Last week I wrapped up a six month coaching program with one of my most amazing clients. I wanted to share, with her permission, a bit of her story with you all because it is seriously powerful. I am so inspired by this young woman. She recognized that she was on a path she no longer wanted to be on and she made the commitment to herself to create change.
Martha and I started working together last Fall. She had spent the last year (or so) on a very restrictive diet, obsessing about food - tracking her calories, constantly thinking about what she ate or what she was going to allow herself to eat. Food choices determined much of her social life and her overall mood on a given day.
Going to restaurants was a less than enjoyable experience because there would likely only be a couple of “acceptable” choices to order from on the menu. She liked the way that “eating clean” made her body feel but she didn’t like feeling as though her life was controlled by food and exercise.
As we worked on setting her goals together, Martha knew she wanted to find a balance between good nutrition and being able to enjoy her life without constantly thinking about food. BUT she wasn’t ready to let go of weight loss goals either. So, we set out with both sets of goals on the table and determined how we could best align those goals.
First we assessed what she was eating. Bottom line, it wasn’t enough. She was deficient in protein and good fat sources, leaving her always hungry and, naturally, often thinking about food. Many people don't realize that undereating can sabotage your weight loss goals because the body goes into starvation mode, slowing down the metabolism. Your body is built to adapt; if she is underfed she holds on to every source of energy she can and signals your brain that she is HUNGRY AND NEEDS FOOD. Always being hungry isn't helpful for weight loss, right?
Martha was open to educating herself and experimenting with new foods. But the real work began with opening herself up to letting go of the food rules that she had set for herself. We focused on how eating based on a set of rules and judgments about specific foods disconnects us completely from our bodies.
Think about this for a second. If foods start to fall into categories of “good or bad”, “safe or unsafe”, feeding ourselves becomes an operation entirely of the mind, not the body. If we determine that carbohydrates are “bad”, for example, we don’t pay attention to how actual foods make us FEEL.
How do you FEEL when you eat brown rice?
How do you FEEL after eating high quality dairy?
Does meat appeal and satiate you in a good way?
These are the type of questions we want to ask ourselves when we make food choices. What does my body need? Something warm and comforting? Or something crunchy and refreshing? How do specific foods make me FEEL during and after eating and is that how I want to feel?
For those of us who spend years following traditional diets (PSA: a diet is just a set of food rules), we have to actually practice how to tune into our bodies, rather than relying on intellectual ideas like “it's Tuesday which means I can't eat bread”.
This is the journey that Martha set out on.
Like many women who struggle with these issues, Martha has a good head on her shoulders. She knew intellectually that those 8 or 10 pounds didn’t determine her worthiness as a woman or a person. But she was consumed by the rules - what she should look like, what she should eat, when she should be entitled to a night of wine with friends. Today she told me that she now realizes she needed help breaking free from this mental block of arbitrary rules and recalibrating those belief systems.
Her insights got me thinking about how we live in this culture where we equate intensity to success. Intensity of work, intensity of exercise, intensity of academia. We subscribe to the belief that doing more and going harder is somehow better. I’m not suggesting it’s bad to strive for excellence and I’m not judging those who push themselves to the limits - hell, if you know me you’re like “Hey, pot? I'm kettle. You’re black”.
It just strikes me that we tend to glorify intensity as strength and dismiss gentleness as weakness. Being gentle toward yourself isn’t weak. It takes a great deal more strength to be kind to yourself than it does to berate yourself. When healing from an injury or an illness, do you heal faster by punishing that part of your body or by tending to and caring for that part of your body? The same goes for how you nourish your body. Self kindness goes a long way in making consistent choices that serve your body and mind well.
At only 22 years old, Martha realized that living her life according to “shoulds” wasn’t the kind of life she actually wanted. Damn, this girl inspires me. Six months may seem like a long time when you commit to something new - or to anything for that matter. But to make a significant life change that impacts every aspect of your day to day world in six months? That’s freakin’ mind blowing. And that is what this girl did.
In the span of that six months, Martha told me that she “got back to being herself." She started dating a special guy, she reconnected with friends in a meaningful way and, most importantly, she found ease and comfort with herself. She is now spending a lot more time thinking about her career, planning trips with her boyfriend and exploring the city with friends, and a lot less time calculating how many calories she burned on the treadmill.
She went from weighing herself daily to not stepping on a scale for 4 months because she decided that starting each day with that measurement didn’t set her up for success. She’s not sure what she weighs - whether it's more or less than when we started. But she does know that she is right where she wants to be. She experiments with food and pays attention to what her body asks for. She is training for her first 10K and listening to her body on days when it asks for rest.
Does she have days where she feels insecure about her body? Of course she does. She’s human. We all have those days. This kind of work doesn’t mean you won’t have those days. It means that those days come and go without necessitating a 3 day juice cleanse or canceling dinner plans with friends.
I’m so proud of this girl. I’m so proud of her ability to see the big picture when it’s so easy to get caught up in what is right in front of you. I’m so proud of the commitment she made to happiness and health. And I’m so proud that, even at just 22, she is able to grasp what so many of us don’t: that skinnier does necessarily mean happier.
Girl, you are a badass. XOXO