How the simple sign off from our rockstar BC Provincial Health Officer may just be the best advice out there for getting through this pandemic (and life) healthy, happy and well.

In case you missed it, the Provincial Health Officer in BC is a total rockstar. Not only has she led our province through this pandemic with strong leadership, she’s been applauded world-wide for her calm, intelligent strategy and grace under incredible pressure. She was even featured in the New York Times.

I knew I liked her when I first heard her (now famous) briefing “sign off.”

“Be kind, be calm and be safe.”

Dr. Bonnie Henry, BC Provincial Health Officer

Taken at face value, it’s a good reminder to maintain grace under this (what sometimes feels insurmountable) pressure. To be smart and protect ourselves, but also non-reactive and thoughtful. And it got me thinking, this is just good simple health and life advice!

In this blog I want to explore how we can be kind, be calm and be safe in our approach to general health and well-being.

Be Kind

To others, to yourself, to your body and your mind. Seems legit. And logical. But are we?

The other day as we kicked off our “pandemic-friendly” version of the Embrace One-Day Retreat we talked about our group guidelines and the importance of creating a space of non-judgement. But it went beyond the typical “don’t judge others” and we clarified this guideline into “don’t judge; others or yourself!” With a distinct emphasis on how important it was to release judgement of self as part of the process of “embracing.”

How often are we kind (to a fault) to others, but never extend the same grace to ourselves? I’ve seen this in droves during this pandemic.

Through this pandemic there’s been a “buzz” of worry/ concern/ panic about being more sedentary. Not being able to do the things we normally do for fitness. Eating more for emotional reasons (hello stress baking sourdough). Or making (and eating) all the comfort foods, because #comfort.

There’s this energy of judgement, criticism, guilt and shame towards self around how we’re operating right now. Frankly, we’re all doing the best we can with the tools we’ve got, and judging and critisizing ourselves for it, well, it’s just not helpful!

Here’s the thing about self-criticism and the guilt and shame that so often ensue. It’s pretty much the worst thing we can do when it comes to our health. Because the cost of this constant barrage of mental militia? A decreased level of self-efficacy (aka belief in your capability to be successful). So this internal barrage of self-loathing? It’s actually stripping us of the one thing that would give us the mojo we need to be successful – self-confidence and belief that we can indeed be successful!

But wait, there’s more! Not only are we hijacking our mindset, there’s the additional health-cost of mental and emotional stress ensued by constantly thinking, worrying and hyper-focusing on the health choices we’re making (or lack there-of). And this health cost is greater than you might think!

So what does “be kind” to self look like- body, mind and spirit? It starts with self-compassion. Bringing mindful awareness to our internal dialogue and struggle, acknowledging it’s humanity (you are not alone!). Then responding to yourself the same way you would a dear friend or loved one – with grace and kindness, and perhaps a little loving nudge. This is the yin and yang of self-compassion and it’s powerful stuff. You can read more about it in this blog or check out my masterclass on it.

And here’s what’s really cool. When we come from this place of self-compassion we create a foundation of trust and respect of self. When we trust and respect ourselves more deeply, it’s only logical we would want to treat our body with that same kindness. Kindness ripples.

Like with most things in health, self-compassion is a practice. Kindness is a practice. Lean in with love and be kind (to others, and yourself!).

Be Calm

Calm is pretty much the antithesis of our typical “response” in health and fitness. Gah, I’ve gained the “Covid-19,” I better get on xyz (insert latest diet, fitness fad or “program” here).

It’s not calm, calculated or systematic; there is no consideration to how this will work with your life, your unique likes/ dislikes, health considerations or genetics. In most cases it’s a very cookie cutter approach (hold the cookies).

It’s frenzied, reactive, and dramatic… and not effective.

These dramatic reactive responses (aka diets) have a 95% failure rate. Yes you read that correctly. Diets have a 95% failure rate. And I’m not just talking about counting calories either (that’s so “1990’s”). I’m talking about those “wellness diets” that demonize sugar, gluten and all processed foods too. You know, the ones made famous by the instagram stars or celebrities who claim all you need to do is “eat clean,” hit the gym, do HIIT and call it “a lifestyle.”

What is it really? Restrictive, unsustainable and expensive (too expensive for the vast majority of people)! Many of these approaches not only make eating complicated and confusing, they’re most often not evidence based (aka there is little to no conclusive evidence to back up these crazy claims).

And yet, when they don’t work, we don’t blame the diet, philosophy or approach – we blame ourselves. Back we go to the self-criticism, guilt, shame cycle. Sigh.

And it’s not just costing us a lot of money either. Ironically, it’s costing us our health! Weight cycling (losing and gaining repeatedly) not only damages our self-confidence and self-efficacy, it also damages our metabolism and mental health. It also moves us no further “ahead” when it comes to moving the needle on our body composition.

Did you know that when you lose weight you lose both fat mass and lean mass (aka muscle)? Yup. Even if you strength train. But here’s the clincher most people don’t realize. When you regain (as 95% of people do, when the diet becomes too much, you go on vacation, or #life) you regain fat mass first. Eventually lean mass will re-stabilize to your “set range,” but that comes much later. And often by that time, the majority of people will start another diet and begin the cycle again. Which means over time you’re likely to gain a greater proportion of fat mass. So dieting not only doesn’t work, it makes the “problem” worse (by our cultural standards) putting us at greater dissatisfaction and mental health strain. Double sigh. If you want to totally geek out about Weight Set Point and learn even more conclusively why diets don’t work long term check out this podcast.

Then there’s the mental health cost. This is what really stokes my fire and gets me marching to my soapbox.

In many cases, these “wellness diets” are a “culturally appropriate” form of disordered eating called Orthorexia. While it’s not (yet) recognized by the DSM (aka medical system diagnostic), this obsessive focus on “proper” or “healthful” eating is on the rise. Think of the friend who won’t eat out because it’s “not healthy” or the relative who won’t have birthday cake at a party because it’s “not on the plan.” Or that person who exercises to “earn” their food or exercises to make up for something they ate.

Friends, it’s not healthy, and it’s scary just how pervasive it is. (note: if you or someone you love has concerns about orthorexia please reach out to your family doctor as this form of disordered eating can easily escalate into other forms of Eating Disorder.

This is frankly just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the craziness that is diet culture, and frankly it all makes me shake my head. Because it doesn’t have to be that way.

Intuitively we were born knowing how to eat. We were born knowing (instinctually) how to move our bodies. Watch small kids (who haven’t yet been damaged by diet culture). They eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. And if you really watch (as they have in some cool studies) if you provide a variety of foods over the course of a week they will eat a varied and nutritious diet (no intervention required). They move, not to “get a quota of steps” but because movement is fun!

We all need to take a DEEP breath and take a note from our dear Dr. Bonnie. Be calm. If you feel as though your health isn’t where you’d like it to be check yourself with these simple (common sense) questions:

  • Are you happy and fulfilled with your healthy lifestyle? Note: your answer might be yes. If so. Take a breath, be calm and carry on!
  • If not…
    • What is your vision of health + fitness?
    • What would you like to do with your body?
    • If you can’t do that thing right now, why? What is holding you back? Really (don’t just default to the ideas diet-culture has injected into your consciousness). What’s actually holding you back?
    • If you slow down and trust your instincts, what small steps could you take today that would move you closer to this vision? (repeat this step every day until you settle into your vision of health + fitness).

Of course there are few more nuances to making it all happen, but it is actually quite simple. And it can be as simple as this if you just slow down, take a breath and be calm.

Be safe

This one seems like more of a pandemic-related note, but it’s most certainly not.

Over my 20-years in the industry I’ve crossed paths with more dangerous trends than I’d care to count – all in the name of health + fitness. From the massive caloric restrictions of the “traditional diet” to the pills/ potions/ tonics of the the “wellness diet.” And then there’s the intense nutritional protocols that eliminate whole food groups or macronutrients (keto anyone?!)*.

*before I get lambasted, I recognize that keto is a medical protocol. And in some (rare) cases where it is medically necessary and is supervised by a medical team. I don’t have an issue with this. I do however have an issue with the average person eliminating carbohydrates to these dangerous levels to lose weight. At this time there is not sufficient evidence to support this approach, nor do we fully comprehend the long term health consequences of eliminating this important macronutrient. PS. Did you know your brain requires 130g carbohydrates a day to run optimally (aka be able to think clearly and focus)? Most keto diets recommend under 50g of carbohydrates per day. Um, anyone else see a problem with this?!

Then we have fitness. Where well-meaning trainers are taking beginners through advanced (and intense) workout regimes designed for experienced high level athletes. Complex 4-6 day per week fitness programs that purport they’re “all levels” but include explosive plyometric movement (with no modifications offered) and complicated compound exercises that require high levels of body awareness, functional and core strength. That doesn’t strike me as very “beginner friendly,” nor do these workouts often take into consideration the challenges of being in a bigger body.

And then we have the insta-fitness coach. The individual that’s had personal “victory” in the realm of health + fitness and has decided they should impart this wisdom, no training or certifications required. I’d be fine with it, if only they were touting sold advice. More often than not, they’re peddling a product (or 20, because #influencer) and sadly their influence holds credit over credentials and people come a flocking. Like Reese Witherspoon recently sharing her “morning smoothie” that had 2 heads of romaine, spinach, celery, coconut water, banana, an apple, a pear, a lemon and almond butter in it. Are you kidding me? First off, when did Reece go back to school for nutrition, secondly, why on earth does one human need/ want to eat 2 heads of romaine in a sitting? And thirdly, that smoothie just cost her like $30 to make (because of course it was all organic!), to say nothing of the $700 blender required to blend that $hit up. But I digress…

It’s like we’ve lost our healthy sense of skepticism when it comes to our health + fitness. We’re so desperate to “fit the mould” that we will do (almost) anything to make it so. It hurts my heart.

And I get it. It’s intoxicating. She/ he/ they make it look so easy. So simple. So glamourous. And we’re surrounded by messages that tell us this body of ours it’s a problem we should really fix/ shrink/ change/ improve. That we shouldn’t be happy with our bodies as is, and if we are at peace with our bodies (and they don’t fit the “norm”), well that’s weird too!

When it comes to our health + fitness I think we all need to reclaim our healthy sense of skepticism. We need to ask questions and be curious. We need to embrace our inner anthropologist and get curious about what will (and won’t) work for us. And we need to ask ourselves, first and foremost is this safe? Not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally. Is limiting xyz foods going to cause me unnecessary duress when planning meals for me and my family? Does exercising in this way work for my body with my current limitations and capabilities? Is the cost of this plan/ potion/ program going to stress me out financially? Does the time required work with my real life schedule? Can I do all the things (without making my life miserable)? Is this restrictive diet going to trigger me to over-eat when my innate primal hunger is triggered?

Side note: yes, primal hunger is a thing! There’s a reason you binge seemingly uncontrollably on nutrient dense foods and quick carbs when you over-restrict. Your body is fighting for your survival! It’s doing it’s job! That’s right, over-restriction triggers binging. Not so helpful, right?!

Get curious and be safe.

The final word

There’s a lot of information out there. It’s easy to get analysis paralysis and not do anything. It’s easy to want a “plug and play” approach. I get it. But trust your inner wisdom. Be curious and cautious (but also courageous). Proceed with common sense and kindness. Whatever you choose bring joy to the journey. Be kind, be calm and be safe.

Want some kind, calm and safe support with your health and fitness? I’d love to support you on your journey! As a HAES (Health at Every Size) informed Health + Fitness Coach and Intuitive Eating Counsellor these are guiding principles. My role as a coach is to serve and support you on your path and it would be my pleasure to support you through one-to-one coaching, Intuitive Eating Counselling or in my body positive health + fitness community, the StudioCrew!