Look, it’s been a YEAR. Like the longest year ever. Energy is low, joy is low, motivation is low. I get it. I understand. But you still want to try and take care of yourself as best you can, so I’m here to help.
Notice I didn’t call it a workout or exercise guide, because this guide is about movement and self care. And I want to give it to you for free.
Each of the 5 days has mobility exercises, a quick bodyweight strength circuit, and a couple of core exercises. All low impact, designed for low energy low motivation. These workouts are not wildly difficult or designed to kick your ass, they’re designed to be done gently and with bare minimum effort. They can be done in any order and are all full body!
There are also 4 additional cardio circuits you can add to any one of the days if you are feeling like a little extra sweat.
Even the bare minimum of movement can help us sleep better, have a better mood, and help with stress, all of which are very necessary this holiday season.
I have this theory that almost no one in the general population really knows what it’s like to feel healthy. I know I didn’t for years. Much of this is a product of our society that values productivity over all else. The hustle is glorified and everyone is over-caffeinated and under-rested. To test this theory I present you this question:
If you had no idea what you looked like, no idea what your weight or B<I were, no idea how many times a week you worked out, no idea what your macros or calories were, no idea of your appearance: would you still think you were healthy? Would you still feel healthy?
Because I hate to tell you but it doesn’t matter how often you workout, how many smoothies or shakes you drink, how skinny or not skinny you are, how much you can squat, or how many miles you can run if you still feel like shit.
In college was when I first started working out. I would jam workouts between classes, work, sororities, studying, and maintaining a full college social life. I thought that being healthy and fit meant feeling tired, dry scooping pre workout to get through a lift, being sore 24/7, feeling slightly hungry (that’s a calorie deficit, right?) all the time, and rushing home after the gym for my protein shake (the window, yknow?). I was tired constantly. But this was what busy, productive, healthy people did… or so I thought.
Fast forward about 3 years I’m just starting off as a personal trainer. I love every second of working with clients and allow myself to be scheduled as early as 5am and as late as 7:30pm on some days. On top of that I am bartending a few nights a week, and working a retail shift at the mall. There are nights I sleep as little as 5 hours, and lunchtime naps are my only saving grace. Coffee, then pre workout, then an energy drink are my normal. I eat as well as I can but often forget or get too busy to actually get meals in. I am getting workouts in when I can, and think that this is healthy and normal.
I am not saying that I have a perfectly healthy routine and feel amazing 100% of the time. No one does. But what I didn’t realize before is that feeling good is so much more important than looking good, and that feeling good is 100% possible. It is possible to get through the day without feeling crazy tired, it is possible to feel energetic and rested when you wake up in the mornings, it is possible to train hard without muscle soreness or stiffness. It is possible to fuel your body with nutrient dense foods that leave you feeling satisfied and full while still making room for your favorite foods.
Your fitness and health behaviors are supposed to make you feel BETTER, not worse. Your fitness is supposed to be life giving and pain relieving. You’re supposed to be able to eat your favorite foods, get a full night’s sleep, and have time to spend with your kids. You’re supposed to be able to feel good. And you’re supposed to be able to feel good without spending tons of money on vitamins, supplements, yoga classes, energy drinks, juice cleanses, etc.
That’s not to say that that fitness isn’t hard. Burpees still suck. Pushups still suck. I never said easy. But at the end of the day are your health behaviors making you feel better or worse? Do you sleep well at night? Are you in constant pain? Are you abusing caffeine to get through a workout? It is so possible to feel rested, energetic, strong, full of life but unfortunately it won’t come from any sexy solutions or price tagged promises.
I want to preface this by saying that I am not writing this to shit on any woman in particular. I am all for women being entrepreneurs, women trying to become healthier, for women building communities and supporting other women. I used to think that MLM’s (in particular ones who sell ‘health’ products i.e. Beachbody, Arbonne, etc.) were a victimless crime. I decided it wasn’t for me but I wasn’t going to engage the topic because I didn’t want anyone to feel attacked. I figured that they were just trying to help other women become healthier and being cheerleaders and I am always wildly hesitant to critique other women, we already get plenty of criticism from society and ourselves. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt it was something I needed to speak on.
I also want to preface this by saying that I was once a Beachbody coach. I KNOW, embarrassing, but hear me out. When I was a young trainer all I wanted in the whole world was to help other women fall in love with exercise the way I had. I was hungry for clients to work with, a platform to speak with, and a community to learn with. Enter: body positive Beachbody coach with promises beyond my wildest dreams. Promising me community, clients, and most importantly, INCOME. She said I could run my ‘business’ however I wanted. I could make it inclusive, and nonrestrictive, and fun, and everything else I had ever wanted. So despite the gut feeling that I had, I signed up. And honestly, the Beachbody workouts aren’t bad. But I can firsthand attend that the training these programs and companies give you does NOT qualify you to give health advice. In any way.
Fast forward 2 years, I am a full time Wellness Director at a gym, I train in person and clinical clients, I have a few more certifications under my belt, and I am headed back to graduate school for Kinesiology at the end of the month. Every single day I talk to a wide variety of people about their health and fitness and help get them on a track that works for them. Key word: works for them. MLM companies are founded on the idea that “it worked for me, it can work for you too!” which while well intentioned, is naive and untrue. Anyone who actually works in the health and wellness field will tell you that there is no one size fits all plan for fitness.
Each human comes with their own beautiful mess of complications (one of the things I love the most about my work). Everyday I get to hear wild, powerful, sometimes heart wrenching stories of family situations, health situations, bad coaches or doctors, accidents, cancer, tragic injuries, and so much more. Every life circumstance, every physical circumstance, every financial circumstance, plays into a person’s health and it takes a qualified and educated practitioner to be able to ask the right questions and give appropriate health advice. No matter how “well intentioned” you are, no matter how much you’re just “trying to help” being uneducated in these topics and presenting yourself as a health coach or wellness coach is dangerous. Women deserve so much more than the bottled advice you’re regurgitating from your upline and the overpriced protein shake you’re going to make them buy. Giving health advice to someone without proper training is completely unethical. Full stop.
Did you know that a “health coach” is actually a health profession involving degrees and nationally accredited certifications? It’s not just a cute title you can put in your instagram bio because you post your prepackaged workouts on your stories. This title, the same for basically almost any title with the word “coach” in it, is getting thrown around like wildfire. I noticed a huge uptake during quarantine of people suddenly becoming “life coaches” or “business coaches” or of course my least favorite “nutrition/health coaches.” So from a petty standpoint, for you to one day decide that you’re a fitness coach and claim that you do the same thing that I do is insulting to me and all the education/work I’ve gone through to get to this point. People go to years of school, pay lots of money, and spend lots of time studying so that they can effectively help people with their health.
In my Personal Training certification alone I learned:
How to prescribe exercise with/around pain
How to cue form and technique and how to scale exercises depending on the individual’s ability
How to help people with chronic diseases exercise safely
How different age groups respond to exercise
The psychology of behavior change
The effects medications can have on HR, BP, exercise output potential, etc.
Kinetics of movement
Muscle fiber types and how to best train them
How to actively listen and engage with our clients to meet them where they are at
We learn all of these things to safely advise and help our clients.
I could go on. Here is how MLM’s train their coaches (and i do know this from experience):
How to make instagram stories
How to make instagram posts
How to make instagram captions
How to take selfies or film workouts
How to (and this is a direct quote) “present yourself as an expert”
How to talk about their products
How to make sales
They learn all of this to learn how to make sales.
You know what else I learned in my certification? That as a personal trainer it is outside of my jurisdiction to give specific health advice, especially with regards to supplements. I can encourage you to eat more vegetables, or drink more water, or refer you to a Registered Dietician, but I cannot tell you to use or buy any particular supplements, nor can I offer to make you a meal plan. That would be out of my realm of what I am qualified to do. So if I as a Certified Personal Trainer cannot recommend this then WHY TELL ME WHY as an Arbonne “health coach” is it ethical to promote $100+ protein shakes. For that price I could point you to 100 more qualified coaches who will give you sustainable and lifelong strategies and results. You can ALWAYS ask a “coach” what their credentials are. A good coach will be happy to tell you. And for the record, amount of weight lost, amount of women “helped,” amount of instagram followers had are not credentials.
I could go through and individually break down specific programs. I could tell you why the idea of “boosts” and “resets” is indicative of shitty advice and an unsustainable plan. I could tell you why the obsession with transformation pictures and weight loss is harmful. I could tell you why the white mercedes thing is a cult. I could go on for a whole book about this but I won’t. I think I got my point across without destroying anyone’s life. I am always open to dialogue about anything that I post online so feel free to reach out to me if you want to chat about it! Happy Friday and for the love of everything don’t join an MLM (and if you are going to, just won up and say you’re an Arbonne consultant and take “health coach” out of your bio please and thank you).
There was a time in my life where looking at photos of small to medium sized women hunched over to emphasize their belly rolls was inspiring. In my feed that was full of edited models and highly posed and sucked in photos it was impactful to see a body that looked like mine being broadcasted as “beautiful” and “normal.” It helped me realize that even the beautiful, perfect women I followed had cellulite when they sat a certain way, or that their bellies weren’t flat 24/7. I’m truly not trying to hate on those women, I am simply going to encourage us to take it a step further.
The mid sized white woman sitting with terrible posture to accentuate her perfectly healthy amount of body fat is a reaction to the media throwing unattainable body types at us and being told that in order to be happy, loved, healthy, that we have to look like models in magazines. However, I am going to argue that although well intended, this message and practice perpetuates the issue. The capitalist and patriarchal society we live in has diminished women’s value to the shape and size of their bodies. When we play into this narrative, we keep ourselves and others from being freed to become who we’re meant to be. What if we stopped drawing so much f*cking attention to the female body all the time. I have recently become more aware of how the rampant issues of body image in our society today are so tied to capitalism, misogyny, and the patriarchy.
We all know and can agree that societies idea of the “ideal womans body” has changed throughout history (https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/07/health/body-image-history-of-beauty-explainer-intl/index.html). We often look to these changes as reassurement that all bodies are beautiful but it’s so much more than that. I firmly believe that all of these changes, the expectations for us as women to keep up with them, are a distraction. I’ve even seen evidence that many of these changes in societal ‘preference’ line up with pivotal moments in history for social justice. It’s a distraction to keep us from being who we really are and reaching our fullest potential. A society that benefits from the oppression of women and minorities wants to keep our brains so occupied with our bodies that we can’t pick our heads up and say “hey, the world we live in isn’t fair” and start to do anything about it.
I’ve said time and time again that if we could cumulatively use all of the brain power we use focusing on our bodies to other feats, we would quickly change the world. Women are taught that being pretty is the ultimate mark of success, and with it comes certain privileges. Our capitalistic society profits off of this idea. The beauty industry, the fitness industry (cringe), the fashion industry, diet culture, all promise that if you buy their product, you will be small and happy. We spend endless time and attention and brain power fixating on these people, and then purchase their products in hopes of being as happy as they are someday.
You are so much more than the skin sack that you’re in. By naming, drawing attention to, and trying to “love” all of our insecurities we perpetuate the problem. I’m not sure I would’ve ever had body image issues if I hadn’t grown up hearing the older women around me picking apart and shaming their bodies. You’re so much smarter than this. I don’t say this to be a dick, I say this to help untangle you from everything you’ve been taught about what being a woman should be.
The way to pave the way for our future daughters, sisters, friends, isn’t to keep talking about loving our bodies, it’s to put our big girl pants on and show the hell up exactly the way we are right now. It’s to follow our dreams, be bad asses, and show up authentically AND be successful without compromising who we are. Isn’t that what you want for them too?
What if we just showed up in the bodies that we’re in right now and did whatever the hell we wanted. What if we talked about our trades, our passions, our careers, our friendships instead of our bodies. Who taught us that it had to be this way? What if we stopped posting photos highlighting our cellulite and instead focused our minds and hearts on our true passions. Society putting so much pressure on women to look a certain way is a distraction, because they’re afraid of what we could do if we didn’t spend half our day wishing we weighed 5 pounds less. So I’m here to give you permission to exist in the body you’re in now, and let it be the least interesting thing about you. With love always, Nat.
Fitness and health are about so much more than effort, motivation, the grind, or not giving up. As fitness professionals we see people for the most part who are already in the gym, but unless we understand what it took them to get there, providing effective and compassionate help and advice won’t be possible. The factors that play into a person’s ability to be healthy are called thee social determinants of health, and understanding of these is imperative as health and fitness practitioners.
Social determinants are defined as the conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play and how they affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes.1 These conditions are known as social determinants of health (SDOH).1
Examples of social determinants include:
Availability of resources to meet daily needs (e.g., safe housing and local food markets)
Access to educational, economic, and job opportunities
Access to health care services
Quality of education and job training
Availability of community-based resources in support of community living and opportunities for recreational and leisure-time activities
Social norms and attitudes (e.g., discrimination, racism, and distrust of government)
Exposure to crime, violence, and social disorder (e.g., presence of trash and lack of cooperation in a community)
Socioeconomic conditions (e.g., concentrated poverty and the stressful conditions that accompany it)
Access to mass media and emerging technologies (e.g., cell phones, the Internet, and social media)
We know that poverty limits access to healthy foods, safe neighborhoods for walking, and that more education is a predictor of better health. However, even when you control for factors like educational level, the wealth disparities are apparent between races (see figure below). Having money to invest in health and fitness is arguably the biggest barrier. Gyms cost money, working out takes time which is money in our capitalist society, equipment costs money. As someone practicing in the field I can tell you anecdotally that when people invest financially in their fitness goals, they are much more likely to succeed. However, the conversations about poverty and race cannot be untangled.
The pre workout that is $1-2 per serving that I swear by, the perfectly fitting lulu pants or Brooks running shoes, the fact that I have free access to a full functional training center (all things that I love by the way) are things that are not accessible to many people. My privilege in fitness has nothing to do with the fact that I haven’t worked hard, because I have. But I have also had many advantages, and *fewer obstacles* to overcome. In the sphere of fitness influencing we often talk about motivation and discipline as the biggest barriers to success. However, that is a very limited point of view when considering the social determinants of health and can be a really toxic message, although well intentioned.
We need to acknowledge that many of us as fitness influencers are speaking to a population that is SIMILAR TO US! We are speaking to a privileged population. But tell me, how would you assist a client without the same resources as you. I know on Instagram we cater to our “ideal client” or “ideal audience” and often times those are people who look, live, even exercise like us. But that leaves low income folks, black folks, older folks, disabled folks, entirely out of the conversation. The idea that if we all just worked hard enough and were disciplined enough that we could have the body we want is a very exclusive point of view, and one that I’ve been guilty of perpetuating as well. I have a unique position being both in the Instagram realm of fitness, and on the ground in a Y, and let me tell you there are two very different kinds of clients.
So I challenge us all to think about our messages, logos, brands, partnerships, and figure out ways to make them more inclusive. To listen FIRST and listen MORE before we advise.
Distinguishing healthy from disordered habits and why your “why” matters
If you’ve found yourself anywhere in the cross fire between fitness and the body positive movement, you know that there can be very strong and divisive opinions on both side of the spectrum. I’ve always had the philosophy that anyone in fitness who thinks that they have the secret, or that they have all the answers, is someone you should be wary of. I read a tweet that said “anyone who claims to be a nutrition expert but has a particular style of eating (I.e. plantbasedpatty or ketoqueen) in their instagram name, is not going to be an unbiased source.” Instagram is also such an interesting platform because there are accounts out there for every possible niche. So first I urge you to use discretion when choosing which accounts to follow or take advice from. A good rule of thumb is
If they are making health claims with no formal health background, unfollow.
If their posts are making you feel unworthy, like you need to shrink or restrict, or making you play the comparison game, unfollow.
If they are perpetuating morality and guilt around food or exercise choices, unfollow.
If they are selling quick “fixes” and preying on insecurities, unfollow.
I really could go on forever on that one, maybe I’ll make another post about it someday. But this is what I’m here to talk about today. The what is not the problem, your problem is why. There are many “health” behaviors that can be helpful for some, and triggering and disordered for others. This all depends on the context and the motivation behind the behavior (I.e. the desired outcome), and is why having a well trained and knowledgeable coach or trainer is super important. I am going to use two examples of behaviors: macro tracking and running.
Macronutrient tracking, or macros for short, is a process by which someone logs all of their food for the day into an app to keep track of their overall calories but also the breakdown of the 3 macronutrient groups (fats, carbohydrates, and proteins). The philosophy behind “iifym” or “if it fits your macros” is that you don’t have to cut out any foods or food groups, you simply work around them in the grand scale of your day. Macro tracking can be healthy and beneficial, but can also become a deeply disordered habit if done for the wrong reasons. Constantly cutting your calories down, weighing every ounce of food, anxiety around or refusal to eat out or at other peoples houses where you can’t properly track, are all signs that this tool is being used as one to overly control your life and health. If it is impeding your ability to live your life, go out with friends, engage in your surroundings, then it may have become a disordered habit. This usually stems around using macros as a way to change your body and placing the majority of focus on physique. This is why it is so important to understand the background that you or a client has with their relationship with food before forcing them into macro tracking. In this situation, often the persons “why” for participating in this behavior stems back to weight loss, need for control, or body image.
However, macro tracking I have found to be a very useful tool with certain clients. If you don’t have any previous issues with restrictive or binging behavior, it can be a good learning tool for understanding how your food serves as fuel for your body. Often I will have clients only track their protein intake, to see how that effects their overall mood and energy level. Sometimes when a client complains that they are lethargic and sleepy all the time, I have them track for a few days and find that they are barely eating any carbohydrates or that their calorie intake is way too low! CARBS ARE GOOD PEOPLE EAT YOUR CARBS. Many people will try to diet and start an exercise plan all at once, and when done unsupervised, they end up burning more calories while also *dramatically* slashing their calories… it’s no wonder they hate it and feel like crap all the time. If macro tracking can be used as a learning tool, a way to improve energy and sleep performance, and a guiding tool for eating habits, it can be very powerful! I also firmly believe that tracking macros is not a long term solution. I have found both through personal and client experience that after a short amount of time tracking, people tend to understand the food that their bodies feel best eating and the amount of food they need. Many can then transition to eating intuitively because they have gotten used to knowing the food their bodies need to feel their best!
Running is a similar example, just on the exercise side. Most people fall into two categories: avid runners who love the wind in their hair and the pavement under their feet, or I hate running. Excessive use of running (or frankly any exercise) as a method of weight loss is considered a disordered behavior. Many individuals looking to start their fitness or health journeys turn to running as the end all be all of weight loss, mainly because it is very easily accessible (all you need is shoes and a path). Is there anything inherently wrong with running? Absolutely not. If you love to run then go right ahead, in face I’ve actually been enjoying it quite a bit lately. But here is the question I pose to you: would you still run if you *knew* it wouldn’t change your body at all? Are you running because it makes you feel good and you enjoy it? Or because you feel like you have to in order to lose weight? Here in lies the issue. Many use running as a way to burn the most calories, burn fat, etc. I believe that this is why many fitspo’s bash on cardio and lean on lifting and hiit (albeit fake hiit but thats a post for another day) as methods of exercise.
So if you’re just starting a fitness journey (I low-key hate that phrase but I don’t have a better one yet) hear this. The answer to “why” is so important when it comes to fitness and health. I am going to tell you with absolute certainty that if your “why” is weight loss or changing your body to meet societies standards, that is not going to be enough. I can’t tell you what to think or believe, and I know as well as anyone how tough those chains of thought are to break. What I can tell you is that you are so much more than your body, so much more than your food choices, so much more than if you’re a runner or not. Those things don’t define who you are. If they do, you might want to reconsider your why. Just remember that everything in health must come with context, everything is so individual, and everything you see on the internet isn’t true.
So that title is clickbait, and I’m sorry for that. But it’s also true, so bare with me. The title really should be “how I finally lost weight once I stopped trying to” but that will come later. And for all of this to make sense you need to know a little bit about me. My name is Natalie Ribble and I am 6 feet tall and sitting around 194 right at this moment I think. So I’m a big girl and those are just the facts. I take up lots of space. This is something I used to struggle with a lot.
Now I want to clarify something up front, I have never had an eating disorder. While there were times that my thoughts or behaviors around food may have been disordered, I never suffered from an eating disorder. That isn’t my story. But I have struggled with body image, like potentially every woman on this planet has. It was probably my senior year of high school when I really started trying to be “healthy.” Eating more salads at lunch, eating less in general, going to the gym and spending 60% of my time there on the elliptical. When I went off to college the following year, I was the lowest weight I had ever been at this height. Then, predictably, the freshman 25 hit like a ton of bricks. I spent the following 3 years adhering to a variety of diets, exercising to compensate for food, and weighing myself regularly. I dabbled in keto, vegetarianism, intermittent fasting, running, at home workouts, and more but all in pursuit of weight loss.
And it worked sometimes. I’d lose 10 lbs and be over the moon, and then gain 15 back and be discouraged again. About a year and a half ago I was the heaviest I had ever been. Post grad was a weird time, I was working a ton, sleeping almost none, I was confused and depressed, eating out a lot from lack of planning and laziness, and working out for ALL the wrong reasons. Exercise was a chore, a burden, and something I felt like I had to do in order to lose weight and keep it off. My brain was so focused on the scale and nothing else.
So about a year ago my best friend Katie Eschner (love of my life), introduced me to the Wendler 5-3-1 program and EVERYTHING changed. Everything. For those unfamiliar, the Wendler program is a powerlifting program focused on 4 lifts (squat, deadlift, bench press, and shoulder press). The idea with Wendler is that you go through phases of lifting to get as strong as possible. As I entered into the fitness scene and became a personal trainer, I was surrounded by people who were more focused on getting strong than getting small. These higher level athletes wanted to perform better, move better, lift better, and didn’t care about looking better. The caveat is of course, a lot of them already looked great, so… maybe its a moot point. But regardless, the environment I was in changed which helped change my mindset.
For the first time in my fitness life I was focused on strength, performance, good programming, and learning for myself and my clients instead of weight loss. I ate because I needed fuel for my lifts. I realized if I restricted my food, didn’t eat enough carbs or protein, or fed my body with lower nutrient dense foods, my lifts would suffer. My lifts made me feel powerful, confident, and strong. I felt empowered and unstoppable. I felt for the first time like my body was strong and athletic. I felt like an athlete and so I started eating like an athlete. For the first time in my life, I stopped weighing myself. For the first time in my life my size was an asset and not a burden. For the first time I was focused on growth instead of shrinking. For the first time in my life I was excited about having to size up in pants because that meant my glutes were growing.
For the first time in my life I stopped trying to lose weight (see where this is going now)…
What if I told you that the intentional pursuit of weight loss is what was holding me back. What if I told you that focusing on performance, strength, how I felt, my sleep quality, and how foods made me feel was what led to this transformation. What if I told you that I hadn’t weighed myself in months and thats when I finally got a body that I feel comfortable and confident in.
At first it’s going to feel like a loss of control. It’s going to be a lot of trusting the process. It’s going to be a lot of eating foods you enjoy and not restricting any (I’ll go into that more another time). It’s going to be letting go of trying to lose weight… and I mean really letting it go. Are you willing to sacrifice everything you think you know, relinquish your sense of control, and finally stop trying to lose weight?