Ashley Schutz is passionate about the subject of motivation. In fact, that might be a bit of an understatement. When I first approached Ashley about the possibility of doing an interview, it didn't take long to figure out what she wanted to talk about. Motivation! Motivation! Motivation! In this discussion with Ashley, she talks about her recent body transformation, and helps you to find the motivation to turn your life around.
Muscle & Strength: You turned your life - and body - around. Where did your motivation to change come from, and why is it that so many people want to change their lives just like you did, but can't?
Ashley Schutz: You know, I've asked myself that question many times. Why was that time so different than all of the other times I told myself, "This is it, I'm going to lose weight!"? I believe at some point in life we all hit rock bottom, with whatever it may be. We get to the darkest place we can go to and that's when there's a turning point.
For me, I think I just couldn't allow myself to keep going in the same direction I was going. I could not allow myself to get any bigger or feel more depressed. The ironic thing is, I have a very loving and supportive family and boyfriend but at that point in my life, I felt like I didn’t have anyone. When I think back on those times, I think of them as Ashley's Dark Ages.
It's always been important to me to be good at something. At the time, I was unhappy in my job, unable to manage my finances and just kept eating to escape it all. That night in the Chicago Club, something happened to me. I think I just felt like I can't keep doing this over and over again; telling myself I will change and not changing and then feeling guilty and then eating more and as a result, getting bigger. I mean, it is a vicious cycle, gaining weight and battling with your mind to try to lose it. When I saw my pictures of that night, I thought back to where my mind was that night and how I look in the pictures and they were congruent with one another. This time I had to change otherwise I was going to truly let myself go.
It’s a really great question: Why is it people want to change but can’t? I don't believe that people want to change their lives just like I did, but CAN'T. I believe they just WON'T. I know it sounds harsh, but to this day I take full responsibility for the fact that it was my decision every 50 times I wanted to change my lifestyle but chose not to.
Most people I talk to want to change their body in some way or another. But most people want it now, with little effort involved. I believe we are trained to want everything now. We want the quick fix that will give us the results quick; the magic pill. But there isn't a magic pill and when people start on a program and don't see results within the first week or two, they back down. Why is that? I believe it's for this reason: as humans, if something doesn't give us what we want, we will revert back to what does. I know all of this because I was there and have been through it over and over again until I found my motivation. It took me about 3 years to put all the weight on, unhealthy meal after unhealthy meal. It takes time to take it off too.
It is easy to be good at what you know and do every day. It is harder to change what you already know. I think change is one of the biggest obstacles we all face when trying to lose weight; that, and motivation. But ironically, those two acts are what it takes to make it happen.
Change is tough and when you're not forced into it and the decision is up to you, WILL POWER is the only difference between the two. Because ultimately, the decision to lose weight, to live a healthy lifestyle and to give up all the things that have been feeding the unhealthy lifestyle, is one decision away.
I used to say, “I'll start Monday.” I would say that for any goal I had. When I smoked cigarettes and wanted to quit, I'd use the Monday line as if Monday is some magical starting point, or maybe I was just buying time because I knew deep down I wasn't truly ready to make the change at that point. I can sit and talk to anyone about their fitness and nutrition goals and tell them what to do from what I've learned and how to do it, but I can't stress enough that what I've found is it is only up to the individual who wants the change, to change.
Now motivation, that’s a whole different ball game. Motivation is the spark. It’s what drives the change. You have to reach deep down within yourself and find it sometimes, especially with a lifestyle change. I mean, let’s say Alex gets a new job and is supposed to be there EVERY day from 5am-2pm. The timing is completely different than her previous job. It will be a hard transition to get up that early and to get her sleeping pattern set, but will she do it? Yes, she will. She will because she has to. What’s motivating her? We have to work to make money. We have to make money to survive and live in this world. Well how is that so different from making the decision to eat clean, devoting time to being physical and creating a healthy person for yourself? It’s not! Believe it or not, Alex is still making the choice herself to change her pattern of sleeping and to make it to work every single day. Or is it different because she has to? She has to make money, so therefore she has to change her way of life for the new job. In the short run, we don’t have to be healthy to live. But the long run is what people are missing and not thinking about. The short run of having a fit body is just a bonus! There are ONLY positives that come out of finding the motivation, making the decision to change and not giving up!
A lot of people will say, “well, it’s easier said than done!” Honestly, if that’s what you’re saying, then that’s what you’re deciding.
I strongly believe where we are with our body works with where we are with our mind. I also strongly believe where we are with our mind works with where we are with our body. Anyone trying to find motivation, to find it, you just have to change your mind. That’s part of the battle. Finding the motivation. If you’ve ever seen someone extremely intent on making something happen, you’ll see it in their eyes and you’ll feel it in their passion. What gets them to that point? Wanting something undeniably. What makes someone want something undeniably? - Thinking and thinking about what having it will do for them and finding a way to get it.
Muscle & Strength: Regarding motivation, most times someone looking to make a change adopts a diet or training approach of an expert, and finds little motivation. How important do you believe it is to find a way of eating and training that works for you and you alone...even if that style of eating or training isn't conventional? Should someone stick with a conventional approach, or listen to instinct...or do something in between?
Ashley Schutz: You know yourself the best. You may or may not know, however, what works best or doesn’t work for you nutrition and exercise wise.
From my experience, I think it’s extremely critical to not make major changes all at once. Baby steps. If you are starting from a diet of junk food and pop to a trainer’s way of eating, it may be too drastic of a change for one person versus another. They would not overload you with too many changes at once. They are there through each step, except your follow through on what you put on your fork. I think you should be honest with yourself going into each step of the process and know what changes you are willing and able to make at each point in your journey. If something feels too much or overwhelming, talk to your Trainer, that’s what they’re there for. Ask them to tone it down and see how you can take smaller steps towards achieving what your overall goals are. No one ever says this all has to happen overnight. It takes time to change your lifestyle to a healthy one and learn the tools you need to learn. Learning those tools can take a lot of time depending on if you’re doing it on your own through research or if you are seeking advice from a specialist.
As far as if I think someone should stick with the conventional approach to diet and exercise, listen to instinct or a little of both, I’d say there’s a balance to be found in everything.
I think you have to do what is comfortable and right for you but also listen to what has been out there for years, that is, the conventional way of eating “healthy.” This healthy way of eating has been around since the beginning of time when we were able to find food for ourselves. Think hunters and gatherers. They did not have candy bars and Coca Cola at their disposal like we do now; they ate proteins and carbohydrates in the form of berries, etc. If you think about it that way, it all makes sense what healthy eating is all about, biologically standing. We are meant to have some fat on our body for protection and vitality but an excess of it is only becoming more prominent in our society year by year because of the Food Industry and what it puts on the shelves. Granted, it is our choice to choose what we pick from on those shelves, but we have been trained to think otherwise. This excess is only killing us all quicker and shortening our chances of survival as a species. This may sound grand and overkill but it’s the slow truth. Our bodies are weakening due to a lack of knowledge of how to live a healthy lifestyle. That’s why I would recommend investing in a Trainer or Nutritionalist if you are able to. They’ve been properly educated on what a healthy diet should consist of and what exercise plans work for what types of goals each person may have.
If you adopt a diet or training program from an expert and are finding little motivation, that is most likely coming from the place of impatience and frustration. It is hard to change drastically, especially something you’ve been doing for years up until now; maybe even your whole life. I guarantee you, if you seek advice from a Trainer and you commit yourself 100% to their plan in both diet and exercise, you WILL see changes in your body and in how you feel. It is a slow process and you put much energy forth but the return is invaluable.
Muscle & Strength: Let's talk about your story Ashley. Which came first for you, the weight gain or the depression, and why?
Ashley Schutz: That makes me think about the question, “the chicken or the egg?” You know, I think they both went hand in hand for me. I was at a point in my life where I just got a job that could have led to a real career; however, it was an extremely emotionally taxing job and I realized after putting my all into it that there was no opportunity for growth there. I had just moved out of my parent’s house and chose to live on my own, by myself, for the first time. Meanwhile, my bills were out of hand and I was just trying to stay head above water, physically and emotionally. My face was usually broken out, I was having mini anxiety attacks and daily pains in my chest, my lower back was giving me problems and I remember just feeling like a broken down doll.
I was on my own and felt everything else was controlling me and it was out of my hands to change it. I would come home and turn my cell phone on silent, turn on Sex & the City and eat an extremely high fat meal with a large Fountain Coke. At the time I felt like it was my one hour of escape from the rest of the world. It was at this time too that I never had liked my bed so much; I liked it because no one in the outside world could reach me. It was a really dark time in my life and I pretty much secluded myself from most of the relationships I had around me. I did this because I was unhappy with myself for gaining weight, I felt anger about my situation and I didn’t love myself so how could I really love anyone else. Not to mention, I was still a girl trying to find her confidence in an environment that only made me question myself. I wanted to feel sad and lonely on all levels, because that’s how I was truly feeling.
I ate because I was unhappy and I was unhappy because I ate. I was a cat catching my tail. I feel it wasn’t until I took the reigns and really took control of my life that I realized I have always been in control. I think if I were the same person I am today, a year ago, I would have reacted differently to the circumstances. Because I realize now it was always up to me how I felt about myself; and it’s always been that way.
I wouldn’t have changed anything though. For me to get where I am right now, took me going through that tough time where I really lost sight of who I was and where I was going. I remember this one night very clearly. I had been crying; I looked in the mirror and looked into my eyes and thought how sad and empty they looked. I didn’t even feel like I knew who I was looking at anymore.
It’s a different story now.
Muscle & Strength: How strong is the fear of falling back into old habits? And what do you do to make sure that old habits don't "grab a hold of you"?
Ashley Schutz: That’s a great question. I used to feel that was more of a concern in the past, before I had trained my mind to become strong in the area of self-control. Every time I accomplish a new goal I set for myself, I gain more confidence and determination in my abilities. I feel the discipline I have learned and being able to control my mind over my emotions has extremely helped me to avoid going backwards. Thinking about my life a year ago, when I was living the old habits, compared to now helps too!
I try to take a good look around me every day at what others are doing and separate myself from that because I know if I begin doing that again I will just continue down that road, which leads back to the old me. It is an easy one to fall on but at the same time, it’s becoming farther and farther away from me as I move forward. It’s one thing to enjoy a great dinner out and some wine every once in a while but if I were to eat whatever I wanted to for a week, that would not be a good thing for me. It would no longer be a conscious choice to eat healthy and avoid bad foods, but the food would be controlling me again.
I know what it would take for me to slip backwards, and I know it would happen at a very rapid pace if I did. Knowing those things about myself prevents me from going near that path. In a way it’s like staying away from temptation. But each month that passes by and the stronger I become, both physically and mentally, I feel it’s not even temptation anymore but plain and simple an unhealthy lifestyle I never want to go back to!
Muscle & Strength: Ashley, anyone that has made a dramatic body transformation crosses that special line where the opposite sex begins to "really" notice them, and the result is a big confidence boost. Tell us when you first began to realize that the opposite sex was noticing your hard work...
Ashley Schutz: As soon as I really began hitting weights at the gym! It’s tough, at first, to be a girl and get your butt out there on the floor where all the big guys are walking around lifting weights and talking to each other, but as soon as I did I felt even more empowered for doing so.
Any time I have a reason to get dolled up, I feel sexy in my smaller jeans and size medium shirt and the only person I really get a “confidence boost” from is the person wearing the jeans! It’s funny, I’ve always cared what people think about me for the most part throughout my life but as I get better and better physically, it doesn’t matter to me what anyone else thinks about me because I know it for myself. And I like that.
Muscle & Strength: What is the most important thing you learned during the course of your transformation? This can be about training, diet or yourself...
Ashley Schutz: There are so many things I have learned throughout the process of it all. From knowing that I need to drink a gallon of water a day to learning what giant sets are. I have educated myself on all the tools I need to get the job done. The one thing that conquers all of these facts is what I’ve learned about myself.
I’ve learned how capable I truly am. There’s nothing I can’t or won’t do if I set my mind to it. Losing weight and taking control of my life is the hardest thing I’ve ever decided to do, and definitely the most mentally challenging thing I’ve ever done. And I did it and am continuing to be even more capable every day I wake up and make the decision to move forward in a positive way for my life and most importantly, for myself.
I believe no matter how pretty you are, how tight your abs are, how much more you know than the next guy, it’s what’s on the inside that is paramount. I’ve built a better, stronger me by doing what I did for myself, and will continue to build on that!
Muscle & Strength: What are the benefits of changing your life? And are there any "hidden" benefits that a life/physique transformation brings?
Ashley Schutz: My favorite question! This is what I’m most passionate talking about because of what it has done for me. If I can give a glimpse of the possibilities to someone who wants to start on the healthy path, or has and is thinking about giving up, maybe it would be just the motivation they need to get started or to hang on. I am aware that hearing the benefits of something compared to experiencing them and feeling them first handed are two completely different things, but here goes.
- You are gaining control. Of your health, body, mind and life. You will be making the choices to get your butt in the gym instead of plopping down on the couch filling your time with words coming from the television, to stop putting the fork to your mouth when you don’t need to, to pick up a piece of fruit instead of a chocolate, to go for a run instead of eating to relieve your stress, to live a healthy life.
- You will be empowered and gain confidence. For me, this one has been one of the most powerful benefits. If you can change how you feel about yourself, you will change how you feel about so much more!
- You will be a positive influence to others! Think of how many people you know who are healthy. There aren’t many when you really take a good look around. More and more people are dying at a younger age than ever before due to mostly health related issues. I strongly believe it’s because of the choices we make in our diet. All it takes it a domino effect; one person at a time to influence others and stand for a healthy lifestyle.
- You will begin to love yourself more.
- Your body will respond positively to your choices. You WILL lose weight and tone up, depending on what your focus is. Your body will be less stressed because of what you put in it and what you do for it physically. We are meant to move and we are meant to feed our bodies for energy and nutritional purposes. When you do just that, it will be a bundle of energy.
- Your health risks will decrease. Need I say more.
- You will be a Hottie!!!
- It will change your life. These words are part of the question, but think about those words. You are CHANGING YOUR LIFE. Most likely, if you are trying to make a move to a healthier you, you probably don’t love the place you are currently at. I swear this will put you in a place where you are in control, feel great about yourself and want to keep improving yourself.
- You get to experience and feel so many benefits for doing something you will begin to love. See above.
The hidden benefits are when you have the moments of “I can’t believe I’ve done this,” with yourself. Sometimes I’d just have a moment driving in my car from the gym and think back to where I started from and to how far I HAVE gotten myself. It’s given me goose bumps a few times. Those are the moments that no one else knows. They’re the moments when you’re like, “yah, you rock!” I’ve never had internal communication like that with myself until now. It’s really one big journey with your self; and I believe it’s the perfect analogy to life. You have loved ones that you share yourself with and they share themselves with you, but I believe the strongest connection you should have is with yourself. I’m still working on it on a day-to-day basis and I think it will be like that for the rest of my life. No one ever reaches perfection, because we are always changing and that’s fine by me! I want to always have new goals to reach!
Muscle & Strength: How important is diet? It can be confusing. Some say exercise is the key, some say diet? Just how important do you feel a proper diet is?
Ashley Schutz: I have learned through experience and trial and error that diet is the most important part of losing weight, gaining muscle, toning up or living a healthy lifestyle. I do not want to discredit exercise and physical activity at all but it is a small piece in the puzzle. I once heard diet is 80% of the battle, while 10% genetics and the other 10% is exercise. That makes perfect sense to me now.
I’ve always been active throughout my entire life. When I became a little more sedentary physically about 2 years ago and gained the weight I had, my diet was horrific. I was drinking pop on a daily basis, barely drinking water, getting Thai and Mexican carryout on a daily basis and would never eat breakfast. Looking back, I can see exactly why I gained the weight I did. I just ate and drank whatever I wanted to.
It took me a year and a half to understand that diet is the key. I do realize I wasn’t exercising at all during this period as well but I can also tell you that when I was eating better, but not totally clean and was going to the gym, my results were much slower than they have been since eating clean. You can go to the gym every day and do everything right but if your diet is poor, in my opinion, you are only wasting your time. And how can one part of the puzzle work without the other piece.
Your body needs nutrients and energy to survive and perform the important function of moving every day. When you give yourself those nutrients, you are satisfying what your body needs, and not overloading it with unwanted, processed food that is full of fats and sugars. Therefore, the body uses it for energy rather than storing it for fat.
If I can say one thing about diet, please research it thoroughly and learn as much as you can about it, because it will work for you, not against you when you use it properly. Learn about the macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fats. Learn how much you should take in and when. I can tell you the basics for a healthy and clean diet.
- Drink at 2-3 liters of water daily.
- Never skip breakfast.
- Eat 5-6 times per day.
*Depending on your goals, fat loss, muscle gain, etc, consult a trainer or nutritionist. They will tell you how much of each macronutrient you need per day and when. This is extremely important and will be a small investment you won’t regret!
With diet, it really is a lifestyle change that has probably been the most challenging for me. I’ve eaten a certain way my entire life up until now and it’s tough sometimes but making the sacrifices that other people don’t, or even won’t, give me the body and life I want. Most times I don’t see it as a sacrifice to give up all those foods I used to eat for cleaner ones. Of course I still want a piece of cheesecake once in a while; limited to special occasions or my cheat meal! This is life and I will never deprive myself of the simple joys of it or be too caught up in what I can’t eat. My mind has switched in the fact that I think about it as foods I do want to eat, rather than what I can’t eat. In diet, you just have to train your mind because once you give your body the food it wants, it will thank you for it.
Muscle & Strength: How does selling out to the fitness lifestyle change someone's confidence? And how did it change your confidence?
Ashley Schutz: So when I thought about that question originally, I thought about the term “selling out,” and decided to look it up to make sure I was thinking about it in a positive sense. It means, to recognize the worth or desirability of something.
Moving forward with that being said, once I had finally gotten to the point of realizing that this is going to be my lifestyle that I will live every day to the best I can, it really changed me for the better. I thought to myself, “this decision is my decision and I’ve actually made it!” Looking back to a year and a half ago when I was at my biggest, I didn’t believe I had the strength or confidence to choose which direction my life would go, in every area of my life really. I believed food and my emotions were in control of me, and they were, at the time.
A year and a half later, I am a different woman. A year and a half before, I was still a girl, trying to understand what it meant to be a woman. I believe and will always believe it’s the confidence you possess. If you are confident in your abilities and make decisions based on what’s healthy and best for yourself, you are not only confident in yourself, but you are unstoppable!
Sure, other things in my life may not be where I want them to be, ultimately, but most of those things are out of my control for the time being. This is the exception.
Growing up, I have always cared about what people think about me. Part of this is being a sensitive person naturally; but I think most of it stemmed from insecurities in myself. My mom never understood why I always was so insecure; she thought I was so pretty and such a good person that I should have all the confidence in the world! I never understood why I felt the way I did and I would talk to myself in the mirror trying to build myself up but it just never stuck. Then I would feel bad about myself for not being able to feel strong. I’ve always felt like a cat catching my tail. I’m still working on it and never want to stop working on building myself up! I think for most women, unless you’re lucky and get that in your head to be confident in how you look, who you are, where you’re going, (whatever motivation you use) don’t have the confidence they probably know they could and should possess.
Doing what I did and coming as far as I have come, it is so much more than physical or outward beauty that has helped my confidence. Mostly it is about knowing that I am a completely capable woman and I can change anything I want to change. I’ve done that and continue to grow on a day-to-day basis. That only keeps the fire burning, for me.
It showed me that I am the only person who is responsible for me. I got myself to 183 pounds; I turned it around to where I am today, standing at 148 pounds; and it’s up to me to improve more. No one else did those things for me. I had tons of encouragement and support, but ultimately, I was the one who changed myself. I found more confidence in that fact than I’ve found in my previous 26 years. I’ve always looked for it, but this time it was different; I found it.
I totally embrace the idea of having confidence. It was always foreign to me before. I never wanted to hold my shoulders back in fear someone would think I was trying to stick out my chest; I never wanted to speak up in a crowd because I didn’t believe anyone would think what I had to say was valuable; I never wanted to look or be too proud. Thinking back to how I used to think versus what I’m thinking inside my head and what I tell myself now are the result of a change in confidence. Those ways of thinking are thought by two different people. Of everything I’ve gained from making the lifestyle change I’ve made, confidence is the most priceless to me. I will never go back to where I was for many reasons. Mostly because I don’t ever want to compromise the confidence I’ve gained from living this lifestyle. It has made me a stronger person and that’s what I’m always looking for.
I believe 100% that everything this lifestyle has given me, can give anyone else. They must first choose the lifestyle, then they will understand!
Muscle & Strength: Let's play "pretend." You have 24 hours with someone who is overweight and doesn't exercise. Sort of a Biggest Loser scenario. How would you spend that time with this individual so that they leave the encounter motivated and ready to achieve their goals?
Ashley Schutz: I have thought about how I will approach clients when I become a Personal Trainer and believe the best thing I can do is find out where a person is coming from and how they are choosing to live their life now.
Let’s say his name is Jake. I would begin by asking him about what his life is like now. Questions such as: What does a day in the life of Jake look like? How often are you physical? What do you do for stress relief? What is important to you? I would ask him questions I feel will show me a true representation of his nutritional, physical and general lifestyle. I also need to know what his priorities are in his life.
The next big question would be, what do you want to change about the life you’re living now? I would follow that by asking Jake how he pictures the life he wants to live and what would his body look like if he were living that life. I believe using positive words such as those make it sound as if we are already seeing the outcome, which only brings about motivation. Providing a positive and motivational attitude would be one of my prime concerns in getting across to him.
After really finding out what makes Jake tick, in his diet and fitness routine and what they want to change, I would show him what I have done for myself. I plan on getting a book together of the start to present of my journey through finding a healthy lifestyle. This book would include pictures and all of my achievements since choosing this way of life. I feel it’s extremely important to represent what you are trying to do for others by what you have done and what you are doing for your own self. I want the person to feel totally comfortable in the fact that I have been where they are. I have lost fat, gained muscle, hit many plateaus, cried many times thinking I could not continue on and have been in their shoes before. I would highlight what it was like to be overweight and what it is like now to be moving forward with myself. Stressing the benefits and how this path can change your life is an essential part of telling this person what I need to tell them.
I may be able to give Jake the tools he needs for a healthy lifestyle but 24 hours isn’t enough time to do it WITH him. He will have to take everything I’m imparting with him and choose to use it. I will make sure I emphasize that too. Only having 24 hours and working with someone who is not physical regularly, I would not have proper amount of time to perform the exercises with him intensely enough to show him what it’s like to find the motivation within himself to push harder. Those would be concentrated workouts and would come later.
After I have understood Jake’s current lifestyle and his health priorities for the future, told him my story and how living this way has changed my life, I will walk him through the exercises I feel will be most beneficial in understanding. I would show him what it’s like to step foot in the gym!
I know there are so many different emotions when you do something for the first time. With that being said, walking Jake through each exercise and making sure he understands the importance of each is almost equally important as educating him about his diet. Mostly because he is just starting off and both diet and exercise are integral parts of the puzzle when beginning, in my opinion. I believe this because changing your way of eating is harder than stepping foot in a gym 3-6 days a week for beginners. I would advocate making minor changes to diet and working on just committing to getting to the gym almost on a daily basis for physical activity.
In the gym, I would spend half the time, if not the majority walking through what each exercise does and trying to impart the anatomy background of it in small bits. I do realize this could be a lot to take in, in just one setting; however, I would be sensitive to that and move as slow as we needed to. I just want to take the time we have and educate him as much as I can, so they know the purpose of it all.
The final step is sitting down and seeing what Jake felt about the exercises I showed him and which exercises he gravitated towards. Finding these things out would be a benchmark for further discussion on why the exercises work the muscles they do and why they’re each important. It would also allow me to see what he is comfortable with, indicating where he should start.
Finally, we would talk about diet. This is key. After careful discussion and analysis of what Jake is currently eating, what his lifestyle is conducive to and finding out why and how he thinks he has gotten to where he is, I would talk to him about the importance of diet.
I would find it beneficial to tell him what I used to eat and how it all added up to me gaining the weight I had and then the baby steps I took to begin eating right, and how those baby steps added up to where I am today. I think it’s important to make the person feel as though they aren’t doing something wrong but rather, how they can improve their life; positive versus negative. Weight is a very sensitive issue for most of us. I’ve been there, so I know what it did to me emotionally; it affected me immensely.
After spending much time on diet and nutrition, I would have this all written down and ask Jake if he had any questions. I’m sure there would be many! After answering his questions, I would emphasize again how his life can change if he makes the decision to walk out the door today, use the tools I have given him and choose to change.
Finally, I will tell him all he has to do is to start with changing his mind. Our mind is the most powerful tool we have, and that’s not something I can teach or give him, but I would like to think that he left our encounter motivated by that thought.