For some people, losing weight can be a great achievement. Ashleigh Kugler may be able to relate to that sense of accomplishment, as she dropped more than 140 pounds over a four-year period. And after receiving a message from the Rachael Ray Show, the tomboy underwent a transformative makeover in January 2019.
A resident of Fargo, North Dakota, Kugler is a mother of two who works as a hair stylist. She grew up in Garrison, ND, and attended the local high school before going on to study at the Headquarters Academy of Hair Design. During that period, though, the mom was battling an issue that had plagued her since childhood.
While she had been just a toddler, in fact, Kugler had quietly devised a plan that had allowed her to receive a steady stream of food from her family. “I had two sets of grandparents that lived on the same farm,” she told People in January 2019. “I would go to one house and eat snacks and cookies and then come back to the other house and say that I never ate.”
In retrospect, Kugler acknowledges that something was wrong at that point – especially in view of her tender age. “Looking back, that absolutely is not normal behavior for a three-year-old,” she admitted. However, the situation didn’t improve in the ensuing years, and so the youngster put on weight as a result.
As it happens, Kugler wore jeans made for men before she even reached her teens, as she already needed pants with a 38-inch waist. And when she was older, car seat belts couldn’t accommodate her, which proved problematic during her high school years. Yet another issue cropped up when the teenager visited a local fair: her size prevented her from riding the attractions.
Despite Kugler’s weight problems, though, she continued to eat copious amounts of food. In fact, she would clear out a box of breakfast cereal in a single helping and down entire packs of snack cakes – all without the knowledge of her parents. In an attempt to keep her binge-eating a secret, you see, she would conceal the evidence afterwards.
And although Kugler found life very difficult at that point, her eating habits showed no signs of changing. “I didn’t have any self-esteem, no self-confidence,” she later admitted to People. “Back then, I just wanted to blend in. I didn’t want to be seen.”
However, Kugler received a wake-up call when she was approaching her 20s. When the teenager – who weighed close to 290 pounds at the time – looked at some photographs of herself, something seemingly clicked. And Kugler realized that she needed to shed the excess weight for the sake of her health.
“I knew I was overweight,” Kugler explained. “But for some reason, in that moment, I just stepped outside my body, and I realized, ‘This is what you actually look like, and you are probably not going to live to see 30 if you continue on this way.’ And it was just a big shock.”
With that in mind, Kugler decided to put together a plan of action to help her drop some pounds. When she discovered that Weight Watchers was going to be arriving in Garrison, she signed up to join the group, for instance. But it wasn’t long before she started to feel pangs of uncertainty.
“I actually started promising myself, ‘You’re going to give this one week,’” Kugler recalled. “‘You’re going to actually follow the plan as you are supposed to – no cheating. And then, when you go to weigh in next week, and it doesn’t work, then you can quit.’ Because that was such an outside-my-comfort-zone thing.”
“So I was already telling myself I could quit before I even tried it,” Kugler continued. Regardless of her negative mindset, though, she stuck with the Weight Watchers plan during that opening week, adding healthy meals to her diet and keeping track of what she was putting inside her body. But the North Dakota native didn’t predict what would happen next.
After adhering to her diet plan, Kugler was set to hit the scales at her very first Weight Watchers meeting. When she weighed in, however, the results left her and her group leader stunned. The aspiring hair stylist had lost close to 12 pounds in weight – a feat that had blown her previous expectations out of the water.
“In that moment, I knew if I could lose 12 pounds in one week, I could keep going,” Kugler told People of the experience of seeing the results of her first weigh-in. “I could lose one or two pounds and keep going until I hit the end. It might take me five years to get there, [though,] and I knew it’s not going to be this every week.”
“But I knew that if I just kept going, someday I was going to get to the end,” Kugler added. “I was hell-bent and bound and determined after that week.” And with her new-found positive mentality, she continued on at Weight Watchers, adapting her diet along the way.
Indeed, Kugler stopped consuming processed products altogether after her first Weight Watchers meeting, replacing them with creative alternatives. And while she continued to eat her favorite meals – such as burgers – she made sure to prepare them in healthier ways, which helped her lose even more weight. But her new routine didn’t end there.
In addition, Kugler kept a record of her daily food consumption. And as a result of her hard work, the tomboy dropped about 100 pounds. However, her journey wasn’t over yet. In 2009 she celebrated the birth of her son Ethan –an event that seemingly inspired her to slim down even further.
In total, then, Kugler dropped an incredible 143 pounds – close to half of what her body weight had been as a 19-year-old. And thankfully for the mom, she didn’t regain in the following years – even after going on to welcome her second child.
In an attempt to avoid any potential slips, meanwhile, Kugler has been using social media to her advantage by building supportive networks on Instagram and Facebook. She has thousands of followers across both websites, in fact. And yet perhaps nothing could prepare Kugler for where social media would lead her at the end of 2018.
You see, one of the Rachael Ray Show’s producers reached out to Kugler on Instagram. There, they informed her that they wanted to share her story on the daytime talk show at the start of January 2019. And to make that happen, Kugler would need to travel to Ray’s New York studio.
But on top of free flights to the Big Apple and the chance to appear on television, Kugler was offered another fantastic opportunity. To commemorate her weight loss, the Rachael Ray Show’s representatives suggested a makeover for the mom, too. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, Kugler agreed, leading stylist Gretta Monahan to begin preparing to give her a fresh new look.
Before Kugler’s transformation is revealed on the show, though, she offers viewers some more insights into how she has kept her weight down. “These days, I maintain my weight loss by staying active with my kids,” the hair stylist says during the episode. “I do fitness workouts at home, and I try to eat mostly natural whole foods.”
After that, Kugler then touches upon her overall look and fashion choices. “My style? I dress very tomboy, country,” she explains. “I usually wear jeans, yoga pants, hoodies [and] no dresses.” She adds, “I always told myself [that] once I got to my goal weight, I was going to give myself a whole makeover.” But Kugler had found it hard to keep that promise to herself.
Since losing almost half of her body weight, you see, Kugler had encountered a frustrating issue when she went out shopping for new clothes. “I still catch myself grabbing things off the rack that are a few sizes bigger than I actually am,” she explains during her interview. So, how did she want the Rachael Ray Show to help her in the style department?
“I guess I would like to see myself in something a little bit more classy and not just so tomboyish,” Kugler reveals during the episode. “I’m not really flashy, but, you know, classy with some cool accessories would be fun.” And Monahan adds her own two cents on the matter, too.
To begin with, the stylist speaks about the major changes to which Kugler had needed to adjust after shedding so much weight. “She had a whole lifetime of getting used to and making an impression of her body size and shape,” Monahan says. “Her whole entire life, she knew nothing else.”
“Then, suddenly, [Kugler has] a dramatically different body to work with,” Monahan continues. “She’s not familiar with it. She was totally overwhelmed going into stores and just unfamiliar, right? You go to a different department in the store, and you can feel completely overwhelmed.”
And Monahan continues to shed light on the troubles that Kugler has experienced by explaining how challenging it was for the mom to purchase clothes before the weight loss. “She could never actually buy things – even in plus-size stores,” the style guru says. “She had to do special sizing online.”
After setting the scene, then, Monahan introduces Kugler to the stage and finally unveils her dramatic makeover. The mom appears wearing a stylish red dress, and her transformation clearly stuns Ray. “You look like a music video from any decade!” the host says with a smile.
But the surprises weren’t over just yet for Kugler. Ray goes on to inform her guest that she will be included in People’s Half Their Size issue. And, unsurprisingly, the mom of two looks totally overwhelmed by the announcement. “I’m from North Dakota; this doesn’t happen!” she tells the host.
Kugler has spoken about the personal significance that the Half Their Size editions of People hold for her, too. You see, she had read those particular issues of the magazine during her high school years, and she’d always harbored ambitions of one day being featured in such a spread herself.
“I was in such awe over these real people living real lives and achieving something like that,” Kugler told People. “And I would always feel this little fire inside me, like, ‘Maybe one day.’ And then in the years when I was on my weight loss journey, I would always have friends and family look at the issues and say, ‘This could be you!’”
Kugler added, “I always just kind of laughed it off, because while I was absolutely proud of what I had accomplished, never in my wildest dreams did I think a small-town girl like me from rural North Dakota could ever end up in People magazine.” And yet that dream did come true.
Then, following the publication of the 2019 Half Their Size issue, Kugler shared a photo of her feature on her social media pages. And, unsurprisingly, her followers were keen to show their support, with the image earning hundreds of likes on Instagram. The mom’s post generated plenty of positive comments, too, in which users hailed Kugler’s achievements.
Not only that, but Kugler’s photo also raked in hundreds of likes on Facebook. “We appreciate you all so much,” she wrote on the social media website. “I’m still plugging away, trying to respond to posts and messages, but there are lots. So, I promise they haven’t gone unnoticed; I’m just trying my best to not get carpal tunnel before morning!”
But while the reactions to Kugler’s achievements seemed to be positive in most cases, some internet users appeared somewhat cynical. In fact, Kugler even felt it necessary to respond to her haters by writing a lengthy message on her Facebook page. And in particular, she wanted to address those who had labeled her accomplishments as mere “luck.”
“Let me be very clear here,” Kugler wrote on January 5, 2019. “I fought through one of the hardest things anyone can do and then invited all of social media to be a part of it in hopes that my journey might make a difference for someone else. I did not get this opportunity because I got lucky.”
“I got this opportunity because I worked my a** off in this life, and someone thought the rest of the world needed to hear my story,” Kugler continued. “Luck has nothing to do with anything I’ve accomplished or received. I may not have known just what would come from it, but I’ve spent an entire decade working so hard for this very moment in my life.”
After expressing her frustration, Kugler then spoke about the hardships that she’d faced along the way. “I lived it, I struggled, I failed, I learned [and] I kept going. I made it,” the mom continued on Facebook. “And then I brought whoever wanted to come along with me and stood beside them as long as they wanted me to.”
And Kugler finally brought her passionate Facebook post to a close with a warm message to her followers. “I made this happen,” she wrote. “I am still in disbelief and forever so damn grateful. And I appreciate every single one of you who has supported me along the way.” It’s clear to see, then, that Kugler’s inspirational journey has been about so much more than shedding the pounds.