How I Got This Body: Spin Classes, Territory Foods, and Ditching Her Daily Starbucks Order

All photographs courtesy Ashley Kirkland.

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Who: Ashley Kirkland, 33, interior designer 
Lives: Laurel, Maryland
Height: 5’7″
Pounds lost: 103 pounds
How long it took: In 2014, I started my weight loss journey by changing my diet and I dropped a little over 100 pounds. Over the last four years with life changes, focusing on my career, and renovating my house, some of the weight crept back on. When I started taking spin classes last fall, I not only wanted to lose the weight, I also wanted to gain strength and endurance. Over the last five months, I have lost 47 pounds (and counting) by taking spin and strength classes at Ascend Cycle in Alexandria. 

Turning point: Is it possible to feel like you have been on a diet all of your life? I remember as a kid going to the doctor’s office and him showing me the weight chart. Let’s just say my weight was never on the diagram. He would point to the blank wall above the chart to indicate my weight—literally off the charts!

My goals for 2018 were about being kind to myself, but in 2019, I wanted to be kind to my body by taking better care of myself physically.

Exercise: I have always found the gym intimidating.  A few years ago, I would go to the gym three-to-four days a week, use the three pieces of equipment I knew how to (treadmill, elliptical, and bike), and get out as fast as I could!

My college BFF is a lead instructor at Ascend Cycle and had been asking me for years to come and try a spin class. I was truly scared; the movies and TV make spin look like you have to be super fit to give it a try. I thought I would be falling off the bike like Amy Schumer in I Feel Pretty. So naturally I booked the bike closest to the door in case I needed to make a run for it. Once I was in the studio, I realized it was a warm and inviting environment. Both the riders and staff were so kind and excited to be there, which made me feel like I was already a part of the team.

I started with one-to-two classes a week, and in January, when the studio announced a fitness challenge to take four classes a week, I decided to go for it. I lost 17 pounds that January and haven’t looked back. I now take four-to-five classes a week and have added in some of the strength training classes Ascend offers in addition to spin. 

Diet: One of my favorite things on earth is a venti iced tea lemonade from Starbucks. I would get one (or two) every single day. I’m pretty obsessed with it, but it was one of the first things I started to reduce from my diet. Initially I meal prepped on my own, but as I got into a fitness routine, I needed some quick options for healthy meals. Territory Foods has changed my eating completely. I order six-to-eight healthy, ready-made meals from them each week. I conveniently pick them up at the spin studio after my class.

A typical day for me looks like this:

  • Breakfast: Low-fat yogurt with blueberries and reduced-sugar granola
  • Lunch: A low-carb Territory Foods meal—my favorite is the steak fajitas with pico de gallo and an almond flour tortilla
  • Before-workout snack: One ounce of cheese, a handful of grapes, and a pre-workout amino drink
  • After-workout snack:  One hard-cooked egg
  • Dinner: Four ounces of salmon or chicken, a kale salad with roasted sunflower seeds, craisins, goat cheese, and a low-carb salad dressing, and one piece of Dove dark chocolate as my sweet treat

How she stuck with it: It’s really hard to change a routine—I was used to going home and eating dinner in front of the TV while catching up on my favorite reality shows (because if you aren’t Keeping Up With the Kardashians or Real Housewives, what are you doing?). I think seeing the weight loss was a huge motivator to keep going, but I couldn’t do it without my support team: my awesome husband, family, work-family, Ascend Cycle family, and friends.

Favorite splurge: When I was a kid, I used to imagine what I thought heaven would be like. It usually featured a swimming pool full of macaroni and cheese that I would swim in and eat as I did laps around the cheese fountain. As an adult, this love for macaroni and cheese continues, but now only on special occasions.

Changes to her “invisible” health: I feel less stressed, more confident, and even my complexion is clearer. When talking to my friends, I sound like the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. But instead of Windex solving all of life’s problems, I say take a spin class. “You want to figure out a dilemma in your life? Take a spin class! You want to do well on your presentation next week? Take a spin class!”

How she felt then:  I didn’t realize how badly I was feeling until I realized how much better I felt once I started working out again. I felt a change not only in my endurance walking up the three flights of stairs to my bedroom, but even with confidence in everyday life.

How she feels now: One afternoon I attended spin class and hopped on my usual bike in the back only to realize it was broken. The instructor directed me to the only available bike in the class. It was bike number five in the front row. You know I was scared! I went up to that bike, clipped into the pedals, and before I knew it, class was over. I had faced my fear, and it made me realize I could do just about anything that scared me. I carried that confidence with me out of the spin studio and into my everyday life. Now, I even choose to sit in the first row!

Newfound body love: I have always liked my legs, and let me tell you, they now look like legs of steel!

To those who want to make a change: It’s hard for me to tell people not to be scared because starting a new fitness routine is scary. You’ll have to step out of your comfort zone. Try that dance class you’ve been curious about, take a tennis lesson, or join me in a spin class!  

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

Mimi Montgomery Washingtonian
Home & Features Editor

Mimi Montgomery joined Washingtonian in 2018. She’s written for The Washington Post, Garden & Gun, Outside Magazine, Washington City Paper, DCist, and PoPVille. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Del Ray.