OK, fine, I’ll say it: I’m a huge nerd. I’m the girl in the office who brings a Ziploc bag of adaptogens and collagen for an afternoon superfood latte, I spend all of my free time researching ancient medical practices, and I’ve recently become a certified health coach out of sheer passion for helping other women get healthier too (#shamelessplug). Call it nerdy or call it extra, but health has always been my thing. However, when it comes to my body, health hasn’t always been so simple.
Yes, I love to eat well and have tested lots of expert nutrition advice over the years, but I can’t resist a good truffle mac ‘n’ cheese and I never 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?). Accidental 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 couple of years, my life changed drastically (like moving to Los Angeles), 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, and my anxiety decrease. Sound like another “miracle” diet? Think again. After a lot of trial and error throughout my life, these nine changes made the greatest impact on my body (and mind):
1. Not 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 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 (I certainly did!). 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 will to live and meals that were more like an internal battle than an act as natural as breathing. 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 because I listened to my body’s cues.
2. Working 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?). Fast-forward to 2020: I have a much better relationship with working out and have been exercising for the mental benefits instead of calorie burn (but more on that below!). However, 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 stay-at-home order hit 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, took deep breaths during yoga flows (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 to when and what my body needs.
3. Realizing 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 on accident. In order to sell you on limitless products and programs, you have to feel like your health is not in your control. I’ve tried popular diets, regularly tested new supplements, and have always been a follower of the latest workout trend, but what I’ve been missing is the big picture. The truth is that one 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.
4. Adding instead of subtracting
In my humble opinion, 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. Eating fruit for breakfast
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 (relevant side-note: as a lifelong vegetarian, getting enough protein was my downfall anyways). 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 less digestive issues (which have unfortunately always been a problem for me), and even have fewer cravings throughout the day. The lesson here is not that you should eat fruit for breakfast too. Instead, the lesson is to listen to your body instead of outside opinions.
6. Enjoying healthy habits for reasons that have nothing to do with weight loss
You might be thinking around this point 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 until everything clicked at once. The changes started happening when I was 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-hoo 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).
7. Drinking more water
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 thirst.
8. Prioritizing sleep
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 6am 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 (AKA 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.
Don’t take my word for it. Even celebrity trainer, Anna Kaiser (who counts Karlie Kloss and Shakira as clients—’nuf said), told The Cut, “If you’ve only been sleeping five or six hours and can either sleep an extra hour or work out, sleep an extra hour. If not, you’re running your body down, which will affect your energy. Working out harder or better or eating less isn’t the answer. It’s about getting enough sleep.”
9. Changing what “dream bod” or “goal weight” means to me
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 five, ten, fifteen, twenty pounds is 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, 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 that allows me the extra indulgences, fun moments, and enjoyment. Above all, being a health coach has taught me that “health” is not a destination or a final accomplishment. Rather, it’s a tool we can use to help us live our happiest lives. Otherwise, what’s the point?