Life is a journey, and Burnaby's Aeryon Ashlie has never been happier with the road she's travelling on.
The just-turned 38-year-old fitness model recently placed fifth in the master's bikini competition at the Canadian Body Building Federation national bikini, figure, fitness and elite men's bodybuilding championships in New Westminster on Aug. 11.
Competition is nothing new to the single mother of four-year-old Mekaella. But getting back on stage was.
Ashlie's father was a bodybuilder, so having muscle magazines within reaching distance was part of growing up, she said.
But Ashlie also wrestled with an eating disorder at a young age, going through cycles of binging and purging for 12 years before finally taking charge of herself.
She developed a passion for fitness at the age of 16, but her battle with body image and weight gain persisted even after she entered the competitive fitness scene in Ontario.
Following the competitions, Ashlite would return to her unhealthy eating patterns.
But with the birth of her daughter, Ashlie made a life decision by listening to her body and following those rhythms through a balance of proper nutrition and exercise.
"I really made my voice strong. It was about me championing my story. It wasn't a choice," said Ashlie.
A year ago, Ashlie left her failing relationship, became a single mom and began following an eating pattern that, she said, worked for her. Called the Primal diet and based on the book Primal Blueprint, written by Mark Sissons, it suggests eating a diet of whole foods while eliminating processed foods and limiting carbohydrate intake. "It's one I feel comfortable with," she added.
Last spring, Ashlie was talked into returning to competition and she surprised herself by winning the Western Canadian championships in Kelowna. She then competed at the provincials and placed runnerup.
Ashlie emphasizes that the bikini competition is not about exploiting a women's body, but rather one that is judged solely on the merits of a model's muscular symmetry.
It's part of that balance Ashlie believes she has found in her life.
"You can have anything you really want. It's about making the time," she said.
In her work and at home, Ashlie strives to be that role model to other women and to her daughter.
"I was trying to find my place, my platform. I used to be a personal trainer and it was not what I wanted to do anymore," she said.
As an account manager with a supplement company, Ashlie comes in contact with many women who are looking to take control of their lives.
In the fitness industry, there are many different roads to follow, and some have more severe consequences on the body than others.
Ashlie has chosen that middle path and follows what she calls the '80-20 rule,' which means eating heathly 80 per cent of the time and enjoying some popcorn or a bar of dark chocolate with her daughter on a Saturday night the remainder of the time.
"I just found things that kind of worked for me," she said. "It all really came down to the desire to get to a better place. - It's all about that balance."
Ashlie believes as humans, we have unrealistic expectation surrounding our bodies and that's why short-term diet and fitness regimes often fail.
The time taken toward reaching a goal is part of the journey and a large measure of the reward, she said, adding she's never been happier than she is now.
"It's a mental clarification that comes when you find that balance - work is better, relationships are better.
"Life is about changing your mindset. You only get one chance in everything you personally want to do," she said.
You can follow Ashlie's progress, see her diet, training and supplementation at www.sdpharmaceuticals.com. There is also a link to her blog and Twitter on the site.