We posed the following question to Coach Alyssa Chang, " I want to start to make some changes because I am unhappy with the way I feel and look, but I have no idea where to start. Fitness? Nutrition? Both? Where and how do I begin?"
Alyssa had, to say the least, an awesome and passionate response:
In my opinion and from personal experience, I would encourage any person to spend some time reflecting on what "body image" they are striving for and to journal about these questions:
1. How does it FEEL to be in this body?
2. Who are you surrounded by?
3. How would people describe you? How would you like to describe yourself?
4. What are you accomplishing in this body?
5. How would you define "happiness"
6. What activities, hobbies do you enjoy?
I feel, as a coach, that it is important to understand where the athlete's mindset currently is. What language do they use and how do they define words like happiness, healthy, good or bad, body image etc. and also who are they surrounded by? It is important to gather as much information about their current mindset and lifestyle so that the next steps are catered to which phase of change they are in (Stages of Change: Pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance and recycle).
After the athlete and I are able to narrow down what exactly this new "image" feels like there are a few different ways I would approach this transformation.
Happiness and Positivity:
Firstly, I like to coach athletes to find ways to bring more happiness into the their life. I encourage them to practice forms of gratitude, add more activities that bring them joy and remove aspects of unnecessary stress from their lives (whether that comes from cleaning up their desk, contacts list, fridge etc). The act of decluttering will leave more space for them to begin adding in positivity and healthier habits. It will leave more space to foster strong, positive relationships that can heavily impact someone's confidence as they continue on this journey. Overall happiness, has a large contribution to someone's overall relationship with their body.
Yes, movement is important, but going back to the first statement of practicing more of what makes you happy, also move in a way that brings you joy. A lot of athletes/clients believe they MUST go to the gym 5-6x a week, do cardio 60-90 minutes a day and eat like birds to achieve their goal body. If that makes someone happy, then of course I will not be the one to discourage it (but, let's be honest, not everyone wants to spend "Friday night at the 'bar'(bell).
Make a list of activities that make you happy to be alive. Is it walking with your dog, is it hiking, is it dancing, is it skateboarding, is it lifting weights, is it running...whatever it is schedule it in and enjoy that time moving; moving for your overall happiness.
Nutrition is complex, it is always changing and there are so many new diets that people are no longer know HOW to eat. Going back to happiness, I encourage clients to make a list of their favorite foods. Then to grocery shop from that list (with some added guidance and suggestions). Clients aiming for specific goals (let's use body image as an example) their fueling plans need to address a couple of areas:
Help the athlete get to their goal body while also creating a sustainable lifestyle meal plan. Anytime you're on a meal plan, I encourage you to ask yourself if you can picture yourself eating this way in a week, in a month, in 3 months, in 6 months, in a year? If yes, fantastic! If no, where do you feel restricted, unhappy and or unsatisfied. Then adjust accordingly. The reason why 90% of the time diets fail is often because they are too restricted, too extreme, and do not make people happy.
"Transformation" and non-scale victories:
I find that it is important to also express that transformation (eh hem, true, long lasting internal and external transformations) do not happen overnight. More importantly they do not not happen if the athlete is not practicing forms of gratitude, positivity, and self acceptance/appreciation throughout the journey towards this goal body. A lot of social media markets physical transformations as the way to achieve happiness (ex. weight loss= happiness). For example, we see this in before and after photos. The client is pictured with a frown, unhappy and heavier than their "after" picture where they showcase their new body and big smile. But, is the athlete really happy? Or are they looking in the mirror still unhappy with their body? In most cases, if the athlete is not making note of "non-scale victories" it may lead to an over obsession with the scale, with what they eat, if they hit their macros, if they ate and/or exercised perfectly.
Therefore, taking notes, reassessing often and jotting down all the internal and external progress will lead towards a healthier relationship with their body. Non-scale victories may include the following: improved mood, more energy, clothes fitting better, a less negative relationship with food, flexible eating, enjoying exercise, quality sleep, happier etc.
Therefore, I strongly feel that a client defining happiness for themselves will create more clarity on how they want their lives to look like. By helping them bring more joy into their life through fun activities, through flexible dieting and through practicing forms of gratitude will surely amount to a healthier and happy body and essentially a happier life. Take away what you feel you need to look like and replace it with what you want your life to FEEL like.