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After struggling with her weight her entire life, Aujile Riley's journey to a healthier lifestyle began after the birth of her first child nearly four years ago.
"After I had my son, that's when things really changed for me physically," said Riley, 34, who gave birth to her son in 2017. "I had gone up to my highest weight and then lost about 30 pounds almost immediately after giving birth, and then it started becoming harder and harder to lose the weight."
"And I didn't really have the effort to give at that point because I had a newborn and was a new wife," she said. "I lost myself in that."
Riley, of Akron, Ohio, said it took her nearly one year after the birth of her son to commit to her own health.
"I was 289 [pounds] and that was even higher than I was when I gave birth to my son," she said. "I said I had to do something because I refused to see 300 pounds. That was just stuck in my head, that I refused to see it."
Riley had tried crash diets before, but every time she managed to gain the weight, and more, back. So this time, she developed her own approach to what she calls "clean-ish" eating.
"it's clean eating but it's not super strict so it's sustainable for me," she said. "I came up with a system that worked perfectly for me."
Riley said she follows an 80-20 approach to eating, where she eats clean 80% of the time and gives herself flexibility the other 20% of the time.
Instead of following the meat and potatoes diet she grew up with, Riley said she educated herself on what each food group provides for her body and what she needs to be fueled.
"I had to learn to eat balanced, and not just to eat balanced but understand the foods that I was eating," she explained. "Protein gives you energy, so I'd say to myself, 'Let me eat more protein so I have energy.'"
"Food is fuel, that's the purpose," she said, noting that understanding that was key to her weight loss.
Riley began to exercise on a regular basis, focusing on what it did for her health instead of just concentrating on weight loss. She also started an Instagram account to keep herself accountable.
"I knew that it was important for me to document my progress," she said. "Once I started seeing pictures and comparing old pictures and I saw that change, that was powerful."
Nearly three years after starting her health transformation, Riley has lost over 100 pounds.
She has also changed the course of her career, becoming a virtual health and fitness coach, in addition to being a mom and a mental health therapist.
"Health and fitness coaching is something I would have never thought that was something I would enjoy but I really do," she said. "If you really delve into this journey and you really take time to enjoy this journey, magical things happen, and your life will change in ways you never imagined."
"Now I work full-time, I'm an entrepreneur, I'm a wife and a mother and at the same time I still show up for myself every day," Riley added. "I never could have done that before."
4 weight loss tips from Riley, in her own words
1. Allow yourself grace: "I don't allow myself excuses, but I do allow myself grace."
2. Be mindful: "I am very mindful about what I eat in general. I don't shame myself for eating what I want. Let's say my husband comes home today with my favorite cake. I'll have a slice of that cake, but I'll have a slice of that cake today, not for the next eight days. I try to get out of the habit of thinking good foods versus bad foods. It's more of a balance."
3. Meal prep but make it simple: "I'm all about simplifying stuff. For example, today I'll make chicken thighs and rice and vegetables. I'll make enough for my entire family and also enough for me to have that for lunch tomorrow in a stir-fry. For my husband or my son, I might take some of the chicken thighs and turn them into nachos or something. It's about repurposing things so it's not boring and so your entire family can enjoy it. You just have to be creative."
4. Get mentally strong: "The majority of this journey is mental. When I first went into it, I didn't expect it to be a long journey. My expectation was: I'm going to lose this weight and then go on with the rest of my life. If you plan to sustain it, it really does need to be a lifestyle change."