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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.