Coach Spotlight: Stacy Nelson
Highlighting health and wellness professionals that use Ate to partner with their clients.
By the time I was eight years old, my mother had introduced me to Weight Watchers. I knew what a calorie was. I came home from a day of swimming and said, “I burned a lot of calories at the pool. I was good today.”
My mother and I used to diet together. It was our thing. We exercised with Jane Fonda and took diet pills together. She weighed herself every morning on a digital scale that made a beeping sound when you were supposed to step on. I’d hear the unforgiving beep from her bedroom and feel some kind of tightness in my chest that I couldn’t name, the flush of what I would later recognize as shame. And I wasn’t even the one being judged, er, weighed.
“Remember, boys don’t like fat girls,” my father cautioned me when I reached for another French fry. As if I didn’t realize he was once a boy himself. I didn’t touch another French fry for at least 15 years.
Having started so young, I had plenty of time to develop a severely dysfunctional relationship with food and my body. I’d been on so many diets and ignored my hunger cues for so long that I’d lost touch with what appetite and satiety felt like. I decided if I was hungry, but I didn’t actually feel hunger because I no longer knew how. It came from my intellect, not from bodily sensations or sensory experience.
It was the same with fullness. I wasn’t quite sure when to stop eating because the decision was governed by external rules that determined what was ‘supposed to be’ enough. I had no idea when I was satisfied because I had no connection to my body, and the calories rang up in my head the way they do on a cash register… I ate as much as I could pay for, and tried not to exceed that limit.
I was ‘good’ when I ate acceptable amounts of ‘good’ foods, and ‘bad’ when I ate too much of something, or when I indulged in ‘bad’ foods like birthday cake.
Some days, I exercised because it meant I could eat more. Other days, I worked out because I had already eaten more. It was simply a reversal of syntax, really. Movement was never related to joy or longevity; it was entirely transactional.
No wonder I got tired, and thankfully I found yoga and Ayurveda. I’m not sure which came first, the fatigue or the finding. I started to meditate, even though it has a negligible calorie burn. I began to stop mentally counting calories, but that was a practice that took a long time to well-develop. I took a forever step off the scale. I discovered that I loved avocados, and didn’t care for cupcake frosting. I learned to feel my aching heart and my empty stomach, and I realized for the first time in my life that they had everything to do with one another.
I look back on that girl running home from the pool, and I want to tell her she’s already good. She doesn’t need a scale or a calorie counter to prove it. She doesn’t need to try so hard to earn love and belonging; her birthright is love and belonging (thank you, Brene Brown!). I want to go back in time and hold her and tell her that it’s going to be a long hard road, but eventually, she’ll break through to freedom.
But I can’t go back. So I hold myself today instead.
My yoga teacher once told me, “The key to the next room is in the room you’re in right now.” While it can be helpful to understand where we came from and how we got where we are, that’s not the focus of my program. Instead, its intention is to be a key of sorts for you. The WELL program is all about being present to the moment that is happening right here, right now. Which is this moment, then this one, then this one, and now this. One breath, one movement at a time.
We all have our own, unique stories to tell. I want to honor your stories, all of the things that brought you to this particular moment, in this particular way, and ask you to consider letting these practices be an invitation for you to realign with yourself, your body, and the world around you. What might it feel like to let go of everything you’ve been taught about food and body, and simply rest in appreciation for who and what you are, right now? How would you move through the world differently? What might you notice once you started paying attention in a particular way?
For some people, the relationship to food and body has dictated years and years of dysfunctional eating and disconnection from how we were meant to live. For others, the food-body relationship has been more subtly appropriated. I believe that mindfulness practices will lend nourishment and richness to the life of anyone who is willing to embrace them to any degree at all, but when mindfulness is applied to eating, the effects can be especially profound. When we consider that eating is literally an act of receiving and assimilating the outside world into our physical bodies, it seems prudent to look at the relationship between the way that we eat and our interactions with everything around us, including those we have with ourselves. Shifting that relationship through attention and imperfect practice is one of the most profound ways in which we can arrive at that elusive thing we keep hearing about but can be so difficult to embody: self-love.
People often ask me, “Will the WELL program help me lose weight?” or “Will I gain weight with mindful eating?” The truth is, I don’t know. Mindful eating is not intended for weight management, but if weight loss or gain is needed, it will most likely happen organically and at the discretion of your body’s own wisdom. As the food-body relationship shifts into one that is truly nourishing and supportive, those weight-preoccupied inquiries lose their value, and it becomes clear there are matters infinitely more pressing than body weight. It actually isn’t about the weight at all. It never is.
I created the WELL program because it’s exactly what I needed in order to heal my own relationship with food and body. And while the program is highly nuanced, I am in no way fundamentally different from you. I most certainly am not an improvement over you. It’s a practice for me too, and one that I take on every day, although no two days of practice look the same. Some days I’m more attuned than others, and my practice flows. Other days, I’m hurried and stressed and barely breathing. What I’ve learned through attention, however, is that there are no good or bad days. It’s all simply practice.
I am a Holistic Nutritionist and Wellness Practitioner with a special interest in mindfulness-based practices. I am also a yogi, a writer, a mother, and a friend. Think about who you would be if you accepted your body the way it is right now. What if you learned to trust your body and its cues without guilt, shame, or conflict? What would you do today if you were that person who unconditionally loved themself? It is my intention to help you realize that you already are that person. You’ve been holding that key to the next room. The invitation is to give yourself permission to use it.
Stacy Nelson, AWP, CYT, RM is a Holistic Nutritionist and the creator of WELL by Stacy Nelson, a mindfulness-based approach to food, health, and happiness. Please visit wellbystacynelson.com to learn more.