Finding health advice is easy. But finding health advice that actually helps — that’s hard. For women especially, trying to eat and move in a way that’s healthiest for you can be really difficult.
We’re barraged with fitness ads, diet tips, and health warnings nearly constantly. With all that health information so accessible, why is living a healthy lifestyle still so hard? Well, because a lot of the information we think we can trust is really bad advice. And, honestly, a lot of experts contradict each other. Some advice isn’t based on any science at all. And even when actual studies are cited, it’s tough to know what science to trust. Like, did you know there are studies that say eating low-carb is best, but also other studies that say eating low-carb is a really bad idea? It’s really confusing.
There’s also all the celebrity advice to sort through. Sure, Gwyneth Paltrow can spend $185 on her smoothie every morning, but that recipe isn’t going to do anything to help the average women of the world. And even if you did manage to spend all that on breakfast, what are the chances it’ll make you look like Gwyneth Paltrow?
No matter what advice is involved, all of these articles have one thing in common: They don’t say anything about the individual, everyday experience of pursuing health. That can get messy. And searching the web for tips and tricks to shed pounds isn’t going to make it any easier.
We found four real women, willing to share their stories with us. Each one gave us some insight into the health advice that actually helped to transform her life for the better — and what the rest of us can do to feel the same.
Kelly Corbin is a 47-year-old senior litigation paralegal in Houston, Texas. She travels often for work and is married with no kids. She sees the turning point in her relationship with health and wellness five years ago. “I made the decision to take my life back,” Kelly said.
For a long time, Kelly found that she had a hard time sticking to any kind of lifestyle change that would make her feel better because she had an “all or nothing” mentality. “I thought, ‘If you can’t become a yoga master in three sessions, why bother?’ With that mindset, if you don’t follow your plan for even one day, it goes out the window for months.”
Kelly noticed that her health was starting to suffer. “My blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and other side effects were increasing. I was tired all of the time. I was a ball of stress and anxiety,” she said. “I was just going through the motions of life — I knew something had to change.”
“The key,” Kelly said, “was moderation and balance and living in the moment.” She made her health decisions based on how she was feeling in that moment — not on a distant end goal she was chasing.
“I began practicing intuitive eating and mindful eating,” she said. “I made the conscious decision to stop eating foods I didn’t enjoy. With exercise, I looked at every day like I didn’t know what tomorrow might bring.”
“Weight loss was never my goal,” she said. “That metric is something I don’t care about. I lowered my blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar and have kept those numbers down consistently for years now.”
“I found a creative outlet on Instagram. Now, it’s a space for love, light, gratitude, self-acceptance, supporting others, and of course, the occasional adorable cat photo.” In other words, it contains many of the things that make her happy — all of which are part of taking care of her health.
Kelly’s advice, in a nutshell, is that “Rome wasn’t built in a day. Small changes practiced consistently add up to big lifestyle changes.”
She recommends doing small things, to start, to feel better in the moment you’re in — to feel better that day, rather than some far-off, imagined future.
“Take time for yourself, even if it’s only five minutes for meditation. Practice gratitude. Eat your vegetables and have the cake. Start today. Start where you are. Repeat tomorrow.”
For more of Kelly’s story, visit her Instagram.
Deanna Green is a mother to one daughter and owner of Shambhala Yoga & Dance Studio, a small, community-driven studio in Brooklyn. The piece of advice that transformed her relationship with her health and her body, and eventually helped her grow a successful business, came from James Fideler, one of the instructors who trained her to teach yoga.
“James says, ‘Everything has a beginning, middle, and end. And how we handle everything in between is known as grace.’ He was referencing the iconic imagery of Shiva Nataraj. The statue of Shiva shows him delicately balancing in the dance of life surrounded by his fears and repeating patterns,” Deanna said. “This short piece of advice has followed me in every event in my life since. It has changed how I approach challenges, how I talk to myself, and my compassion towards myself.”
Before hearing this advice, Deanna felt that something was lacking in her relationship with herself and her body. “I realized that I used a lot of negative self-talk to motivate myself,” she said. “I beat myself up if I made a mistake.” Despite being intelligent and successful, she felt heavily anxious and suffered from bouts of depression.
“I realized that many women, especially black women, feel the need to live up to a certain standard or ideal to be successful,” she said. “I felt that if I wasn’t able to live up to that ideal every day of my life, I was failing.”
But thinking about that advice — how to better handle that “middle” part of her journey — inspired her to treat herself with love and care, rather than judgment.
Deanna says that this advice, and yoga in general, has changed her life drastically. “This advice has encouraged me to let go of others’ expectations and to live kindly in the moment,” she said. “Yoga has allowed me to heal, prioritizing radical acceptance and self-love.”
You can follow Deanna, and find her yoga and dance classes, on her Instagram.
Shira Rose is a body-positive fashion blogger at A Sequin Love Affair, passionate about spreading the message that bodies of all sizes are worthy of love and respect. But she didn’t always feel so comfortable in her own skin. Shira used to be a chronic dieter, trying all kinds of tactics to lose weight and keep it off.
“I used to spend hours online researching the healthiest foods, best diets, et cetera,” Shira recalled. “I spent years and years fighting my naturally larger body and believing the lie that thinness equaled health. I believed that carbs and sugar were a death sentence and keto was the path to success.”
However, one piece of advice from a friend and colleague began to shift her perspective. “A dietitian pointed out that I wanted to lose weight to be healthy and happy — but there I was, thin for the first time and completely miserable,” Shira said. “She said to me, ‘It seems to me that you couldn’t be any unhappier.’ I paid quite the price for thinness. I realized that refusing cake on my own birthday, avoiding social events that had food I deemed off limits, or constantly tracking calories was far from healthy.”
Shira began to realize that there are people who are fat and happy — that she didn’t have to live a restricted lifestyle that was making her miserable.
It took Shira some time to truly implement that advice — and to learn more about a view of health that didn’t focus on weight loss. While obsessively searching for health information online, Shira stumbled upon Health at Every Size (HAES), a movement that advocates for approaching health and wellness from a weight-neutral perspective. Instead of prescribing weight loss for health problems, HAES advocates for treating the problem itself independent of body size.
Finding this information, she says, was a huge turning point. It gave her the freedom to “redefine health as eating a variety of food groups without restriction, and exercise in a way that feels good to me — instead of as a punishment for what I’ve eaten.”
“Health isn’t a number on the scale or a body size,” she said. “Body diversity is a part of life! I’ve learned that weight stigma and poverty contribute to poor health a whole lot more than a BMI number. But more importantly, I’ve learned that mental health is a crucial part of the conversation around health.”
Now, Shira knows to prioritize social connections and relationships. She makes time for self-care.
“My intentions are about treating my body well, not shrinking myself down to society’s narrow and impossible standards of beauty,” Shira said. “I work every day to accept my body as it is — because how can you truly take care of something you hate?”
Rebekah Patton is a full-time fitness instructor and wellness coach in Boston, Massachusetts. Her outlook on health transformed directly alongside her career.
Rebekah used to study nursing — she knew she wanted to help people, and that helping people made her happy. But by the second year of nursing school, she said, “I knew that I was not meant to be a nurse.” At the same time, she felt all over the place with fitness. “I was eating and exercising in response to how stressed out I was,” she said. She would try to eat healthy for about a week, “which felt like an eternity!” Then she would get frustrated and beat herself up when she didn’t see results.
“My workouts and eating habits were haphazard and inconsistent, and it made me even more stressed out,” Rebekah said. “I was not sleeping nearly enough, going to bed after 11 and waking up at 4:45. The hours between were not filled with restful sleep. Stress over my career had taken control of my entire life.”
She stuck with the career path anyway, wondering, “What would all of the people supporting me think if I quit? What if I changed my mind?”
Rebekah had taught group fitness classes throughout college and had a hunch that was what she wanted to do long-term.
“I always knew what I wanted to do as a career, but I was terrified people would not support the idea, that I would be laughed at or ridiculed or judged,” she said. “So I toyed with some graduate programs in journalism, applied, got accepted, and even enrolled in one. Until I really listened to myself. I listened to the voice in my head that kept asking me: Why am I doing this? Who am I doing this for?”
The day before school started, she left. “I started doing me,” she said. Rebekah realized that she had been living her life for others instead of putting herself first. “Through helping myself first, I was better able to help other people.”
She made the commitment to start pursuing a career in fitness full-time, teaching classes and doing some wellness coaching.
“I accepted the idea that I am enough and I can put myself first — in fact, I deserve to put myself first,” she said. Only after she made this shift in her mental health did she truly start to feel healthier and stronger physically, as well.
“I was giving my body the movements and the nutrients it was craving,” she said. “I worked out more because I wanted to; I ate foods because I wanted to.”
Her main takeaway from this transformation was that “all aspects of your life are related.” When she wasn’t putting her own needs first in terms of her career, she felt less comfortable putting her body’s needs first in terms of her health. “It all intertwines,” she said. “If you are not happy in one aspect of your life, that unhappiness will bleed into the other aspects. Self-love and real happiness will go such a long way in achieving results.”
To hear more from Rebekah or take her classes, you can follow her Instagram.
Ali Matalon is a 24-year-old student at Columbia University, enrolled in a graduate program for urban social policy with a specialization in Latin American and Caribbean studies. Ali’s health has been going through ups and downs since she was a child. She was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in her early 20s — but it took a lot of doctors and misdiagnoses for her to find the answers she needed.
“The best advice I’ve ever gotten is that if you feel like there is something wrong, advocate for yourself,” Ali said. “Do not accept inconclusive diagnoses or advice from your doctor. There will be somebody who can help you — you just have to find them.”
Ali has suspected something was going on with her health since she was very young. She didn’t get her period until she was 15 or 16, and even after that, her cycle was never regular. Her weight wildly fluctuated.
“I thought that it was something I was doing or eating, as opposed to it being an effect of something internal,” she said. “I was dieting and exercising on an extreme level in order to not gain any more weight, but always ended up gaining more anyway. I would try to lose 5 pounds and end up gaining another 5 pounds — it was a cycle.”
Weight was just the beginning. “I got acne and black facial hair, too. But all my symptoms were non-issues for my health care providers,” she said. “Weight gain? They thought I just wasn’t exercising. Acne? Adult-onset acne is a thing. Facial hair? Oh, it’s just hormone fluctuations.”
Left untreated, her symptoms worsened. “My body felt heavy; it was retaining excess water due to insulin resistance. It didn’t feel like my body at all. I ended up developing severe anxiety and mood swings. Everything I ate made me sick. I was exhausted all the time and I wasn’t even able to get through two or three workouts a week. For me, that was a big difference, since I had always been very active.”
“Finally, I was sent to an endocrinologist. The first one was a man.” He told her that he didn’t think the weight gain was substantial enough to be a problem and that her symptoms weren’t really that severe. “I felt extremely dismissed,” she remembered. “Looking back, I find that male doctors will often react like, ‘Oh, she’s just really emotional, it’s not as bad as she says it is.’ And that’s really problematic for women.” She decided to see a different endocrinologist, this time ensuring it was a woman.
“She was amazing,” Ali said. “She immediately recognized that it was PCOS. It explained all my symptoms.”
Ever since she received this diagnosis, she has felt infinitely better. She’s been able to find joy in exercise again. She feels confident and proud of her body. Eating no longer feels as stressful. And what made all the difference in her care was Ali’s ability to advocate for herself and speak up about what she was feeling. “It is possible to find the care you need,” she said.
Just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. “The health care system often makes it really difficult,” Ali said. “It’s expensive. It’s hard to change providers. Women’s health issues aren’t always covered by insurance. I was really privileged, actually, to be able to seek opinions from multiple medical providers.”
The best thing you can do, Ali says, is to just be as vocal as you can. You can follow Ali’s story on her Instagram.
Not sure where to start with talking to a doctor? These 20 simple questions are a good place to start.
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