Healthy Living

Our Wellness Editor Swears These 10 Realistic Habits Transformed Her Body

written by JOSIE SANTI
Image Source: @josie.santi
Image Source: @josie.santi

As The Everygirl’s Wellness Editor, I’ve been known to get a little #extra. I’ve always been the girl who adds adaptogens and collagen to her morning coffee, I spend all of my free time researching ancient medical practices, and I became a certified holistic health coach out of a sheer passion for helping other women get healthier too (#shamelessplug). Wellness has always been my thing. However, when it comes to my own body, health hasn’t always been so simple.

Yes, I love to eat well and have tested lots of practices and trends over the years in an effort to heal symptoms and feel my best, but I can’t resist a good truffle mac n’ cheese and I rarely if ever say no to a glass of red wine. Restriction has never been my forte, which has caused a lot of guilt over the years (after all, wasn’t I the “healthy” girl?). Weight fluctuations came (as they naturally do) through transitioning in and out of college years, and while I’ve always prided myself on being self-confident, I could never escape the occasional distress over a fat roll or a patch of cellulite.

Over the past six years, my life changed drastically (like a cross-country move to Los Angeles and you know, a global pandemic like the rest of the world experienced), and with it, my body did too. Today, I feel in touch with my body and what it needs. The right changes made my skin clear up, my digestion improve, my confidence skyrocket, my period symptoms heal, and my anxiety decrease. Sound like another “miracle” diet? Think again. After a lot of trial and error throughout my life, these ten changes have easily made the greatest impact on my body (and mind). The best part: They’re realistic enough to keep up with consistently.  


1. Stop labeling foods as “good” or “bad”

Everything we eat has been predefined by our culture. “Sugar is bad for you,” “Whole30 is good for you,” or “I was so bad last week when I was on vacation” are all phrases you’ve probably heard or said too many times to count. Putting a moral value on food choices may not seem like a big deal. In fact, maybe you feel like it’s a helpful way to narrow down options. However, when we put black and white labels on food, what’s meant to nourish us becomes associated with guilt. Plus, the “want-what-we-can’t-have” mentality is not just true for bad boys; it’s true for food too, leading to cravings, binges, and serious regret. 

I have so many thoughts on labeled eating, but for the sake of not going on and on (because I can), I’ll say this: Food is meant to be nourishing, satisfying, and pleasurable. I was over food plaguing my joy and eating meals that were more triggering than intuitive. Getting rid of labels helped me listen to what my body needed to eat, not what I should or shouldn’t eat. And guess what? I started craving fresh vegetables and whole grains, stopped bingeing on late-night snacks, and was able to feel satisfied after a cookie or one slice of pizza (instead of bingeing the whole sleeve or box) because I listened to my body’s cues. 


2. Work out less

Yes, you read that right. Working out less transformed my body for the better. Let me explain: I grew up as a competitive dancer (I wish it was as cool as Dance Moms, but I was never even half as good as Maddie Ziegler), which meant I was used to daily, intense exercise. When I went away to college, I attended regular workout classes (thinking it might counteract the limitless cafeteria food or slapping the bag at frat parties, I guess?). I felt like I had to work out regularly, and if I could not make it to an hour-long class one day, I wouldn’t exercise at all, since anything else felt pointless.

When the pandemic happened and my precious gyms and yoga studios closed, I had limited motivation and a lot of anxiety. As a fix, I got more into restorative yoga and would go through flows for 15, 20, or 30 minutes instead of my usual hour-long classes. My new form of movement did not involve weights, fancy machines, or heart-rate monitors. Instead, I went on more walks, focused on deep breathing (instead of exasperating myself with intense cardio), and started to think every movement made a difference (rather than thinking it has to be an hour-long to be worth it).

The difference? I’m stronger than I have ever been because I’m prioritizing consistency over length or even quality, and I’m more intuitive about what my body needs. Now, I prioritize living less sedentarily and moving in ways that bring me joy. My motivation is to boost my mood instead of burning calories. My body became stronger and more energized when I stopped exercising to look a certain way or as “punishment” for what I ate. 


3. Realize that there is no “secret”

Every season brings a new “weight loss pill,” “magic supplement,” or “miracle diet” that promises to be the cure-all to health woes and weight management. If you feel overwhelmed by what you should and shouldn’t try in the wellness space, that’s not by accident. In order to sell you limitless products and programs, you have to feel like your health is not in your control (spoiler: it is). I’ve tried popular diets, regularly tested new supplements, and have always been into trying the latest workout trend, but what I was missing was the big picture. The truth is that one diet, supplement, or change won’t transform your body, mind, or life. Instead, it’s a bunch of little habits that build up into greater changes. Also, the body is not a one-size-fits-all pair of socks. What works for one person may not work for you, and vice versa. The only “secret” applicable to everybody is to listen to your body when it’s telling you something. 


4. Add food instead of subtracting

The problem with any diet is that it’s focused on what not to eat, which reinstates the labels of “good” and “bad.” One of the greatest changes that made the most difference in my eating habits is learning about food. When I knew about the nutrients and benefits that come from whole foods and plants (rather than just knowing they were “good”), I started seeing food as medicine and fuel, rather than just seeing it as a reward (like when I had an intense craving for mac ‘n’ cheese) or an enemy (like when I felt guilt for bingeing on said mac ‘n’ cheese). Focusing on eating more plants and whole foods has not only helped me feel my best and crave fruits and vegetables, but it has also subconsciously crowded out processed and sugary foods (totally guilt-free!). 


5. Eat fruit for breakfast (or whatever your body craves)

Pre-transformation Josie was obsessed with protein. I had heard protein was the secret for toning muscles, so of course, breakfast always had to mean eggs or two scoops of the protein powder du jour. When I started thinking about how to add more produce, I tried eating more fruit in the mornings. After a while, I realized eating fruit surprisingly filled me up without making me lethargic or painfully bloated like I usually felt by noon.

So I let go of the idea that I needed a protein-heavy breakfast and instead listened to what my body craved: fruit. Some days, I dress up berries and pears with nut butter, coconut shreds, and goji berries like the pillar of health that I strive to be, and other days, I’ll cut up whatever fruits are in my fridge. I’ve never felt so energized, had fewer digestive issues, and even have fewer cravings throughout the day. The lesson here is not that you should eat fruit for breakfast too–maybe your body does feel best with an omelet or avocado toast. Instead, the lesson is to listen to your body instead of outside opinions. 


6. Find your real motivation

After reading this, you might be thinking that this article is just a body-positive message, and maybe even a commentary on diet culture, but it’s not a concrete list of ways to reach your body and health goals. But honestly and truly, after years of testing out different diets, workout methods, and “healthy” habits, nothing changed physically until everything clicked at once. The changes started happening when I started enjoying healthy habits (for both the mind and body), rather than thinking I had to do them in order to look a certain way. This is not woo-woo self-help advice. Being healthy for benefits like mental health and energy is what made the most drastic changes in my body (oh, and it was actually sustainable).

I tell my clients that if they’re struggling to keep up with healthy habits, the problem is not their willpower but their motivation. The truth is that looking a certain way will never be motivating enough. No matter how badly we think we want to look like a fitspo post on Instagram, our deepest, truest selves know that happiness does not depend on how we look externally. In order to keep up with any healthy habit, you need to find your “why,” or your reason that truly makes you happy: Is it to live a longer life with the people you love? Is it to feel energized and clear enough to chase after your dream career? Is it to heal anxiety so you can show up as your best self for your loved ones? Find your truest motivation that will actually make you happy and any healthy habit is easy to keep up (I promise!).


7. (Actually) stay hydrated

Drinking more water is a tale as old as time, but there’s a reason just about every expert on the planet recommends it. Drinking a big glass of water first thing when waking up, sipping on a reusable straw throughout the day (I’m partial to these pretty gold ones), and having three drinks at a time to achieve optimal hydration (like lemon water and green juice with my coffee), has made a drastic difference in how my body feels. If I start getting hungry too soon after eating, rather than going straight to the pantry to mindlessly snack, I drink a big glass of water. Of course, if I’m still hungry afterward, I’ll eat something nourishing (the body knows what it needs), but more often than not, I’ve realized that a lot of hunger cues are actually just from thirst. 


8. Prioritize sleep first

Yet another mistake pre-transformation Josie made: Every Thursday morning during my senior year of college, I would wake up when it was still dark out and go to a 6 a.m. spin class. Yes, even after Wine Wednesday (imagine!). I often abided by the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” mentality, which often meant staying out late while still fitting in a workout when I could, which usually meant the crack of dawn. It’s not that going to an early morning workout class is bad (it’s not!). But I chose working out over getting enough sleep, thinking it was the better option for me. These days, if I have to choose between a workout and getting 7-8 hours of sleep, you know what I choose? Sleep. Every time. 

I now think of sleep as medicine: When we sleep, the body is able to repair, detox, and help heal itself. As much as I can help it, I protect my time and energy to ensure my body is getting good, quality sleep every night, which means putting a wind-down routine over bingeing another episode on Netflix, or letting myself sleep in after Wine Wednesday instead of fitting in a workout on a busy Thursday. Now, sleep comes first, and my body has never felt (or looked) better.


9. Use your hormones as your roadmap

Since my first period at 12 years old, I’ve been at war with my reproductive cycle. I had such bad cramps, nausea, and heavy flow that my gynecologist put me on the birth control pill when I was 15. Over 10 years of birth control pills later, I started to intuitively feel that being on the pill that long was not benefitting me as I went through my healing journey. I had educated myself on the reproductive cycle (like, way more than what they taught me in 8th grade Sex Ed) and saw the power of tapping into my natural cycle. Plus, I learned that the period is the fifth vital sign, and it gives you important insight into what’s going on in your body. I desperately wanted that feedback and connection to my body I hadn’t had for over a decade.

I fully prepared to suffer through bad cramps or detoxing symptoms when I went off the Pill, but an amazing thing happened: I had put so much work into healing my body (and mind) that I got a regular period back ASAP, with no symptoms. I started to love my period and look at it as a blessing instead of a curse. I educated myself on different phases of the cycle, syncing my food, workouts, and lifestyle habits. Now, I basically live around my reproductive cycle, using my hormones as my roadmap on how to socialize, work, eat, exercise, and live. I have never felt clearer, more energized, happier, or stronger. Every woman and every body is different, but for me, the secret to peak health was in prioritizing my reproductive cycle, rather than suppressing it.


10. Rethink what health means to you

Now for the biggest truth bomb of all: If you’re struggling to reach your health goals, perhaps the problem is not what you are or are not doing, but what your health goals are to begin with. On social media, we’re bombarded with hashtags like #fitspo and #dreambod, and often build health goals around a certain pants size or number on a scale. But those extra 5, 10, 15, or 20 pounds are where life happens. That’s the extra glass of wine with your best friend, the ice cream cone at the beach in the middle of summer, and your favorite chocolate cake from the bakery down the road that tastes like the one your mom used to make. Why are we so focused on shrinking these moments, demoting them to be worth nothing more than a pants size or a fat roll?

Instead, I’m letting my body exist in the healthy space it wants to be in. My “ideal weight” or “ideal body” is the one that yes, I feel most strong, energized, and healthy in but also is the one that allows me extra indulgences, fun moments, and enjoyment. No matter how you eat, work out, or meditate, you will never “achieve” health and be done with your wellness journey because health is not a destination or an end goal. It’s a never-ending practice and a tool we can use to help us live our happiest lives. Otherwise, what’s the point?