Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Behind the Scenes With BoPo Babes: SamJohnsonWrites

Welcome to my new blog series! I will be going behind the selfie sticks, tripods, and self timers with some of my favorite body positive babes. I suspect if they're not your favorites yet, they will be soon!

Sam, aka @samjohnsonwrites is a personal trainer, former fitness competitor, and is going back to school in the fall to become a holistic nutritionist. Her Instagram is filled with food porn and gym selfies, but this is not your typical #fitspo page. What started as a weight loss account turned into obsession which, with the help of diet culture, fostered her eating disorder. Now, she’s using her personal experience and education to spread the message of healthy living from her body to her brain.

“My instagram account actually began as an anonymous weight loss account over 3 years ago; It was very "fitspo - I posted "motivation" pictures of girls with abs, wrote weekly about my weight loss and was constantly posting progress pictures. I was new to fitness and my account was a tool to find my way into the fitness world. I documented my experience with at home workouts, half marathon training, weight lifting, and eventually being on prep for a bikini competition. Throughout everything, my focus was always on weight loss, and competing really pushed me over the edge from being obsessed with weight loss, to struggling with bulimia and orthorexia (an obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy) disorder.

My experience led me re-examine my idea of what health and fitness truly was- and it was about so much more than weight loss and abs. It's about eating foods that make you feel great and moving in ways that celebrate and honor your body. With the "fitspo" trend, I feel like that's not a message that's being spread, so I set out to talk about it, and show that you don't need the "perfect body" to be happy, healthy and fit. I'm proud to post my curves and rolls, because this body is so much healthier, mentally and physically, than I ever was when I was dieting and living in the gym. It took a lot of work to come out okay on the other side, and to heal my relationship with food and my body. When I did, I realized that there were probably a lot of other women who struggled the same way I did.”

And that’s when her Instagram shifted into the bopo safe haven it is today. She speaks about her body just as often as she does her mind. She's found a solid community of support on IG, but there was something else that helped her journey - podcasts.

“There’s something about actually hearing someone say the words out loud that helps hammer them into your head. When I was really struggling with body image, I was listening to podcasts constantly: at work, in the car, at home, in the bath, etc. Some of my favorite podcasters are Kaila Prins, Summer Innanen and Maddy Moon.”

On Sam’s IG feed there’s before and after pictures, but not the ones you might be used to seeing. These before and after pictures show someone who gained strength and joy while maybe also a little bit of weight. No matter the number of the scale, she encourages her followers to know the importance of not only physical health, but mental health as well. In one before/after IG post, she says that you should look back on your past self with kindness and to question photos implying that dieting will make you a better person. She stresses that “changing your lifestyle is just a change, but you HAVE ALWAYS been wonderful and deserving of love.”

“Most often when we think of health we think of only the physical aspect. But we have mental, social and spiritual health to take into account too. A holistic, all encompassing, approach is necessary for true health. In such a fitspo world right now, the focus is on looking good regardless of how you feel. Taking mental health days and relaxing and decompressing is just as important for your health as movement is.

When I was the leanest I ever was, I was the least in touch with my body. Despite being physically exhausted to the point where I got tired walking across a parking lot, I pushed through hour and a half workouts anyway. Despite being hungry to the point of food obsession, I followed my diet plan anyway. My body was screaming at me to stop, but I didn't listen because I was getting abs. I remember thinking to myself, "being lean is not worth feeling like this," but I couldn't bring myself to "give up" on competing. Once I won my trophy and decided not to continue competing, I knew there had to be another side to fitness, where I wasn't constantly tired and starving. Having been pushed so far to the edge made me realize that my mental health was extremely important, and through that I was able to take the focus off how I looked and work on how moving my body made me feel. If I was doing crazy workouts but leaving the gym feeling utterly exhausted, what was the benefit? The whole idea of #TeamNoDaysOff and #Dedicated needs to take a back seat, because glorifying exhaustion and over-training is unhealthy and dangerous. I hope to spread the message that mental health is just as important as physical health, and to know that health and happiness look different on everyone.”

She does notice a difference between her and other trainers that she’s worked with when it comes to her body positive approach in the gym. “I will never be one to encourage calorie counting or to suggest that a food choice is "good" or "bad.” (Also,) giving up the idea of "goal clothing" can make a big impact. If you're constantly looking at a pair of pants there are two sizes too small and longing to fit in them, it's hard to love and appreciate your body as it is in that moment.”

She wants us to remember that change takes time whether it’s your mental or physical self. “I think some people get hung up on the idea that becoming body positive is kind of like an instant transformation, where suddenly you no longer have negative thoughts about yourself- but being body positive takes work every day. It's okay if it takes you a while to get there, lots of little steps over time add to change.”

The same way that seeing someone comfortable in their self love can be intimidating if you’re starting your bopo journey, health and exercise can be overwhelming if you’re starting from ground zero. Sam encourages her followers to be patient and don’t give up.  “The key is just to get moving. We live in a world where workout programs aimed at beginners are named "Insanity," which can be intimidating and also sends the wrong message about what it means to be active. Taking a walk on your lunch break, turning on some loud music and having a dance party, working in your garden, doing stretches while watching TV; there are lots of small ways to incorporate activity into your life that are fun and easy to do.”

She says that while a lot of women come into the gym wanting to lose weight, it’s her job to find out what they really mean by that. “How will losing weight make you feel? What's the feeling you're after and how can we get you there? Many women want to feel empowered and confident, and fitness is a great way to get there. When we change our mindset and concentrate on those things, our bodies will follow. It's great to have goals and I definitely think it's possible to change your body while remaining body positive- it's important to focus on how you're feeling. If you're losing weight for health related reasons, it's likely that your quality of life will improve if you do; maybe you'll be able to play with your kids outside more, or conquer a set of stairs without feeling winded. It's about asking what your body can do for you and honoring that through movement.

But, I'm tired of the message that you have to look like a fitness model to be healthy / fit / happy/ etc. Some days health means taking a bubble bath instead of going to the gym because your body needs rest, and that's completely okay!”

Lightning Round
Favorite Happy Song?
  • Come on Eileen by Dexy’s Midnight Runners. It always puts me in a good mood!
What’s a movie that never gets old?
  • Beauty and the Beast
What’s a book you could read repeatedly?
  • Tie between Ordinary People by Judith Guest and The Talisman by Steven King
Favorite ice cream?
  • Chocolate chip if we’re talking in general, but from a specific place - butter pecan from Thrifty’s in California. It’s one of the things I miss most since moving to Canada!
Favorite brick and mortar store?
  • Chapters (the Canadian Barnes & Noble)
Favorite online store?
  • Etsy - I love all the literature inspired clothing and jewelery.
Do you have any hobbies?
  • Singing in the chamber choir I’m in and reading.
Drink of Choice

  • Captain Morgan spiced rum and diet coke

Until Next Time,
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