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





A Vacation, a Tragedy, & Lessons Learned

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“Seeds of faith are always within us;

sometimes it takes a crisis to nourish and encourage their growth.” — Susan Taylor


(Once I was finished with this post, It took me a few days to decide to publish what I wrote–namely because I never intended something this personal to be seen by anyone’s eyes but my own– and it’s not the typical kind of post I put up on my blog. But finally, after giving it some more thought, I had a change of heart. You see, I know I’m not the only one who feels like they have a new appreciation of life after going through a tragic event. I hope you are able to find comfort in my words or perhaps you can even relate. Most importantly I hope this inspires you to do something to create your own peace. You don’t ever need to suffer alone.)


A person shouldn’t need a tropical vacation, a tragic death, or a catastrophic event to put their life into perspective–but that’s exactly what happened to many Bostonians and Americans this past week. The Boston Marathon Bombings took place just two weeks ago, and in the moments after those two explosions tore through the Boylston Street crowds, most of us felt the same flash of fear we experienced on that fateful September day back in 2001. It’s a fear we can recall far too well, and here we were feeling it all over again. In an instant, we knew our lives would never be the same.


I heard about the horrific news thousands of feet in the air on a flight headed back to Boston after spending a week-long vacation with my boyfriend in Aruba. We’d never been anywhere tropical before, so this romantic trip was quite the treat. After seven solid days of worrying about nothing but what time to get to the beach and which bar to go to for happy hour… our minds and bodies were thrilled to be rid of everyday worries and work-related stress.


For the first time in a very long time I felt relaxed.

I felt like I could breathe.

I felt I felt like I could see.

It was pure paradise.


As I sat there on the plane basking in happiness, recalling how how free and happy I felt lounging on the beach under the sun, and remembering how friendly, free, and happy everyone else seemed to be while on the island,  I made a promise to myself: I vowed to smile more, stress less, and choose happiness over anger whenever I could. I wasn’t going to let the little things get the best of me anymore. Finally it was clear to me–


Choose happiness and happiness will follow you.

After all, life is too short to be anything but happy.


Little did I know that while I was dozing in and out of sleep, terror was unfolding below me. I heard about the tragedy when the woman seated next to me on the plane gave me a nudge and told me there had been a bombing at the Boston Marathon finish line. I immediately started to panic about my friends, family, and co-workers who were running the marathon or planned to head to the finish line and cheer on the runners. Slowly, whispers turned to chatter and that chatter became louder and louder and more and more worried as everyone on the plane flipped off their movies and flipped on the news. Everyone just wanted to get back to Boston as soon as possible, but our plane was unable to land due to emergency  flight restrictions. We hovered above Providence for what seemed like forever until we got the okay to head to Logan.


The airport was crazy. People were understandably confused and on edge. We soon discovered that the MBTA had just shut down and everyone would need to wait in line to take taxis home. Luckily, we were able to share a cab with a student headed the same direction as us. I feverishly texted and called my friends and family the whole ride home. Thankfully, all were accounted for–but all was not okay. America had been attacked. My gut told me this was just the beginning.


It’s a strange feeling going from the highest of a high to the lowest of a low in such a short period of time, but as soon as I started to understand the magnitude of the bombings…I couldn’t even remember the beauty of Aruba or remember how I at peace I felt when I was there. In an instant, three people were dead and dozens more were injured and all I could think about was what an awful world we lived in lived in.


It felt like a bad dream, and it didn’t stop there. Boston and its surrounding towns went into lockdown last Friday after the bombing suspects murdered an MIT police officer in cold blood, hijacked a car, engaged in intense firefight and car chase with the police, (resulting in the death of one of the suspects) before staging an all out manhunt after the surviving suspect fled from his stolen vehicle on foot and hid in the neighborhoods of Watertown before being caught almost 24 (grueling) hours later. I didn’t know what else to do with myself in the days of nonstop television coverage that followed after last week’s events, but as soon as the investigations, car chases, shootouts, and lockdowns came to an end and the chaos momentarily subsided (and as soon as I could peel myself away from the TV for the first time in days), I knew I had to numb my mind with something that made me feel alive. After all, I’m lucky to be alive. We’re ALL so lucky to be alive.


And so I did the only thing I could do.

I wrote…


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As I sit down at my computer and open up new, blank, blog post– ready to let the floodgates open after enduring one of the straight up scariest weeks of my life, I’m overcome with feelings of anger and frustration followed by a strange sense of self-awareness and peace. I hesitate to call these feelings an epiphany of sorts, because I can’t help but feel like that sounds WAY too preachy and dramatic– but perhaps it is a small miracle when you’re suddenly able to grasp onto new life meaning and see the soft, glow of hope and light through the heavy darkness. I suddenly saw my life through a different lens. But before I jump right into what changed, allow me to give you some background about me before all of this…


“You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.” –Walter Hagen


Those who know me best would most likely describe me as strong, friendly, committed, and dependable–but they would also probably label me as high-strung, hardworking, slightly obsessive, with perfectionist tendencies– aka “Type A” to the max. Don’t get me wrong, none of these traits are necessarily a bad thing. In fact, this “Type A” personality trait has been one of my greatest assets and has helped me to achieve many things in my 26 years– but at the same time, it’s also been my biggest curse.


My strong will and disciplined nature have helped me to study for exams, write 40-page papers, graduate Summa Cum Laude, exercise every single day, and start a blog…but it’s also been the reason why I don’t sleep in (ever), why I feel waves of panic when I can’t workout, why I’ve missed endless get-togethers and happy hours with friends (and probably missed making a few new best friends in the process), and why I pushed my body closer and closer to death as I struggled with anorexia.While fighting every day to be the very best version of yourself isn’t necessarily always a bad thing, when you take this addiction to success to an extreme level–to the point where it begins to take over the quality of your life–that’s when it’s time to change the routine.



Because the top is never going to be good enough.

That’s the harsh truth.


There will always be one more step to take, one more pound to lose, one more mile to run, one more “A” to achieve, one more hour to work… it will never, ever end. You’ll end up working your behind off to find happiness… but you’ll find that most of the time this cycle will ultimately leave you feeling isolated and alone. To be honest, it’s pretty damn lonely worrying about “perfecting” yourself all the time, and quite frankly it also sounds pretty damn vain as I type these words on the screen in front of me– embarrassing even. And yet, time and time again when I start to feel that internal stress and pressure building and the unhappiness sinking in…I’ve begged myself the same question: “What for?” My answer? “Because I HAVE to.” I’ve never allowed myself to know anything otherwise. I’ve been doing this for years.


I’ve been telling myself I’ll be able to do  a.) b.)  c.) or d.) when I’m a.) thinner, b.) richer c.) prettier and d.) more successful (etc… etc… etc…) and I’m sure many of you reading this can relate. Excuse my being blunt, but that’s pretty damn messed up, isn’t it? Not to mention extremely unhealthy. If you feel the same sentiments as me, you know exactly what I mean. The sad reality is, we’ll never be any of these things.  We’ll never achieve “perfection.” That’s because nothing will ever be quite good enough in our eyes.


I wasn’t always like this, however. I went though a period during my recovery from an eating disorder when I slowly began to come to terms with the harsh truth that I was living my life all wrong– and it was a pretty startling realization at that. I mean, I was one of the lucky people who struggled with an eating disorder, went in and out of hospitals and treatment centers for months on end, and still managed to come out on the other side in one piece. Sure my family and doctors helped put me on the path I needed to get there, but that hardworking little fighter inside of me also had a hell of a lot to do with it. Just when my doctors, and closed friends, and loved ones started to doubt me, give up on me, and throw in the towel…that’s exactly when I started to recover for good. I guess you could say my “type A” personality came through for the better at this point in my life.


The healthier I became, the more I began to realize the extent of my illness. that’s when the real scary truth began to set in–I was so close to death and didn’t even know it. Heck…I didn’t even care! And yet some way, some how I had been given a second chance– had to mean something, right? From that moment on I promised to live my life to the fullest, live it with passion and inspire others. And or a few years I did just that–I transferred schools and cut myself some slack. I allowed myself to have fun with my friends, do what made me happy, and forget about being perfect all the time. Miss a workout to go out with friends? Sure! Go out for dinner with girlfriends instead of study for 2 more hours? Okay! Take a nap and relax because I want to? Why not! I also made it my mission to make others happy, stay positive, and avoid all things (and people!) that were negative or would bring me down — after all, negative energy is draining.


Those were easily the BEST years of my life spent with the very best people. I can honestly say I was truly happy during this time… and it showed! I glowed :) . I also met my best friends and my boyfriend during these couple of years. After some time however, things changed. Over the years I slowly lost that spunky little firecracker inside of me again. My senior year in college became a year of stress and worry as I tried to figure out what my next move in the real world would be. Instead of going to my real friends, working and working out (once again) became my tactic of choice to help deal with the stress and uncertainty of the unknown. While other seniors were partying it up and living their last year of no responsiblity to the fullest, I was putting myself in the sidelines and becoming increasingly unhappy and falling back into old habits. After graduation, I immediately got a full-time job and fell into the same old pattern…


Work. Work. Work.

Workout. Workout. Workout.


I became so obsessed with wanting to be successful and get ahead (whether it be career-wise or image-wise) that it didn’t take long before I (once again) started avoiding all the fun things that used to make me happy. Sure, your mid-twenties aren’t supposed to be exactly like college…but they certainly aren’t supposed to be boring! Here I was living in the greatest city on Earth (I know, I’m biased) with my incredible boyfriend, right down the street from two of my best friends, working at an amazing, fun, young company and yet I still wasn’t satisfied. Days turned to weeks, and weeks turned to months, and over two years later I’m wondering where the time went.


Then came that tropical vacation, followed by the terrorist attacks on Boston. And that’s when the lights finally came back on. I realized I was doing it to myself all over again–going through the motions, missing out on everything happening around me, being too hard on myself…not to mention too hard on others. Was I depressed? No. But I wasn’t exactly happy either. And what’s the point of going through this amazing thing called life if you aren’t happy? Sometimes it takes a change or a wake-up call, or yes, a beautiful vacation or even a horrible tragedy to put things back into perspective and help you to realize life is beautiful– life is precious. We’re all people. We’re all in this horribly mixed up and confusing world together. We might as well get along, love ourselves and love each other while we can, because you never know when your time will be up– and shouldn’t the time we have be time well spent? Chances are most of you reading my post know this already. Life is short, so let’s make the best of it.


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Smile more. Love each other. Be kind. Open your heart. Be positive. Have faith. Breathe. That’s exactly what I intend to do…and this time for good.  I challenge you to do the same– I promise you won’t regret it :) . For now, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes…


Be content with what you have,
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.
– Lao Tzu




With love &  gratitude,


Ashley Michelle