Growing up in a town with just three traffic lights, Ashley O’Reilly didn’t have much exposure to foods outside of her home. So when she turned 16 and got her driver’s license, a whole new world of fast food opened up.
“There were all these restaurants I had never even seen before,” O’Reilly, 21, tells PEOPLE. “I remember going to Applebee’s and ordering a three-cheese chicken patty, beer-breadsticks, and another appetizer. And I live only two miles away, but I drove there, got my food, pulled into a parking lot and scarfed it all down.”
The figure skater from Saginaw, Michigan, quickly soared to 250 lbs. in just two years, and found that she could no longer land her jumps.
“I had to buy new skates because my feet got too wide!”
For more on our six Half Their Size stars and their incredible weight loss stories, watch the full episode of People Features: Half Their Size, available now on the People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN) and at People.com/halftheirsize. Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the app for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Xumo, Chromecast, Xfinity, iOS and Android devices.
She hit a low point during her sophomore year of college, when she made plans ahead of class to sit with a friend. But when he got there, he took a look at O’Reilly and darted to the other side of the room.
“He never sat by me the whole semester, and then he started messaging me outside of class when we were on Thanksgiving break,” she says. “I was like ‘You’ll talk to me now, but you won’t talk to me in class?’ My self-esteem went way, way down.”
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One day, O’Reilly ran into a former co-worker who had lost a ton of weight through Nutrisystem, and it inspired her to give it a try.
“I was like, ‘If she can do it, I can do it. No more excuses,” O’Reilly says. “I was finally ready.”
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The first week was the toughest, but O’Reilly focused on sticking to the diet, and learned proper portion sizes. She eventually added in workouts — swimming, kayaking and long walks with her dogs — all of which added up to a 135-lb. weight loss, well over half her size.
“I’m in so much better health now, but the big thing is I feel good about myself. I have this confidence that I never had before,” O’Reilly, a nursing student, says.
“I used to be this person who would walk around the hallways with my head down, and now I’m always looking around. If there’s a word that could describe me now, it would be bubbly. I just have a better outlook on life.”