Welcome to another Freedom Friday Interview! To read more about Freedom Friday Interviews, please click here.
This week, we’re welcoming one of my favourite recipe creators and close friends, Dana, to share her story about going from your type-A perfectionist to a radiant entrepreneur who has an entirely new view of what “health” actually means! Take it away, Dana!
- I am so happy to have you on as a Freedom Friday guest! Give us a little background about yourself before we dive into the juiciness of freedom and how it applies to you and your life!
Hey all! If you don’t know me already, my name is Dana and I’m the Health & Nutrition Coach // Blogger behind Real Food with Dana. I’m an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, swim coach, and clinical nutrition graduate student. Things I love: crossfit, my puppy, photography, really great food, inserting pop culture references in everyday conversation (um, hello, Harry Potter and Mean Girls obviously) and making people laugh (mostly at me). Meg and I met almost two ago now (!) when I was getting my Health Coaching degree and was still struggling on my journey to find freedom, so I’m incredibly thankful and honored that she asked me to share my story today.
- What does “freedom” mean to you?
Freedom means not being chained down by things that weigh on you, having the liberty to choose what you want, and feeling amazing because of it.
- Share about the time in your life when you lacked freedom. What was your struggle?
I lacked freedom for so long in my life, I don’t even know when it started. For almost my entire life, I hated my body. Loathed it. I was a type-A, competitive perfectionist, and even though I played multiple sports my whole life and was very athletic, I was never a size I wanted to be. I was constantly exposed to people in my family talking about dieting or trying to lose weight (even though my whole family is very active and in good shape), so it was ingrained in my mind from a young age that this was the norm. I was always on a diet or restricting my food in some way. Even when I was swimming 3-4 hours a day in college on top of weight training, extremely restricting my food and skipping meals, and was the smallest I’d ever been in my entire life, I still hated my body. Since high school, I had always been the “fit friend” everyone had, who spent countless hours in the gym, and only ate “healthy food”…or so they thought.
What they didn’t know, was that I was totally caught in the restrict – binge – guilt cycle of eating and overexercising, all through college, and even for a year or two after. No one knew, because I never told them. Even when I did a whole30 and started eating paleo for health reasons (I have celiac disease and am lactose intolerant, so it seemed like the easiest and most real-food plan to follow), it was still mostly for vanity. I would eat “clean” during the day and during the week, and completely binge on the weekends, then train for my half marathon and go to crossfit multiple times a week to binge exercise it all off. I was totally obsessed with my body, my food, and exercise, and couldn’t break the cycle, no matter how many times I told myself mid-late-night food binge or crying in the bathroom that I would stop.
- What was your turning point? When did you realize that you needed to embrace freedom?
Eventually I literally and figuratively ran myself into the ground and totally hit rock bottom by doing everything the media told me was healthy: eating “clean” (low-calorie, low-fat, low-carbohydrate) and overexercising, and continuing to push myself until I just couldn’t anymore. On top of my celiac disease, lactose intolerance and a bunch of other food sensitivities, I found out I had multiple thyroid problems, a severely leaky gut, and adrenal fatigue. My health was in the gutter, and I realized I needed to do a 180 with my attitude towards “health” if I ever wanted to get better. All I wanted was freedom. I didn’t want to be chained down by another diet or exercise plan that promised to give me 6-pack abs or happiness (but only once you reached your unsustainable goal weight). I started eating what nourished my body, and had to take about 6 months off exercise completely because I was too exhausted to do anything but walk. I started my blog about how to cook healthy, delicious food that is nourishing even with food restrictions (I still have celiac, after all), but without feeling restricted. And I’ve never looked back.
- How do you allow freedom into your life on a daily basis?
I take care of my body now, I don’t fight it anymore. I’ve come to a point in my life where I eat what I want because I love it and it nourishes my body, not because I’m trying to control my weight. I exercise because I love it, because I want to, and because it nourishes my soul, not because I’m trying to control the way my body looks, and hating myself for it. I practice self care with massage, meditation, yoga, and play (mostly with my adorable puppy), and I say a big F YOU to negative body thoughts and the scale. Because you’re so much more than a number. And now, I work as a Health & Nutrition Coach to help other people find their freedom too.
- I believe our journey towards freedom never truly ends, it just continues to progress to more and more freedom. How have you challenged yourself recently to embrace more freedom into your life?
With running your own business, life can get really stressful – and you always feel like you can push yourself to do more. There’s a lot of successful entrepreneurs out there giving advice like “never stop the hustle” or “always keep pushing,” saying your business will fail if you don’t. I’ve recently challenged myself to take a more sustainable approach to growing and running my business – not by killing myself day in and day out, but by accepting my limits and realizing I will still grow and create the business that is authentic to me by doing it MY way, not just pushing myself through it, like I did with my body before. With food and exercise, I don’t beat myself up if I eat a food that I know won’t make me feel great, and if I’m feeling tired, I skip a workout and take a walk in the park with my puppy instead. You have to learn what works best for you, and what makes you feel your best. Respect your body along that journey, and you’ll find health and happiness.
- What is one golden nugget of wisdom you can provide to those who are currently struggling with embracing freedom today?
Stop, and listen. Start working WITH your body instead of fighting it. Are you doing something in your life right now just because you’re following the example of someone else, or because someone you look up to told you to do it? To lose “those last 5 lbs” or to “push through” your next training session, even if you hate the food you’re eating or dread your workouts? STOP. Take a step back. This is the restriction that leads to you being trapped in the cycle of restrict – binge – guilt forever. Once you listen to what your body is telling you it really wants and so desperately needs from you, and you allow yourself to do those things, you won’t ever feel the need to be chained down in that cycle, or restrict yourself again. You will have freedom. Easier said than done, but hey! That’s why you have amazing coaches like Meg and myself (not to toot our own horns or anything 🙂 to help you through these kinds of things. We’ve been there, and all we want to do is help you!
- And before we say good bye, how can we stay connect with you over social media?
Come hang out and let’s be internet buddies! Come find me on my site at realfoodwithdana.com, Instagram @realfoodwithdana, twitter and pinterest @realfoodwdana, or contact me and let’s chat! And if you wanted to know more about my personal struggles with body image, overexercising, and adrenal fatigue, you can read them here.