Part I: You’re Stronger Than You Think You Are



“You’re stronger than you think you are.”


If you’ve ever taken one of my spin classes, you already know that this is my motto. Whether I’m shouting it from the bike when we hit a round of Tabata (right after a monster hill climb of course), or gently encouraging the friend who wants to get her health and fitness back on track, it’s something I wholeheartedly believe. Each one of us is SO much stronger than we realize.


We have unlimited potential.


This idea of being “stronger than we think we are” has gotten me through some rather trying times in life. From making the conscious decision to enter eating disorder recovery to being confident enough to audition as a spin instructor and pursue my personal training certification, I had to remind myself that the possibilities were endless if I just tapped into that fire burning inside me. Everyone has had these moments in life–moments when they’ve doubted their strength or questioned their ability to succeed at something. These moments are driven by fear– namely fear of failure. In just these past few months alone, I’ve had the chance to apply this concept to my life once again in a new and scary way– both literally and figuratively.

As I started to write this post, I planned to go in a completely different direction before the words took a form of their own. All my writers out there know exactly what I mean :) . I read through the post at least seven or eight times trying to decide if it was even worth sharing such a personal account– after all, who cares about MY life story, right? Well, in the spirit of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I decided to take a leap of faith– no fear, just truth. If I can touch one life, or motivate one person to believe they truly are stronger  than they think they are (eating disorder related not), well, my fears are unfounded and my job has been done.


And wouldn’t you know…

Here you are, reading my truths.



Once I hit 1,000 words and realized I was only halfway done with the point I was attempting to make, I realized I have two pretty distinct stories to tell about two pretty distinct times in my life. So in order to save you from reading a novel on your iPhone or tablet screens, and to best tell my story, I’ve decided to split the post into two separate parts. The next post will go up later this week. As we head into Part I, allow me to give you some context…


A little over 8 years ago I hit rock bottom.



Rock bottom lasted for so many months that I started to give up on life as I knew it. I was suffering from a debilitating eating disorder–anorexia nervosa, lost touch with amazing friends–both old and new, drifted from family and loved ones, and was forced to take sophomore year off from college. Life was so miserable and lonely and at times that I didn’t even care to see the light of the next day. I felt like a failure.

When I looked in the mirror I saw a monster and when I looked inside, I saw the same thing. I was unrecognizable to myself in every way shape and form that one could be– physically, mentally, and emotionally. I was living a vicious cycle of starvation, weight loss, over-exercising, hospital admittance, back to home, starvation, weight loss, over-exercising, hospital re-admittance (etc…)– this cycle lasted too many times to count. I was trapped.

Occasionally, it would become too much for my family or doctors to take and the cycle would be peppered with inpatient/outpatient programs that sucked me even deeper into the secret world of eating disorders. Having come from a place in my mind where I thought I was alone with this eating disordered mindset to essentially living in a test tube with other people who’s irrational weight and body thoughts were just as crazy– if not crazier– than my own, well, let’s just say that could make anyone lose their mind.

The first few tries with these programs failed miserably. I had never identified myself with have an eating disorder before. Even after the first handful of times I was admitted into the hospital, I thought my medical team was crazy for putting such a seemingly negative label on me. In my head, I was trying to be “healthy” — I was just exerting more willpower and more control, than the average human being. Even in failure, in my mind I was still winning. Yet every time I entered one of these programs, my Type-A competitive personality got the best of me. If I couldn’t win anywhere else in my life, at least I’d win at this. So, instead of getting physically and mentally better, my disease fed of of the other girls’ illnesses. At my most vulnerable I learned how to be better at anorexia.


Then something happened.

I looked around, and everything was moving but me.


After months of living this deadly game I started to realize something. My friends were back in school. They were getting internships, dating new people, making new friends, living with new roommates, going on trips, studying abroad, and filling their Facebook feeds with silly, drunken photos of their weekend escapades.  ME on the other hand? Ashley, the straight “A” student who loved to run, dance, and write– the same girl who had big dreams to tackle, thrived off of success, and was always moving towards a goal– was completely stationary.


I was holding myself back from everything I loved and everything I desired to be.

I was my own worst enemy.


And THEN I was readmitted to the hospital. At this point in the game the doctors, nurses, and CNAs knew me too well and they all knew the drill (weight check, Ensure, blood work, Ensure, EKG, Ensure, bed rest, Ensure, IV fluids, Ensure, forced feedings, Ensure, vitals, Ensure, repeat). I felt like a nuisance– a stupid, stupid, girl who couldn’t get it together. Here I was chugging water before every doctor’s appointment so I could try to “trick the scale” into believing I didn’t need to go to the ER–and for what? For a few more days of “freedom?” Living this way was NOT freedom. It was a death wish. 

I truly never wanted to become “one of those ED patients” who spent years of her life in and out of the hospital because she couldn’t do the one thing every human is expected to do to survive– EAT. I felt bad for those patients, and a part of me felt so separated from them…yet I was becoming just that. But it wasn’t always about the food. It wasn’t always about the calories or the way my hip bones protruded “just so.” It was about self-worth and the high expectations I had set for myself. The one thing I had going for me in life was also the one thing that was sabotaging my recovery– CONTROL. If I could just harness that disciplined energy and use it for something good, deep down I knew I could beat this.


I HAD no choice.

At this point it was a game of life or death.


The real saving grace of this whole destructive situation was school. I WANTED to go back to college. I WANTED to succeed. I WANTED to make a difference in the world, and most importantly, I didn’t want to disappoint my family. Heck, I was the girl who needed to be 10 steps ahead of everything for my own peace of mind, and here I was 100 steps back. I knew I had to work towards a goal and I knew I couldn’t go back to UMASS Amherst where my eating disorder began (I was scared about what people would think of me, and the memories were too difficult to face–plus, it was way too easy for me to hide and slip back into old ways at such a big school). I also knew I was on a strict timeline– those transfer applications had to be IN. When my doctor (who specialized in THE toughest love around) told me there was NO WAY I’d be able to go back to school by the fall, the fighter inside me came alive. Miss another year of school. HELL. NO.


Tell me I can’t do something and I’ll prove you wrong– take it or leave it, that’s me.


And wouldn’t you know that was the LAST TIME I was ever admitted to the hospital :) . I was ready to try this recovery thing for real. So right there in my hospital bed I wrote my essays and filled out my transfer applications and just a few days later my parents were driving me to the renowned Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders in Philadelphia. I was committing to my recovery, and on my own terms.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies from there. A few days into my stay I was celebrating my 20th birthday on bed-rest in a new home with dozens of people I didn’t know. I wasn’t allowed to use a phone or computer and I felt detached from the world around me (this is to keep you focused on recovery). Out of fear (due to lack of control) I started to revert back to my eating disorder minded ways. I’d secretly throw out or spit out any medicine I was instructed to take for the fear that it was some sneaky “weight-gaining drug” (for the record, they were just vitamins and yes, I understand how insane it seems now).  I’d pour out cups of Gatorade I was supposed to drink to balance out my electrolytes. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to silently exercise and I’d do squats during my morning shower– until I was caught for both and put back on bed rest for misbehaving (this poor behavior is a very big no no in ED treatment– especially as I was on strict exercise restriction). Clearly, I was still very sick in body and mind. I was scared. And I needed to be there for a while–and I was.

After a few weeks I started seeing young women who came to center after me leaving before I did, and once I started to feel physically stronger (no more bed rest or grounds restrictions) I realized I needed to focus on something deeper than how skinny or fat I felt or I wasn’t going to get anywhere. Now that I had the proper nourishment and brain capacity to start thinking clearly, I needed to find the root of the anorexia and heal my mind. Sounds simple, right? Hardly.

I’ll be honest, this piece is still a work in progress– even close to eight years into recovery. For me, my eating disorder wasn’t always just about being skinny. Yes, of course a large part of it was about this, but again, it all came back to wanting control. During my freshman year of college I felt pressure– mostly from myself–to be the best, look the best, and feel the best. I wanted to have it all– the brains, the beauty, and the body to match– and I feared I wasn’t good enough. In my mind, you were supposed to go to college to find yourself. You were supposed to leave that high school persona behind and MAKE something of yourself. I wanted to be extraordinary, and I wanted people to take notice–because anything less than the best just wasn’t an option in my book. And guess what? I’m still that same control-driven girl today, but in a different (healthier!) way.


I want to be successful,

I want to be happy,

I want to be healthy,

& I want to make a difference.

One day I hope I will :) .


When it came time for me to leave Renfrew a few months later, I certainly wasn’t 100% ready and the work wasn’t done (unfortunately insurance dictates this piece of the puzzle) but this time, I was on the right track. With the love and support of a few friends and family, and with my incredible Mom by my side, I was recovering beautifully enough to go back to school at Roger Williams University that fall. A fresh start with a new environment, new friends (who I’m lucky to call my BEST friends), a new, supportive boyfriend (who I’m still madly in love with :) ), and a new beginning was JUST what I needed. And while life was far from perfect (I still had to attend class, drive to the doctor once a week, and visit the campus health center for weigh-ins twice a week until I could prove I was stable), I was far from where I started.





The next 3+ years looked pretty perfect on the outside, and for some time they were. But I was so fearful of my past and so adamant about it never happening again that I often wouldn’t check in with myself to see how I was really feeling inside. I tried very hard to hide my past– I never mentioned a thing to my boyfriend until well after we both graduated, and I didn’t fill in all my roommates until we practically became sisters.


I wanted to keep moving forward and never look back– constant motion made me feel best.


The next part of my story highlights my journey through recovery from then to now. Even all these years later, I was recently shocked to realize that some of those same self-destructive behaviors were still living in me in an entirely different way and continuing to hold me back from being my best self. Be sure to check back here in a few days for the next piece to my story –Part II: You’re Stronger Than You Think You Are :) .


Healthfully Yours,

Ashley Michelle





Running: The Heart & “Sole” of it


“If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.”– John Bingham


Did you know that June 5th was National Running Day? I know that was a few days ago, but after social media started blowing up with everyone’s updates, tweets, and images from their “National Running Day runs,” it got me thinking about what it means to be a runner. So, in honor of this day, I too decided to take a break from blogging and devote some extra time to the road.


As I laced up my sneakers, powered up my iPod, and headed out to run my favorite 6-mile loop around the Charles River… I paused. Given the fact that it was National Running Day, it only seemed appropriate to use this run as a time to reflect upon what running really means to me—after all…I wasn’t always a runner. So I shut off my iPod and hit the streets in silence– ready to breathe in the warm spring air and stay in the present– a far cry from my usual plugged-in, zoned-out, training-driven runs.


Then, I did what I do best.

I ran.


With nothing to distract me– aside from the occasional biker or a small family of geese crossing my path– I had plenty of time to get lost in my thoughts and reflect. Around mile three, I was feeling pretty amazing– light, yet powerful on my feet– breathing hard,  yet slow and steady. With the warm sun on my face and the salty breeze in my hair I almost forgot I was in the middle of the city.


It was then that I started thinking about why I run in the first place. I began to think about how grateful I am that I even can run. I thought about the Boston Marathon and I thought about my first 5K….


Clearly running goes much deeper than a pair of snazzy sneakers, some fancy leggings, and a Lululemon zip-up. It’s something you grow to love deep down in your soul–and it’s a relationship you must nurture if you want it to love you back.


In fact, come to think of it… running has been one of  the longest relationships I’ve ever had. Growing up I was always a very active child. I spent my time running around and playing outside with the neighbors, taking multiple dance classes a week, and participating in organized sports, however, I didn’t get my first real taste of running until back in middle school when my Dad convinced me to join the cross-country team. I was a tiny little thing, so I guess running looked like it should come naturally, and, well, I suppose it did–in fact, I was quite good! I entered a few local races and  actually placed…or sometimes WON. Once I started a little collection of those gold, plastic trophies and race teeshirts…I was hooked. I was officially a runner. And that’s when I began to truly understand what it meant to be a part of the running community.


Running isn’t just a hobby–

It’s a character-defining sport.


I know this may sound far-fetched to some, but I truly believe I became the person I am today because of running—namely because of  my amazing track and cross-country coach, Mr. Estey, and my inspiring track and cross-country teammates who quickly became like a second family to me. From the very beginning I understood that running takes discipline, commitment, patience and perseverance– these traits have shaped my entire life and defined me as a person to this very day.


How so? Well, first of all I learned very quickly that when it comes to running, (or getting anything I want in life), no one will ever be able to put in the work for me. When you race or when you run, your soul is right out there for all to see—plain and simple. There’s no hiding on a race course or on a track, there’s no hanging out on the sidelines, there’s no passing the ball to someone else to take the pressure off your back, and there are definitely no timeouts.When you run, you’re showing the world what you’re capable of and just how badly you want it.


Talk about sheer pressure.

Not to mention sheer glory when you succeed. 


But just like any other relationship…my running relationship has certainly had it’s fair share of ups and downs. As I got a little older and headed off to high school, I (naturally) wondered what else was out there. I flirted with the idea of trying out a different sport in the past, but never made any moves…until I finally fell under the spell of something else–something that looked more attractive, more fun and more popular: cheerleading (much to my father’s dismay). I swooned over the adorable uniforms and the fleeting promise of teenage stardom, much like a 14-year-old girl crushes on the “bad boy” in school. Thankfully this was just a stint of adolescent rebellion, and soon enough I ran back into the comfortable arms (and ratty old sneakers) of my first love– running.


Over the next few years, running and I endured a lot together. We won some races, lost some races, set PRs, and suffered through shin splints, blisters, exhaustion, foot injuries, and a terrible bout of mono. I cried, I celebrated, and I cried some more over the stress and emotions that came along with running–yet we still worked through the hard times and pushed on. I trained well, qualified for a few State Championships, and ultimately became Captain of my high school cross-country team in my senior year. Then, like most high school relationships, we took a break when I went to college. I became too busy with classes, and studying, and meeting new friends. I traded my long, relaxing runs for fast-paced, interval-driven gym sessions. Staying fit wasn’t a fun hobby anymore–I worked out to forget about a stressful day and because I was petrified of the dreaded “freshman 15″ associated with the first year of dorm-living.


And then I got sick.

And for the first time ever I couldn’t run.


When I was sick I was put on 100% exercise restriction. For two years I wasn’t allowed to exercise at all…even walking up a flight of stairs or across campus (when I was well enough to return to school) was considered a workout. I was miserable. For someone as active of as me, it felt like a death sentence (as pathetic as it sounds). Eventually I recovered and became healthy enough to run again, but my body had become incredibly weak and sore and stiff and tired easily from all that time off. I could finally get back to my normal routine and yet for the first time ever I didn’t want to run– it had come naturally to me for so long, and now I could barely run a mile without my legs screaming in agony. I needed to rebuild my muscle from scratch in order to gain strength and flexibility– basically, I had to retrain my body all over again. So, I hit the gym instead.


The frustration with my body continued–this time because it just couldn’t do the things it used to. Gradually, I (sadly) started to lose that spark inside of me– the one that once defined me as a runner. Even though I slowly grew stronger over time (the resilience of the human body truly is amazing), running just wasn’t the same. The only time I would go out for a run was when I couldn’t get to the gym or when I was away for the weekend and needed to get in a workout. Essentially I only ran when I had to. I stopped timing myself and tracking my mileage on these runs– out of fear I wouldn’t live up to my own high standards. When I graduated college and moved to Boston, I immediately joined an expensive gym, created a vigorous workout schedule, and stuck to it. It was easier to take these classes, go on those machines, and work out for this long rather than be alone with my body and mind on the road. I was still afraid I wouldn’t be good enough for me– or for the runner I used to be.


But then something started happening at work…


As soon as the warm weather arrived, I noticed that more and more people were going out for a run during their lunch break or at the end of the work day– and for good reason. When it comes to running in the city, you can’t find a better location than my office. As I mentioned in a previous post, my company is located on the border of Cambridge and Boston right along the beautiful Charles River. This river route gives runners the option of running a 2-mile, 4-mile, 6-mile, or 8-mile loop– perfect for runners at any level. And that was just the beauty of it– whether someone was training for a marathon or starting to run for the first time,  people of all levels were hitting the road and giving it their best shot… and they were loving it.


Every time I saw an employee come back from a run, I couldn’t help but notice how happy and refreshed they looked. I mean, what better way to relieve stress while also energizing the body and mind? Science has already proven that exercise can do just this. According to the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, exercise releases chemicals (endorphins) that make you feel happy while also releasing chemicals that suppress stress and anxiety inducing hormones (adrenalin and cortisol).  Similar findings published in these two articles found in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine  have also discovered that exercising during the work day improves mood, health, and overall productivity (additional evidence was also presented at an annual meeting of the  American College of Sports Medicine).


Okay, so I’m sure most people know all this information already– exercise = a happy and healthy you!  However, doing the same old exercises every day can get pretty darn stale and take some of the fun, relaxing benefits of working out away. I was starting to feel pretty burned out from my gym-centered workout routines, and I knew I needed to do something else that exercised my mind as well as my body (yes, I know yoga is SO beneficial for the body and mind but I still haven’t warmed up to the idea of it yet– maybe that will be my next mission ;) baby steps, right?). For me, running was that “something” that used to do just this. Way back when–on the days when I wasn’t working on pacing or racing– it wasn’t rare for me to go out for a run with no idea where I was headed. I liked to call these “fun runs”– just enjoying everything around me and letting curiosity lead the way.



I was ready to try it again.


So with nothing to lose, I laced up my sneakers, put the watch away, and decided to go for a nice, easy run along the river– enjoying the views until I felt like turning around. I wasn’t going to worry about pace, or mileage, or the number of calories burned. I was going to run to escape the world (if only for a few minutes) and to appreciate my body for all that it can do. And you know what happened when I put all the negative thoughts about being good enough aside?


I ran like the wind.


That’s right. I still had it in me after all :) . A year later, I’m still running whenever I get a chance (I’ve even entered a few races!). Yes, I still hit the gym on most days, but when I need a different type of workout– one for the heart and the sole (like what I did there? I know, I’m good ;) ), I lace up my running shoes and hit the road. And while I’m out there I make sure to thank the Universe for giving me strong and healthy legs that carry me through strenuous workouts–even though they never seem to get the breaks that they deserve. I thank them for putting up with the 5:00 AM workouts and the late night workouts when I know they’d much rather be resting in bed than hitting the gym or hitting the road. But most of all, I thank them for never giving up on me, and never letting me forget that once a runner…always a runner.





“Believe that you can run farther or faster. Believe that you’re young enough, old enough, strong enough, and so on to accomplish everything you want to do. Don’t let worn-out beliefs stop you from moving beyond yourself.” – John Bingham 



Healthfully Yours,


Ashley Michelle



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