Strong Bonds

This article originally appeared in the Honolulu Advertiser in December 2004
Strong Bonds (The Honolulu Advertiser) - December 2004

By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer

When her husband left her in 2000, Ashlyn Izumo of Kailua took a good, hard look at her life, asking: If I'm going to be a single mother, what kind of mother — and person — do I want to be?

Among her issues was her weight. At 5-feet-5, Izumo tipped the scales at 289 pounds.

"I was a big girl," she says. "The day after he left me, I started working out and I haven't stopped since."

Izumo hired a personal trainer, Eric Yamashita, whom she now describes as "a life coach," too. "You bring a lot of baggage to your workout. He says to leave it at the door 'cause we're here to work hard."

She does work hard. Izumo works out six days a week, with 35 to 40 minutes of cardio each workout, while alternating upper and lower body weights.

Today, she weighs in at 169 pounds, closing in on her long-term goal of 150.

What makes Izumo's weight loss all the more inspiring is that she eschews gimmicks, pills and special diets. She believes in the simple approach of eating right and exercising.

Old-school weight loss.

That approach earned her recognition from Transformations Ventures Inc., a program sponsored by Bill Phillips, author of the best seller "Body for Life."

Izumo sent in an application in September and was chosen two weeks ago as a person who has transformed herself. Last week, she and her son, Brandt, spent two days being filmed at locations around Honolulu for a program that will ultimately become either a DVD or a national TV program featuring a select group of carefully chosen "transformers" from across the nation.

After several years of working out nearly every day, Izumo said, she "became obsessed with the weight coming back, and I was compulsive about the gym. I would eat and then go to the gym and almost beat myself up for having eaten anything.

"I was in the gym more than I needed to be, and that made me feel so guilty from not being with my child, so I compensated by buying him things and taking him to McDonald's."

Mother, son work out

About a year ago, she talked her 13-year-old son, Brandt, into working out with her.

Although they have different goals (hers is weight loss, his is to bulk up and get strong) the mother-son workouts have been a boon for both.

Brandt, an eighth-grader at Kawananakoa School, has a chronic illness, Crohn's disease, an inflammation of the small intestine that often causes weight loss and may stunt growth in children. Ten months ago he was hospitalized and received nine blood transfusions.

Today he works out 4 to 5 days a week.

"My workouts make me feel good about myself, knowing that I'm strong and I can do anything," he said. "It helps get me through things. The doctors say weight training is good for my health."

He said the TV set up in front of the stationary bikes helps him stay on track for the full 40 minutes. He also enjoys walking in Kaka'ako with his mom.

In addition, hanging out at the gym has taught Brandt to eat more healthful foods.

After a workout, he goes to the juice bar at Gold's Gym instead of heading for a fast-food place. "I eat salads with every meal now, and I go get a vegetable burrito instead of a hamburger."

And, oh, yeah, there's an added benefit to being buffed: "I like to impress the girls and have them think differently of me," Brandt said, somewhat sheepishly.

Food pushers

Although Izumo works in an environment where the focus is on health — she is a secretary in the Lifestyle Program at Kaiser Permanente's Honolulu Clinic — she is always surrounded by food. She has learned to deal with it through moderation.

"My co-workers call me the 'Freezer Queen' because I eat small quantities of everything and freeze the rest. It's amazing what you can freeze; did you know Krispy Kreme doughnuts freeze really well?"

Family gatherings also present challenges.

"The cultural pressures of the family are really strong. People give food as love," Izumo said. "I had to learn that I didn't have to eat the whole piece of pie to show that I love them, too."

She found it was simply too hard to say 'No, thank you,' to the food offered, so she asks instead if she can save some for later. Little freezer containers are among her favorite accessories these days.

Meal planning has been a great help to Izumo. "We plan things at work, no problem. But do we plan what we're going to eat? Hardly. So then you find yourself famished and you'll eat that whole plate lunch."

Now she takes time the night before to plan her workouts and her meals for the next day.

"This year, my key word is 'balance.' How do I balance my life as he becomes a teenager?"

Working out together has worked well for the mother and son. Ashlyn's guilt is considerably lessened (though all mothers live with some level of guilt for even their smallest imperfections) and Brandt has discovered the benefits of fitness.

A new challenge

The mother-son duo met their first challenge together when they completed the three-mile "Race for the Cure" last October. Now they're training for The Great Aloha Run together.

"Two years ago I would never have thought I could do it, but we trained and did really well," Brandt said of the Race for the Cure.

His goal, in addition to completing the run, is "to be able to lift as much as my mom by the end of next year."

His mom is counting on it. "Wow! He challenges me and I challenge him and I know that next year he may be past me ... and that would make my heart sing," the proud mother said with a gleam in her eye.

Contact Paula Rath at