Ashleigh De Lello | Against the Odds
You probably can tell from afar that Ashleigh is a fitness aficionado. Her sporty, fit, and flexible frame tells it all, almost. Her unassuming and bright character very well conceals her exceptional accomplishments as a dancer, her life-impacting achievements at www.thenewthin.com, and the academic gig at Utah Valley University.
Between torn ligaments, tendons, muscles, severed knees and ankles, and hip surgeries; she’s stood high above life-threatening and career-marring strains as she educates women on how to win in fitness, diet, and life. In a bit, you’ll learn how Ashleigh’s gripping survivor story is propelling her to change other people’s lives for good.
Dancer, strength training expert, university teacher, writer, and founder of The New Thin, Ashleigh De Lello’s schedule is pretty fixed. When she’s not training clients, she’s in the classroom teaching Dance majors or outdoor hiking with her family and dog.
Usually, Ashleigh runs and engages The New Thin users online, takes sessions of fitness classes with her members and take Dance Conditioning classes for Dance major students of Utah Valley University as she shares from her wealth of experience and knowledge of strength training.
From the beginning
That began back when I was 13 years old. I started dancing 5 hours a day when I was 7 years old and when I was 13, I woke up overnight and everything changed. I had pain in every joint and muscle. You could hardly touch me without me wanting to scream in pain. I had like a 104-105 degree temperature with sweating profusely but freezing. This was the first day of 4 and a half years that I’ll fight for my life.
And I was patient for 2 and half years I traveled all around the country to every top specialist in every field and no one could figure me out. If you’ve ever watched the TV show ‘House’, that was on Fox a few years ago, I was one of those types of patients where I was clearly dying but nobody could figure me out. All my tests came out perfect, all my blood tests scan …everything. I was essentially sent home to die, told I was a mystery, told I had some unknown virus nobody could figure it out.
Over the course of those years, I became so sick that I was practically bedridden, I’d lost most of my hair, gotten down to 90 pounds, didn’t have the strength to lift up my finger someday. My whole body was ravaged with pain.
I finally got a diagnosis. 2 and half years of a very rare parasitic infection that actually…the parasite goes in and takes over the function of your organs. So literally I was starving and was dying and that combination with an unknown virus was what was so deadly for me.
So after that diagnosis, it took another 2 years to be able to function in my life again. And it was such a slow process of literally being able to move from my bedroom to the bathroom, to walking down a few houses from mine, to walking around the block and eventually being able to go school.
And when I tried to go back to dancing I was so weak from everything I’ve gone through for those 4 and half years that I didn’t have the strength to dance, I didn’t have the energy and I didn’t have the actual strength which is what introduced me to Strength training. And I remember the first time of going in and barely able to lift a 1 pound weight. I understand the process of literally starting from ground zero. And that is when my love and passion for strength training began because it forced my pathway back to doing what I love most which was dancing but I saw how the body truly has no limit. Obviously, I had survived a life-threatening illness but also I saw the evolution of what my body could do strength-wise through consistency in the gym. Of doing this strength training exercises and slowly but surely, seeing my body gain strength and that was ultimately what allowed me to get back to dance again.
So that’s really when my fitness training began. It began about Age 18 when I survived my illness and had to strength-train to dance again. So 18 years old is when my fitness training started.
On overcoming obstacles
Obviously surviving that illness was my biggest obstacle. And how did I do it? Perseverance. Being a fighter and not giving up. I was told at 13 years old that I’ll never dance again, that I’ll never have children that I’ll never live a normal active life and I was told that I should accept this.
And I told them that **giggles** shove that diagnosis because I wasn’t going accept that that would be my life and so I never gave up. I fought every day even when I felt like I was dying, I’d look myself in the mirror and say I’m getting better every day and I accepted that no expert was going to set the limit on my life. And we fought and we fought, we researched and we researched until they found answers and through all of it, I just envisioned myself dancing again, I envisioned myself being healthy even when the very thing I’ve just had energy was something I had completely forgotten.
So overcoming, it helped struggle that severe is just as much as mental and emotional as it is physical because your body literally…it’s easier to give up. Because I was so sick, every day was so hard. The mountain ahead of me getting well just felt insurmountable. It was everyday small efforts and I did everything I could.
I went on an extremely healthy diet just to not take anything away from my immune system. Every food that I gave my body I wanted it adding to my immune system, adding to my chances of survival. That was what food became for me, it was life and death. I will literally look at food and ask “does this add to my immune system or take away?”. And I wanted to get better more than anything else. So here I was, a teenager going off sugar for four years because I wanted my immune system to have every fighting chance. So I did it through healthy nutrition, I did it through a positive mindset that would not accept any limit. I was determined to conquer and I did.
Fitness Philosophy and research
A lot of it came through personal experience obviously through research and studying as well but it came through my experience because I went through a lot of injuries after I had gone through that illness I just had a lot of scars just because my body had endured so much. So when I got back to dancing I suffered through a lot of injuries through my professional career. I’ve pretty much have injured every part in my body- torn ligaments, tendons, muscles, my knees, both ankles, I’ve had two hip surgeries, I’ve gone through that process of literally learning how to walk again, tears in my shoulders.. you name it, spinal injuries
Not something that I’m proud of or grateful for but it did give me an incredible understanding and knowledge of the human body because, through all that, I had to rehabilitate all these injuries, and I really intricately, personally, learn the mechanics of the body and what everything does and how important every part is, and that, of course, was the best knowledge you could get. I t’s that firsthand experience and working with a lot of experts all across the country and learning their expertise as I was blessed to rehabilitate with them. As I was in different places in my dancing career.
And so research and science behind it come through working with these people, through working with my body, through understanding what was super effective at building progress strength but in a way that didn’t tear down my body.
So many workouts nowadays are hardcore- it’s about burnout, it’s about total exhaustion. I have a professional dancing career so I don’t want to be doing tons of tuck jumps and box jumps and all these really aggressive things that were also hard on my joints, tendons, and ligaments, and muscles because I wanted to be strong for dance and not tear myself down in training. So it was researching study of how to effectively build progressive strength in a way that wasn’t also destructive and that was such an amazing learning experience.
I had to learn that way because I did have all these injuries that I was always rehabilitating. So the incredible thing that came out through years of research with all these amazing people that I got to learn under, but also application to my own body and seeing specific exercises that targeted all those areas that women really struggle with and was able to in a way, build the body that I want in a super efficient way without increasing my risks of injury by doing really explosive movements and repeated plyometric but being smart about it.
Why the philosophy is unique
Working-out smarter and not harder. That’s really where my philosophy became and what makes it so unique because also I always wanted to maintain the aesthetics of a dancer and a lot of people want that quote “dancer body” without dancing, right?
So I was able to develop workouts that specifically added and supported my body as a dancer and didn’t take away from it. The workouts also made me progressively strong and functionally fit because that was so important to me. I value health more than anything else because of my experiences and that has always been my driving force.
What also makes this different because I saw a missing gap in the fitness industry. No one was really addressing women’s relationship with their body and with food and with exercise. Because you can you can tell someone do this workout or eat this way but that doesn’t last. It’s not long enough and that’s we have some women looking for new exercise program because they haven’t addressed the internal relationship with themselves.
And the internal relationship is what drives the decision-making process.
So you have to address that first. I knew when I wanted to develop my program the New Thin I wanted it to be a total transformation program- mind, body, spirit. So I have an entire mind section in the app from the videos addressing the relationship with their body, how to heal their relationship with their body, how to heal their relationship with food so they get off their diet cycle forever. It’s not just about eating healthy following this plan but actually heal our relationship with food so that we stop dieting- we no longer have the destructive relationship with food that so many women suffer with.
The whole idea was to start approaching fitness from a place of self-love. Especially growing up in a daunting world where we live our lives in front of mirrors. There’s a lot of destructive patterns with people’s body, with dancers, with eating, or with their self-image. And that just comes because of what we do. Our bodies are a tool and we spend every day in front of a mirror. So many women are driven to exercise or eat healthy because they are unhappy with their body and of course, I think we should always try to improve ourselves in every way.
My whole goal was to really teach women how to approach fitness from a place of self-love, not self hate because of what I’ve gone through I truly understand that the greatest gift we have in life is our bodies because they make everything in our lives possible. Because I’ve been so sick, I’ve been on my deathbed, because I’ve gone through so many severe injuries. I want to teach women, it’s not a matter of “ah, I have to work out because I hate how I look, I hate my legs”. Rather, “I have a healthy body that allows me. It’s a gift to move my body and to get fitter and stronger. This is a gift, this is something I get to do not a punishment for how I look and eating healthy is the same way I wanted to truly teach women that food is the fuel for the life, that food is not something negative, it’s a gift.
Every time we get to eat, it’s what allows our body to function and to live”. That has been the biggest difference that I’ve really seen with the women that I’ve worked with is that mindset shift that really leads to life-long changes, that gets them out of that diet mindset, it gets them out of that diet cycle. It heals the relationship with food, it heals the relationship with themselves so they actually can look in the mirror and feel self love. They start exercising from a positive place, a place of gratitude.
The reason I called my program the new thin is because for so long women were pushed to be thin through excessive exercising and deprivation diet and I called it the new thing because it’s redefining what it means to be strong, fit, and healthy which is, of course, is my passion with everything I’ve been through. And the New Thin is about approaching fitness from the place of self-love.
Every woman responds to my method because I really spend so many hundreds of hours of research really figuring out what was most effective in the least amount of time to target women-trouble areas. Not all workout programs are created equal. These are specific to target women’s body in a way that she wants it targeted. And it takes specific exercises to do that. So I’ve men do my program and they love it but I strategically designed it for a woman’s body and mind.
What’s been rewarding is seeing women change from the inside out and getting lasting physical changes because of that internal transformation and seeing the self-love that enthuses their life and how it affects their everyday gratitude, their everyday happiness, the relationships with their spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, children. Their lives truly change because it’s an internal transformation that leads to an external one. So being able to use all my experiences and all the hardships that I’ve had with my body have really been rewarding and I’ve been able to help all the women in the program.
Advice to fitness and health enthusiasts
I’d say it starts with gratitude of understanding what it is to have legs that walk, to have eyes that see, to have arms that work to be able to move your body. And when you start appreciating that, you understand that you want to move it. If you can approach it from the place of gratitude, then you’ll be more active. It’ll last.
You find something that you enjoy that is strategically designed to give you the result. Don’t just exercise because it gives you the result. Follow a science-based system. My workouts are only 25 minutes long and honestly, I got in better shape following my workouts in these 25 minutes workouts than I was dancing 5+ hours a day. Because they are designed to be strong and effective. We all have super busy lives and more of that tends to be one of people’s greatest excuse not to workout.
Everybody has 25 minutes, right?
Easily even just putting social media away for 25 minutes. So you need to find a system that is scientifically designed to give your most bang for the buck. And to be careful that it’s a system that it’s going to give you the result you want for your body without tearing your body down. It’s really important to me because I’ve seen so many people that start really intense programs and they get injured and that’s not the point of working out, to destroy your body. Yes, it is to push it to its limits and to get stronger and fitter and have great endurance and be healthier. It’s not to be incredibly hard just for the sake of being hard that you get injured.
Body empowerment = life empowerment
When you do that you’re going to make healthier choices and you’ll be more active because of your mindset towards it. A lot of people don’t succeed in fitness because they have a negative mindset towards it. It’s a negative thing because they don’t like how they look or they have to eat healthy because they hate how they look instead of all of it been approached from a positive thing in their lives. One of the things I actually believe is that body empowerment will lead to life empowerment. We all feel better when we take care of ourselves. When we exercise that discipline it pours over to other places of our lives. So if we can approach it from the right mindset that is the most important thing you can do to make it- something that actually lasts because it’s a positive thing in our life.
The body as the greatest gift
It’s everything. If you’re going to approach fitness from a negative place and negative place for your body it’ll work out to be super effective if the whole time you’re focusing on what you hate instead of what you’re grateful for- an opportunity to work out. I say that a lot but I mean it, I’ve lived it and your body is truly your greatest gift and you need to take care of it. It’s a blessing in this life that a lot of people take for granted and like I said your body makes your whole life possible.
On workout programs for dancers
Yes, I’m a dancer. And No, dancers do not need a workout program aside from their dancing program. mI was a professional dancer to teach dancers. I’m a professional ballroom dancer which is called dance ball, we compete. We call ourselves athletes because we are and any athlete, to be super successful, they outside of their sport in the gym to be better for their sport to prevent injury to be stronger, faster, have greater balance and agility. Dancers need the same thing but it’s really lacking in the dancing world.
I actually teach a course at the local university, Utah Valley University that is called Dance Conditioning. It’s required by Dance majors and it’s a whole class that we go over the importance. We go through muscular, physiology, anatomy and we go through the whole body about correcting misalignments, and strengthen, and how we need to strengthen better so we can dance.
That was pivotal in my dance career not only for injury prevention but to be able to move faster, have greater agility, balance, speed- all of that didn’t just come from dancing but came in my time from the gym.
It’s a goal of mine to educate more dancers and I’d love to have taught this course at the university for several years and it’s just been incredible to see that mindsets shift dancers. It’s absolutely necessary, especially for dancers to be serious about it and want to make it a professional career. Dancing is a strength to the body but also tears it down. It’s very hard on the body and so we need that foundational training to help support dancing. A lot of dancers still don’t know that. It’s definitely a goal of mine to help spread that message to educate and I’ve been blessed to do that through the university.
“So absolutely dancers need training outside of the gym.”
Overrated and underrated exercises
Ok, wait. I have two folds about the most overrated exercises. A lot of movements done with machines is overrated because, for the most part, is push and pull and you’re not building functional strength and total body strength. That’s why one of my favorite equipment in the gym is the cable machine because it allows you to move through four ranges of motion and it just makes so much sense in your functional life.
This is especially if you need that type of power and explosion in your sport or what you do in your life. But they are not necessarily for getting a desirable shape and I think that mindset has been put out there by a lot of fitness people because that is what they do and that’s what is in a lot of programs. And people have been bitten by the intensity-bug but I’ve seen so many people get hurt. So many people mess up their back, their knees, have hip issues, and it’s totally unnecessary. In those type of explosive movements, you need to have perfect form and lots of people just starting out are not going to have that. And so you’re not even working the muscles you think you are. You’re just putting a lot wear and tear on your joints and tendons and ligaments. And I’ve just seen way too many people destroy their body trying to get into shape and it just not the point and not necessarily.
Underrated exercises are some of your simple exercises that target specific muscles that look simple in their form but are the most effective. So sometimes simplicity gets overlook because it is simple and people want to do more exciting things. But you know, some things never change, that foundational stuff is always, always importance especially functional type movement that requires your entire body to work together.
So sometimes we can get into too much isolated, or we go too extreme and do explosive movements. Anything that challenges your body and your balance and requires your whole body to work together and your muscle recruitment to be maximized, throughout your body, that’s going to give you total strength and body functionality and allow you to function better in your life or sport or dancing or recreation.
I hate the word ‘diet’. I know it’s easier to say when we’re referring to how we eat, I just hate the diet mindset. Because it just doesn’t last for people. 90 million women are looking for a new diet every 3 months and the reason why is because most diets we enter into this restrictive mentality and most people can’t maintain that. That’s why most people fall on and off the diet and that diet cycle goes round and round and round. That’s why I don’t prescribe to one particular diet paleo or the fully ketogenic or the fully intermittent fasting or whatever it may be because it has an end date. Because it feels too restrictive for them.
My whole philosophy is to eat real food. Real food fuel your body, achieve a lifestyle of eating that’s sustainable. I can be super strict for 30 days and totally fall off the wagon. I’ve seen too many people do that with the paleo with the ketogenic, and the more they do more metabolic damage they gain, more weight back because they’ve been on this restrictive cycle. So my philosophy is to eat real food I also approach from a place of balancing your hormones and not just calories and calories like that is an old mentality.
Yes, you’ll lose weight over time if you eat fewer calories than you’re exerting but it’s not going to achieve with lean muscle gains and burning fats. That’s about stabilizing your blood sugar so that’s why I was encouraging women- ‘if you can do one thing…’ I’ve 3 different [principles in my nutrition plan that’s so easy to follow.
They are long-term sustainable and that’s why they work and that’s why it’s easy to get off the diet cycle because it’s not this restrictive mentality that most diets have but one thing that I’ve really pushed and tell people to do here is- if you can do anything, stabilize your blood sugar when you eat. And that means you eat very simply a combination as I talked about on my snacks, about protein, fats, and Carbohydrates- PFC.
So when you put food in your mouth, it’s very simple. Make sure you have a protein source, a healthy fat source, and a carbohydrate source. That combination will help to stabilize your blood sugar. So that’ what we want to operate on if you can do one thing, is eat PFC.
Most people eat way too much carbohydrate and not enough protein and definitely not enough healthy fats. That’s one simple thing that I follow and tell everyone to do that is super effective and is going to go a long way towards making it a part of your lifestyle. And for helping you with narrowing your fitness course but also your health course. The reality is, diets don’t work. It’s why we have new diets all the time and that’s why we’re more active than ever and yet we are more obese and unhealthier than ever because diets don’t work. People need to find a way to eat balanced portions on their plates and stabilize their blood sugar.
We’re going to be healthier, fitter, and happier if we can keep that basic thing-PFC.
I’ve learned so much and I’m also, of course, a certified personal trainer but I’ve learned so much for myself from my own experiencing with battling life-threatening illness with overcoming so many injuries that I know what it feels like to process, I knew what it feels like to start from ground zero, I know how it can seem impossible to get from point from A to Z. But what I know is that the human body and the human spirit has no limits. But it can overcome even the most insurmountable odds and that it starts with us believing in ourselves knowing that we are capable of all things, our bodies are capable of all things no matter where our starting point is.
I’ve started over time and time again and I know scary the human body can be and I know how incredible it can be and that is what drives me. Like I said before, our bodies are our greatest gifts. And what drives me is helping people to have that internal transformation, of healing their relationships with their body, and food and exercise and coming to approach a healthy life from a place of self-love and that is where the real changes happen, that is when the lasting changes happen. It is when greater peace and happiness and joy and gratitude enter their lives.
That is my greatest passion, it’s not only just helping women to get fitter and healthier but helping them to truly achieve self-love towards themselves their body in removing stress and ending the diet cycle forever. That’s all that drives my passion behind developing the New Thin. And we are a part of a Facebook group The New Thin Nation which is for all the women in the program and it’s so incredible to see them every day interacting with each other, show their frustrations, share what they’re struggling with but also share their successes and support each other. I’m in that group every day supporting them, motivating them, giving them tips and tricks. I don’t want to just create a program about women that I had nothing to do with. I want to be part of their journey because it is something so much bigger than just working out and eating healthy.
And that’s why also with my program I wrote The Food Freedom Playbook which is completely devoted to helping women cure their relationships with food and ending the diet cycle forever and that has been such an incredible journey to really see women finally cure their relationship with food address the role food plays in their lives so that they can heal it and they can fix it and they can get off from the diet cycle. This is a transformation program and it’s been so many ways my life’s work and my greatest passion and I feel privileged every day to be alive and to move my body and to have a chance no matter how many times I have to start over. And I hope to show people how incredible they are and how incredible their bodies can be and to start seeing it as their greatest gift.
Ashleigh De Lello