Taking My Life Back

In My Story by Ashley Kittel

Sitting in my doctor’s office, they broke it down for me. I had Stage 3 Liver Fibrosis. No, I’m not an alcoholic. But I do have an addiction—to food. My addiction had caused so much damage to my liver that I was one step away from irreversible cirrhosis. I had been struggling with the cycle of binging and weight gain for over a decade, and I had to make a change.

I decided to do something drastic and have weight loss surgery. There were so many reasons why I was nervous about it, but I saw in my future a healthier, happier life. Where would I be if the fear of the unknown held me back from trying? There are so many things that could go wrong, but the reward outweighed the risks. So I put down my deposit, packed my bags, and started an adventure that would change my life forever.

I’m happy to share that since starting my prescription liquid diet in November of 2020 (with surgery that December), I have lost over 100 pounds and counting. I recently got the news that I have completely reversed my liver disease, and all of my liver levels are normal. The benefits have been incredible, but the road hasn’t been easy. In fact–it’s been the hardest journey I’ve ever been on. In preparation for surgery they prepare you for the procedures, risks, and recovery. But what they didn’t prepare me for was the emotional turmoil it would bring. Yes, I was happy that I was losing weight. But…how do you celebrate your weight loss when what you love to do when you’re happy is eat?

I used to be an emotional eater. Honestly, I still would be if it weren’t physically impossible. Good emotions, bad emotions, it didn’t matter. But this surgery has stripped me from all hunger and cravings. I was overnight left to deal with the emotions that food helped me with. While I constantly feel zero hunger and total physical satisfaction… Emotionally? That’s another story. I find myself pacing in my kitchen when I know I don’t need anything. Why am I there? What am I feeling? Take a moment to think about your biggest comfort. What do you do when you’re happy, sad, or anything in-between? And imagine it’s taken from you.

You all are entrepreneurs. Innovators. The leaders in dentistry coming up with new ideas and endeavors. Where would you be if the fear of the unknown held you back from trying? In my experience, trying was the easiest part. I had no choice. If I had known about the emotional struggles beforehand, would that have stopped me? No. Because I would rather have to face my own emotions in a body that’s healthy than to risk losing it all.

What is something that you’re yearning for? What is holding you back? For me, weight loss surgery was something I’ve always wanted. But finances made it seem unattainable. But then I realized I wasn’t thinking big enough. There was no way I could afford it in my area, but across the country? I traveled from Virginia to Nevada during a pandemic to make this happen. If there’s something holding you back from achieving your dreams, think bigger. There’s another way.

You may be thinking, where was this determination when it came to losing weight? That brings me to my next point. Accept help. You don’t have to do it all on your own. It doesn’t mean it makes it easy, but if you could shed some of the metaphorical weight on yourself–how much of a game changer would that be? Now instead of cycling through binging, guilt, and weight gain–I can focus my attention 100% on my physical and mental health. This is no doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Whether it’s your business, your mindset, or an endeavor you’re pursuing, what could some extra help mean for you? Your time is better spent focusing on what you love than on things you hate or aren’t very good at. In my case, I sucked at losing weight. I handed the reins over to my surgeon, and now I have my life back.

Overcoming my addiction to food will be one of my greatest feats. I am speaking it into existence. We all have obstacles we face every day, but we can choose to fight them head on or continue to let them control us. Here, right now, at this moment, I am choosing to be the best version of myself I can be. Physically, emotionally, and mentally. I look back on this year and think of where I would be if I didn’t face my fears of the unknown. A lot of people in the dental world (who I unfortunately don’t get to see very often) have told me that I look like a totally different person, and to be honest I feel like one. But there’s still that longing for food that would likely take over if I didn’t have the physical restrictions. All we can do when facing challenges in our life is take it one step at a time. I didn’t gain all of this weight in one day–or even one year. I also won’t solve the issues that food helped me with overnight. As we approach 2022, I am optimistic that the new year will bring strength in new ways not only for myself, but for you as well.

If you could take anything away from my story, I want it to be this: don’t let the fear of the unknown or failure stop you from achieving your dreams. Don’t think you’re in this alone. Think bigger–there’s another way.

As I reflect on this year, I want you to think about where you’ll be in a year from now. Will you be happy with the progress you’ve made in your business or your life? I spent too many years reflecting on wasted time and opportunities. If there’s one thing this journey has taught me, it is that I will never be doing that again.