Having been in the public eye of the Cree world since the mid-1990s, Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff looks almost like a shadow of his former self. The political figure has lost over 60 pounds of excess body fat and revamped his entire lifestyle in the process.
Now a lean, mean, political machine, Iserhoff’s decision to give up his poor eating habits and commit to change came when he was facing borderline diabetes with his weight at an all-time high.
“When I look back at where I was five or six years ago at 303 pounds and compare it to where I am now, I am pretty amazed at all of the choices I have made to get here,” said Iserhoff.
Despite being 6’4”, Iserhoff knew that this was just too much.
When his weight finally hit the all-time high, Iserhoff found himself fearing the worst as he, like many Crees, comes from a family with a history of both diabetes and heart disease and both were distinct possibilities should he have continued down the path he was on.
But this, as it turned out, was not his fate.
While he remembers being slim as a child, Isheroff said his weight changed right before he hit his teens, just after experiencing a deep trauma. At age of 12, Isheroff witnessed his brother Matthew being hit by a garbage truck which tragically resulted in the loss of his leg.
“After that food became a reassurance to help me deal with what I saw,” said Iserhoff.
As a teen, however, Iserhoff was quite physically active and this staved off major weight gain despite his eating habits. It was when he moved from Montreal to the North that his weight began to increase. However, this was not what pushed Isheroff’s weight over the edge.
Instead, it was living a lifestyle that leads many to gain the pounds – being on the road for work. The on-the-road lifestyle of staying in hotels, keeping odd hours to catch flights, long hours of driving, dining in restaurants and eating when you can instead of when you would like are common factors in weight gain for the many who travel for work.
“That was the thing with work – I was in meetings all day, no matter where I was. I would have breakfast, lunch and then big suppers and then after supper I would return to my hotel room and just lay there having something to snack on before I went to sleep,” explained Iserhoff.
Realizing that he was on the brink of serious health problems, Isheroff took the first important step in changing his lifestyle and saw a dietician to find out what he was doing wrong when it came to his eating habits.
By following some simple tips from the dietician, he was able to drop almost 25 pounds rather quickly. These tips included giving up pop entirely and eating out of hunger instead of entertainment while sitting in front of the TV.
After that Isheroff’s weight hovered around 270-278 pounds for several years, but this was not the end of his weight-loss journey.
It was actually seeing Mistissini community members out jogging and engaging in other forms of exercise that motivated him to take his health to a new level.
“In the fall of 2009, I started using a trainer. I never thought I would be able to do what I do today – getting on a treadmill and actually running. I took a lot of steps to get there, it wasn’t an overnight thing,” said Iserhoff.
Iserhoff began by working with the team at Lemon Cree to try out different programs and started exercising to find out what he liked and what worked for him. And, like a piece of a puzzle falling into place, healthy living as a lifestyle began to make more sense as his diet and exercise regime changed.
“If you eat something that’s unhealthy – like poutine, pizza or any fried food – and you are exercising, you are still adding calories to your diet and this just doesn’t mix. You have to maintain a balance between what you eat and exercising – these two things go hand in hand,” said Iserhoff.
Iserhoff now employs portion control when it comes to his meals. With the help of his nutritionist, he understands what an appropriate portion is for his metabolism and he knows how to do this within the context of his lifestyle.
Though he travels a lot and often ends up eating in restaurants as a result, Iserhoff is much more cautious about what he orders. Instead of going for the standard steak and fries that had always been his fallback meal, he now orders a steak and salad and the portion of steak is much smaller. Iserhoff said he has grown to love salads as part of his new lifestyle. Plus, he eats a lot more fish as it is a healthier menu option.
“The way I used to eat would be to go up and serve myself the same size portion twice and this was a very large portion. This really added to the weight. Today I have decreased the amount of food I consume. I try to eat between 2000-3000 calories a day. If I am exercising I will do this, but if I’m not exercising on my day off then I will consume a lot less,” said Iserhoff.
Whether he’s on the road or at home, exercise is a daily must unless he has chosen to purposely take the day off to give his body a break. He squeezes in workouts whenever he can and mixes it up.
As Deputy Grand Chief, it sometimes requires him to be in meetings from morning to night. If he can’t squeeze in an hour at a local gym, Iserhoff says he’ll go for a brisk walk during his lunch hour to get his metabolism moving. He also likes to try whatever local program is available in that community to switch it up as that helps to keep things interesting.
As a result, Iserhoff is now happier and healthier than he has ever been. He says he feels much more functional in his job as the exercise has made his stress levels go down and he’s more comfortable in his own skin.
“When I first started in office, I did not manage my time very well nor did I eat very well and I paid for it with my health. I was making stupid decisions in terms of what I was eating and I really didn’t like myself as a result, especially the way I looked in photos. My face was really big and I was wearing a size 44-46 in pants. I am now a 36,” said Iserhoff.
Over the years he has lost 60 pounds in excess fat, gained back weight in muscle mass and he is hoping to get down to an ideal weight of 240. Keeping on the straight and narrow, no doubt he will one day reach this goal.