Back in 2016 Ravon Hardy-Castillo (“Ray,” to her friends) spent three days in the hospital after not being able to use the restroom for two weeks.
“My stomach was just getting [more and more] bloated,” she says. “My back was hurting. My knees were hurting. I was not feeling my best.” Her three-day stint was the result of a blocked colon that created systemic toxicity—and in turn, the consequence of a meat-heavy diet.
Upon reading her hospital discharge paperwork, Hardy-Castillo was shocked to find that she had reached an all-time high of 275 pounds with the alarming classification of “severe obesity.”
“When I saw ‘severe obesity’ I thought I can’t do this anymore,” she recalls. “I’m 5 feet 4 inches tall. Short … I shouldn’t have that much weight on my body.” Reflecting on how she got to be 275 pounds, Hardy-Castillo saw that she has a family history of obesity health problems that comes with an inactive lifestyle and unhealthy diet, and she recognized that she was an emotional eater, using food to comfort herself and her insecurities.
“I saw myself drifting into the lifestyle like everyone else [in my family] was, and I said to myself, you know what? I’m not going to be like my family. I’m not going to make excuses. I’m going to do something about it.” That’s what started her weight-loss and fitness journey.
Hardy-Castillo hired a personal trainer at 24 Hour Fitness in Lakewood, California to jumpstart her new lifestyle but soon realized that she needed to dig deep mentally to kick unhealthy habits to the curb.
“I just needed to get my mind together, and I started to think about myself, and who I really am, and what my journey was really going to mean,” she says. After recognizing her emotional dependency on food, the trainer decided to work her way toward a plant-based diet, hit the gym regularly and share her experience (the good, the bad, and the ugly) with her more than 33,000 Instagram followers.
Now two years in and 100 pounds down, 24Life caught up with the influencer, while filming in the 24 Hour Fitness “Worth It” campaign, to find out what’s changed, what keeps her going, and her advice to others.
24Life: Why were you being told you couldn’t do things?
Ravon Hardy-Castillo: I was born with a nevus (which is a large mole) on my back. Usually they’re not cancerous but the doctor gave my mother the option to have it removed just in case, so they did. From birth up until about the age of 10 or 12, I was constantly in the hospital, having skin graft surgery, staples in my back and stiches everywhere. I was constantly in pain and obviously I couldn’t run, jump, play rough or bump into things because of the thin layer of skin I had and also because I don’t have the [protective tissue] around [that part of] my spine like the average person does. When I was growing up, I wanted to be in sports, but I couldn’t.
24Life: Your hospitalization for bowel obstruction prompted you to make changes. After being told “you can’t” for so long, what was that like?
RHC: As I got older … I told myself that I’m not going to let that be the answer for me. … I’m on my own now and it’s either life or death at this point so I challenged myself: When I’m on journey, I say, you know what? We’re going to figure out what’s really going on with you. Why are you eating your emotions? Let’s take care of it.
I thought, I can do whatever the heck I want to do. Why are you telling me I can’t? So I started to lift weights … and the pump you get when you lift is one of the most amazing feelings ever. I was able to [recently] lift 205 pounds! It just feels amazing to stop hearing the “No, you can’t,” and say, Yes, I can do whatever I want to do. It’s a choice at this point. I’m not going to let that stop me.
24Life: You knew you needed to lose weight, but was there anything that made it real for you, besides the doctor’s notation?
RHC: I wanted to be able to tie my shoes without having to gasp for air … If it becomes difficult for you to do the simplest things in life, that’s how you know something’s wrong.
I don’t know anyone in my family that’s actually in shape, not one, and everyone is dealing with health issues. Everyone’s on medication. Everyone has back problems. Everyone is just sick and tired of being overweight but they’re not doing absolutely anything about it but making excuses.
24Life: What made you decide to focus on your nutrition?
RHC: I hired a personal trainer … but for me it just wasn’t working for me to have someone guide me yet. I needed to get my mind together. And I started to think about myself and who I really am and what my journey was really going to mean. I realized that I had a food addiction, because I would eat my emotions all the time. That [led to] trying [a] more plant-based diet.
24Life: It can be hard to change eating habits that are part of your family’s make-up. Any advice for people who are in a similar situation?
RHC: I went from eating a lot of meat to becoming vegan, which has helped my weight loss as well, so that’s definitely something that inspired me to want to become a healthier me. If you’re considering becoming a vegan, take your time, because it’s not an easy transition from eating meat. Meal prepping is very, very important because you have to be able to know what you’re eating every day. Train your body to understand it, but don’t go from eating meat [one day] to veganism [the next]. Take your time.
24Life: Did you expect to become a social media influencer? What has that been like?
RHC: it literally just started with a photo. I’ve always had social media, but I was the one that never really posted a lot. When I did post, it was cute little selfies, but it wasn’t really body pictures. I shared a photo and I just started sharing more.
I did not expect it to be anywhere close to what it is now. I didn’t think that me just doing what anyone should, which is taking care of their health, would [inspire] people to do it and to learn how to do it …to learn how to feed their body what it needs and what it wants. We think our body wants that bag of chips, but it really doesn’t. Your mind wants that, but your body does not want that. Your body wants fuel because it has to keep going. Our bodies, our joints, our muscles are not meant to be overweight. … [It] just helps me to keep going to know that I’m inspiring so many people.
24Life: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
RHC: I would like to be [a trainer] who travels the world and visits people at their homes. People who are unable to get out of their beds, unable to get out of their homes or who feel like “I can’t go outside.” I want to be able to share my story with everyone … and do physical work with them, even if they’re bedridden. Let’s learn together. I don’t want to just be a trainer for people who are already fit. I want to be a trainer that helps unfit people who are afraid to go to the gym. I want to help them kick butt.
Photo and video credit: Tom Casey, box24studio.com