Blessed in the Midwest

Dear Coffey,

I’m 24, 5’7”, and, like you were, I weigh just over 300 pounds. I have a loving God, and I want to spread His message.  I think He would have amazing plans for me if only I could lose this weight. I’m also engaged to the kindest, most generous man I’ve ever met. I want to be beautiful and sexy for him on our wedding night and beyond. I’ve struggled to stay on so many diets, but no matter how long I stick to any diet, I always gain back more than I lost. Your writing really spoke to me, so I’m reaching out. Do you ever work with people like me? Can you help?

-Blessed in the Midwest

 beautiful

Hey there, Blessed –

You’re a woman who believes in a loving God, and that gives you a big advantage over the rest of us. I dig working with people of faith because you already believe you’re loved. To believe we’re  loved – and therefore loveable,  just as we are – is the first step to genuine wellness, because we’re motivated to take care of the things we love.

When God gives you a gift – any gift – how do you treat it? With care. If God gave you a goldfish, how would you treat that goldfish? With care. Every single day.  And you’d be proud of it. You’d say sweet things to it. You’d never, ever criticize it, hide it, insult it, or be embarrassed by it. Same goes for your beautiful body. You were given that body by God. Like any of God’s gifts, it deserves love, affection, and attention. In short: it deserves your care.

If you believe that God created and has given you that body, then your job is to take the best care of it that you can. This means supporting yourself every day with sleep and water and nourishing food, and taking every opportunity you get to move and to  play.  This also means setting healthy boundaries around the things that harm you physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually.

If you believe that God is in control of everything, then it makes sense that the deepest and most consistent pleasure we’re capable of experiencing is what happens when we take good care of ourselves. It’s like He rigged it so that we’d know we were doing the right thing by our bodies.

Care probably wasn’t what motivated you to go on those diets. Like most of us, you were probably changing how you ate because you didn’t like your body and you wanted it to be different. What might eating look like if your goal was to care for yourself instead? If care was your primary motivation, how might that change how you relate to sleep and activity and every other thing you do with – and to – your precious body?

I used to abuse myself in all kinds of horrible ways, and whenever I tried to change, my motivations were always shame and embarrassment. Those changes never stuck and I always ended up worse than when I started – I, too,  ended up gaining weight every time I tried to diet. In order to get well, I needed to cultivate love for myself, and to shift my focus from shame to care. Today, I have a life that’s second to none, in part because I get to teach folks like you and me how to make the same mental shift. I love what I do, and I feel about as blessed as one woman can.

You imagine God would have bigger plans for you if you lost some weight. Arguably, His wishes are already clear. In giving you this body, He’s given you an obvious way to demonstrate gratitude and faith – by caring for your mind, emotions, spirit, and body day after day. Protect yourself from harm (including self-criticism). Eat nourishing foods in nourishing ways.  Move. Do whatever you need to do to be vibrant and healthy – this includes making true connections with people who love and respect you.

(Enter fiancé, stage left.)

Sounds like your fiancé is a great guy. Congratulations. I bet he recognizes that you – and, by extension, your body – are God-given gifts. Like God, your fiancé loves and accepts you as you are. He’s engaged to you, not the woman you’d be if you lost weight. He already thinks you’re beautiful, because you are.

Regardless of what nonsense the media tries to sells us, beauty doesn’t have a dress size. Beauty is the product of confidence and care. Embrace the power you have as a thoughtful, faith-filled young woman. Care for yourself in all the basic ways, and if you’re feeling spry, put a little more thought into your style. Then show up on your wedding day proud and excited to share yourself with your man. I’m willing to bet he’s gonna feel like the luckiest man alive.

God loves and accepts you just exactly as you are. He doesn’t care what you weigh, and He’s certainly not gonna love you more if you weigh less. Same goes for your man.

So my advice is this: Pray for the willingness to love and accept your body as it is, and then practice treating it with the care it deserves.

If you need some pointers on how to do that, or where to begin, I’d love to help. You can read up on my course HERE

In the meantime, take good care of you.

All good things,

Coffey

beautiful

Post-Baby Bodies, Pickles, and Amusement Parks

Hey Coffey –

I’m a new mother. I hate the body I have now, and I’ll do anything to get my pre-baby body back. Can you help me?

Mad Mama

Hey there, Mama –

Every time you lift that baby, every time you wear her in a carrier and go for a walk, every time you cradle her in your arms and do the special “Sleep now, PLEASE” Mommy shuffle – every time you move with your baby in the world, you’re lifting weights. Lifting weights is how we build muscle, and building muscle is the only thing besides having skin removed that creates tone, so the good news is you’ve already started getting your body as toned as it can be.

And here’s the bad news: We young mothers have been lied to, and those lies are keeping us from enjoying ourselves and our babies. Let me explain.

There’s this idea that we should be able to look the same after birth as we did before we got pregnant. Not gonna happen. We’ve just gone through humanity’s single most intense physical experience, and we’ll always carry evidence of that experience. Some of us will be rounder. Some will have slightly bigger feet. Some will have differently-shaped boobs. Some will have miles and miles of stretch marks, or different hair, or darker skin. This is all normal, and natural, and there’s nothing wrong with any of it. What’s WRONG is this notion that these changes are problems to be solved. New-Mommy magazines make bank on the idea that our new-mommy-bodies are problems to be solved.

Your body was a wonderland before you had that baby. And now that you’ve grown and given birth to a baby, your body is an other-worldy miracle machine. Much like you can’t turn a pickle back into a cucumber, you can’t turn a life-creating celestial being back into the human equivalent of an amusement park.

For better or worse, we’re stuck with all that evidence of strength and miracles, so let’s try to wear it proudly. Let’s smile at those stretch marks. Let’s love and care for our bigger feet. Let’s walk with our heads high and our shoulders back, proud of our amazing bodies.

We will never look exactly like we did before we got pregnant, no matter what line of bullshit anyone tries to sell us. But we CAN do things every day that make us as tight, toned, and strong as we can be on this side of the birth of our babies.
My Pleasure Principles e-course isn’t an exercise program. It’s not a diet. It’s a set of guidelines that help women like us make the strongest choices we can in service to our health. Then, once we’ve made those choices, the Principles give us the tools we need to makes those healthier choices day after day.

I know first hand how impossible it feels to get motivated when there’s a little baby (or two!) that needs us all day every day. It’s hard to feel like we’re doing enough when we’re hardly able to do anything. The Principles help us make the strongest choices we can with life as it is, taking everything – the baby, the limited time, the budget, the fatigue, the emotions, and the new body – into consideration.

I know you’re tired. I know you’re unsure. I know you’re feeling overwhelemd. I promise you it gets easier. The best thing you can do today is take the best possible care of yourself that you can. The Principles will help you do that with things just as they are.

Give your little miracle a smooch for me. I’m in the car, driving home from a weekend trip. The older of my two miracles is in the backseat, singing her 100th verse of “Do you know the muffin man?” We still have 325 miles to go. Pray for me.

Take good care of you.
Coffey

 

Read more about how to get
HAPPILY grounded in HEALTHIER habits
in Coffey’s Pleasure Principles e-course.

COURSE STARTS TOMORROW NIGHT. SIGN UP NOW. NOW WOULD BE BEST.

Me, Before & During

To everyone watching that 5 Foods to Never Eat video

There’s another video going around telling us that abstaining from 5 specific foods will get us thin and keep us thin. In it, we hear the story of Cathy, a woman who, like many of us, has struggled for years to get her weight under control. Like many of us, she’s clearly intelligent, and thoughtful. And like many of us, she’s trapped in the loss/gain cycle.

Enter the spirited nutritionist. In a way peppy voice-over, the nutritionist endears us to Cathy (read: us), and then tells us how she solved Cathy’s weight problem – it was as simple as 1-2-3!, and it boiled down to eliminating 5 specific foods from her diet.

In the video, Cathy takes her advice, loses the weight, and keeps it off.

And if that’s how it went down, Cathy and I have nothing in common.  If that’s how it went down, Cathy’s probably a naturally fit person who defaults to healthy behaviors. Because unless her M.O. is to make and then keep commitments that she makes in service to her health, there’s just shy of ZERO chance that the suggestions in this video would ever work, never mind result in permanent weight loss.

“Snowball, meet Hell. Hell, there’s this snowball I think you’ll just love.”

5 foods to never eat w FB trim banned sign

If you lose excess fat – and keep it off – after someone tells you what not to eat, you didn’t have a weight problem, or a problem with food or eating, you had an information problem.

Those of us who have a real problem with weight, compulsive overeating, and/or food addiction have been trapped in the loss/gain cycle for years, despite knowing exactly how to eat well and what the weekly recommendations for exercise are. So why do we still have a weight problem? We still have weight problems because our struggle has nothing to do with a lack of solid nutritional or exercise-related information. The problem is our apparent inability to be consistent with the choices we make in the service of our health. We know what to do. We know what “5 Foods To Never Eat,” we just can’t seem to do it. Period. And it drives many of us crazy.

Of course we get sucked in when the pretty nutritionist 1 tells us that losing the weight is as simple as 1-2-3! Optimistic, we watch her video. We share it with friends. We let ourselves imagine that she really has the solution to this thing that’s haunted us since we began forming memories, something that’s brought us pain, misery, embarrassment, shame, heartbreak, and frustration.

Inside us a small voice asks “If it’s as easy as she says, why can’t I lose weight? What’s wrong with me?” By then end of the video we’re thinking “Well, maybe this time will be different. I’ll start tomorrow. In the meantime, I deserve one last hurrah.” And of course tomorrow comes and goes, and nothing changes but the start date. 

That peppy little video – and every message like it – is useless to most of us with serious weight and food issues. If anything, watching them makes us gain more weight. And this’ll keep happening unless and until we recognize and deal with the real problems: Self-sabotage. Loss of motivation. Indifference. Self-consciousness. Shame.

It’s almost never simple as 1-2-3 for people like me. If it was, we’d all have gotten thin long ago (at the latest, shortly after this nutritionist first spelled out her revolutionary “5 Foods” solution), and we’d all have stayed that way. But despite what we want to believe, we know that being told what or how to eat isn’t the solution. Being told what and how to eat does not help us lose weight and keep it off. It just doesn’t work. Period.

Until people like us address the roots of our weight and food issues, all the best nutritional and exercise-related information in the world is, and will always be, essentially useless. Because until we learn to disempower the thing that keeps making us sabotage our efforts to get healthier, nothing, absolutely nothing, is going to work long term – – even if it’s really terrific, scientifically sound advice.

Until people like me learn to address the root cause of our inability to stay committed to the choices we make in service to our health, our efforts to change may make the problem worse. And you can bet that most, if not all, of our efforts to lose weight will leave us heavier in the end.

Learn from someone who’s been where you are, gotten where you want to be, and stayed there for over 10 years. I teach BS-free solutions and strategies in my Pleasure Principles course, which begins in October. Later, once you have the tools you need to become consistent with the choices you make in the service of your health, then, by all means, sign up to work with whatever peppy little nutritionist catches your eye.

 

Learn more about how to disempower the brilliantly effective self-saboteur in you, and finally get HAPPILY grounded in HEALTHIER habits in
Coffey’s Pleasure Principles e-course
Seats are limited. Registration will open briefly at the end of September. Get on the list and she’ll email you when it opens up.

Notes:

  1. Who points out that she lost 30 pounds once and kept it off. I lose 30 pounds shortly after my my first cup of coffee some days, but I digress.

“All things in moderation” & the jerk in the third row

Hey, Coffey –

Before I took your course I was one step away from admitting to myself that I have a problem with certain foods – specifically wheat and sugar.

‘Til now, I had minimal boundaries – I strove for moderation, which worked temporarily, if at all. Now I see the fallacy in the “all things in moderation” argument, but the hesitancy is still there. I know I feel a billion times better when MBs 1 aren’t in my life, but the jealousy/entitlement feelings from the sabotage lesson 2 bubble up, and I think that “just a little” won’t be too bad. And honestly, sometimes I can do just a little. But most of the time I can’t, and when I do eat that stuff I always end up not feeling my best. But when I do say no, I feel like superwoman. When I look at it that way. I know I need to ditch this stuff to feel good. Hesitating is working against everything I say I want – to be healthier, and to feel better in my body. 

Why do I get so stuck on“but I SHOULD be able to eat that!!”? Why can’t I focus on all the ways I feel great when I’m eating only foods that I relate to in a healthy way? 

Help a sister out,
Superwoman

Hiya, Superwoman –

That’s the trick – to give the good stuff the attention it deserves.

If you’re on stage looking out at a sea of smiling faces, the only one you can see clearly is the asshole scowling at you, right? Your jealousy/entitlement stuff is sort of like that. That thought “But I should be able to eat whatever I waaaant!” manages somehow to be louder and more noticeable than all the pleasure and relief and power people like us feel when we abstain from the foods that bring us pain.

If you’re an addict 3 ditching the Monkey Brains will have a positive impact on how you experience everything in every minute of every day. But even still, there’ll probably always be that one scowling prick in the third row, forever trying to get your attention, whining “every body else is doing it so I should toooooo!”

Best advice I have this moment – do your best to ignore that guy. Don’t even look in his direction. Instead,  meet every other face in the crowd with a big smile. These are the benefits of eating only foods we relate to in a healthy way. Oh hey, look – in the mezzanine! – it’s A Peaceful Mind! And there, in the balcony – Increased Energy in the Afternoon – man, is it good to see you! Work on noticing  and appreciating each of these, every day. Enjoy the emotional freedom and the mental peace and the physical comfort and the sense of empowerment we get to roll around in when we’re free of craving and obsession. The only thing any of us SHOULD feel compelled to do is to take good care of ourselves. And when you hear that piece of shit in the third row clear his throat, turn to the rest of the crowd and toss out a genuine and heartfelt “Thank you. I’m so glad you’re here.”

 

Want to learn the skills you’ll need to stay committed – whatever choices you make, and whatever program you decide to follow?
Read more about the Pleasure Principles course here



Notes:

  1. MBs = Monkey Brains. When I work with groups, I use this term as an umbrella for “foods we don’t relate to in a healthy way” because everyone is different and there’s are no inherently “wrong” foods. Calling IT, whatever IT is, Monkey Brains gives people the freedom to make their own choices about what does and doesn’t make them feel like shit. And, yes, it’s an Indiana Jones reference.
  2. If you don’t have a long history of sabotaging yourself when you try to get healthier, don’t take my course. And if you sign up by accident, skip the stuff on self-sabotage.
  3. If you think you are, you probably are. And if you think you’re not, YAHTZEE!
anadama bread

Mean man with a side of eggs

On Facebook last week I posted a brief “Thank you” to the hens that laid my breakfast. One man commented on the thread. He dropped in just long enough to call me a “dumb c#nt.”

Well.

Each time I put myself out there, I open myself to judgment, attack, and criticism. Occasionally the criticism is constructive, and even when it is, it still sucks. (The “dumb c#nt” comment was unsolicited, I assure you).

Putting myself out there makes me vulnerable. And being vulnerable is uncomfortable. This is true for all of us. But we don’t need to have our hearts splayed spread-eagle on the internet to feel vulnerable. We can have a child or send one off to school. We can ask for a job or a raise. We can be waiting for a call from the doctor. We can voice a dissenting opinion. We can be the first one to say ‘I love you.’ In these moments, we’re at the mercy of the universe. We throw the dice and wonder – will we (or our children) be met with kindness? Acceptance? Good news? Love? Continue reading

Overwhelmed at the thought of “getting healthy”?

Once upon a time, my daily routine read like a catalog of bad habits: wake up tired, smoke, stress, sit all day, call myself mean names, drink, eat fast food, watch TV, smoke more…

If you’re like I was, the idea of “getting healthy” can feel completely overwhelming. There are so many things to change that it can be hard to take even one step in a healthier direction.

So what can we do to make it all feel more manageable?

Want to get HAPPILY grounded in HEALTHIER habits?
Learn more about Coffey’s Pleasure Principles

The excerpt above was taken from a Q & A for members of The Klatch – an exclusive group for graduates of Coffey’s Pleasure Principles.

limitations

Coffey Press

I took the StrongFirst Kettlebell Course at Iron Body Studios in Needham, MA several months ago – a crash course in using the kettlebell to develop basic functional strength. Artemis Scantalides, the super-petite co-owner of Iron Body, blew my mind, lifting heavy weights I’d never even touched. I could barely breathe watching her press a 50-pound ‘bell with one arm. That day, my max on the same press was 20-pounds.

I lift because it brings me pleasure, not so I can hit some target number. But I left Artemis’s studio that day inspired to work toward one very specific goal: to press twice my limit – 40 pounds – just once.

Of course, as with so many things, I was selling myself short. Eight months later I reached that goal and then-some.

We don’t know what we’re capable of until we give it a try.

Learn how to leverage PLEASURE
to get HAPPILY grounded in HEALTHIER habits.

 

Iron Body Studios, Needham, MA ironbodystudios.com

prettygirl

Not a Pretty Girl

My friend Sandra Costello asked to take photos of me after I wrote a body-positive piece that went viral. 1  On the phone she said “People know you’re fit, but I want to make you look pretty.”

“Eff pretty,” 2 said the part of me that still hearts Nine Inch Nails; 3 the part that still wants to shoot the whiskey and smoke the Camels I dropped years ago. That she thought I gave a crap about looking pretty felt insulting.

“Eff her,” said the part of me that checks herself in mirrors all day, the part that still sucks in her stomach even though she has a six-pack, the part that’s sometimes just as proud of her shapely shoulders 4 as she is of her two daughters. That she didn’t already think I was pretty made me feel defensive.

“Eff me,” said the part of me that’s still being held hostage on the playground, getting pushed and punched to the tune of “Sme-lly Ke-lly Big Fat Be-lly.” Today I’m completely safe and can’t walk across a room without bumping into one of my blessings. That I am wasting even one brain cell worrying about how pretty I am or am not makes me want to clone myself so I can throw a drink in my face.  Continue reading

Notes:

  1. I used to be 300 pounds. Now I’m not. And there’s things I miss about my 300-pound body. That piece listed five of them.
  2. Apparently, avoiding f-bombs makes my writing more accessible. There’s no accounting for tastes.
  3. I saw them and Soundgarden last week. Trent, Chris – If you’re reading this, we should hang.
  4. Shapely means muscled. Toned means muscled. If you want to be shapely and toned, that means you want muscle. Trust me.

Coffey on alcohol

The Pleasure Principles are a road map to better health and happiness for everyone, and the presentations are awesome, but it’s the Q&As that really light up the carousel.

The clip below is from a Q&A following the motivation presentation.  A new run of my Pleasure Principles starts soon. Enrollment is limited, and registration is open for just one week. Make sure you’re on my mailing list and you’ll know when the party starts.

LEARN MORE ABOUT Coffey’s Pleasure Principles

Kelly Coffey - New Orleans 199890001 in paint w kettlebell

How this Hedonist Got Hooked on Exercise

he·don·ist:  hēdnist / noun / a person who believes that the pursuit of pleasure is the most important thing in life; a pleasure-seeker.
Did someone say 'vices'? Mardi Gras, 1999 (Oooh yeah...)
Did someone say ‘vices’?
Mardi Gras, 1999
(Oooh yeah…)

Experiencing pleasure – at least, the absence of pain – was always my priority. But taking my pleasure first often guaranteed I’d deal with pain later. With most vices, this is the order of operations; drinking precedes a hangover, getting high precedes flunking a math test, spontaneous sex precedes all manner of undesirable outcomes, and endless-chocolate-cake-cookies-and-ice-cream precedes unnecessary weight gain.

In the name of pleasure I spent 25 years of my life in pain. Continue reading

5 Facts About My Abusive Relationship

Independent and energetic, outgoing and bold, I seem to be a study in female empowerment.

To look at me, you’d never guess that I’m in an abusive relationship. 1 Not with my husband – he’s a sweetheart – but with myself. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. I’m writing here for maximum impact. Domestic abuse is very real and not to be taken lightly. If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, help is available now. Call (800) 799-7233.

Louis CK, The ‘Fat Girl’ Soliloquy

“You know what the meanest thing you can say to a fat girl is? ‘You’re not fat.'” 1

Louis CK invites the great Sarah Baker to sum up what so many of us feel and have felt as fat women: that fat women are overlooked, they are rejected, and that love is hard to find.

That Louis CK gave a fat woman 7 minutes to be honest and open and angry on Monday night’s show makes him the boss. Humanity may not, in fact, be doomed. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. I would argue it’s ‘You’d be so pretty if you were thin,’ but what do I know?

Food Addiction Infographic and Food Addiction Quiz

I’m a personal trainer that identifies as a food addict. At 34, I’m a healthy size 6, but by the time I was 18 I had high blood pressure and weighed in at over 300 pounds. Every day I obsessed about what I would eat. Every day I binged. Every day I felt ashamed of my lack of control. And every day it happened again.

Like so many of us, I thought dieting was the solution. I joined popular weight loss programs. Controlling portions felt like torture, and every tiny meal I ate was like an archer’s bowstring being pulled back, tighter and tighter. Always, at some point, came the moment of weakness — I would let go, and eat. And eat. There were few things as intense in my early life as the binge that followed an effort to control how much I ate.

It never occurred to me that I had an addiction. Why? Because the medical community doesn’t call it that, despite mounting scientific evidence that that’s what it is, and that it effects all kinds of people (see the chart in the infographic below). The Yale Food Addiction scale has been used in studies since 2009. These studies have shown that food addiction has no universal body type — that not all obese people are food addicts, and not all food addicts are obese.

I was both, but instead of addressing my addiction, I tried to exert more willpower. I struggled to get and stay motivated. I wondered how my desire to change kept losing out over my desire to overeat. I wasted years of my life, thousands of dollars, and tons of emotional energy trying to control that which cannot be controlled because I didn’t have the language I needed to seek help.

Desperate, I had gastric bypass surgery in 2003. Not one doctor, nurse, nutritionist or therapist ever mentioned food addiction in the pre-operative screening process. Shortly after surgery, I fell back into my old patterns. At first, by necessity, my portions were small. But like any good addict, I took in as much as I could, over and over again. Though it hurt like hell to overeat, I stretched my post-operative pouch to the size of a normal stomach in under 3 years.

Food addiction needs to be a part of the conversations we’re having around both obesity and weight loss surgery. Bringing the term ‘addiction’ to the table will introduce the language and the framework of recovery, making it possible for food addicts to get the help we need. Ever since I accepted the fact of my addiction, I’ve been empowered to develop a healthy relationship to food. Acceptance has given me freedom and pleasure far beyond anything I might have experienced through any foolish diet or weight-loss program.

Only by calling food addiction by its proper name can we begin to speak frankly about how to help one another recover. Until then, food addicts like me will continue to struggle to control that which cannot be controlled. Many will keep trying, and failing, to “eat like a normal person.” And many will decide, like I did, that their inability to change is simply a sign of weakness.

Food addiction is real. Dieting is not a solution. But recovery is possible. I’m living proof.

Food addiction infographic Lg

Are you a food addict? Take the quiz.
(Quiz is based on the YFAS & is for informational purposes only. It is NOT diagnostic.)

For more information, help, and community, google Food Addicts in Recovery, Food Addicts Anonymous or Overeaters Anonymous

Me, Before & During

Loving My 300-Pound Body Keeps Me Thin

Want to get thin? Stay thin? Neither? Then love your fat.

We’re tormented by our obsession with weight. Losing weight is hard to do, and the overwhelming majority of us gain back whatever weight we lose (and then some). Every failed weight loss effort drags us deeper into depression. It becomes harder and harder to get and stay motivated. On the heels of every failed effort, we grab for anything to numb out, to check out, to quiet the critical, screaming beast in our heads. We drink, we watch TV, we eat. And eat. And eat. Continue reading

Me, During & During

5 Things I Miss About Weighing More Than 300 Pounds

I used to weigh more than 300 pounds. I smoked like a house on fire, I drank like a blues guitarist, I ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, and I never, ever exercised.

In 2003 I lost more than half my body weight. In 2007 I started a wildly successful personal training career. Today I’m fit enough to run (though I usually choose not to), and thin enough to comfortably wiggle my butt into size 6 jeans (though I usually wear super-stretchy workout clothes).

You might think that when I reflect on my 300-pound self that it would be with disdain or pity. Hell no. The longer I’m thin, though, the more I miss the gifts of living in a body so big that people often turned away. It may sound strange to some, but here are five things I miss about my old, obese self: Continue reading

image

Sack the Snacks

The biggest problem with modern eating – the root cause of many of our nutritional, weight, and behavioral woes – is snacks. Compared to what our grandparents ate at mealtimes, modern meals have certainly changed, but the most significant change, by far, from then to now is the volume we eat between meals.  

If you’re a regular snacker who’s nonetheless healthy and happy, my hat is off to you. For the rest of us, here are a few good reasons to sack the snacks: Continue reading

Exercisey Coffey.
Tres Dark. Tres Edgy. 
Mais oui.

Fat Body, Ten Years Gone: A Love Letter

Hey there, Hot Stuff -

It’s been a long time. Over ten years. Time flies. I’m married now and have two tiny daughters, a two-year-old and a one-year-old.  Believe it or not, I’m a personal trainer. I know, I know – how the hell did that happen, right?  I’ll spare you the details, but after you and I finally connected, 1 things changed. 2 things changed. I lost half my body weight, and then I started to get healthy, and the getting healthy gave me my first real shot at happiness. 3

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. After I finally came to love and accept you just the way you were, all 300+ pounds of you, all your quirks, perfections, and imperfections.
  2. To say the least.
  3. I’m still dealing with depression, so the happiness isn’t a constant, but it is something I appreciate when it’s happening. A lot.
image

Dear Guy at the Gym,

I only ever see you at the gym. Maybe in other contexts you’re a thoughtful, knowledgeable person. Regardless of how competent you may be in other areas, it’s clear to this personal trainer that you have absolutely no idea what the hell you’re doing when it comes to lifting weights. 1 Continue reading

Notes:

  1. I imagine the guy in the above photo does actually know what he’s doing. And if he doesn’t, the heavily oiled fella  behind him is sure to save the day.
20131230-102550.jpg

Not exercising today? No worries.

Oh, look – you’re not working out. Big deal.

Before you slip further into your special blend of self-hating meanspeak and self-pity, I have a few suggestions:

1- If today’s not the day, let it not be the day.

Unless you’re being ordered by a doctor to “exercise now, or else,” 1 you don’t need to start the Couch to 5K today. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. And even, in some cases, if you are.
Kelly Coffey Before 307lbs c

Portrait of the Trainer as an Addict

“How do you know you’re addicted to sugar and starch?”

I get this question a lot. Admittedly, sugar and starch addiction is less devastating than alcoholism or drug addiction. But just because I’ve never sold my body for a bagel doesn’t make it any less of an addiction.

So how do I know I’m a sugar and starch addict?

Continue reading

One Mindful Moment

It’s a challenge to live healthier – and treat ourselves better – today than we did yesterday. This is especially true if we’re addressing compulsion, addiction, or emotion-numbing behaviors. No matter what we’re trying to overcome, mindfulness can be our greatest ally.

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The next time you’re itching for a fix, 1 before you pick up and check-out, ask yourself one or all of the questions below.

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Notes:

  1. of nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, TV, sugar, processed food, Homeland, gambling, anonymous sex, eBay, opiates, chapstick, Diet Coke…
angry cat

Haters Gonna Hate (A Note on Your Critics)

You’re doing something new in the service of your 1 health. You’re lifting weights. You’re eating all whole, real food. You quit talking to your back-stabbing “friend.” You stopped huffing glue, or smoking tryptophan. You’re eating mindfully. You threw away your scale. You’ve stopped eating based on convenience and begun eating as we evolved to eat 2. You’re meditating 3 everyday. Whatever you’re doing, you feel GREAT.

Cue the haters: “But WHY?!” “That’s a little extreme, don’t you think?” “It’s just not normal.” “You’re being irrational.”

If you’re anything like me, when other people question your choices, you begin questioning your choices, too.

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Notes:

  1. mental, emotional, spiritual, physical, or sexual
  2. …and in a way that will bring you into – or help you naturally maintain – balance.
  3. …or mastubating…
If your trainer is spotting you from a squat position, she may be plotting to kill you. Oh, and you should both be wearing shirts.

Bench Press Begets Bench Press

For folks like me, cookies are cannibalistic: we choose to eat just one, but that first cookie chooses to eat untold hordes of other innocent cookies. Luckily, this snowball effect can work in our favor, too. Weight training, especially for the novice, works in much the same way as the cookie phenomenon: you decide to do the first rep, that first rep practically does the rest. Cookie begets cookie; bench press begets bench press. Continue reading

cookie-is-a-cannibal

That Cookie is a Cannibal

I’ve been enjoying a weeks-long period of true abstinence from sugar and starch. Energetic and rested, peaceful and proud of my clean streak, it’s a pleasure to wake up every day. Free of the insulin cycle, I am physically and emotionally at the top of my game. The satisfaction is all-pervasive, and I wonder how I could ever feel differently. Continue reading

Am I Talking to You? (A wellness-related flowchart)

 

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It's easier to be healthy with a BMI in the 40s when you're only 19.

Self-acceptance & Self-love Part One: The Why & The How

We’ve lost the war on obesity. Fighting fat hasn’t made
the fat go away.
                        -   Dr. Linda Bacon, Ph.D., “Healthy at Every Size

Self-acceptance is the crucial ingredient to making lasting, positive change. Self acceptance is also the key to happiness, whether or not you change a thing. You’ve been in therapy. You’ve heard all this before. For many, the concepts of ‘self-acceptance’ and ‘self-love’ are purely academic. I hope this post helps make both concepts a tad more tangible and meaningful. Mine is just one story, but the issue of internalized hate is universal. Feel free to sub in your own facts.

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I'll rarely look this hot during one of our session, but I guess it could happen.

The Best Exercise for Weight Loss

Q: “I’m overweight and I want to lose weight 1.  What exercise will make me lose weight?”

Let me cut right to the chase: Exercising to lose weight is like bailing out the Titanic with a 5-gallon bucket. Sure, you’re doing something, but the ship is still going down. Even the ACSM agrees – exercise alone is not a very effective weight loss tool.

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Notes:

  1. Read: “I want to drop excess, unnecessary, ultimately harmful fat,” thank you very much.
I WILL OWN YOU!!!

The Single Best Reason to Exercise

Work. Money. Relationships. Kids. In-laws. Time. Betrayal. Warts. Inevitable death.

You’re stressed. I can feel it from here. You should exercise more 1.

I WILL OWN YOU!!!
I WILL OWN YOU!!!

Stress has a purpose: to inspire one of a few responses, most of them physical, and all of them helpful to someone who wants to keep breathing. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. By “more” I mean “at all.”
Margaret Gorman of Washington, D.C., was the first Miss America in 1921. The Miss America pageant was first devised as a way to extend the summer tourist season in Atlantic City, N.J.

“Now slowly back away from the scale…”

I’m eight, sitting on the floor of a hotel room in Orlando. I’m on vacation with my grandparents, and we’re watching the Miss America Pageant*. At some point in the spectacle, Miss New York, my home(state)girl, wisps across the stage as her stats pop on the screen: 22 years old, 5’10”, 126 pounds.

And so the idea that  22 years + 5’10” + 126 lbs = Beauty  shoots a firm, thick root down into my young, fertile mind.

I think to myself, OK — I can be that. I’m eight years old, but I’ll age. I’m only about four and a half feet tall, but I’ll grow. Too young and too short, yes, but me and Miss NY are practically the same weight! As long as I don’t gain an ounce in the next 14 years…Hmm…I wonder how many girls don’t gain an ounce during puberty. I wonder how much an inch weighs… Continue reading

We're related.

Why We’re Fat & How We Get Skinny* – Naturally

“Coffey, the way you eat seems so restrictive. Removing whole food groups like that? It’s unnatural, not to mention physically and psychologically unhealthy.”

Oh, I disagree. Allow me to explain my thinking.

We're related.
We’re related.

Our bodies evolved to thrive in perfect synchronicity with the planet. For most humans across most of history 1, this synchronicity involved the ebb and flow of the seasons. And for most humans across most of history, life was a study in survival, a study in securing food. 2

Winter’s end is approaching. We’ve been living on insulin-releasing, fat-storing grain and hardy fruit for months. But these crucial, life-sustaining, high-sugar and high-starch foods are running out. If we are wealthy enough to have cultivated and stored more than the average family,  what remains of our food is overtaken by hungry pests – our perpetual enemies in the war for calories (energy) – themselves waking from their winter slumber. By the first thaw, those with the best root cellars have been living for weeks or months on nothing but small rations of potatoes and other starchy tubers. The truly lucky have a small stash of dried beans from which to draw. Come March we are weak and lethargic from inactivity and a lack of nutritious food.

Spring could not come quickly enough.

Livestock, thin from the winter and from gestating young, are giving birth onto newly-thawed ground. We set about planting the food that will mark the end of winter’s forced vitamin and mineral deficiency. Early spring vegetables are soon available in abundance. Once a new generation is safely born, we are at liberty to slaughter a few older livestock and feast on fresh, lean meat. We fish the increasingly populous rivers and streams. The protein in these springtime feasts enables our bodies to repair winter’s damage and rebuild lost muscle. If we’re lucky enough to be able to digest dairy, we share fresh milk with nursing goats and cattle. Sowing fields, repairing damaged homes, and tending gardens means we are active from dawn to dusk every day. There is no wheat and hasn’t been for months. There is no fruit. The tubers and beans are gone. Physically active, living on fresh vegetables, lean meats and milk, we move toward the lower end of our natural weight range. We regain our full strength and health. We are energized. We are sated.

The internal combustion engine, an integral part of a modern, 'balanced' diet.
The internal combustion engine, an integral part of a modern, ‘balanced’ diet.

Summer is a time of even greater activity. As each week unfolds, different crops become available, and for the short time that each individual food is ‘in season,’ our tables and bellies are full of them. The ‘balanced meal,’ a post-industrialization fabrication that necessitates both electricity and the internal combustion engine, does not exist. We eat our fill of what we have. What we don’t have, we anticipate. This anticipation makes foods special. It adds meaning to the seasons. It gives us a chance to live in the state of wanting, which increases our experience of pleasure and, many social psychologists report, our overall happiness. Through summer we continue to inhabit the low end of our natural weight range. There is an abundance of fresh food, physical activity and deep, well-earned sleep. In this mode, we reach the lowest end of our natural weight range. We are in perfect sync with the planet and our surroundings 3.

The arrival of autumn is bittersweet. A long, difficult, physically stagnant winter is ahead for most. Harvest time foods provide a tremendous number of calories (energy). These specific foods enable us to gain and store the fat that will take us through the winter. Were it not for the body’s ability to quickly stockpile and retain fat, we wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving the the cold, dark months ahead.

What foods mark the harvest? What foods do we have to thank for our efficient weight gain and retention? What foods, prior to refrigeration and mass transport, were responsible for giving us enough fat to live on to be able to survive several winter months of near-starvation?

Here to keep fat on you for the winter, because I care.
Grain: Here to keep you as fat as it can for as long as it can.

Grains (read: wheat). Rice. Cereals. High-sugar fruit. We owe them a debt of gratitude. And we don’t need them anymore.

The sweetness we experience when we eat starch and sugar is pleasurable. It inspires us to eat more. The euphoria we experience when we digest these foods helps to numb our feelings of fullness so we can eat past it.

As far as our bodies are concerned, our very survival depends on our ability to eat every morsel of sweetness that we can secure. Through most of human history, the more starch and sugar we were able to eat, the more fat we stored, and the more fat we stored, the more likely we were to see the spring.

The grain and starchy vegetables and fruit we managed to set aside helped us maintain the fat we’d spent autumn storing. Since glucose is always the body’s preferred fuel, it doesn’t take much of it to prevent the body from burning stored fat. Today, this metabolic safety net is a curse; back then, it was what kept us alive. We were fat-storing machines until the food ran out or the rats and weevils got into the wooden barrels in our root cellars and begin their own Thanksgiving.

Enter modernity.

My, modernity, you’re…convenient.

With you, it’s always harvest time. I’m no longer competing with rats for my wheat stores. Hell, I don’t even have to bake my own bread! Sugar is  something my body evolved to eat healthily for only 6 weeks out of every year when fruit was in season, but now that there’s a freighter full of internationally harvested fruit that arrives in Gloucester three times a week, I can eat it all day every day. How wonderful. How simple. How tasty. How absolutely not how our bodies evolved to eat.

As a society, we demand and fully expect that every day be Thanksgiving Day. Our bodies have become entirely divorced from the natural, healthy ebb and flow of the seasons, of nature. If you have addictive tendencies around certain foods it’s effortless to eat like every day is a feast day, and many of us do. Obesity is evidence that the survival mechanism manifested as the body’s drive to store fat has overridden the brain’s ability to mediate our physical and mental cravings in light new, hugely relevant information: The famine is never going to come.

Say that ten times fast.

When every day is Thanksgiving Day it’s up to us to enforce our own system of checks and balances. We try by limiting calories. We fail. We try by listening to the party line that says we should just eat less and exercise more. We fail. And we fail. And we fail. Don’t beat yourself up, Baby. You’re failing because you didn’t evolve to eat that way.

We were never meant to control our consumption of sweet, high-starch, high-sugar foods – we were meant to eat as much of them as we could in order to store the fat we needed to survive.

Because of our biological drive to eat eat eat sweet foods, portion control is difficult for everyone. I would argue that making an effort to control our portions is unnatural. What’s a modern person, interested in dropping excess weight, to do?

There is an easier, more natural solution: to choose, for a period of time, to eat like it’s springtime and early summer, the body’s natural time of fat loss. Meats. Fresh, seasonal vegetables. Dairy, gut-permitting. Fresh, whole, nutritive foods. The compulsion to eat more more more is quieted. The body has the vitamin and mineral resources to repair old damage. Excess fat burns like a prairie fire. Balance is restored – naturally.

If you’re like me, 4 the coolest part of eating like it’s spring and summer is the time it gives you. Breaking the cycle of bingeing and craving gives us the time and the emotional and mental freedom to develop a new, healthier, happier, more pleasurable relationship to food.  With time and practice, some can even develop a natural ability to eat sweet, starchy foods in moderation, in a way that maintains balance. But like any new skill, we need freedom, time, and practice to get better.

*Addendum to the title: I detest the terms "Fat" and "Skinny" and would liked to have titled this post "Why Our Bodies Have a Tendency to Store Excess Fat & What We Can Do To Quickly and Safely Burn Through Those Stores of Excess Fat to Reach Our Healthiest Weight and Then Maintain That Weight As Nature Intended Us to Maintain That Weight Over the Course of Our Lifetimes." Motivated by the desire to reach as many people as possible, I chose to make the title something that would get found in a Google search. Working within a pre-existing paradigm, especially when that paradigm is riddled with dumb, is extremely frustrating. Forgive me.
Read up on Coffey’s Pleasure Principles:
an online course to get you HAPPILY grounded in HEALTHIER habits.

Notes:

  1. For the sake of simplicity, my focus is on the agricultural period (circa 8000 BC-1825 AD). The same applies for the hunter-gatherer period, but with a ton more walking. And spears.
  2. It has come to my attention that, though the conclusion I arrive at in this essay is true, I get there in a convoluted, inaccurate, logical-fallacy-laden kind of a way. So here’s the disclaimer: I’m not science-y. I was an English major. The truth of the matter is that our guts evolved long before the agricultural period, back when we were still primates. We were losing and gaining then, in synchronicity with the ebb and flow of the season. I hope, though, that bringing the process to the prairie as I have in this essay will make it more meaningful and accessible, more relate-able and more memorable.
  3. Of course, through most of the agricultural period people had a life expectancy of about 30. If you wash your hands with soap, have a functioning toilet and are current with your vaccinations, your life expectancy pushes back substantially.
  4. A born over-eater, an addict, a compulsive pleasure-hunter.
Me & Me.

How exercise can make you gain weight.

It’s 1997. I’m 300 pounds. Every day I push my mom’s coffee table out of the way, press Play on the VHS player, and sweat (buckets) to the oldies.

It would be years before feeling well or caring for myself even showed up on my goal-dar. 1 I wasn’t exercising to get stronger, feel better, or live longer. I was 17, I was fat, and I wanted to be skinny. Because I watched commercial television, I understood that lurching around the living room wearing a headband would make me lose weight.

Whether I was Sweatin’ to the Oldies (thanks, Ma!) or doing a hundred sit-ups (thanks, Dad!), exercising – even intensely – never got me thin. Daily, hour-long aerobics sessions didn’t make me lose even one clothing size. In fact, the harder I exercised specifically to lose weight, the tighter my clothes got. Sure, I felt better, but since that wasn’t the point, I barely noticed.

Me (c. 1997)  &  Me (2014)
Me (c. 1997) & Me (2014)

I lost over 150 pounds a decade ago, and have since become a personal trainer. I work mainly with overweight women, because that’s what I used to be, and that’s who I identify with. In seven years of training these women, I’ve had to accept that exercise alone does not equal weight loss. In fact, exercise undertaken alone specifically to lose weight is likely to lead to weight gain.

“That’s not fair, Coffey,” you say. “If all other factors remain the same, adding exercise should result in weight loss!” Yes, and all women should get equal pay for equal work and everyone on the planet should have the right to die with dignity, but that just ain’t how things pan out.

If all other factors remained the same then getting more active would result in weight loss, but they don’t.

I’ve worked with many women who’ve gained weight after beginning an exercise program specifically to lose weight. About half of them interpreted that weight gain as evidence of what they believed to be their own inherent wrongness (“See!? I’m so screwed up, even working out makes me fat!”).

Of course, it’s not the exercise that made them gain weight. What made them gain was overcompensatory eating, often in the form of “recovery” drinks and things marketed as “healthy” post-workout snacks.

We’re a nation of consumers, and we’re all playing a role. Lots of people just starting with exercise buy special workout clothes and stock up on sugary sports drinks and protein bars because we’ve been programmed  to associate these props with exercise. So, many of us sweat for an hour, and then eat back every ounce of energy we just worked off in an effort to “recover.” And later in the afternoon we slather an apple in peanut butter, because we read in a magazine that that’s “ healthier” than eating an apple alone. 2

The other half of women who gain weight after beginning an exercise regimen specifically to lose weight imagine that that weight gain is muscle. These folks are unaware of how much time, work and dedication it takes to build muscle (because why the hell would you know how hard it is unless you’d done it?). Again, I blame the media, specifically women’s “health” mags, for bombarding us with gross, often misleading generalizations: “Gaining?! It Might be Muscle!” Sadly, honest headlines like “Dedicated Bodybuilders Can Expect to Gain up to Two Pounds of Muscle Per Month! Go Ahead, Ladies – Perfect Your Heavy Olympic Lifts!” aren’t as likely to sell magazines, so we won’t see those anytime soon.

When clients can’t button their pants after two weeks of light strength training, it has little or nothing to do with new muscle acquisition. Again, overcompensatory eating is to blame. My heart breaks when I think of all the women who’ve begun strength training programs, gained weight, assumed that weight gain was muscle, and so decided that anything that might result in muscle-building just wasn’t for them.

Some of the hardest moments I’ve had as a trainer were with these clients. My heart still aches when I think back on all the clients who stopped working with me in the early days because they gained weight when they started exercising. If only I knew back then what I know now.

In 2008 I was a newly-minted personal trainer afraid to speak the truth.
In 2008 I was a newly-minted personal trainer afraid to speak the truth.

I was a young trainer who knew that exercise was critical to good health. I was afraid to do anything but encourage these clients to keep exercising,  so I didn’t bring up the food conversation. I also never told them  “The three pounds you gained last week wasn’t muscle.” At best, that might have minimized the hard  work they’d been doing. At worst, it might have kicked up shame. At least, that was my fear.

I’ve spent most of the last decade getting clear on some important and often overlooked facts about wellness as it relates to women and obesity. First, exercise alone yields all kinds of amazing results, but weight loss isn’t one of them. Even the American College of Sports Medicine admits that exercise is an ineffective weight loss tool. Second, our ability to get and stay well (and to enjoy the process) depends a lot on where and how we get our information about wellness (popular media tends to be a pretty weak source). And third, it’s the responsbility of  fitness professionals like me to shift the conversation about weight, wellness and behavior away from nickle-and-dime, waste-of-time crap (like calorie-counting), and  on to the stuff that actually matters, like how to develop and act from a place of true self-regard, and care.

I’m gonna start a gang of healthy, happy fitness professionals that have histories of addiction, morbid obesity, and self-sabotage. Like me, all members will have gotten fit and healthy and maintained it for many years. We’re gonna write books together, crash conferences, and map out REAL, effective strategies for getting well against all odds.

If you’re one of these professionals, please email me. I’ve got big plans, and we’ve got our work cut out for us.

Meanwhile, let’s all work on internalizing that healthy, sustainable, enjoyable weight loss is the result of a care-based lifestyle, and the foundation of that lifestyle has to be eating nourishing food that we relate to in a healthy way. Healthy,  sustainable weight loss does not result from making a single change; not even if that change is to start doing something great, like exercising.

If you want to learn exactly how it’s done, read up on my wicked cheap, wicked fun online course, Pleasure Principles

 

Notes:

  1. It’s like GAY-dar, but with aspirations!
  2. #headdesk