As a fitness and nutrition professional it’s my job to educate others on the facts, but even I have fallen prey to the misinformation that’s spread online. This misinformation makes pursuing a healthier lifestyle seem impossible. The truth is, it’s not! It is attainable, but education is key.
This series was inspired by conversations with my client, Molly Bingham. Molly Bingham is from Sonoma, California. She enjoys acting, photography and baking. Molly's goal is to learn how to live a healthier, happier life. As a senior in high school she is constantly exposed to false fitness and nutrition tips. She has spent years believing her dreams of being healthier, would never be achievable. Teenagers deal with the daily influence of social media, which is often marketed to promote quick weight loss, fad diets and overall unrealistic expectations. This “information” is spread without facts, leading to so many thinking that “healthy” isn’t an option for them.
The goal of this series is to shed light on the reality of what it means to exercise and get healthy. Healthy doesn’t have to mean changing the number on the scale, and it’s not about weight loss. Healthy is about feeling strong and confident. I want to help debunk those huge misconceptions and show others that “healthy” is possible. Part 1 of the series is a real and raw interview with Molly. We will learn about her personal experiences, her expectations and her struggles. I know so many people have the same mindset, and feel so overwhelmed at the thought of changing their lifestyle, but you can do it, and I'm here to help. Join me for part 2-4, where I will aim to debunk myths, educate, and prove that fitness truly is for all!
Kristina: What are the common misconceptions you had about living a healthier lifestyle?
"That you can’t eat anything! You see these fad diets and fad workouts and it’s all fake. It’s just people who are naturally skinny. You have to have a personal trainer, you have to have someone to tell you exactly how to lose weight, and it still doesn’t always work. It doesn’t feel real. I’m told to eat 1200 calories, go on the keto diet, basically not eat, and be miserable (to lose weight).”
Kristina: How did your previous knowledge of health and wellness impact you pursuing this lifestyle? Did you know it was always something you wanted to do?
“It’s always the thing I wanted more than anything. To be fit. To be skinny. To be healthier, but I’ve given up in ways. I’ll do something for a couple of months and I won’t see any progress at all, and I’ll just quit. Or I do something really intense and I see change but I can’t sustain it. It’s not achievable. It made everything super negative.”
“My biggest fear is that nothing is going to last, everything is super super temporary, and it will be this battle my entire life, which I don’t want it to be. Then I feel it will take so much energy to maintain, that it’s not worth trying. That’s what it sounds like in the media.”
Kristina: How would you describe the process of living a health lifestyle prior to working with a fitness and nutrition coach?
“Extremely challenging. I never had a good mindset about it. People get sick on their weight loss journey. It’s extreme. It never works, and the weight never stays off. I wanted it badly but could never figure out how. This concept of I can’t eat any of the foods I like, and it just has to be this struggle. There’s also this conflict of not wanting to say I want to lose weight and not focusing on a number, because I know that mindset isn't healthy. So I would always say I want to get stronger but the truth is, I want to lose fat.”
Kristina: What physical change or other changes would you have to see in your first few months to feel motivated to keep working on this path?
“Truthfully, I hate saying this, because I logically know it doesn’t work this way, but it would be me losing weight and my clothes fitting differently. Which has happened, but it didn’t happen quick enough.”
“If I could actually see the number going down, I would feel more motivated. I just don’t know how often I should weigh myself, or if I should weigh myself at all. So it’s me seeing the up-downs of weight, but I don’t know what’s normal. Sometimes it can be defeating because it’s not drastic enough. There’s a lot of shame around it. Especially as a teenager, wanting to lose weight in a healthy way is one of the biggest challenges. You can come up with a hundred ways that are not healthy, but they don’t work. I don’t know how to track it to see progress. I think it would be more motivating if I could tell, but I guess I’m also afraid because I don’t know how to keep the weight going down.”
“Part of the problem is not knowing what is attainable and how do I see if it’s working? Because of water weight and weight fluctuations, what do I actually weigh now? I don’t know what to expect. I haven’t seen a number I’m happy with for a long time, and I’m happy when I see the number go down, but I have this goal weight and don’t know if it’s physically healthy for me because that number is from a long time ago. Culture is now saying we shouldn’t focus on the number and should love ourselves regardless of how we look, but I don’t. If I knew there was a healthy way, and it would work, I would be more inclined, but it feels like healthy is the thing everyone is after but so few achieve”
Kristina: What are the biggest discrepancies between what you thought you knew about health and wellness vs. learning the science behind weight loss and exercise? Does it make you fear losing weight or getting healthier?
“There’s the diet culture of if I do this exercise or try this, it will work. It feels like such a chore and I have to force myself to do it. Especially with the media, I have this curvier figure, and I’m not built like a stick, so I have no idea what is physically possible for me. I think maybe I’ll never be fit and it’s not possible for me."
"I clearly know what makes my body feel healthier and what foods to avoid. Why do I continue to eat them if I know that makes me feel bad? I don’t know. I’m trying to listen to my body without trying a fad diet”
“I wonder what’s achievable? For so long I would put up posters of women that are super toned and that’s what I woke up and looked at every morning. There’s so many catch phrases and quick fixes. There’s the images of what 5 pounds of fat looks like and what 5 pounds of muscle looks like. How do you know if you’re gaining muscle but losing fat? It’s confusing what’s actually achievable. How do I know it’s working? Do I see the change? Do I feel the change?”
Kristina: What are some valuable pieces of information you’ve learned from working with a professional?
“Learning how different exercises work and engaging muscles is crazy. I’ve done ab workouts my entire life and never really felt any progress. You have to work to engage the muscles and it doesn’t automatically happen. That’s something I had no idea about. And my actual caloric needs are not 1200 calories. It’s achievable, and makes me feel good about myself because I don’t have to overdo it. I like knowing my caloric needs, because it gives me a good ballpark.”
Kristina: What do you believe is the hardest part of growing up in a world consumed with social media?
“It has been one of the worst things. My search page is full of 6-minute workouts, diets, and things I should be doing. I want that connection and knowing what’s going on with people, and there’s a piece of it where you feel like you’re missing out on something by not being on social media, but it’s always been a negative thing for me. If I post something I may get hate comments or random guys asking about my body type. It’s always about your body. I feel more confident on things like zoom. I had a meeting in person, and I was so uncomfortable, my hands were across my body the entire time. Social media adds to that, it’s the extreme focus on weight. It all has a ring of fakeness around it.”
“You’re also shamed if you post and you’re shamed if you don’t. It’s such a toxic environment especially with cancel culture. I’m the last wave of kids who didn’t grow up with social media when I was young, but had it in middle school. If you want to see proof of the body image changes, look at images of kids who are 15 now and those who were 15, 10 years ago.”
“I want to say screw the media, and not care what I look like, but I do care what I look like.”
Kristina: Do you think there’s a difference in how social media targets teenagers vs. adults?
“I feel there is a different attitude towards nutrition and weight loss when it’s for teens, specifically teenage girls vs. what is targeted for adults. The way they are targeted for teens comes from a place of negativity or you’re doing it wrong and here’s how to do it right, even if it’s not right for you. It’s very much like “the magic pill” and this is the one way to make everything better, which is not how it works.”
Kristina: What are some tips you have about starting your journey or improving your lifestyle?
“In health and fitness, being consistent and just doing something every day. Maybe it’s yoga in the morning, runs, or walks. When I consistently do things like yoga, I just feel so much better and it sets a better tone for my day.”
“I don’t consistently journal, I journal when I need to, but writing and getting random stuff out so I can focus on other things, helps. Finding some way to deal with stress, some coping mechanism, helps me in a lot of ways. For me it’s running. Find something else other than social media (for entertainment), like reading and watching movies”
“With food, it’s being aware of the foods that make me lose focus. I’ve been trying to sit down and eat food without my phone, not in class, and just enjoy what I’m eating. Mindful eating helps.”
Kristina: What is the best piece of advice you would give to other teenagers who want to live a healthier lifestyle?
“Be gentle with yourself. Take it slowly. Find what works for you. It’s different for everyone, so take the time to figure out what works for you.”