her success has since inspired her to take up running. She completed the Couch to 5K nine-week training program and now runs three times a week; she has also done two mini marathons. "My mom and my husband have been my biggest cheerleaders," Ashley says. "They see the smile that running puts on my face."

To help build muscle, she has added high-intensity strength training to her workout routine twice a week. And she still takes Zumba.

Ashley is encouraged not only by her slimmer body but also by her improved health. "I honestly feel better than I ever have before," she says. "I used to catch every cold, every flu. Now I rarely get sick. I'm so much healthier, stronger, and happier!"

What Worked for Ashley:

Fitspiration

Ashley keeps the belt she wore when she was 250 pounds on her bedside table as a reminder of how far she's come. (Her current belt size is an entire foot shorter.) She also put side-by-side before and after photos on her phone. "If I have a bad day, I can pull them up and see what I've accomplished," she says.

Getting Fresh

She once avoided the produce aisle, but now Ashley heads there as soon as she gets to the supermarket. "The first time I shopped there, it was daunting, exactly like walking into the gym when I was just starting to exercise," she says. "Now I'm very focused on nutrition, and I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. I have a piece of fruit with my breakfast, and I eat two or three servings of vegetables with lunch and dinner." (Just avoid these 6 Weight Gain Traps to Avoid at the Farmers Market.)

Exercise With a View

Ashley loves to be outdoors. She goes for evening walks with her husband, signs up for races to keep her running sessions fun and interesting, and is even incorporating workouts into her vacations. "This past May, I ran a Ragnar, a two-day race with a team of 12 people, through Cape Cod," she says.

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