You guys are in for a treat and so much wisdom from this lady's discovery journey! I've been listening to Kaila's Finding Our Hunger podcast for a while now with lots of amazing guests, so I was excited to hear what she had to say in today's interview. She shares so many goodies, including TONS of coaches and new websites to check out (I found a few new ones), the best advice about 'real food,' and the essential part of recovery (or discovery) that has nothing to do with food or fitness. I definitely connected with the idea of always achieving and living an imperfect life (and being okay with that).
Plus, she does pole dance classes, which sounds like an awesome way to connect with your body!
EVERY WOMAN HAS THEIR OWN UNIQUE STORY. CAN YOU TELL US ‘YOUR STORY’ WITH FOOD OR BODY IMAGE?
You know how they say that eating disorders are a combination of genetics and environment? Well, during the summer of 2001, I had the perfect cocktail to kick off nearly 13 years of EDNOS, anorexia, and exercise addiction:
I was an anxious, depressed, and obsessive-compulsive child, although no one ever diagnosed me as such. I cried a lot, isolated myself from other kids often, and washed my hands and went through other rituals (like repeating certain phrases before I could go to sleep) throughout my entire childhood. Add in a heavy dose of perfectionism, and I was probably a prime candidate for developing disordered eating behaviors later in life.
I also ate nothing but processed and/or fast food “because I was a picky eater.” So when I started breaking out in hives every day during the first week of drama camp in 2001, I was shocked when my mom suggested that it might have something to do with my diet.
She said that—maybe—the hives were due to a heightened reaction to soy that showed up on an allergy test when I was a baby. Soy? I thought that was a health food—and I definitely didn’t eat health food.
That summer, I learned how to read labels for the first time, and I discovered that soy is in pretty much anything and everything that comes in a package. So I only ate food that I prepared myself. I began to fear food and even have anxiety when confronted with food at my friends’ summer camp parties.
That summer, I also realized that I was “out of shape.” During the dance warmups, I couldn’t keep up when we did ab and leg exercises. I vowed to fix that before the summer’s end, so I started obsessively doing ab and leg exercises before bed each night. I also got my first gym membership and started working out on the stairmaster every day after camp.
And then the perfect storm: on July 3, I got my first peck on the lips from a cute boy at camp and on July 4, I got my first period, wore my first big girl bikini, and looked in the mirror and realized that I was thin. If all of these good things were happening for the first time, and I was thin…then I must have been doing something right, so perhaps I should do more.
By the end of the summer, I was 97 pounds.
But no one ever caught me. No one ever said a word, except to compliment me for being so “healthy” and “dedicated.” I cycled in and out of orthorexia, binge eating, exercise addiction, and cleanse diets, relapsing with undiagnosed anorexia/exercise addiction/suicidal depression in college in 2007 followed by eating nothing but peanut butter, apples, and Clif bars through my year as a high school teacher.
I met a guy in 2009 with whom I fell “in love” instantly—we moved in together after a month. He was really into his workouts—squat day was sacred. He showed me a picture of his favorite fitness model, Jamie Eason, and so, when we went long-distance when we both went back to grad school, I decided I would surprise him by looking like Jamie Eason by Thanksgiving.
I started following Oxygen Magazine and its “clean eating” principles. I ended up breaking up with the guy, but I decided that I wanted to do a bodybuilding competition and become a personal trainer. As my body transformed (because I was strong not skinny…but also skinny), I started having panic attacks about food, fitness, and my body, and I started to become suicidally depressed once again as my workouts and my meal prep began to take over my life. I ended up dropping out of grad school because it was interfering with my quest for the perfect body, and also because I knew that I was becoming a danger to myself.
I ended up moving in with my mom and getting a job at the Apple store in my local mall. I spent the next two years or so battling with myself through recovery—ultimately destroying my ankle through an exercise-induced injury (that I refused to rest) and becoming amenorrheic and messing up my thyroid with fat- and calorie-restricted veganisim.
It has taken me a LONG time to get to a place where my food is no longer a villain, my body no longer the enemy, and my exercise no longer a weapon of self-destruction, but I’m grateful to have had this experience so that I have a baseline against which to measure a happier, healthier life going forward.
WHAT ARE THE TWO BIGGEST LESSONS YOU LEARNED IN ORDER TO HEAL DISORDERED EATING AND BODY SHAME?
I’ve had to learn a lot of lessons about body and food (some of them both actually and metaphorically hard to swallow).
The first lesson had to do with “real food,” although I often hesitate these days to lead with “paleo” or “ancestral nutrition,” because I know too many people who are still using Paleo as a diet or as an excuse for continued orthorexia or restriction.
However, for me, it was the beginning of my getting a handle on my mental and emotional health. Once I started eating fat again, once I started learning about nutrition, methylation, and the reasons why my previous eating habits (or lack thereof) were triggering or perpetuating some of my mental health issues, things really did start to change for me.
The trouble is: most people stop there. They get to lesson one (my nutrition can affect my mental health) and they start obsessing about perfecting their nutrition. One slippery slope later, as I discovered myself, and they are listening to paleo podcasts all day and freaking out because they don’t know how they’re going to reconcile the perfect health diet with low carb ketogenic while they’re carb backloading through back-to-back Crossfit workouts.
So that’s where lesson number two becomes SO, SO, SO important. (Did I mention lesson two is important? Because it is).
The second lesson that I learned was that you ABSOLUTELY, ON NO UNCERTAIN TERMS MUST discover who you are and what you like outside of food, body, and fitness.
It can be incredible to discover that you like talking about food and fitness all day—to become a nutritional therapy practitioner or a personal trainer because you want to help yourself and help others discover the gloriousness of whatever dietary practice and exercise regime has liberated you from your disordered eating…but if you don’t take the time to discover what else you like, then you’re just going to get trapped in the same old patterns of obsession, addiction, and disorder.
It wasn’t until I deleted all of the health podcasts from my phone and got off of the Paleo email newsletters and instead started listening to comedy, going back to the theatre, and finding other avenues for discovering and developing the self that I had lost to disordered eating that things finally started to change for me.
So that’s my new philosophy: recovery is important, but you can’t stop there. Once you know the basic principles of eating well for your mental and emotional health…drop the food blogs and go discover what else really makes you feel alive.
IF YOU COULD WRITE A LETTER TO YOUR FORMER SELF, WHAT WOULD YOU WANT HER TO KNOW?
There’s so much I wish my former self could know about the future, but I’m afraid that she wouldn’t be willing or able to listen, even if I tried.
I really believed that the future was just a series of achievements and milestones—awards to be hung upon the wall: valedictorian, Ivy League, government or legal job, two and a half kids and a perfect life—and all done with a perfect body. Later, that was modified to include a job in fitness and a wall full of NPC and IFBB trophies.
And, while I got to salutatorian and the Ivy League, while I got a personal trainer certification…none of those things actually fulfilled me. And I spent a lot of time really depressed by the fact that I couldn’t always be achieving, couldn’t always achieve perfect happiness.
What I wish my former self could know is this:
You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Your life is not about proof. It’s not about the pats on the back or the after photo.
Life is a series of moments, of ups and downs, of disappointments and setbacks, of great triumphs and private wins. Life doesn’t start “when you get the perfect body” or “when you get accepted to your dream school” or “when you get married,” etc. Life is already happening, and if you spend your time waiting for it to start, you’re going to miss the whole thing.
Just go out and live. Do it imperfectly. Be okay with the fact that every moment isn’t ecstasy—and I guarantee you’ll finally be able to find the ecstasy in every moment.
LET’S CHAT TOOLS. WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE BOOKS, TOOLS, APPS, COACHES, ETC. THAT HAVE HELPED YOU ALONG YOUR JOURNEY.
It’s funny: my recovery really wasn’t aided and abetted by help from anyone or anything conventional.
Yes, the Paleo stuff certainly kickstarted things—Abel James, Dean Dwyer, Jimmy Moore, Gary Taubes, Diane Sanfilippo and the other big names certainly gave me my push down the rabbit hole—but as for discovery…well, that was all by accident.
For me, my discovery tools were:
- Speed dating (to get over my social anxiety)
- The Nerdist and Thrilling Adventure Hour podcasts
- Pole dance classes (to show me that strength and sensuality have nothing to do with the shape of your body)
- Voice over classes
- and lots and lots of conversations with incredible people in the Health at Every Size and recovery communities on the Finding Our Hunger podcast
Everyone’s discovery is going to look different, so I can’t say that what worked for me will work for you. That’s the beauty of discovery: it’s uncharted territory, and YOU get to draw the map!
The only caveat I have is this: when you head into discovery, your job is to make yourself uncomfortable, but not unsafe. You can’t discover if you never put yourself into situations that are outside of your comfort zone, but if they become overwhelming, triggering, or dangerous, it’s up to you to know when to call it a day and start discovering somewhere else.
There are a bunch of incredible coaches, experts, and role models that I recommend checking out (in no particular order, and I’m probably leaving people out…):
- Kelly Boaz
- Summer Innanen
- Isabel Foxen Duke
- Amanda Trusty
- Jessi Kneeland
- Stefani Ruper
- Madelyn Moon
- Dr. Deah Schwartz
- Melissa A. Fabello
- Jes Baker
- Kevin Geary
- Jessica Raymond
And oh, the list could go on…I’ve been able to interview most of these incredible people on the Finding Our Hunger podcast (and so many more…we’re almost at 100 episodes!), and I’m just so grateful that we’ve been able to help, at least in some small way, change the narrative of how we and our listeners view the purpose of our bodies as they move through the world.
WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED, ALIVE, AND VIBRANT THESE DAYS?
These days, pole dance and voice over classes have been two of the biggest parts of my life. Being surrounded by an incredible community of women while learning how to express both my strength and sensuality in ways I never allowed myself to before has been such an eye opening experience. And voice over is giving me the chance to play and express myself creatively again.
I’ve also started dating again, and while that may be the scariest, hardest part of my recovery journey, it’s also been really, really wonderful—because, for the first time, I’m learning how to be a partner in a relationship, to express my feelings and my needs, and to give myself permission to feel and enact desire, instead of just desiring to be desired.
And, of course…the Finding Our Hunger podcast. I can’t tell you how much of a blessing it has been to have the privilege to talk to nearly 100 people in the last 2 years, all of whom are on this journey to figuring out how to live their best lives. It’s been so refreshing, inspiring, and empowering to be a part of that conversation on a weekly basis!
Favorite place… Do I have to choose?? So far, I think Seattle, but there are so many places left to visit!
Bucket list travel location… Holland, Russia, and India. Random, I know. But I have my reasons.
Favorite way to move your body… Pole dance!
Quote you love? Not my circus, not my monkeys. --Polish saying
WE’D LOVE TO SUPPORT YOU. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON THESE DAYS?
Right now, I’m building up my health coaching practice, and you can get in touch with me for a free Body Image Breakthrough session. You can read more about my philosophy on discovery and recovery in my most popular blog post.
I recently published the Body Image Report, which details the responses from over 350 people about how they feel about body, food, and fitness (and there results were REALLY eye-opening). (from Lauren: this is really fascinating!)
I’m also doing the weekly Finding Our Hunger podcast (available at findingourhunger.com or on any of your major podcast networks).
AND! If you’re in the South Bay Area of California, you can join me for a free Meetup, the Body Image Breakthrough.
All About Kaila Prins
- Website: In My Skinny Genes
- Podcast: Finding Our Hunger
- Twitter: @MissSkinnyGenes
- Facebook: @FindingOurHunger
- Trigger Happy Thursday Email
WE’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU IN THE COMMENTS BELOW (+ GO GIVE KAILA SOME LOVE!)
- How can you add self-discovery into your life? Start asking yourself what you WANT to do, especially outside of the food and fitness realm.