Meet the young woman who looks unrecognizable after dropping 200 pounds in less a one year.
Ashley Johnson, 24, said she would binge eat when dealing with negative emotions which, sadly, occurred frequently. Her 355-pound frame led to self-esteem issues and she often turned to food for comfort.
But this time last year, Johnson, from Virginia, decided that after almost a decade of yo-yo dieting, to ditch fad diets and get medical help. In March 2022, her life changed forever as 80 percent of her stomach was removed.
By December, she weighed 180 pounds and has continued to maintain her new Size 8 physique.
Speaking to Newsweek, Johnson said: “Some people may consider surgery as the easy way out, but I don’t think there is any easy way to change yourself in a positive way. The amount of work that goes into getting the surgery plus the mental journey, it’s far from easy.”
“I am an expert at losing weight, I spent my teenage years dieting but I would always lose weight and then gain more,” she said.
“It was easy to change my diet and get instant results but it was hard to create habits that are sustainable. Surgery was the most challenging thing I have ever done.
“I applaud people who can do it naturally, but it wasn’t feasible for me.”
What Is Binge Eating?
Ashley Kitchens, a registered dietician based in North Carolina, told Newsweek: “Binge eating is a serious and treatable eating disorder. It involves repeated episodes of eating large quantities of food, which is typically done rapidly and to the point of feeling overly full and unwell.
“During an episode, one may feel a loss of control followed by intense feelings of shame and guilt. These episodes can also be countered with purging or other behaviors.”
‘I’ve Always Struggled With Late-Night Binges, and Eating In Bed’
Johnson said she used to consume enough food for two people and often ordered a couple of meals with sides.
She said: “If I was alone, angry, sad, or bored, I would eat. It was a comfort to me. I wouldn’t take a second to assess my emotions. I would walk to the pantry and eat.
“I’ve always struggled with late-night binges and I was a big fan of eating in bed—it was sad and I felt a lot of shame.
“I would eat tubs of ice cream, chips, and sweets then I would hide the evidence under the bed, in drawers, and even empty the trash in a different bin to the one at my home.
“I knew it was bad for me—that’s why I had so much guilt.”
Johnson’s Diet Before:
- Breakfast – 3-egg omelets with ham and cheese, potatoes or fries, and a bagel.
- Lunch – A sandwich with fries and mozzarella sticks.
- Dinner – Fried rice and chicken and another meal.
- Snacks – Full bag of chips, pretzels, and hummus, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream half-baked, two cookie ice cream sandwiches
Johnson’s Diet Now:
- Breakfast – Black coffee and half a protein shake.
- Lunch – Ham and cheese roll-up, a few crackers, and a yogurt.
- Dinner – Chicken with vegetables and roasted potatoes
- Snacks – Two cheese sticks or frozen grapes, Greek yogurt bar or low-calorie ice cream bar
Helpful Tips To Overcome Binge Eating
It was important for Johnson to understand her eating habits and tackle the disorder ahead of the surgery. Kitchens advises people who binge eat to do the same. The dietician has also shared the following tips:
- Creating a regular eating pattern can be helpful to break the cycle of BED. This can look like planning out three meals and two snacks for your day.
- Become aware of what triggers your binge-eating episodes. Find alternatives when a trigger pops up like going for a walk or putting on your favorite music.
- Stop labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” When you eat “bad” foods, this makes you feel even more guilt and shame, which can lead you to binge.
- Seek guidance from an expert who can help you change the way you think about food and the way you view yourself.
- Prioritize self-care. You are deserving of kindness, especially from yourself. Recovery isn’t linear, it takes time and there are ups and downs along the way.
Weight Loss Surgery: What Is A Gastric Sleeve? Do They Work?
In January 2022, Johnson was desperate to tackle her poor relationship with food. She was told she was eligible for weight loss surgery and that her insurance will cover the cost—saving Johnson approximately $12,000 to $33,000.
Newsweek reached out to New Jersey-based Dr. Jean Guerrier, a bariatric surgeon.
Dr. Guerrier said: “Bariatric surgery has been shown to be effective in helping people with obesity achieve and maintain a healthier weight. It provides the longest period of sustained weight loss in patients whose other methods have failed.
“For those who remain obese after repeated regimes of dieting and exercising, bariatric surgery will help reduce the number of calories consumed. It is not a one-step solution. It must be accompanied by dietary and behavioral changes and medical follow-up”.
‘My Life Before Surgery Consisted Of Unsustainable Fad Diets’
Before she was able to qualify for surgery, Johnson spoke to a therapist to understand why she used food as a comfort blanket, to finally tackle her disordered eating.
She said: “Previously, I would try diets but never look into the mental side of my eating habits. I used to do the ketosis diet most frequently, which is when you live off meats, seafood, and high-fat dairy products. But, for me, it wasn’t sustainable.
“Weight loss surgery requires a lot more than sticking to a diet plan. I had 12 nutritionist appointments before the surgery along with a psychiatrist’s approval to ensure I was stable enough for it.
“I went to therapy to combat my addiction to food.”
Johnson lost 33 pounds before going under the knife on March 31, 2022.
‘Despite Keeping To A Healthy Diet After Surgery, I Am Not Afraid To Have A Cheat Meal At A Restaurant’
After two weeks of resting, Johnson began walking and her meal portions were reduced massively. She replaced fast food with healthy meals such as chicken, vegetables, and potatoes. However, she isn’t afraid to enjoy different meals if she is at a restaurant with her loved ones.
Johnson’s journey has inspired her to help other people; she uses her TikTok platform @sameashnewfab to show how far she has come. And she is training to be a life coach, using her experiences to help other people.
She said: “The second I stopped denying that I was overweight—my life changed. I turned into a happy, confident, and stress-free person. I have accepted my weight was a part of me and I am proud of how far I have come. I have worked on eliminating negative self-talk too. I used to call myself a loser, and believed I was not desirable—as a result I felt it.”
“I used to think I was less than everyone else because I was bigger but I have now reinforced positive behavior,” she said, adding, “I’ve started to trust myself, and gained more confidence, I was an incredible person before and I didn’t let myself feel beautiful.
How To Have A Healthy Relationship With Food
Here are key strategies to achieve a healthier relationship with food, according to Kitchens, who uses the Instagram handle @plantcenterednutrition.
- Take the time to understand your own relationship with food.
- Stop restricting yourself from eating the foods you enjoy. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat any and all foods.
- Stop labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” Put all foods on a level playing field. As you do this, you’ll find that the foods you once held on a pedestal become less important and desirable.
- Throw out your bathroom scale. You are more than a number.
- Your relationship with food has a history and, sometimes, it takes working with a professional to understand and uncover what’s going on. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help.
For most of Johnson’s life, she used food as a coping mechanism to deal with her emotions. She admits to spending $400 monthly on takeaways and beating herself up about failing at diets.
One year on, John says she is a changed person and describes her relationship with food as ‘healthy.’
She said: “I no longer consider food as my friend, it is now fuel. My body thrives when I eat complex carbs, protein, and vegetables but if I go out for dinner, I will order what I want for the experience, I focus on mindfulness and how my body feels when I eat.
“Before I used to eat until I felt sick but, I now listen to how my body feels when I eat. I have realized there’s no such thing as “bad” food—anything in excess can be bad for us.”