Fitness. For as long as any of us can probably remember, we’ve been working on improving our health or our fitness in one way or another. Usually in the form of ‘cleaning up’ our diets, cutting calories and entire food groups, and working out until we couldn’t walk the next day.
Fitness once represented a healthy ideal about the ways in which we ought to take care of our bodies. However, it seems there is much more to this word than seemingly meets the eye.
As a woman who has been on both ends of the spectrum–being extremely unhealthy to a woman who was (in every way) living the ‘fit’ lifestyle I can see the dangers on both ends.
After nearly 18 months of recovery from the mainstream fitness mindset I’ve rounded up the top 11 reasons to avoid mainstream fitness. If you’re bruised and battered from a life lived in the pursuit of ‘fitness’, it’s time your mindset got a makeover…
11 Reasons to Avoid Mainstream Fitness
- Both the problem and coincidentally the supposed solution too.
- Focuses on weight as (often the only) indicator of health regardless of what you had to do to lose the weight.
- Makes health, fitness, wellness available to a narrow number of people aka only those who can afford the time, energy, and money for the things diet culture claims are healthy. If you’re a single mom working two jobs, how in the world are you supposed to afford the latest superfood and gym membership?
- Further exploits women and takes their power. At the end of the day, many women are still chasing the fit ideal, not necessarily their ideal body. They’re slaves to food scales, calorie counting, and the next best diet to hit the market. Sadly, many women come running with their wallets open and their credit card out to buy the next fix. It’s a rare form of slavery—one in which we choose.
- Places value on what you look like and what you do instead of who you are. And in many ways promotes similar behavior as those with eating disorders.
- Promotes disordered eating behaviors–obsessive food thoughts, thinking about calories and macros, and food phobia.
- Creates fear and anxiety around food, eating, and your body.
- Adds to pressure already felt by women to be all the things to everyone. Not only do we need to ‘good’ wives and moms, we also need to do it in the hottest body ever. Maybe there is more to life than walking around in a near perfect body?
- Feeds on comparison. Which by the way, is a massive driving factor in body dissatisfaction–the diet industry knows that. If they can create a problem (flawed bodies, obesity, etc), then losing weight and getting toned are obvious answers.
- Shames the ‘before’ body and glorifies only the ‘after’ body.
- The ‘after’ photo–it’s not always better. In fact, most of your problems are still your problems even if you’re in a size 4.
Hear this, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy, there is everything wrong about the obsession we have with health, wellness, and the pursuit of the perfect body.
For many of us who have been chasing the pursuit of mainstream fitness ideals, we might be weary and feel a sense of relief at the idea of completely ditching the behaviors that drove our unhealthy obsessions around food, exercise, and our bodies. For others we might be leery of the ideas mentioned above.
Don’t abandon the behaviors you know in your heart to be taking care of you, helping you become the best version of yourself.
But 100% DO abandon the notion you have to lose a certain amount of weight, adopt a specific diet, or beat yourself up in the gym to obtain your fit lifestyle. Consume information on fitness through a critical eye, and start making decisions for yourself.
After all, only you know what’s best for you. So it’s time to step up and take ownership of that responsibility. It is truly the only way you will be able to be the woman you were created to be, and do what only you were created to do.
Is anti-diet the right way to approach health, wellness, and well-being?
Some front runners in this movement teach the WTH attitude. Which is NOT the answer either. That is the kind of thinking that keeps people stuck. In many ways it gives wrong idea about eating, and living life in general. Self-control is displayed as being a form of slavery. Instead, you’re encouraged to throw all caution to the wind, and do whatever the heck you feel like.
Instead we ought to approach our well-being from a place of mindfulness and responsibility. Sometimes it means making the hard call, delaying gratification, so you can grow into that next level version of yourself.
Throwing the middle finger up at the idea that self-control and discipline creates a sense of why even try? Apathy is not empowerment. Taking ownership is empowering–so long as you do it on your own terms. And not according to what you ‘think’ you should be doing.
You know dieting doesn’t work
You just want to be healthy, but somehow you’re still struggling to make those new lifestyle habits stick.
If dieting isn’t the answer. What is? Initially it seems like it would be the opposite–not dieting. But that is scary right? For most of us, dieting in some way is all we have known. Dieting nonsense is everywhere in our culture these days.
We’ve never really been taught how to eat when we aren’t operating from a diet mindset or with diet behaviors.
We all want to feel at ease around food and feel comfortable in our skin.
Whether it’s from a shallow place of wanting to look good, or because of a deeper desire we have to feel like we are lovable, worthy, and good enough.
On the surface, most of us would say we know what it takes to reach our health goals–eat less, move more. No matter how many times we’ve tried this and have failed, we still carry this as our own failure. Not the diet itself.
We try to fit ourselves into a box we were never meant to be in. We were created to be unique–that includes the formula for our healthy lifestyle too. My healthy lifestyle won’t necessarily look the same as yours, and that is ok.
About 18 months ago, I realized I was still dieting, yet calling it a “healthy lifestyle”.
I was operating by rules and restriction.
I wasn’t losing weight (long-term). I was obsessed with food all the time again. Even though I was working out 6 days a week, my body didn’t lose weight.
Maybe time to do something different
What are you currently doing? How is that working for you? If it’s not working, it’s time to shake things up and do something you’ve never done before.
I’m willing to bet you’ve had seasons in life where you’ve said screw it, and have eaten whatever you wanted, and that didn’t get you what you wanted either. While I’m not proposing that we just go totally off the rails. I am proposing we find our own happy middle ground.
Look at ditching the diet mindset in a mindful way.
Give yourself permission to eat anything you want.
Toss out the food rules.
Get in touch with yourself.
Ask yourself these questions:
What do you want to look, feel, be like?
How do you want to engage with food and your body?
How do you want to feel in your skin?
Guess what you can have those feelings now. You can have that relationship with food right now.
Diet culture is everywhere you turn
I had to overcome years of dieting and living in diet culture. Sometimes it is near impossible to sort it all out.
When I first started my own non-diet journey, I went way off the rails. Gained weight, didn’t feel good. I knew I was self-sabotaging, but this time it was my fault. You see when we diet, and it doesn’t work–sure we feel pretty bad about ourselves for failing, but ultimately we still get to blame the diet for not working.
When you go off the rails on purpose, and you initially start to leave dieting behind it will feel out of control. That is all the years of dieting and listening to the diet BS catching up with you. This is normal. No need to panic. And you definitely don’t need to go back to dieting.
It’s a slow process. One that needs practicing every day. You may get to a point where you realize you aren’t happy with how you’ve been treating yourself (which by the way can and does STILL happen when you’re dieting).
When you’re recovering from the diet mindset there is an adjustment period. It will take you some time to learn this new way of eating and interacting with food.
But it gets better.
The rebel who just wants to eat everything doesn’t have to rule your world.
Instead, you learn how to channel into your inner guide and expert. You use her to guide you to the right decisions for yourself. Of course having some key habits under your belt will help until it becomes more automatic.
Where the anti-diet movement fails you
Some in the anti-diet movement will tell you to just keep going. Eat whatever you want how ever much you want.
It’s a ‘who cares’ attitude. This is irresponsible and doesn’t empower anybody. Maybe it feels like empowerment temporarily, but not long term.
Rejecting the anti-diet mindset is as important as rejecting the diet mindset.
When you finally step into the role of expert in your own life, you take full ownership of your life and your results that is when you find TRUE freedom.
I had to teeter to both extremes to figure that out.
The ironic thing? In both extremes I was unhappy.
One is the mindset you’ll never be good enough, the other says you can be whatever you want even if it costs you your health and the ability to manage yourself in a healthy, helpful way.
Finding your own center will help you walk through life with self- control, discipline, grace and self-compassion. That, my friend is the only way to live the life you were created to live.
If you’re ready to simplify nutrition and leave dieting behind click here to apply for my new group coaching program. Space is limited, and the early bird discount won’t last long…
4 out of 5 women are unsatisfied with how they look in some way. Why are women so worried about how they look anyway?
It’s not uncommon to hear yourself or one of your friends mention some part of their body they’d happily exchange or elect to chop off if it made them smaller, curvier, or more attractive.
This kind of talk is an epidemic in our culture. We’ve totally normalized this self-loathing chatter. Heck, it is something many of us bond over.
Not only is this kind of talk a total waste of time and energy, it’s also destructive.
You’re probably not surprised to hear body dissatisfaction is linked to higher rates of eating disorders, disordered eating, depression, and low self-esteem.
Which when writing that, kind of seems like a no-brainer.. However, I don’t think I had ever realized just how much it impacted me until I wasn’t thinking about or talking about my body in such a hateful and negative way.
Low self esteem often leads to a lack of belief in oneself. It is not entirely uncommon that women let their weight or what they look like stop them from going after the promotion they want or the man they have had their eye on.
They avoid speaking up. Avoid putting themselves out there in any way that would draw attention to them. At all costs they try not to be seen or heard because they feel ashamed they don’t measure up to someone else’s idea of beautiful.
It is crazy to think even now, we believe it’s because of our weight we’re not worthy of love, success, or happiness.
What’s with the obsession of the ‘perfect’ body anyway?
This desire for the perfect body is led by fear. We want desperately to fit in, and belong. Our basic human need is love. Unfortunately often we associate being able to be loved with being perfect.
The irony is, none of us are perfect, yet we still strive for that standard anyway.
On the surface we fear not fitting in or not belonging.
We fear being judged by others, and standing out (in a bad way).
Inside though, the fear is we’re not good enough.
We’re afraid to be failures.
If we don’t have the perfect body something is wrong with us..we’re somehow broken.
We’re unhappy with how we feel about ourselves, so we try to fix it with diets, workouts, weight loss. And strangely we are unhappy doing that too. It almost seems like we’re fighting a battle we can’t win.
Darned if you do and darned if you don’t.
Enough is enough…
As long as we choose to put our value and worth in the scale or weight loss we will always be unhappy. There will never be a point where you can just relax. You’re either stressing about losing the weight or you’re stressing about keeping the weight off. It’s never enough.
Despite the chatter you hear in your own head or at happy hour with the girls, hating your body or even disliking your body is not normal. Nor is it healthy.
It most certainly is not serving you in any way. We can’t make long term change from a place of self-hatred. It just won’t work. Instead, we must decide to change because we know we were created for more–more love, more success, more joy.
Draw a line in the sand, and get to work
First step in the healing process is realize how unhealthy and how abnormal it is to hate your body.
Decide to stop picking on yourself. Instead choose the same kindness and compassion you would give to your best friend or your kids.
Stop engaging in conversation that tears you down (with friends, peers, and especially in your own mind.)
Choose gratitude. Even if you don’t at first glance see there is anything beautiful about your body. Be obsessively grateful for what your body has carried your though. What it’s allowed you to do/ accomplish.
Take care of yourself. Put you on your to-do list. Prioritize your self care.
Realize self-care is more than eating kale or taking a bubble bath. It’s about radically showing up as the woman you were created to be, to do the work only you were created to do.
The problem is…
Cultural and social conditioning are like noxious weeds– hard to kill.
You have to be ruthlessly committed to a new way of thinking about you and taking care of you ( this means your habits need an upgrade, your thoughts need an upgrade, and your actions do too)
The work is simple, it’s not easy. It’s a daily practice.
The sweet taste of victory, and not giving a ….
You realize what people think of you doesn’t matter near as much as what you think of you.
When you let go of the outcome (ie weight loss), and embrace who you are in this moment, you show up differently in your relationships, in your work, in your life. You realize that you can be just as happy now while working on where you want to go.
You put yourself out into the world knowing not all people will accept you or get you. But that’s not your problem, it’s theirs.
You belong to yourself, and therefore can be anywhere and be confident.
Instead of playing small, holding yourself back you’re chasing the dreams in your heart.
Instead of hiding until you’ve got the perfect body, you’re letting yourself be seen by others. You get to experience radical freedom in a way you never could before.
As a result of taking action and owning your life, opportunities you never knew existed will start showing up when you show up.
Step up, own your life, embrace what you’re working with today.
You my, friend were created the way you are for a specific purpose, but you can’t make it happen when you’re too busy hating on yourself.
So you’ve been at this dieting thing a while eh? Maybe it started back in middle school or maybe even earlier. Sometimes you lose weight, and other times you don’t. Heck, you might even gain weight.
I’ve dieted for over 10 years, and I’ve only lost about 2 pounds. Before you judge me and believe the lie I didn’t work hard enough or just got “lazy”. You may want to reserve those thoughts. Because if, like me, you’ve also tried diet after diet or the latest healthy lifestyle trend, you know the weight loss doesn’t always come and it doesn’t always stick around.
I’ve lost more than 2 pounds over the years (at one point up to 40 pounds). But I’ve managed to gain almost every single pound back.
I did all the things. I ate less and moved more. I tried calorie counting, flexible dieting via macro counting, weight watchers, and just about everything else you can think of.
Some of those things worked, for the short term. But most of them did not.
On the surface I lacked self-esteem and confidence
I hated the way I looked. But on the inside I was even more uncomfortable because of who I saw in the mirror. Not only did I not like how I looked. I didn’t who I was.
I didn’t show up for myself. I treated my body with so much abuse.
And Like most women, I thought weight loss was the answer. I thought if I could just lose some weight, I’d like me so much more.
The problem was that losing the weight doesn’t actually change who you are. Sure on the outside I was different, but inside I was the same girl. The only difference was I was in a body that was more acceptable to the world around me.
The praise and worship that came from being in ‘such good shape’ or being so disciplined made it almost impossible to ignore. On the one hand I felt more confident because I finally felt beautiful and like I was desirable for the first time ever (big lie by the way).
On the other hand, I was still insecure. I compared myself even more than before. I was afraid of ‘losing it’. So I locked myself in another kind of prison. This time my body wasn’t the jail cell, it was the tightly constructed rules, thoughts, and beliefs I built around food, eating, and exercise.
About a year and a half ago, as I was taking my before pictures yet again. And gearing up for my next workout program and meal plan, I realized I was getting ready to start another diet.
It hit me like a ton of bricks: IF this was a healthy lifestyle, why was I always starting over?
I hadn’t actually created a lifestyle. Stress and rules ruled my life around food and my body. The hardest part was, I knew I wasn’t really setting the example for my kids that I wanted. Especially my daughter.
My identity was still wrapped up in how much weight I could lose and keep off as well as how good I looked to compared to other women.
I said good-bye to dieting + pseudo healthy lifestyles
As scary as it was to decide not to start my next diet, I knew I had to. I was tired of feeling like a total failure every couple of weeks when I would get off track with my meal plan or fall off the wagon.
I was tired of starting over.
I knew that If I actually wanted the healthy and abundant life I was created for, I had to leave dieting behind for good.
The first step was to break the rules I’d so neatly constructed around food, eating, health, etc over the years.
Then I gave myself full permission to eat food. All the food. Carbs, fat, candy, all of it.
Remove the food rules-entirely. There were no more ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods. Just foods that honored me and treated me right. Sometimes that is the cookie and sometimes it’s not.
I had to learn new behaviors around food. Not just someone else’s new rules to follow when it came to eating or food.
I went off the rails
I ate all the foods I had been so good about restricting. It was like my rebellious teen came out and ate every single thing she’d been denied for so long.
I gained weight, and I felt pretty uncomfortable in my clothes. All of the old chatter came back about how bad I looked. This, by the way only made me feel like crap in my skin.
I thought about quitting this new process.
Even though my scale didn’t work, I knew my weight was creeping up.
Then one day…My off the rails eating subsided
My weight leveled off. I wasn’t obsessing over food for the first time in years.
Eating didn’t stress me out.
I had finally taken hold of the reigns in my life, and stopped giving away my power to someone else via another diet, workout program, and ideals about how my body should look.
I’m confident and comfortable in my skin in a way I never was before. And it has zero to do with my weight, how much cellulite I have, or the size of my clothes. In fact, I’m the same weight now as I was when I first started dieting. My jeans might even be about the same size. But you know what?
I’m one hundred percent a new woman. My body doesn’t look the same. And I sure as heck don’t feel the same way about myself. That is something the scale can and never will deliver. How I feel about myself isn’t tied to my weight or what I look like anymore.
My healthy lifestyle fits me and my life. It allows me to do all of the things I want to do because I’m healthy, strong, and have my energy back.
Hands down, the best part is I’m showing my daughter how to be fiercely herself. There is nothing quite like that feeling. I promise.
The question now is, what are you waiting for?
You’ve got one wild and beautiful life…there is no more time to be wasted hating your body for what it’s not. The time to join the Radical Self-Care Rebellion is now!
Sign up for weekly pep talks to your inbox! Fill out the form below, and I will add you to the inner circle of rebels 😉
Motivation is what gets you started, habits are what keep you going. – Jim Rohn
Motivation. We’ve all had that sudden spike to get up and take action at one point or another in our lives. For most of us, that surge of motivation doesn’t last more than a few days or weeks if we’re lucky.
Why is that? Well, as the quote above suggests, it’s a lack of habit. The motivation to create change is there, but the follow through is not. Motivation alone is not enough to keep you going when the road gets tough or when the results take longer than you expected. Habits, on the other hand make taking consistent action towards your goals not only possible, but almost easy.
Easy in the sense that when you’ve got habits in place, you don’t even have to think about what you’re doing.
Why does your brain like habits?
Your brain likes habits because the brain is all about efficiency and effectiveness. Habits allow your brain to turn off, and therefore, burn less calories because it doesn’t have to think about what to do next.
The brain always looks for ways to make things easier and more efficient. If you’ve ever had a day where you feel mentally drained, it is because your brain had to work overtime to think about what you were doing. As a result your brain was tapped in the energy department. The brain doesn’t like that.
Our brain likes simplicity. It likes routines. Think about the last time you drove home, you probably didn’t have to think much about the route you were going to take. In fact, you may have missed a majority of the drive home because you were essentially on auto-pilot. This is the power of habit at work.
The brain also likes habits, because they help you avoid decision fatigue. You are forced to make hundreds if not thousands of decisions each day-from large decisions to micro decisions. Some you may not even be aware of.
Most women meet that quota trying to get dressed in the morning. And if not then, they certainly do when they spend time and energy agonizing over what to eat. Especially if you’re steeped in diet culture or the diet mindset.
Your brain will look for every opportunity to create habits as a shortcut. This is regardless of if the routine/ habit you’ve developed is ultimately helpful or not. Hence the existence of your bad habits..
Do all of your habits contribute to your lifestyle love?
Not all habits are created equal as you’re probably aware. Think for a second about all of your habits. There is a good chance you have come up with more negative habits than good ones. That’s normal.
Bad, good, better, and best habits exist. Some serve you and the lifestyle you’re looking to live. Some don’t.
The problem lies in the habits we keep and the ones we have a hard time sticking to. If you’re wanting to create change and discover more lifestyle love in your life, then figuring out how to arrange the habits in your life is so crucial.
Beyond knowing how to arrange your habits, you need to get clear on which habits are serving you and your best self, and which ones are consistently sabotaging your hard work.
To get clear on which habits need an upgrade and which ones don’t try this exercise:
-Get out a piece of paper and list out the habits you’re aware of.
* You may have to think about your daily routine to see if you can notice some of the sneakier habits you’ve developed. For example, do you tend to plop down in front of the couch with a bag of chips after a long day of work and mindlessly binge Netflix until the chips are gone?
– Next, you’ll want to decide which habits are helping you and which ones aren’t. Rank them either using a number system or with simple terms as bad, good, better, best.
-Lastly, decide which habits you believe will help you succeed that you don’t have in place.
A common mistake many women make is they focus on, and beat themselves up over their bad habits. Instead of focusing on changing your bad habits, think about which habits you want to create.
You don’t have to change every bad habit at once. In fact, if you try, it’s a sure fire way to make sure you fail. Just think about New Year’s resolutions. People try to change everything about their lives, and then wonder why none of it stuck.
The importance of keystone habits
Instead of overwhelming yourself trying to change all your bad habits at once, start with one, and then go from there. Look back at the list you created, pick the one habit you know would have the most powerful impact on your life if you changed it. If you’re trying to improve your health, that one habit for you might be not using food for emotional comfort or getting in the habit of moving your body in some way each day.
Oftentimes when we create certain habits other ones seem to emerge out of nowhere. Sometimes all it takes is tipping over the first couple of dominos to create a cascading effect. When this happens, you know you’ve found a keystone habit. The more keystone habits you create, the quicker the results come in all other areas of your life too.
The problem is, you don’t always know which will be the dominos you have to start with. That is why it’s important for you to start with a habit you’re genuinely excited to create or are excited to see disappear as it’s not contributing to your overall lifestyle, and is definitely not creating a sense of lifestyle love in your life.
The next mistake people often make is not giving themselves enough time to practice creating the new habit. When they don’t see results in a few days or a couple of weeks, they lose steam, and go back to the behavior that wasn’t serving them at all. Be on the lookout for the quick fix mentality. Creating a sense of accountability for yourself is a smart move.
Look at creating new habits like a practice instead of a prescription. There will be days when no matter how hard you try, you’ll mess up. Dust yourself off and try again. Depending on how engrained the old habit is, it could take months to get the new habit to click for you.
Self-compassion, self-love, and grace will be huge in keeping you inspired to try again. Beating yourself up when you mess up, won’t.
Hacking the habit loop
Understanding the different parts of the habit and what you have to practice changing is helpful. This way you’re not wasting your time or energy, and can focus on what you have in your control.
Your habits have three parts. There is the cue, the routine, and the reward. The only thing you have to work on changing is the routine.
As humans, we are hardwired for pleasure. Our brains want to avoid pain because it sees pain as a threat to our survival. There was a point in time, when this was helpful, and at times still can be ie if you’re getting chased by a bear.
However, our brains in many ways are still pretty primal. Meaning the brain doesn’t do the best job at differentiating between an actual threat and a perceived threat. Think actual danger (chased by a bear) versus theoretical danger (being rejected).
Generally speaking, if something feels good or provides pleasure the brain perceives it as being good for us. While on the other end of the spectrum, if it causes pain (even if it’s emotional or mental) our brain wants to get us back to feeling good, at any cost. This means even if the habit is harmful, but provides an immediate sense of pleasure, your brain will seek that out.
Basically the brain is always looking for the reward part of the habit loop.
Let’s say you’ve got the habit of stress eating. Anytime you’re stressed, you eat. Regardless of if you’re hungry or not.
The cue might be you’ve just gotten out of a stressful client meeting at work or had a fight with your best friend. You feel anxious, on edge, upset, and end up migrating to the nearest cupboard or secret stash of your ‘feel good food’.
Looking at the scenario above the habit goes like this:
- Cue: stressful meeting or fight with best friend, boyfriend, mom, etc.
- Routine: find nearest source of ‘feel good food’
- Reward: feelings of anxiety, edginess, anger temporarily subside.
You can’t change the circumstance, and you can’t change what you’re brain is seeking (pain relief). What you can control and change is the action you take after the cue.
In the scenario above it’s easy to see that the ‘feel good food’ will only provide temporary relief. The pain will still be there after you’ve eaten your feel good food. That routine may even present other problems that you’re left to deal with down the road.
Now that you know on a basic level how habits work, you can take the habits you want to change from your list above, and break them down into the three parts that make up the habit loop. Decide what routine you want to swap in place of the current one. Then get to work practicing the new routine when the cue hits.
Focus on one or two habits to change at a time. Keep it simple, make it fun.
The power of habits will make or break you. It’s that simple. You are the sum of every habit you’ve ever had, every thought you’ve ever believed, and every belief you’ve ever held. If you don’t like what you see when you look at your life, it’s time to give some of your habits an upgrade, it’s time to give your mindset a makeover.
Hacking your habits is the first step.
Non-Diet Lifestyle Coaching
I’m not going to hand you a meal plan or protocol for how, what, or how much you should eat. I’m also not going to tell you how you should move your body. Additionally, you won’t find me cheering you on to just keep grinding to get the weight off. I’m not here to sell you on the next 12 week bootcamp or total body transformation. You definitely won’t find me promoting 21 day diets, detoxes, or other programs helping you create a more dysfunctional relationship with food, exercise, or yourself.
However, that wasn’t always the case.
My life before fitness
When I think back on my childhood, I remember being active as a kid. Whether it was riding my bike up and down my street with childhood friends, or throwing myself around in the field at recess pretending I would be the next world famous gymnast, I was a mover. As I got older though, I became less and less active. Most of my friends were busy with sports, but not me. My family couldn’t really afford to enroll me. Not to mention, my parents never emphasized the importance sports played in the lives of young girls. I’m guessing the latter is because they themselves didn’t know how much sports positively impact girls.
Instead of playing soccer or volleyball I pursued boys, drinking, and drugs. At that time in my life those things seemed to provide what I was looking for most. In the midst of partying I found pain relief, a place to belong, and even though ironic, confidence too. No matter how damaging those behaviors actually were. I needed to fit in. I wanted so bad to belong somewhere, to feel wanted.
I wanted so bad to belong somewhere, to feel wanted.
Not ironically though, the less active I became, the worse my lifestyle habits and my self-image were. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually I was broken, empty, and unhappy. When I looked in the mirror I hated what I saw. I hated how I felt about myself in my own body. I hated that I didn’t feel beautiful because my body didn’t resemble what society told me was beautiful.
This self-hatred spiraled into other dangerous and damaging behaviors around food and exercise.
Growing up I lacked positive role-models when it came to many areas of my life. Especially on the lifestyle front. On one hand I saw my mom using food as a way to cope with her own pain (a behavior I later discovered she learned from her mom). On the other hand, I saw a woman (my aunt) who was so afraid of being fat she would go to extreme measures to ensure that never happened.
During my early adolescent years I spent many days with my aunt. Her behavior became the standard by which I judged all others. Her standards for what was beautiful or acceptable became my standards. Because my aunt was so fearful of creeping over 112 pounds, I always thought that was the golden number I myself needed to reach. Dieting was normal behavior at her house. It still is, but today it looks more like mainstream health and fitness.
I found myself in my early twenties without a clue as to what a healthy lifestyle actually looked like. Left to try to figure it out myself, I dabbled with all sorts of supposedly ‘healthy’ behaviors. I tried gyms and diets. Detoxes and eating disorders. Nothing seemed to work… at least not permanently.
Success as a dieter
After trying and failing more diets than I care to admit; I stumbled on one that did seem to provide a temporary reprieve from the body I was living in.
Weight Watchers at the time seemed like a true God-send. Through the meetings (which I now see were a blend of community and fear based accountability) I learned a little bit about how to eat in a way to lose weight. Weight Watchers taught me how to manipulate and manage my caloric intake, even if it was just in favor of losing weight no matter the cost. However, unhealthy it was, it worked. I dropped about 15 pounds within the first few months. The scale continued to move slowly, and I saw the weight loss results I was desperate for. It was everything I thought I wanted.
Over the next few years I continued working on my “healthy lifestyle” through exercise and dieting. I picked up running and kicked my clean eating into high gear. I was smaller than I’d ever been. In some ways I felt more confident, in many I was still so insecure. You would have thought living in the thin ideal body would have had me on cloud nine.
The thing I feel compelled to point out, is that even at my smallest weight and/or size, I was still unhappy. I was still self-conscious. I still compared myself to other women and often still felt inferior.
The thing I feel compelled to point out, is that even at my smallest weight and/or size, I was still unhappy. I was still self-conscious. I still compared myself to other women and often still felt inferior. Here’s the thing about diets and all the healthy lifestyles we see on social media, yet, no one is talking about–there will never be a weight, size, or shape that will give you the confidence you desire. That kind of confidence has to come from within, and is available long before you ever reach your goals.
An up-side to diet culture?
However, messy my relationship with fitness and myself was, on the one side, I could see ways adopting healthier behaviors had helped me. Fitness had given me confidence and courage, not because of the size or the weight loss goals reached. Learning to live a fit life taught me to believe in myself. Fitness taught me discipline and self-control. It taught me to persevere, set goals, and believe in myself in a way I needed. Pursuing fitness goals gave me the courage to try other things I never thought I’d do.
In 2011, I enrolled in my local university to get a degree in Exercise Science. This was one of those very things I never thought I’d do prior to getting into fitness. Though I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with my degree; I knew on some level it was going to be helping other women find confidence in themselves through fitness. The ultimate goal then, as it is now is to help them show up in the world around them as they were created to.
I graduated at the top of my class (another personal shocker). Full of excitement, I was ready to get out there and begin ‘helping’ women shed their body weight, body fat, and their insecurities. At the time, I didn’t realize you could shed your insecurities independent of body weight or fat. Looking back, I feel a bit naive in believing the lie that your confidence and worth comes from what your body looks like.
Healthy habits or diet culture?
Shortly after graduating I started a coaching business through a large and well known ‘fitness’ company. I got to work building my clientele. Running boot camps, and giving out meal plans like candy on Halloween; business was off to a great start. Every woman was put on a strict caloric deficit in order for them to lose the most weight in the shortest time frame possible. This is after all the standard set by the fitness industry.
Some of those women had success early on. Others didn’t. My solution at the time, was they needed to try harder. They needed to push themselves in their workouts more, they needed to be more compliant with the diet. Unfortunately, that is the same kind of narrow, diseased thinking that’s perverted what true health and fitness are. It’s important for me to mention this way of thinking wasn’t what I had learned in college. Rather it was what had been taught to me early on through cultural norms and media exposure.
I honestly thought I was helping these women create a healthier lifestyle. They were exercising more, more aware of their food choices, and how much they were eating. At the very root, I was only teaching them how to diet better thus promoting a more disordered relationship with food as well as themselves.
Leaving diet-culture behind for me and my clients
A couple of short years into my coaching business I started to feel defeated in my work. My client’s results stalled or were non-existent all together. The method of try harder wasn’t cutting it. Not to mention, I was miserable on the diet hamster wheel myself. The final straw was when some of my own old food habits started to creep back in.
My obsession and food fantasies started back up. I’d ‘be good’ following my strict meal plan for a certain number of days. Then over indulge and call it balance.
You probably don’t need me to tell you this, but I felt like a fraud. In a moment, I realized not only was the life I was living personally a diet fueled by disordered eating behaviors, but was a lifestyle I was selling too.
Writing those words and reading them back to myself even now, I have to fight feelings of shame and guilt. The hard part is, so many fitness professionals or health coaches believe they are helping people with the same kind of tactics.
Mainstream health and fitness is really only selling diets and delusional ideas about what wellness, health, and fitness look like. Sadly, no matter how disordered or damaging the behaviors are, consumers of the health and fitness industry continue to clamor to it because it’s what they know.
Diet mentality and fitness pros
I’d be lying if I said I thought everything I did was horrible in those earlier years of coaching. In many ways, I was helping these women create some healthy habits, but from the wrong place. The intention was all wrong, and so was the methodology behind it. Unfortunately, I’m not the only health coach out there pedaling diets on their clients, and passing it off as a healthy lifestyle.
The demand is high for this kind of coaching. We still live in a world that sees being skinnier or smaller (no matter the cost) as the ultimate goal. Until we make a radical shift away from current diet minded approaches, we will always be fighting the same battle of food obsession and negative body image issues.
In order to make the shift, we need more practitioners of the non-diet approach to link arms and start working together. Just to be clear, non-diet isn’t synonymous with anti-health or unhealthy. It just means we don’t focus on weight loss or physical appearance as the primary goal. Instead, the focus is on cultivating healthy lifestyles through habit change, and a more holistic approach making fitness a thing every woman can achieve regardless of the shape of her body.
Just to be clear, non-diet isn’t synonymous with anti-health or unhealthy. It just means we don’t focus on weight loss or physical appearance as the primary goal.
Being smaller doesn’t automatically mean you’re healthier or happier. I found I was just as unhappy in my smaller body as I was in my larger body. The only thing that changed was the source of my unhappiness. Instead of being so consumed with trying to get skinny or shredded, the thoughts that occupied much of my mental, emotional, and physical energy was now focused on staying skinny and ripped. Either way I felt trapped.
Shifting to a non-diet approach
My strategy has very little to do with weight loss and fitness goals. Yes, my clients are still getting results. Yes, they are still reaching their goals, but they aren’t doing it using traditional methods. Instead of a complete lifestyle overhaul, we work on slow, sustainable changes to habits and routines.
We also do a ton of work around mindset. Because we’ve been drilled with diet BS for so long, we have a lot to unlearn. Instead of focusing so much on the outcomes (you know, the things we can’t control anyway), we focus our energy more on building daily, doable behaviors that promote holistic health.
Taking a non-diet approach means you reach your goals with more ease, and the results are truly more of a lifestyle with compassion, flexibility, and fit around the rest of your life instead of the other way around. You can absolutely reach your goals. And as a coach, it’s my job to help you do so. It doesn’t have to be painful or super restrictive. Your mindset around weight loss, your body, food, etc will have to change a little.
I’m fairly certain my former clients will not see this. I feel it’s important to apologize for perpetuating and promoting unhealthy behaviors and calling it health. I’m sorry for selling disordered eating and calling it a lifestyle. And I’m sorry for not being the coach they needed. The coach who would have pointed them to the research that says 95% of diets aka “healthy” lifestyles fail, and learning to adopt healthy behaviors regardless of weight changes is where it’s at. Most importantly I’d tell them they were beautiful just the way they were, and that they didn’t need the scale or a six-pack to tell them that.