Inspiration: How Ellen Oh Lost 110 Pounds

South Philly resident Ellen Oh, 35, talks about her incredible journey toward better health and wellness. Read her story below, in her own words.

Ellen Oh before and after her weight loss.

Ellen Oh before and after her weight loss.

Walk me through your weight loss story, starting with pre-weight-loss Ellen.

It wasn’t until I graduated from college in May 2000 and moved to Pittsburgh that I really began to gain weight. Throughout undergrad, I maintained a weight of 150 pounds, healthy for my 5’6″ frame, but this weight was only kept consistent due to my high level of energy. I have always been a social butterfly, buzzing from place-to-place. I was always on the go, and although my eating habits were poor and my sleep sporadic, I hovered around 150 pounds.

When I got my first desk job in Pittsburgh, I continued to eat like a college student, and I never cooked. My favorite foods were gyros, pizza and Greek platters at my favorite diner. I frequented my favorite bar multiple times a week, and I never exercised. Before I knew it, I went from 150 pounds to 247 pounds over a five-year period. Almost daily, I regretted how I had allowed myself to let myself go. My self-esteem plummeted, and I became somewhat depressed. I decided to join a gym that was located only one block away from my apartment, but I rarely went, and when I did go I would quickly become frustrated and end my workout prematurely.

What was your wake-up call moment?

My first major wake-up call was a day that I bent over to tie my sneakers. At 247 pounds, with my stomach digging into my jeans, holding my breath as I performed the simple act of tying shoelaces, I had officially reached my breaking point. It was at that very moment that I decided to make a major change, and it all started with the simple act of walking everywhere I could. If point A to point B was walkable, I hoofed it to my destination. After a year of walking everywhere I could, I lost 10 pounds and decided to buy a bike. That following year, I used my bike as my main form of transportation and lost 20 more pounds.

I moved to Philly in 2005 and finally, three years later, I joined a gym and fell in love with fitness. When I first got started, I could barely even do 15 minutes on the elliptical, but continued to push it, telling myself that I could do five, 10 or 15 more minutes. Before I knew it, I could easily do an hour at heavy resistance.

In 2010, I decided to switch gym memberships after taking a tour of 12th Street Gym. Through 12th Street, I have found a dynamic and diverse community and support system that has inspired me to work toward my full potential, and to try and achieve things that I never thought possible. Ialso began committing much of my free time to health, fitness and nutrition research. I completely tailored my life around my diet and lifestyle, every detail from the time I woke up in the morning (to hit the gym!) to the people I chose to surround myself with worked toward my goals. Finally, I discovered a love for cooking and baking, and regularly prepare healthy, delicious meals that I either eat fresh, or freeze and eat throughout the week.

In all, I have lost a total of 110 pounds since beginning this process.

When did you start to feel successful in your weight loss?

When I realized that the research I had done and applied to my new lifestyle was actually working. I began to see the number on the scale decreasing and my lean muscle mass increasing. That’s when I knew that I was well on my way to achieving my goals.

What was the hardest part of your journey?

Throughout this process, I have lost so-called “friends” and am currently going through a divorce. As a strong Type-A personality, remaining motivated and sticking to a regular gym schedule and diet was never an issue. The most difficult part was losing people who I thought had my best interests in mind. However, this entire process has made me stronger than I ever thought I could be—not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I am a changed woman, for the better. I finally feel like I have control over my life, and I know exactly what I want out of it.

Are there any moments you’d peg as milestones?

My first great milestone was running the Broad Street Run for the first time in May 2013. I trained hard for it for months, and finished all 10 miles at a steady nine-minute-mile pace, finishing the race in one hour 30 minutes. I cried at the end! My second milestone was attaining my Mad Dogg Spinning instructor certification in June. I also cried at the end of that day, after my certificate was signed.

If you could go back to when you started, what are the three things you wish someone had told you?

1) This will be the hardest thing you will ever do in your whole entire life—physically, mentally, and emotionally—but it will all be worth it.

2) Food is your friend. Eat often; eat well.

3) People will come, and people will go, but the people who will enter your life throughout this process will have a profoundly positive effect on it.

Are you still trying to lose weight? If not, how are you maintaining?

I am currently at 140 pounds. At one point, I got down to 135 pounds but was told by a few friends that I was becoming “too thin.” Since then, I have started counting calories again, just to have a better gauge of “calories in; calories out.” I have started the lean muscle-building phase of my fitness process, as my goal is to become ACE personal trainer certified in November 2013.

I work out at 12th Street Gym five days a week, alternating between Spinning classes, boot camp classes, running on the treadmill and strength training on my own. I occasionally switch up my routine by running outdoors, and I just bought a good-quality road bike for cycling. On my two rest days, I make it a point to participate in light exercise, such as walking, cycling or yoga.

I make it a point to eat at least five small meals per day. My breakfast, lunch and dinner are normally high in both fiber and protein, and my snacks consist of Greek yogurt, nuts, fruit or veggies.

What feedback have you heard from friends, family and doctors? How would you characterize your health now?

My overall health is the best it has ever been, and every single person in my life is astounded by what I have accomplished. The greatest compliment that I continue to receive from family, friends and supporters is that I am “inspirational.” Sure, various comments regarding my physical appearance are regularly thrown around, and I do appreciate them. However, being called an inspiration is the greatest praise that anyone can give me, because my passion lies in helping others discover their true potential and inspiring people to be the best human beings that they can possibly be. It is amazing what a person can accomplish after they confront their fears and doubts, and really start digging in, focusing, and giving it their all as they work toward personal wellness and getting what they want out of life.

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