Health is a broad subject, but so often we over simplify it in order to feel that we have things under control. Our culture puts “health” above all else, but keeps us fighting for it in ways that can be destructive to our overall well being. A viscous cycle that produces the blame and shame that keeps us on the hamster wheel for years.
I went to school for holistic nutrition, it feels like a lifetime ago and is something not many people know about me. After graduating, I saw two clients and led one sugar elimination cleanse, quickly realizing that I was in over my head. I realized that working with nutrition meant that I was also working with mental health, cultural programming, body image, and so much more than just food. I also understood that I still had a lot of learning to do. I knew this because I too, was tied up in my own ideas and perceptions of body image, what health was, and what a healthy diet and lifestyle looked and felt like. I was in my early twenties, obsessed with healthy clean eating, exercising a little too much, and not loving or accepting my body for the amazing organism that it was.
Juice cleanses, fasting and detox programs were part of my normal life. It took time for me to realize how dysfunctional my attempts at health were becoming.
I felt like the nutritionist who didn’t know what to eat anymore.
On paper, my eating habits looked pretty good. You would have thought that I was a picture of “health.” At that time I was gluten free, vegetarian, processed foods free, and constantly on the lookout for new “un-healthy” foods to eliminate.My yoga practice and exercise routines revolved around the goal of “leaning out” and being in the best shape possible. But, on the inside, my system didn’t feel regulated. At the peak of my “healthy eating,” my monthly cycle was way off balance, as it had been for years. On the outside I looked very “healthy,” but on the inside something wasn’t quite right.
At this point you might be wondering why I am using the word “health” in quotations? Today, when I think about “health,” I don’t think of the person with the most balanced diet, I think of the person who is most in touch with and exercising their true power. Nutrients are good, we need them to survive, but my belief is that eating doesn’t have to be as complicated and exclusive as we sometimes make it out to be. And let’s be honest, there are other things in life that bring us health.
When I was twenty-two years old I met Ido Portal. After class one day he told me I should start lifting weights, and that my body would thrive if I did. I told him I didn’t want my body to, “get bulky.”
He looked at me and said, “Kathryn, don’t care about how your body looks, care about how your body moves.”
It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I got into weightlifting and crossfit. Many of my friends around the gym began counting their macros and calculating everything they ate as a means of “getting healthy,” as well as to compete at a higher level. I knew that this wasn’t going to work for me, although I did flirt with the idea.
Then began my work with personal trainer, Lovedeep Dhunna. I told him I needed help with my diet and exercise. I shared with him some of the health challenges I had been struggling with, most of which seemed to stem from hormonal imbalances, or at least that’s what it felt like. The first week we started training together he told me to write down my meals for the week and all the movement classes, yoga, and training I did. After analyzing my routines, I figured he would put me on some kind of ultra “healthy” diet. The next time I went in to see him however, he told me that if I wanted to improve my overall health I should take at least a week and eat everything and anything I wanted in an effort to work on some of my restrictive behaviours. He told me if I felt like eating ice-cream to eat it; literally whatever I wanted, every day. I was shocked.
How could someone tell me to eat whatever I wanted if my goal was to be healthier?
It became clear how much control and restriction I had been accustomed to when it came to my food and exercise (yoga, lifting, everything). I worked with Lovedeep for two years very closely and I remember one afternoon going in to see him where we started our session with a chat in his office. I had been experimenting with intuitive eating and I remember sitting down to tell him that I finally realized how much I loved sandwiches, a food that I had cut out for years due to my bread-free diet. I had been walking home from class one day craving something different and decided to just go for it, to buy a loaf of bread, make a sandwich and see what happened, I felt like I had nothing to lose. I ate the sandwich and to my surprise I felt really great, so much that I probably had a sandwich every day that week. I had overcome one small restriction and I was actually able to feel into my body. Slowly over time I started experimenting with all the “bad foods” I had previously cut out, and I noticed that I started to feel better and better.
Lovedeep continued encouraging me to try new things, and to trust my cravings as opposed to fight against them.
Over the last few years I’ve been awakening to how much of the world I had labelled as good or bad: foods, movements, yoga poses and more. Also coming to an understanding that demonizing yoga poses, movements, or foods doesn’t really help anyone.
In 2015, I moved away from my family to Cornwall, and in with a roommate who turned out to be my partner in life and pretty much everything. When I moved in with Kyle I started baking cookies and experimenting out of my perceived health zone in the kitchen. Kyle loved to eat and I came to find a new appreciation for making delicious foods, and felt the joy that came from sharing these delicious foods. It was around this time that I also loosened up my training regime. I started taking walks and practicing movements that were novel and interesting. As Kyle and I fell in love we both stopped competing in athletics, and we realized how much happier we were when we were just enjoying our lives, not worrying about diet and exercise.
A few weeks ago Kyle and I went into our favourite downtown bakery to pick up a couple of treats. We got one scone and one very rich looking coconut bar, that was homemade and looked amazing; we would share both. As we cashed out, the person behind the desk warned us not to eat the coconut bar in one shot. I immediately asked why, and was told in fact, that Kyle could eat it in one sitting, but that I should limit how much I ate.
We both walked out and only a few steps down the street, looked at each other in shock, as if someone just body shamed me!
I’ve learned how to be more resilient, to see just how much shame and guilt are associated with satisfaction within our culture. I have eliminated the phrase, “guilty pleasure,” from my lexicon.
The last year has been a huge year of learning for me. In connection to this, I feel like I’ve finally come into my body and my confidence. The less I focus on perfecting my body the more I can focus on everything else in life, which has enabled me to expand my business, my platforms, my teaching and my hobbies, like knitting and crafting.
I still love movement and training, but I no longer follow a structured approach. This is the foundation of Mindful Strength.
I can tell when my body needs more of one thing or another. I know that having an “advanced practice” doesn’t necessarily make me a better teacher or person. I’ve let go of the things I hate like cardio, and I’ve brought in more joyful movements like crawling, bouncing balls, gymnastics, jumping, and lifting. My movement goals revolve around feeling good, learning new skills and being in my body as much as I can. My teaching revolves around showing my students what their bodies can do, and how we can build and embody our own strength.
Through my last few years of study and life, and through interviewing many health, wellness and movement professionals on the podcast, I’ve learned that health is much broader than we think it is and that we cannot make assumptions about a person’s health by looking at their body.
I’ve learned how deep my own biases are towards health are, and how my actions as a teacher could instil shame in someone else’s body.
I’ve learned that weight-loss does not equal better health.
I’ve learned that representation of all different bodies is helpful for acceptance and love of all different bodies.
I’ve learned that when I try to control my food or body, it’s a sign that something else is going on in my life.
I’ve learned that the people who love me don’t really care about my handstand, or how toned my body is. They care about my happiness.
I’ve learned that happiness leads to health, and many things can lead us closer or further away from true happiness.
And the learning continues. Over the next month, the Mindful Strength Podcast will be taking a detour into the topics of body image, diet, fat phobia, and accessibility. I’ve interviewed five individuals who have so much to offer, and whose words will shake you to the core, jumble your vision of health, and encourage you to rethink your relationship with your body.
I hope you will listen in an open mind.
Know that you don’t have to agree with everything that comes up in these conversations. My goal is to shed light on some of the concepts that have become really interesting to me, even if they go up against the things we have learned in the past.
The first episode of this five-week series is with Recovery Coach, Joy Dorsey, click here to listen to our conversation!
The following are a handful of additional resources that might be helpful.