This is a Story All About How....I Became a Health Coach

I knew at some point I would share my own health journey. It comes with the territory of doing what I do. I think it’s important for my clients and anyone else who interacts with my content to understand where I’m coming from – why I coach the way I do, which is built in part from my own experience, in part from what I’ve learned over the past several years coaching others, and in part from my education. Before I get into it, I do need to add a quick note about some sensitive material in this post. I will be referencing disordered eating and bullying. If either of these things are triggering to you, you can skip down to paragraph 7 (I’m going to number them for easy navigation). That said, I’m not going to go into the details of my disordered eating behaviors because I don’t even want to put those ideas out there for someone to read or reference. Please also know that this is not intended to be a directive or recommendation for how to handle disordered eating or other behaviors. This is just my own experience and background.

1

So, let’s start at the beginning. I grew up in a rural area of Central Virginia. We didn’t have cable TV or a computer in the house until I was about 9 or 10 years old, so most of our time was spent playing outside, putting on plays with our American Girl dolls, creating elaborate Barbie games, and digging through my mom’s old clothes for dress-up. My sisters and I all three played sports each season, first in rec leagues and then for school teams. My mom didn’t keep a lot of “junk” food in the house. We knew the importance of eating your veggies, reading, thinking creatively, playing and interacting with each other. I didn’t really understand “healthy” vs. “unhealthy” for much of this time, but a lot of our upbringing was what most would consider a traditionally healthy approach. We didn’t consciously talk much about health or health behaviors in the house, beyond that we knew we had to eat veggies because they were good for us and that we should take our Flintstones multivitamins (#nostalgia).

2

I don’t remember when exactly I started consciously thinking about my weight and body, but on a recent trip home to Virginia I found an old journal of mine. It was from 1999, and there was an entry prompt for who you wanted to be in Y2K (#morenostalgia). The very first thing I wrote at the top of that prompt was “lose weight”. I was 11.

3

11 was the start of my middle school years, and to put it simply: they were ROUGH. I transferred to a very small school with only one class per grade and sadly during the 3 years I was there, I was bullied. Taller and bigger than the other girls in my class, I felt incredibly uncomfortable in my skin. I heard comments like “she’s a chubby hunchback of Notre Dame” and my height made me a spectacle to many (“how’s the weather up there?”). I became hyper-aware of my body, but I didn’t know anything about calories, nutrition, or really even what dieting was, except that I thought it was “healthy” because smaller was better. I didn’t start to change my eating patterns then, but I do remember starting to feel a sense of guilt and embarrassment around eating, which was devastating because I always loved food, cooking, and baking (thankfully, I still do). Something that brought me joy quickly morphed into something shameful instead.

4

The summer before 9th grade, I had a big growth spurt and as part of that, I leaned out. I remember at basketball try-outs getting so many comments on how skinny I’d gotten and how good I looked. After 3 years of feeling like I didn’t belong and like my body was “bad”, getting this kind of feedback was a salve. My height became slightly less awkward thanks to sports, and that’s where I found some confidence, but unfortunately this also meant that how I felt about myself was very connected to my body and physical appearance. Being tall and skinny became my superpower. All of this was reinforced by the magazines my friends and I coveted at the time with bright headlines telling us “Get Toned for Summer”, “How to Keep from Gaining Those Holiday Pounds”, and “Make Your New Year’s Weight Loss Stick”. The South Beach Diet and MasterCleanse were all the rage. The documentary Super-Size Me was part of our health class curriculum.

5

The external conditioning combined with the bullying I experienced were a perfect storm for creating disordered eating patterns, which continued throughout high school, college, and my early 20s. Sadly, I didn’t understand or want to listen to my body’s needs then, but I wish I had. I know my mental health seriously suffered because of it (and so did my athletic performance), but it wasn’t something I ever wanted or really knew how to communicate to anyone. Through this experience with disordered eating and body image, I viewed “healthy” as a “sacrifice” – to achieve it I needed to be rigid and give up things I loved (or do things I didn’t want to do).

6

In my 20s, I started training for longer distance races. Running and training this way helped me develop a better connection with my body. If I hadn’t had enough to eat or enough water, I could feel it in my run. Same thing with sleep, or if I was stressed. I started researching what optimal nutrition for training should look like and learning more about nutrition in general. I was still way too critical about my body and how I chose to fuel it, but I began to see the connection between performance and eating appropriately. At this point I had a lot of cognitive dissonance over what I knew I should be doing to take care of myself and the fear of my body changing because of it. I still had a lot of my self-worth tied up in the way I looked – specifically staying skinny.

7

Before getting to run my first half, I ended up with a stress fracture in my right heel. Around this time, I had also started traveling a lot for work and needed a better routine. I decided I’d take a break from race training and instead focus on “toning up” (LOL CRINGE). I had some free personal training sessions as part of joining a local gym, so I decided to take advantage of them - and this is where I fell in love with strength training. I got paired with an amazing trainer (shoutout Jess Norby!) and worked with her for almost 2 years, and she truly changed my life. I started to gain confidence for the first time. I started to feel, and get, strong. I could lift more than I ever had at any point in my life – and it was SO empowering. Jess introduced me to split squats and RDLs (still two favs), and to eccentric pull-ups (still mixed feelings). She helped me learn how to focus less on the amount of time I was in the gym and more on the amount of effort I put into each session. I stopped thinking I needed to work out for 2 hours for it to “count”. And, thanks to a lot of PT and my new love for lifting, my running got better. Strength training helped me learn to appreciate my body for what it could do, instead of always focusing on what was “wrong” with it.

8

The confidence I gained from strength training spilled over into other areas of my life. I started challenging some of my old ideas of what it meant to be “healthy”. I did a lot of reading and self-exploration to understand why I treated myself and my body the way I did. I went to therapy. I finally gained positive associations with being “healthy” and found ways to do it that didn’t wreck my mental health along the way. Then, in 2018 I took the leap I’d be contemplating for over a year: I started teaching group fitness.

9

My first teaching job was in northern Virginia at a locally owned strength and conditioning/cycling studio, and I loved it. But I also heard the same feelings of self-doubt, frustration, self-blame, and confusion about what it meant to be “healthy” that I experienced from our class participants. I started to wonder what it would look like to be able to help people outside of the studio, too. One afternoon after class, I was chatting about this with another instructor, and she asked if I had ever heard of health coaching. At the time, I hadn’t, so of course I immediately started researching the profession.

10

I remember the first few articles I read about the health coaching profession and feeling something click, like “Wow, this is it. This is the career I was meant for.” However, I also knew it would mean that I needed to do more work on myself to be in the right headspace to be a coach. So, as a pursued my own training through Duke University, I also started working with my own health coach. I did more self-exploration and thought work. I dove into the Health-At-Every-Size movement, Intuitive Eating, and body neutrality. I spent a lot of time perusing PubMed for research about behavior change, positive mindset, and the power of self-talk. As I began coaching my own clients, I started slowing finding the right way to bring these things into my coaching style and programs.

11

And that brings us to today, and where I am now. I got my personal training certification and found a gym I adore and made it part of my career. I still love strength training, and I still love running. I also love yoga, which is the wild card I did not see coming. I love salads and ice cream and I don’t feel guilty about either of them most days, or when I do I know how to handle it. I don’t love my body every day, but I also know that my worth isn’t tied to it and every day doesn’t have to be a great body image day to still be good. I know that being healthy doesn’t mean feeling deprived and it doesn’t have to be perfect. I know that a key part of health is mental health, not just physical health. I know that health does not have a size or an aesthetic. I know that there’s more to health than just nutrition and physical activity – your environment, sleep, stress, relationships, professional development, and spirituality all play a key role. I know that confidence and self-worth are a practice, and you have to actively cultivate them daily. I did not learn these things overnight – it has taken me the better part of a decade to unlearn the prior 20ish years of negative thought patterns and conditioning. I still fight these things daily.

12

As I think about myself through all these different phases of my life and see the way “health” evolved for me – I’m proud. While a lot of this evolution was difficult and painful, I would not have the approach I have now without it. When I hear clients mention how hard they are on themselves, how challenging it can be to balance goals with feeling good, when I hear the self-doubt and the confusion, the feelings of needing to force yourself into “health”, I can truly say that I understand – because I do. No situation is the same, but I have felt what so many of my clients do. I know where they’re coming from and empathize with them fully.

13

When you see my content and my coaching, you will see a lot about changing from a place of self-love and managing negative self-talk and thoughts. This story – my story – is the reason why this is a cornerstone of my practice, and coaching people for the last 3 years has only reiterated that it’s necessary. It’s so important to me that anyone I work with understands that you don’t have to – and you honestly shouldn’t – hate yourself into change.

14

If you take anything away from this post, I hope it’s this: healthy looks and feels different for everyone, and it takes time and self-compassion to be where you want to be. I coach the way I do because I think it’s so important to know that if trying to be “healthy” is costing you any fraction of your mental health - your joy, your confidence, your sense of peace – it’s not “healthy”. I also hope you know that while I talk a lot about change because that is what clients seek me out to help with, please never feel like changing is something you must do. You are wonderful just as you are right now.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading. I appreciate you so much.


The Importance of Letting Go

People often associate change with adding something: starting a new diet, picking up a fitness routine, finding 10 extra minutes in the morning for meditation, taking on extra at work for that promotion. One thing we often get wrong about change, however, is that another very important part of the process is what we let go of.

When my clients are considering starting a new goal, I try to always ask the question, “what can you let go of to make space for this new goal?”. Often, we find ourselves in situations where we keep adding because we think we need to – we feel a sense of guilt associated with letting something go. But to maintain balance and prevent burnout, I would suggest using the rule of letting one thing go when you add something new.

Another aspect of letting go that is so important to the change process is releasing limiting beliefs. I’ve talked about this a few times on my Instagram, but another of my favorite questions to ask is, “what limiting beliefs about yourself are you ready to release?”. Limiting beliefs are often born out of one or several experiences you had in which you couldn’t do something, and then you end up apply those handful of experiences across the full spectrum of your life. For example, math always felt really hard for me as a kid, and so I developed the blanket statement that “I’m not good at math” and applied it to everything moving forward. When I got a copy of my transcript at the end of one semester in undergrad and it had calculus listed as an elective instead of fulfilling my math requirement, I called my advisor confused. What happened was I had scored high enough on my AP Calc exam that it counted toward my math credits, and I didn’t need to take that calculus class, but I never checked my AP Calc score because I just assumed I didn’t do well since “I’m bad at math”. It turns out I’m not as bad at math as I told myself I was.

Releasing limiting beliefs is so important to change because holding on to them can cause us to throw up barriers when we don’t need to. Instead of trying something, you may tell yourself preemptively that you can’t do it because of some past experience you’ve applied more broadly, and this can make progress very challenging. It can make you feel stuck and powerless.

Give this exercise a try: write down the things you may think of as limiting beliefs. Then, once you have them on paper, really take stock of them. As yourself what evidence you have to make them true. Then, challenge those reasons. Play devil’s advocate for yourself. Examine the potential downsides of leaning further into those beliefs. Ask yourself what might happen if those beliefs weren’t actually true – what would you do? What could you accomplish? Consider a new “belief” you’d like to replace the old one with. How could you put that into practice this week?

This is a busy time of year – the summer is ending, school starts again, work picks up heading into the fall (and let’s face it, the last big stretch before everything relaxes for the holidays). Whether you decide to address a limiting belief, or remove one or two things from your to-do list, try this week to check in with yourself a few times and ask, “what can I let go of?” as we begin moving into this new season.

Rooting for you!

-MB

 


In Defense of Selfishness

If you’re anything like me, you might think one of the worst things someone could call you is “selfish”.

From the time we’re small, we are conditioned against anything that may result in us being labeled that way. We must share everything, we must not draw attention to ourselves, we must relinquish the spotlight to others, we must prioritize others’ time and needs before our own. I know women especially are often pushed into the coveted “selfless” space. It’s a word you commonly hear being used to describe mothers and/or caregivers and it’s generally spoken as a high form of praise.

I used to strive for that – to be called selfless. I am innately a “helper”. I draw a lot of joy and personal satisfaction from helping people. I have always worked in a service-based career field: from restaurant management to event planning, to relationship management, to consulting, and now coaching and personal training. What I’ve learned the hard way, however, is that sometimes in the pursuit of selflessness, you do just that: lose yourself. So, now I am striving for the opposite.

At the end of this month, I turn 34. What I hope to work on in my 35th trip around the sun is on being more selfish. Not in a way that is rude to others or consistently disregards their needs/feelings, but rather in a way that makes more space for my own. This does not need to be absolute and to the detriment of the other relationships in your life. What I’m striving for, and what I’d encourage you to strive for, is a balance. Have days where you put yourself above everything else and have days where you don’t.

This balance is so important in the coaching space. Something I have recently surmised is that on occasion the struggle to complete steps toward a goal is the result of not prioritizing, but often it’s more about a lack of selfishness. People will put their action steps at the top of the to-do list, but if there’s an unexpected need from someone else, we are often quick to disappoint ourselves before we’ll disappoint someone else.

So, for this month, I’d encourage you to try to focus on that point: consider how often you disappoint yourself to avoid disappointing someone else. What would change if you did that less? How would things look and feel different if you got just a bit more selfish?

Rooting for you, and for myself!

MB


The Importance of Lizzo in Health Coaching

Perhaps a lesser-known fact about me is my love for Lizzo. I constantly find myself playing her songs when I need a pick-me-up or confidence boost. I cook dinner, clean, workout, drive, walk the dog, you name it to Lizzo.

The overarching theme in Lizzo’s music is self-love. Gritty, raw, unapologetic self-love. I don’t know about y’all, but my gosh could I have used more of that in my middle school through early adulthood years. Even prior to the social media age of constant filtering and voyeurism through rose-colored glasses, it was easy to feel “less than”. Before it was social media, it was bylines in Cosmo, Teen Vogue, and Seventeen Magazine marketing Five Tips to Turn Heads and Top Ten Exercises for Toned Summer Abs. We’ve been conditioned for years to believe that we aren’t good enough by some metric or another. There weren’t a lot of celebrities or role models in those years pushing the message that we were great, no exceptions, period.

Lizzo doesn’t just sing about it, either – she lives it. It’s in her social media, it comes through in her shows and performances, in her interviews. I don’t mean the kind of self-love that insists you love every single part of yourself, all the time. Lizzo shows us a “yes, and” way of self-love: yes, I am flawed AND I love myself. These things can co-exist – they must. You don’t have to love every aspect of yourself to feel good and know that you are worthy of love and great things. She also shows us that you don’t have to fit a standard definition of anything – beauty, femineity/masculinity, maturity, etc. You get to define your own parameters for what makes you feel good about yourself.

My job is a bit of a paradox at first blush: a core role of a health coach is to help facilitate changes in behavior to help clients meet goals. The center of what I do is helping people change. Isn’t that contrary to self-love? How can I help people change and also help them love themselves regardless of that change? That’s a great question, and one that I ask myself often.

The reality is, you can’t hate yourself into a change and if you’re seeking to change something about yourself because you say it will make you feel more confident, or it will make loving yourself easier, I have an unfortunate truth for you: it won’t. Confidence and self-love don’t come from making external changes. They are strictly internal, and they take work. It takes fighting the negative self-talk, reframing self-deprecating thoughts, learning to accept parts of yourself and knowing that these things don’t change your worth. Loving yourself can be hard if you’re not used to it. Hating yourself into changing is harder, though, I promise.

Think about how much easier it feels to take care of yourself (to do anything, really) when you’re feeling good. It’s often easier said than done but doing the work to love yourself more before you start trying to tackle a health goal or behavior change is worth it in the long run. When in doubt, look to Lizzo and ask yourself: do I want to feel Good as Hell? Hell yes, you do. And it starts with radical self-love. Curious about what that could look like for you? Let’s talk.

Rooting for you!

MB


A Fresh Start

Well, you can consider my career path officially shifted. That's right friends, as of 5:00pm yesterday, I am full-time in the health and wellness space.

I’ve been wanting this for several years, but I was unsure when I’d be able to take the leap. Since I started this coaching practice in 2019, the question of how to make this my full-time job has been on my mind. The last 6 months have been especially challenging, as I’ve been balancing coaching, teaching at two studios, 40+ hours a week in consulting, and still just trying to have a life outside of all of that. I have admittedly NOT been practicing the balance I preach to clients. I’ve known for a while that I needed to find a way to cut back and focus my time more, but I didn’t see a path to do that without sacrificing something I loved and I was not willing to do that. Then one Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago, I had a phone call that laid that path out for me exactly. I got off the phone feeling more optimistic than I had in months. 

Moving forward, I’m still going to be wearing multiple hats - taking on a larger role in addition to teaching at TitanUp Fitness, an incredible local studio in Jacksonville, FL; running my coaching practice; and still doing a little consulting work in the local community. But this will allow me to grow in the areas I truly want to grow with an incredible team and awesome mentors on all sides. 

This decision was easy in some respects and a little tougher than others. The path to getting here was tricky and tiring. The reason I know it was the right one to take, and the reason I am certain that coaching and training is the right career path for me, is because it forces me to grow and be a better person - not just a better employee. To figure out these next steps, I had to do a lot of soul searching and reflecting on exactly how I want my professional (and personal) life to look and feel. Coaching and teaching has also forced me to work on myself and challenge some past beliefs and opinions. It’s changed my perspective in the best way, and to celebrate that and my new career I’d like to offer two things:

  1. I’ll be re-opening the MB Wellness coaching programs on April 4. I’ll be talking more about these as we progress through March, but the last day to sign up will be March 31. 
  2. Throughout the month of March, I’m going to be doing a daily mini-video series on my Instagram taking you through some of the questions that helped me prepare myself for this new career shift, and questions I ask many of my coaching clients when they’re working toward a big change. 

Now that I’ll have more time to dedicate to this coaching practice, you all can also expect the re-launch of the MBW newsletter, and new workshops throughout the year. 

It’s going to be an exciting remainder of 2022. I can’t wait to grow, learn, and connect with more of you in this space. Want to grow and learn with me? Let’s chat.

As always, sending you happy, healthy vibes!

MB


And Now That You Don't Have to be Perfect...

Two years ago this January, I took my first class in Duke Integrative Medicine's health coaching program.

Since then, I’ve coached many fellow coaches and individuals, and something I’ve pulled out of those conversations is that one of the keys to sustainable change is your relationship with yourself. If you are constantly putting yourself last, beating yourself up, or pushing yourself to achieve something that truly is not attainable, it makes behavior change and meeting your goals so much harder. Or, you may reach the goal you’re chasing but put yourself in a position that’s incredibly difficult to maintain long-term because it’s too extreme.

So, I want to spend February focusing my content on self love, and how it affects our ability to reach our goals or change behaviors. The first topic I want to talk about is perfectionism and the perfectionist mindset. This is something I struggle with a lot personally, so I’m excited to dig into what I’ve learned (and what I’m still learning) with y’all. Funny enough, this was just supposed to be an Instagram post, but true to my verbose form I had a lot more to say about this than should be in an Instagram caption. So, here we are.

We all know what perfectionism is: striving for flawlessness (or the appearance of it). And it can wreak havoc on your opinion of yourself because you are always reaching for an unattainable standard. It can push you to an all or nothing mindset - “If I don’t do this perfectly, there’s no point in doing it at all” - or make you feel like a failure because you’re never achieving the ideal result in your mind. It can cause anxiety and even prevent you from starting to work on your goal. It can keep you from ever feeling satisfied. And when you’re trying to make a change, these things can be a major impediment.

But, let’s try this on for size: none of my clients do things perfectly - literally none - and they are still seeing progress. 

I know for some this statement can be hard to align with reaching your goals. For many people, myself included, the imperfections can make you feel like you’re losing control and you’ll never get where you want to be. My first piece of advice to you is this: make space for the gray areas, because that is where long-term progress lives. Read that one more time. Why did I say that? Because the “gray areas” are often where balance is. For example, pizza every night is probably not the best way to eat, but that does not mean that pizza is always off limits. Learning balance and what it means in your life is where you will find sustainable change. And perfectionism and balance are often at odds with each other. Perfectionism likes black and white: pizza is not ok and I can’t eat it and still reach my goals. Balance likes gray: I can have a slice of pizza on the weekend and still meet my goals.

Where this gets hard is retraining your brain away from this perfectionist mentality. You are not a failure because you didn’t do something perfectly. I know this is a difficult mindset to get out of - I fight it daily. Here is what I’ve found helpful:

Lower the bar. A perfectionist’s worst nightmare. Did you cringe or think “what?!” when you read that? I have thought the same thing, too. But part of the struggle with perfectionism is we create such huge goals for ourselves that we feel dwarfed by them and what it will take to accomplish them, leaving us overwhelmed from the start. And then once we do start, if every step isn’t perfect we get frustrated. There are two ways I try to fight this. The first is to lean on the SMART framework (especially the “A”, which stands for “attainable), which helps me set up my goals in a manageable way. The second is to break my goals down into tiny steps (by tiny I mean if your goal is to start exercising, start with 10 minutes a day). This makes the things that need to be done to meet your goals feel so much more achievable and helps you better see how they will fit into your existing routine. 

Start adding the phrase “and that’s ok” when you find your inner critic showing up. One of the biggest things we perfectionists fight is ourselves and our instinct to be overly self-critical. I wish I could remember where I read about the idea to start adding the phrase “and that’s ok” to the end of sentences when my inner critic is out of control, but it has really helped my mindset. When I catch myself thinking, “ugh, you skipped your workout today” or “yikes, you overate at dinner”, I add “and that’s ok” to the end of it. This helps me put things in perspective and stops the self criticism almost immediately so I can get back on track without endlessly chastising myself or feeling like I need to overcompensate in some way.

Consider the big picture. When you think about the end result you’re trying to achieve, what will be the most important pieces in getting there? When you catch yourself going down the perfection rabbit hole, pause and ask “what impact will doing this perfectly have on my end goal? Will it materially impact my ability to achieve it?”. Now, this does not mean every time you want to skip your workout or have that post-work cigarette you should say to yourself, “well, this won’t materially impact meeting my goal”, because over time those things will add up. The point I’m trying to make here is, with every goal there will be pieces that are more important than others to achieving the end result, so try to understand what those things are, focus on them, and let the rest go. A.K.A. “don’t sweat the small stuff” or “choose your battles”.

Remind yourself of the progress you’ve already made. Or if it’s a new goal, think about times in the past when you’ve been successful. Perfectionism can send us into some really negative spaces to the point that we feel like we are never making progress, but that is simply untrue. There is always a small (or big) win, or something to be proud of yourself for. Sometimes, that’s just finally admitting to yourself that you need a change. Sometimes, it's nailing your action plans for the day. And sometimes, it’s realizing that you didn’t perfectly accomplish your goal, but you’re really happy with where you are - and that’s (more than) ok! <- See what I did there :) ?

There is a quote from John Steinbeck’s book East of Eden that I love: “Now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good”. If you take nothing else away from this post, remember this. Perfection is not attainable - it’s just not. If you’re striving for it, I’m sorry but you are fighting a losing battle. Because our perfectionist brains are like Lucy with the football: every time you think you might be getting close to achieving perfection, that b*tch is going to snatch the football away. When you remove the idea that you can’t be healthy and happy without being perfect, you will be surprised how much happier and healthier you become. When you give yourself the grace mentally to just be good - work toward your goals, learn from your setbacks, and keep moving forward even as things shift - you can get out of your own way and make progress. And that’s what we want long-term: progress, not perfection.

As always, sending you lots of happy, healthy vibes!

MB


New Year, New You? No, thanks.

I am not a fan of New Year's resolutions.

This may seem surprising, given my line of work, but hear me out. I'm going to explain to you why and the mindset I prefer instead. 

Before I dive in, I want to preface this by saying that this is not meant as a criticism. If you have a New Year’s resolution (or several), I am not trying to call you out for it. Everyone should approach their health and lifestyle in a way that works best for them. 

That said, here are some reasons why I’m really not a fan.

New Year’s resolutions are often filled with broad, sweeping statements with very far off end-dates. If you’ve worked with me, you can probably guess what I’m going to say about why these sweeping statements are problematic. They are problematic because they don’t tell you anything. Let’s use the example “I want to get in shape”. If this is your goal, how will you start? What do you mean by “get in shape”? What does that look like to you? How will you know when you’ve accomplished it? 

You are making things much harder on yourself chasing a resolution like this because you aren’t leaving yourself with any directions on what to do. Starting this resolution probably feels overwhelming, which makes it difficult to translate your intentions into action. Action needs direction, and sweeping statements don’t give you that.

Resolutions also encourage the idea that we can neglect our health at the end of the year because we’ll get it together on January 1st. How many times have you heard someone say, or said to yourself, “Whatever, I’ll start eating better/exercising/quitting smoking/mediating in the New Year” in November/December? I take issue with this because it puts people in the mindset that: a) they can neglect their health now and deal with it later and b) have to wait until the New Year to get started. 

To the first point, if anything you should really be trying to prioritize your health more not less at the end of the year. It is one of the most stressful times of the year due to the holiday season, which is really not the time to ignore the things your body needs to stay in good condition. Not prioritizing your health can also make holiday stress more exaggerated. 

To the second point, any time is the right time to start working on your health. As a type A person, I totally understand that it just feels good to start working on your health at a beginning: the start of the week, the start of the month, the start of the year. But you don’t have to wait until the perfect time. You can start working on your health in the middle of the day on Thursday if you want. Don’t let the perfect start time delay you from making it a priority.

I also think sometimes the idea of waiting until the New Year can cause us to go a little wild during the holidays, because we’re going to really cut out all of the good (bad) stuff on January 1st, so we feel the need to pack it in while we still can. You're just setting yourself up for failure with that mindset, because after an extended period of time of ignoring your health goals, it's going to be that much harder to make them a priority again.

So, what can you do instead of the traditional New Year’s resolution: set SMART goals and aim for incremental change.

Let’s start with SMART goals. The SMART framework is an approach to goal setting that helps you get more clear on what you’re trying to achieve. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. 

Specific: The goal is detailed and clear

Measurable: The goal can be tracked to show progress or success

Attainable: The goal is doable given your resources and current life circumstance

Relevant: The goal is meaningful and aligns with what is important to you 

Time-based: The goal has an end-date by which it should be accomplished

To use our earlier example of “I want to get in shape”, we’re going to use the SMART framework to make accomplishing this easier on ourselves.

Specific: I want to start strength training

Measurable: I want to start strength training three times per week

Attainable: ask yourself, “Is strength training three times per week” reasonable to me right now? If not, what would make it more attainable? Once per week? Twice?

Relevant: ask yourself, “Will starting to strength train three times per week help me achieve what I really want to get from this goal?” 

Time-based: I want to start strength training three times per week by the end of March

Using the SMART framework, we’ve moved from “I want to get in shape” to “I want to start strength training three times per week by the end of March”. That’s a BIG difference, and that second statement feels much more clear and easy to start, doesn’t it? Like I said, action needs direction, and this second statement provides much more direction.

Now, let’s work in the incremental change piece of this. With our SMART goal, we know where we want to go and by when. But the devil is in the details, so let’s think about how we’re going to get there. 

Any time you’re introducing a new habit, behavior, or routine into your life, the key to making it both achievable and sustainable is to approach it incrementally. What I encourage clients to do is to action plan - think through every step you’ll need to take to accomplish your goal (no matter how small). Then consider what obstacles might get in your way and set plans for how you might handle those obstacles. Once you have the action plans listed, think through the order in which you’ll need to complete those steps. Then, map out when you’ll begin and when you’ll complete each step. I like to do this weekly, as it allows me to reassess progress each week and make adjustments to my action steps and timeline, as needed.

How is all of this different than a resolution? This might just be semantics, but to me resolutions are talking about a big idea or change you want to make that spans the whole year. What I’ve laid out as the alternative is to think critically about your goals (health-related or not) and don’t stretch the timeframe over the full year. Make yourself get specific about what you want and be honest about the amount of time it will take to get there. Be clear about what your end result will look like. Once you accomplish your goal, you can start this process all over again for a new one if you want! And you don’t need to wait until the start of the next year to build out a new goal - you can do it any time using this approach. To me, the way we work on our goals should be iterative and evolve as our lives evolve. 

How does all of this sound to you? Feel like you might need a little help in upgrading those resolutions? Well, you’re in luck! Over the holidays, I created the MB Wellness Healthy Habits Guide, which will take you through the process of setting your goals, planning for action, handling set-backs, and more! Subscribe to our newsletter (link at the bottom of the page) and I’ll send you a free copy! I promise I won’t spam you - the newsletter is once a month and will have more coaching, health, and wellness content in a short, digestible format. 

As always, feel free to shoot me a message if you have questions! 

Sending you happy, healthy vibes!

MB 


Health Coaching Frequently Asked Questions and my Super Bowl Recipe Review

Hello Friends, and happy 2020! I hope the first few weeks of the new year have been good to you! It's been a very busy start to the year for me, as I began the certification round of training for health coaching at Duke Integrative Medicine. So, I've been a little quieter here and on social media than I'd hoped, but I'm still here! I had actually planned to get two separate posts up about FAQs and Super Bowl prep BEFORE the Super Bowl, but clearly that didn't happen so I decided I'd combine them into one!

First, as part of final phase of training at Duke, I've been offering complimentary coaching sessions (I still have space to take on a few more folks at no cost, so if you're interested let me know). As a result have gotten a lot of great questions about what exactly is health coaching and what can it do for people. I wanted to go through a few of these questions here in case there are more of you out there with questions you haven't asked.

What is integrative health coaching?

Have you ever made a New Year's Resolution to, for example, meditate each morning for 10 minutes, only to find you stuck to it for two weeks before your schedule got busier and you couldn't keep up with it any more? Or planned to bring your lunch to work each day, but quickly realized this meant a change to your evening routine you hadn't anticipated and so you never even started? Often times we're given a recommendation from a doctor, or make the decision we'd like to change something, but then realize we don't know where to start or we are easily side-tracked by the thousand other things on our plates. Health coaching motivates and supports health behavior change through a partnership between client and coach. A health coach helps you connect your desired change to your optimal health vision, set goals, plan for action (and setbacks), and maintain progress once you've reached your goal - all by focusing on the whole person, not just the one area you want to change.

So, how is this different than working with a personal trainer, dietitian, or other health care provider?

A personal trainer or dietitian will, for the most part, focus on either your physical fitness or nutrition, respectively. They may also give you a specific plan, such as a recommended set of workouts or a certain diet to follow. A health coach is different in two primary ways. The first is that a health coach will not be the one to give you a specific plan to follow: you'll be the one who creates the plan. Health coaching is not prescriptive, but rather completely client-driven. The area of health we focus on, the direction we take, the goals we set, are all completely determined by you, the client. The second is that health coaching follows a "whole person" approach to health. We'll explore all the different aspects of your health from physical fitness and movement, to relationships and communication, to personal and professional development.

If anything, a health coach is a great compliment to a personal trainer, dietitian, or any other health care provider should you find you're having trouble figuring out how to implement the changes that they recommend. A health coach can help you see how and where another provider's recommendations fit into your life, and help you navigate the road blocks and other factors affecting your ability to implement the recommendation. There are health coaches who have multiple certifications, such as personal training, nutrition, etc.; however, in general coaches will keep clients in these areas separate (i.e. not providing health coaching for someone who they are also working with for personal training simultaneously).

What makes health coaching effective?

This is a great question! Health coaching is still not a super well-known field, so I get this question a lot. I think there are a few things that make health coaching effective. The biggest one in my mind is that it's really trying to target behavior change starting from where you are. It's not a prescription with no guidance, or a one-size-fits-all plan. Health coaching is client-driven and tailored to your specific needs and wants for your health. A few other pieces that make health coaching effective for people:

  • Health coaches work with the whole person. They employ other-focused listening to ask powerful questions and help connect you to the motivation for making the changes you desire.
  • Health coaches spend time exploring what is most important to you in your health and allow you to drive the direction we take.
  • Health coaches work with you in partnership to plan for setbacks and create strategies to address those potential setbacks so you can keep moving forward toward your goals.
  • Health coaches help you track progress and hold you accountable for your action steps and goals.
  • Health coaches can provide additional resources for making healthy behavior changes.

What topics does health coaching cover?

This is another pretty common question I get, and the answer is: anything you feel will contribute to reaching your best health. That could be stress management, it could be improving your relationships, it could be better nutrition, it could be smoking cessation. If you believe that it's integral to helping you achieve your optimal health based on your goals and values, then it's a good topic for coaching. The health coaching relationship is truly unique, and this "whole person" approach is part of what makes it so.

...and now, the piece you've really been waiting for: the super bowl recipe review!

The whole spread (minus the pizzas and donut holes, which I made later in the game)!

A little known fact about me is how much I love the Super Bowl. It doesn't matter who's playing, and I'm not going to reveal my team because that may cause me to lose some clients :). I always take the Monday after the Super Bowl off, and I actually got engaged on Super Bowl weekend in 2018 (the day before, not the day-of) which of course made me love the whole weekend even more. I love the commercials, that it brings people together, and the half time show. And of course, I absolutely love the food. I made more food this year than I think I have any year in the past. I eat a mostly plant-based diet (not endorsing this specific way of eating, it's just my preference), so the majority of the recipes I made are plant-based. But, all of my guests were meat-eaters, so I needed to make sure I made things that everyone would enjoy.

I actually didn't make any cauliflower, but I did substitute some veggies in where you'd typically have meat. Here are the recipes I made and my thoughts about them:

Crowd-Pleasing Vegan Caesar Salad from Oh She Glows

This one really is a crowd-pleaser. Everyone I've ever made this for comments on it. The crispy chickpea croutons, the dressing, even the vegan "parmesan" are all a hit. This is my go-to salad for a group of people, or during the week for dinner. I got a bag of kale from Trader Joe's that was already chopped to save myself some time (although they leave the stems in and it makes me crazy so I spent some time picking them out...).

Bang Bang broccoli from Rabbit and Wolves

Rabbit and Wolves is one of my favorite blogs for plant-based, comfort food recipes (side note: her blackened tofu with cheese grits is another week-night favorite in our house). This Bang Bang Broccoli was delicious. I didn't bread the broccoli because I was breading brussels sprouts as well and didn't want too many breaded things. Instead, I oven roasted it so the ends got a little charred and then tossed it in the sauce "naked". Also, I would recommend going half chili paste and half sweet chili sauce (like the Trader Joe's brand), unless you like super spicy food. I think with the spice from the wings/brussels (see below), we could have benefitted from these being a little milder.

Garlic Buffalo Brussels sprouts from Rabbit and Wolves

These were another hit! I actually doubled the sauce recipe and tossed the wings in the same garlic buffalo sauce that I made for the brussels. I thought about air frying these, but baking them as the recipe directs worked perfectly. The brussels were a little tricky to batter because the outside leaves fall off some in the heavy batter, but using a fork to dip them in (vs. your fingers) helps. The sauce was VERY spicy (I used Trader Joe's Jalepeno Hot Sauce where it calls for hot sauce in the recipe) so I will use a milder version next time, but the garlicky flavor of the sauce is SO good. I made Minimalist Baker's vegan ranch dressing to go with them.

We air fried the chicken wings, and while I didn't eat any I was told they turned out well. We put in 1lb. at a time, and fried them at 375 degress for about 10 minutes, turned the wings and did another 10 minutes at 375, and then finished them off with 5 minutes at 400 degrees.

Chocolate Ganache Tarts from Thrive Magazine

Thrive Magazine is one of my favorite magazines, and when I saw this chocolate ganache tart recipe, I knew I had to try it. It was super simple to make, but SO good. Instead of making one large tart, I made 15 smaller ones using a muffin tin so they were easier for people to grab and go. One take-away from this: you don't need to bake the crust for 8-10 minutes when you divide it into smaller portions. Seems like a no-brainer, but I didn't think about it and had to re-do them because the first batch was a little charred. If you're going to split these into small tarts like I did, you only need to bake the crust for about 5-6 minutes at 375.

homemade pizzas

So for these, I didn't really follow any recipe. I make pizza probably once a month and always do the same two: one with peppers, onions, and red sauce and one with pesto, shallot, and either tomato or broccoli. I get the Trader Joe's herb pizza crust (they also have plain and whole wheat, but the herbs give it something extra), Trader Joe's pizza sauce, and Trader Joe's vegan kale pesto. For the toppings, I use two bell peppers and half an onion on the one with red sauce, and one whole shallot and three roma tomatoes on the pesto one. I cook all my veggies down a little in advance so they lose some of their water before going on the pizza. I also lightly season them with salt and pepper while I'm cooking them down. Sometimes I put cheese on top, and sometimes I use this vegan parmesan recipe from Oh She Glows. For the Super Bowl, we did half of each pizza with cheese, and half with the vegan parm.

Cinnamon Sugar Donut Holes

I used this donut batter recipe from Tasty to make the batter. I didn't want to deep fry them in oil, however, so instead of making full-size donuts I made donut holes and put them in the air fryer. I put them in at 350 for about 10 minutes, turning half way each time, and then rolled them in the cinnamon sugar as soon as they came out. The flavor was good, but the dough was pretty dense so they turned out more like sweet bread than light and airy like a typical donut. I need to play with this more to get closer to a traditional donut. I don't know that I'll ever be able to replicate the good, old-fashioned deep frying effect with the air fryer, but now I'm on a mission to give it my best shot. More to come on this.

So, that's it!

There you have it, my health coaching FAQ and Super Bowl recipe reviews. As always, let me know if you have questions on either of these! As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I still have room to take on a few more clients at no cost while I'm finishing up my training at Duke, so if you're interested in free health coaching (and helping me learn), let me know!


Mindfulness (Part 1)

What IS Mindfulness?

When I started doing some research to write this post, I thought it would be interesting to Google the word "mindfulness" to see what might come up. Naturally, the first thing I got was a definition from the Oxford English Dictionary and I think the way it describes both meanings of the term are the perfect way to set the stage for this post:

Mindfulness | mīn(d)f(ǝ)lnǝs | :
1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something
2. a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations

Mindfulness is something about which we’re hearing more and more, especially recently. An April article in Psychology Today discusses Gallup's World Emotions Report, which in 2019 showed the U.S. as one of the most stressed countries in the world. At the end of the article, you'll find mindfulness cited as one way to help manage this anxiety. Mindfulness is showing up in the workplace, in schools, and if you needed further convincing that mindfulness really is a hot topic, Oprah.com just published an article on "Mindfulness Techniques for the Holidays" (did you all bookmark that one as quickly as I did?).

The Oxford definition I posted above explains two meanings of the term. I'm going to focus mostly on the first one for the purposes of this post: "the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something." In my own words, I'd describe mindfulness as actively engaging in what you're doing, or more simply, tuning in. When you're eating, it's thinking about the food on your plate, the way it looks, the way it feels when you chew, what flavors are coming through; when you're going for a walk, noticing your breathing, the way your shoes feel on your feet, what sights and sounds are around you; and so on.

So, What Does Mindfulness Have to do with Health Behavior Change?

Mindfulness - both in the sense of being conscious and also as a meditative practice - has wide-ranging implications for health. There are many constructs that play a role in behavior modification, but there are several attributes that we see more frequently when it comes to health behavior change.

Autopilot

How familiar does this sound to you: it's January 1, and you're writing the date but you write the wrong year. Silly you, that's last year's date! How could you forget it's a new year on New Year's Day? Well, there's this lovely unconscious decision-making-system developed by our brains often referred to as autopilot. To a degree, autopilot is necessary to take care of routine tasks and make sure we don't overload, but unfortunately it often bleeds into other tasks and areas of life where we'd rather it not. Autopilot is designed for quick decisions that don't require much information: doing laundry, cleaning, etc. For more complicated mental activities - logical reasoning, managing relationships, learning new things - autopilot is not ideal. To turn autopilot off, you have to be conscious that it's happening and this is where mindfulness can help. Tuning in to what you're doing, being aware of the process and not just the end result, and taking a moment to ask yourself "why am I doing this?" or "will this help me reach my health goals" can help re-engage your brain and redirect your actions to conscious decisions.

Cognitive Depletion

Another concept closely linked with autopilot is cognitive depletion. Cognitive depletion is the idea that cognitive resources are limited and as those resources are depleted our decision-making is affected. Have you ever noticed how you're more likely to drop you goal of getting to the gym, or eating better, or not having that post-work cigarette when you're tired or you've had a very demanding day? That's cognitive depletion in action and in order to stop it, we have to first be aware of it. Again, enter mindfulness. Making an extra effort to really tune in when we know we're in these more cognitively depleted moments can help stop us from making snap decisions or turning on autopilot, which diverts us from our goals.

Learned Helplessness

Have you ever experienced or known someone who has experienced failure with a goal often enough that they no longer believe that goal is attainable for them? Even when a possible solution is available, they assume that because they've failed several times previously, it isn't even worth trying any more. This is learned helplessness and again, mindfulness is crucial to breaking out of this cycle. Opening your mind to new information, such as a changes to the context in which you're trying to reach the goal, can help you see new pathways forward.

Categorization

Okay, so one of these things is not like the other, right? Yes, after reading the preceding sections, categorization may not initially seem like it belongs here. BUT IT DOES! Here's why: many of our opinions are founded on global (large-scale) categories. For example, take the categorization "I hate exercise". This is a pretty broad statement, and as we flip the mindfulness switch and dig more consciously into the "why" behind this large categorization of all exercise as something you hate, you often uncover a more nuanced reason as to why you might feel so strongly negative on exercise.

Why do you hate exercise?
It makes me uncomfortable.
Why does it make you uncomfortable?
I don't like a bunch of people watching me while I work out.
What if you were in a private environment like your home with no one else around?
Oh....

In this (over simplified) example above, after a few rounds of asking "why" you discover that you don't really hate exercise but rather feeling like you're being watched while you do it. By consciously digging deeper you can find a different solution that you might have previously missed.

It's about the journey

I know, that's cheesy, but when it comes to practicing mindfulness (especially in the context of health behavior change) we need to have what Ellen Langer refers to in her book Mindfulness as "process orientation". From a young age, we are conditioned to be goal-oriented: reach for an outcome, accomplish, reach for a new outcome, accomplish, reach for a new outcome, accomplish, and so on. Unfortunately, this way of thinking pushes aside a very important point: every goal was reached through a process. Social media is a major culprit when it comes to displaying a deluge of successful results, but as we all know, it's rare to see someone post their failures and iterations along the way. When we're stuck in this echo-chamber of others' successes, it can make our measly first steps seem pointless. Adopting a process orientation, however, can help you tune in to the fact that EVERYONE followed a process to get to their end result and their first steps were likely not identical to where they are now. Remember, "start where you are, use what you have, do what you can" (see what I did there?). Additionally, the context you gain about what works for you and what doesn't in paying attention to your process is arguably more important than the fact that you accomplished the goal, because being able to lean on those lessons learned in the future will be essential to maintaining what you achieved, making additional changes, or tackling new challenges.

Okay, Let's Bring This Home

I packed a lot into a few short paragraphs, but here's the overall point: our brains are efficient. They have to be in order to process the myriad of information we're given every day. Unfortunately, that efficiency results in mental attributes like autopilot, cognitive depletion, learned helplessness, and categorization that can work against our health goals. Mindfulness is the key to bringing awareness to mental processes that, while still beneficial in many other circumstances, are a road block when trying to change behaviors.

I'd challenge everyone reading this to give mindfulness - in the sense of being more conscious - a try this week. Pick one area of your health in which to be more actively engaged for one day (just start with one, and if you want to do more after that, excellent). Throughout the course of that one day, try really tuning in to your actions, thoughts, and feelings about the behaviors you're exhibiting around the area of health you chose. If it works for you, try jotting down a few insights you pick up throughout the day. At the end of the day, read through or reflect on what you noticed and consider how that might influence your behavior for the next day. I'd be interested to know what you learn!

To wrap this up, there is A LOT to unpack with mindfulness and all that it means for health behavior change. This post barely scratches the surface, and there are many other components of mindfulness that I want to dig into, like the importance of context. So, while I wasn't originally intending to do a second post on mindfulness with this kind of focus, I've decided to build into my content calendar a follow-up post in early December. If you found this post interesting or helpful, then keep an eye out for part two. In the meantime, if you have questions or if you'd like to start working on strategies to bring mindfulness into your health behavior change goals, send me an email. I'm more than happy to help!


Allow Me to Re-Introduce Myself

When You Start a Business and then Go Dark...

Hello again! It's been a little over two months since I finished and published this site, and I imagine a few people are thinking "where did she go?". Well, I launched this website right before one of the busiest times in my life to-date. The first weekend in September we moved, the third weekend in September one of my best friends got married, the fourth weekend in September WE got married, the first week of October we were mini-mooning in Florida, and then we finally settled down around the second week of October. All I can say is WHAT. A. WHIRLWIND.

I thought after we got the move out of the way I'd be able to maintain a weekly post on this site and give you all regular content. SPOILER ALERT: I thought wrong. Even after we were officially moved, there was still unpacking, final wedding details, continuing to work my 9 - 5 job, and general life maintenance to manage. I knew something had to give, and so I told myself to let content for MB Wellness go until after everything settled down. That was tough because having just launched the site, I wanted to keep the momentum going; however, I knew I wasn't going to be at my best and really wanted to wait to start pouring time into this business until I would be.

I imagine everyone reading this can sympathize with what I've been feeling the last few months. At a certain point in adulthood, you realize that being busy, and sometimes overloaded, is not the exception but the rule. Too often I feel like my life resembles running down a hill: you can feel yourself picking up speed and it feels amazing so you continue to let speed build until suddenly, you feel like you're about to lose control and have to dial yourself back. Like many of us, I am exceptionally good at taking on too many things at once only to find myself stressed and overwhelmed. I have to really tune in and intentionally manage my various activities to ensure I pace myself. As I've learned through the years how to better regulate myself, there are a few sayings I lean on to keep myself in check.

Words i [try to] live by

If you know me well, and as new folks will come to learn, I love a good saying. My whole family does and I think it comes in part from my grandma. She had them displayed around her house - from the Golden Rule to "make new friends but keep the old" - and used them constantly in conversation (I can't tell you how many times I heard "be ye kind" when my sisters and I were fighting). While there are many of her sayings that stick with me, there's one in particular that I come back to almost daily:

Start out like you can hold out.

Every time I begin something new, I ask myself "Am I beginning this at a pace I can sustain for a long period of time?". If you're starting a new job, beginning a new relationship, picking up a side project, whatever it may be, have a quick check-in with yourself. If you begin at an unsustainable pace, you could be setting yourself up for high stress or becoming overwhelmed. That said, there will always be phases of life where this is just unavoidable, but in general I use this saying to do a pulse check to make sure I don't over-commit. When I launched this website, I quickly realized that weekly content just wasn't realistic at that point in my life so I scaled back until the timing was better.

"Start out like you can hold out" is also very applicable in health coaching. One emphasis of my approach is making bite-sized changes on the path to your goal. Achieving a sustainable shift in behavior is hard, especially when the behavior is habitual. Trying to go "cold turkey" or all-in at once without examining other lifestyle factors, such as the impact of relationships, scheduling challenges, and physical environment is likely not going to get you the result you want. Begin the process of making a change with something that you know you can sustain and build over time.

On the flip side to "Start out like you can hold out", where you may be in a position of beginning at an unsustainable pace, is another saying that provides guidance for when you're feeling the opposite. Have you ever wanted to start something but didn't know where to begin? Or perhaps beginning felt incredibly overwhelming because the steps from start to finish seemed like too large of an undertaking? Well, you guessed it, I've got a saying for you:

Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.
Arthur Ashe

Beginning something new can be incredibly overwhelming, especially when you're already busy, to the point that often people don't even start. In thinking about this saying in a health coaching context, the most important part is "you". If you read it emphasizing that - "Start where YOU are, use what YOU have, do what YOU can" - I think it makes the most impact. To me, this phrase isn't just about getting started, but also about doing it in a way that works for you. Starting a new fitness routine and the gym isn't your thing? That's okay - find some clear space on your floor and do body weight exercises. Not up for an hour-long workout? Totally fine, start with 20 minutes or 10 minutes, whatever is within reach for you at this juncture and work your way up. You don't have to do what everyone else does, you don't have to try to force something new into your life. If you introduce a change slowly, in a way that actually works for you, it is much more likely to stick.

Speaking of starting...

It's fitting that much of this post talks about beginning, because that's also where I am with MB Wellness - the beginning. While I put the nuts and bolts in place a while ago, I am now finally at a point in my life where I'm well-positioned to dive in and dig in to building this business and building a healthy community for anyone who crosses paths with it. So, what can you expect from me moving forward? Keep an eye on the blog every Monday for new content to kick-start your week, and watch our social media for additional posts. As always, feel free to reach out to me directly with questions - you can contact me via the Contact page on this site.

Until next week,

Meredith