Joanne Papadopoulos of Teenacers: “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Can Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”

Dr. William Seeds
Jun 12, 2020 · 26 min read

Walk it out. Take a soul walk. Smell something. Touch something. Make eye contact with someone. Say hello. Pet a Dog. Sit on a bench. Avoid music or podcasts for a first half. Listen to your thoughts. Feel your body. Notice your pace. It’s not a race.

As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing (Yanna) Joanne Papadopoulos with Teenacers.

Yanna has been a teacher for the public board, in Calgary, for 15 years, she is a college instructor, a professional development workshop facilitator for educators, the Vice president of Seeds Connections Organization, and founder and owner of Teenacers, where she offers academic and leadership coaching for teens and young adults moving through their academic careers and entering the workforce. Yanna holds a Bachelors of Fine Arts, a Bachelors of Education, and a Masters in Educational Leadership from Gonzaga University and teaches teens the leadership strategies that have been successful among leaders in becoming resilient and empowered change-makers in their lives; she inspires them to have an impact in their schools and communities.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?

I am not a personal trainer, in the sense that I don’t design workout plans for individuals. I am a teacher and a coach. My niche is in identifying talent and getting teens and young adults to recognize their uniqueness, showing them how to showcase and maximize their abilities, and offering them the skills to take charge of their lives. One would say I am a personal trainer for the mind and soul. Self-esteem is a verb, not a noun. Motivation is an action, not a feeling. I came to this realization well into my late 30s. I struggled with eating disorders and disordered eating for most of my life. From anorexia, to bulimia, to binge eating, and to over exercising. Looking back at my teen years, and having spent half of my life working with teens and young adults, I realized that wellness is more than being physically fit and controlling your portions. I was the most unhappy when I was at my lowest weight, and yet, to this day, I struggle with the idea that, if I were thinner, things would be easier, or that, when I gain weight, I have lost control and it shows. For those who struggle with the ups and downs of weight loss, it is a sign that the underlying reasons are more important than counting calories and steps. There is a reason we do this stop and go thing. Also, there is a reason we armour ourselves with the extra lbs. Our bodies are highly intelligent. They are protecting us because we are telling ourselves that we are in danger. We are in crisis mode. We have come to despise our actual process of survival. Also, we use food, or the lack of, to fill voids and to numb feelings. These habits begin early on in life. The stories we tell ourselves have formed in adolescence, or earlier. Knowing how much body image and self-esteem are connected, I realized how much our mental blocks and fears are underlining factors to creating a healthy relationship with both. Working with teens, I can see how the connection between body-image, negative self-talk, and lack of self-esteem can become paralyzing during the most crucial and formative years of their lives. It impedes our self-acceptance. Coaching teens and young adults, in taking charge and becoming strong leaders does not happen in isolation. Everything is connected, mind, body, emotions, and sprit. I work on all 4 areas, as my Teenacers method is based on the Indigenous ways of knowing and being that encompass all those elements. If one element is out of balance, so is everything else.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

As a beginning teacher, I was offered a temporary substitute teaching contract in the same middle school I had completed my teaching practicum. I knew most of the staff from the year prior. As a matter of fact, the assistant principal of that school was my former high school English teacher. I was over the moon to accept a temporary teaching position in my first year out. The only caveat, I was a Fine Arts Major. Along with the Social Studies class I was assigned to teach, I was also offered a Physical Education class. As a beginning teacher, I replied in the one way I was told to when offered temporary contracts, with a flat out “YES.” I showed up to my first gym class with my Diesel shoes and yoga jeans. The partner teacher asked me if I owned proper running shoes, to which I replied, “What do you mean?” I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I knew I had made a big mistake when I agreed to pretend I know how to teach sports. Then my eyes landed on Natasha. The other P.E. teacher I was going to be working with. She knew I was a fake right when she saw my shoes. I had to come clean. I said to her, “If you help me get through this year, I will take you to Greece next summer on a vacation of a lifetime!” Luckily, she agreed! For the next 10 months, I went to her house, after school everyday, and she showed me how to teach the next day’s lesson to kids, who clearly knew I was not a P.E. teacher, but didn’t say anything because they didn’t want to hurt my feelings. You are wondering what happened after? We did go to Greece together in 2007, and we had the most amazing summer vacation, ever! Always keep your promises.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

Since I was a fake P.E. teacher, and since I had full trust in Natasha, I agreed to go along on a sailing trip with her and our students. She said it will be great for my resume as a fist year teacher. And, she was right. Along we went to take students sailing along the BC coast, Georgia Strait, and Gulf Islands. My main job was to count kids, and make sure we bring them back alive a week later. The day I feared the most had arrived. The kayaks came out. These students were experts at everything! As the “P.E.” teacher, I agreed to go along this guided tour with the captain and the other P.E. teachers. I managed to fake my way into the kayak. At some point, the weather changed and it got quite windy. I remember it as gust winds, but Natasha claimed it was simply overcast. I started crying and screaming for help, worried that my kayak would flip over and I would drown. I still remember the kids looking at me and wondering “what is happening to her?” A few minutes later, I heard a sound I’ve never heard before. The other captain was on his way, with kids in toe, in a zodiac, to “rescue” me. I was so panicked, I couldn’t get out of the kayak. I remember the kids trying to tell me how to move my body, but I was having none of it. I just wanted to get out and be saved. Once I managed to get in the zodiac, the kids asked me, “what’s wrong, Ms P? Don’t be scared, you’re a professional swimmer!” to which I responded, “huh?” Turns out Natasha had to tell the kids that I swam on the National Olympic Greek team. She had to lie, since the kids realized, early on, that I don’t know what I am doing. She never imagined we would be in a situation where I would be close to water. But here we were. Meanwhile, the whole incident was being recorded by another P.E. teacher, and in the midst of my screaming and crying, the narration reverberated as follows: “I used to be a Greek Goddess, and now, all I am is a God Damn Greek.” The video played on the last day of school during a school wide assembly and the kids loved it, and I loved them even more for that. My take away: When you fake it till you make it, it shows.

Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?

With over 15 years of teaching, coaching leadership skills for teens, and supporting parents, I have learned that lifestyle choices are formed during adolescence and can take a lifetime to reverse habits and routines. The tweaks that we can make don’t have to be epic, monumental, or take hours out of our day. It is in the simple agreements and promises that we make, and keep with ourselves, that can enhance our self-esteem, give us energy to do more, and correct mental traps we find ourselves later in life. We need to investigate the cultural narratives that have become our “spells,” and obstacles. We can’t move past this stage and set our vision if we lack this awareness. We must find out what areas of our lives contribute to “leaking” energy. Where do we feel disempowered or wiped out. What contributes to this?

My only solace in life is that I have been good to children. And I have learned to apologize to them and take ownership of my mistakes. A soul coach, Dara Rabal, once told me, “kids like you, because you see their truth and their goodness,” and those were the best words to describe how I feel. My contribution to wellness is in helping children and their parents see in their truth and goodness too. Wellness begins in a child’s healthy self-concept, self-esteem, and ability to recognize their potential to develop this, and to get them where they want to be. This is true for adults. We have come to think of fitness and wellness as not only in our physical appearance. Makeovers are not long-term solutions. Inner wellness is often overlooked until it starts to impact our health and our relationships, in spite of what our fit bits tells us.

The Indigenous Peoples were highly evolved in so many aspects. They not only had developed ingenuity in survival on this land, formed inclusive governing systems, held Elders, two spirited, and women in high regard, they lived their lives based on the medicine wheel. They believed, and still advocate, for our emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental interconnectedness. The medicine wheel also represented the 4 seasons of our lives, and how important adolescence, “spring,” is in forming our visions. Most of all, children were guided, not taught. They were mentored. Elders shared stories that communicated life lessons about how to treat Mother Nature, the same way we treat our bodies, with respect and compassion. After studying the Indigenous ways of knowing and being, during my Masters in Leadership, I’d come to understand that we are in a state of turmoil when we disrupt this equilibrium. In order to experience wellness, we need to trust in our intuition and listen to our bodies.

During the same year as my master’s work, I was the supervising teacher of a yoga class. I attended a high school yoga class that was facilitated by a beautiful instructor, Heather. It couldn’t have become clearer to me how our emotional wellness affects our ability to perform certain movements. The emotions arising in that class of teens, during certain poses, was heartwarming. It was an inclusive, accepting, and safe space for everyone. It was healing. My journey of understanding triggers caused by body movements, the need to belong and feel accepted, body image and self-critical thoughts, solidified my belief that only if we heal the inside, we can heal the outside.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

It’s never one person. It’s a handful of people who believe in you, see the light in you, and become your biggest fans. They are not all “yes” people, and they’re not all “no” people, they are a mix of both. For me it was a principal I worked with. What made Carol Hall special is that she had the ability to form meaningful relationships with teachers, students, parents, and the community. Carol had a vision, set the example, was clear with her expectations, saw the true nature in people, and was not afraid to be vulnerable and courageous. Carol not only taught me how to navigate my teaching career, by helping me make the right moves, but always reinforced that it is “always about relationships,” and that is what a good leader does. On one of my adventures with Carol in India, we both learned the power of giving someone the most powerful tool they have in creating change, their voice. It took me many years to find mine, but I will forever be grateful to her.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

  1. Disheartenment. Diet culture, fads, and trends. The culture of “programs,” lose 30 lbs in 30 days” and the culture of “shedding for the wedding,” “biggest loser,” and all other messages that we are inundated with regarding “thin is always in.” The insidious messages that are bodies are broken and we need to fix them. Or that they are “projects” that we need to keep a constant eye on. Goals have become deadlines. Exercise has become a means to an end. Rather than seeing movement as natural and enjoyable, we have associated it with calorie burns, plateau breakers, routines, etc. We have lost touch with our inherit nature and beauty; that our bodies know when we need to eat, move, and rest. Many of us are locked in a cycle of regiments, even though we know that we can’t sustain it. We get disheartened, and then fall back to old destructive habits, out of shame or feeling like we have lost the game, once again. Solution? Listen to your body. If there is one relationship we need to rebuilt, is the one we have with ourselves. They have been through a lot and we need to regain our own trust.

Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)

Experiencing wellbeing is not directly correlated to how many hours we spend in the gym or the calories we intake. Weight loss and physical fitness is also an emotional and spiritual journey. We can’t separate the two. Wellbeing is holistic and we will discover that our obstacles to being where we want to be, physically, are connected to other areas of our life. Our bodies are a reflection of what is happening to our minds and souls.

  1. Find the difference between your purpose and your passion. Purpose is to help others grow. Passion is to help yourself grow. When we are not living our lives in alignment, with either one, purpose or passion, we will experience imbalance that will manifest in emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical drawbacks. For example, if you are working a job that is serving others, but not necessarily allowing you to pursue your passion, make an effort to either look at your work as a way to fund your next career move, or find a side gig that will fuel your passion. This type of thinking will empower you to make a change, or lift your spirits, because you now have an outlet, or a platform, or an inspiration to express who you are.

As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?

I learned this the hard way. I always used exercise for weight loss. This belief is quite damaging as we can get into patterns of chronic exercise. This makes us prone to injury, as we tend to go full force into our new regiment, eating plans, 3 week programs, etc. We not only run out of steam before the 3 weeks are up, we tend to only associate moving our bodies with burning calories, rather than the mental benefits that come along with everyday movement. When we feel discouraged with our new plan for transforming our bodies, we throw the baby out with the bath water. These are the benefits of daily exercise:

  1. It moves your emotions. New Age, or “New Cage,” as Jeff Brown has coined the term, has placed emphasis on stillness and medication. Although there are benefits to meditating and stillness, we tend to use it as a means to bypass what we feel. If you’re like me, certain yoga poses, or meditations, can trigger emotions. Sometimes, we need to be still or practice yoga, but sometimes we need to move our stuff. We need to work out our wiggles, like a student of mine says. When we get up for a dance, walk, stretch, house work, we notice that our energy has changed. That is what our goal needs to be. To use movement to manage emotions. Become aware of what arises. Our bodies store memories and trauma, particularly in the lower back and hips. This negative energy can have an impact on our wellbeing. We also need to let these emotions rise to the surface, not bypass them. Begin with movement that feels natural to you, whether that is walking, swimming, running, or dancing. As long as it helps you connect to your body and helps you heal, you will begin to see the mental benefits that will support other areas of your life.

For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?

  1. Walk it out. Take a soul walk. Smell something. Touch something. Make eye contact with someone. Say hello. Pet a Dog. Sit on a bench. Avoid music or podcasts for a first half. Listen to your thoughts. Feel your body. Notice your pace. It’s not a race.

In my experience, many people begin an exercise regimen but stop because they get too sore afterwards. What ideas would you recommend to someone who plays sports or does heavy exercise to shorten the recovery time, and to prevent short term or long term injury?

Individuals who have a strict work out regiment know how to answer this question. They know what days are dedicated to certain workouts. They spend a lot of time studying their plans. They have trainers that help them reach their fullest potential, and they monitor for injury. The issue is, when individuals get into chronic exercise patterns, they tend to think that “more is more.” The problem with this thinking is that we go full force, we don’t scaffold our plans, because we want fast results, we get sore, or worse off, injured, and then we take a break, or quit all together. Then we start again when we feel like we need to “get into shape” for a special occasion, or summer time. My advice is:

  1. Baby steps. 15–20 minutes spurts are the best way to improve your movement and reap the benefits of in increased heartrate, if you are to implement a morning and mid afternoon routine.

There are so many different diets today. Can you share what kind of diet you follow? Which diet do you recommend to most of your clients?

For someone who has struggled with eating disorders and extreme dieting for most of my life, I would strongly suggest avoiding trends and fads. Some of these trends can lead to orthorexia and disordered eating. These require you to eliminate foods from your diet, that aren’t necessarily harmful to all of us, like gluten, or limited in fruits and vegetables. Unless you have been diagnosed with an intolerance, eliminating food groups as a lifestyle might lead to other issues.

One thing I avoid is alcohol. Mostly because I don’t like the effect it has on my mental state, mood, and energy levels. I give myself permission to eat whatever I want during the day, as long as I eat fruits and vegetables after 6 pm. This has helped me get more plant based foods in my day, and I look forward to snacking on something cool and refreshing before bed. This is a strategy that has helped me overcome many eating triggers.

Food restrictions, or magical eating as coined by Jenna Hollenstein, can trigger cravings and binge eating because they are so restrictive. If we make agreements with ourselves, that we can maintain, we are more likely to stick with them. We need to keep it simple and intuitive.

If you are embarking on a 3 or 12 week “diet” be prepared to regain the weight you have lost, and then some, because this way of living is not sustainable. If you give permission to eat what you love, you’ll soon come to realize that you are paying attention to your body, and what it needs to feel nourished and nurtured in a compassionate way.

My advice to everyone who is struggling with chronic dieting is: give yourself some time to find your own intuitive ways of eating. What foods are you struggling to incorporate in your day? Can you find creative ways of sneaking in some of those healthy options? Give yourself permission to eat your favorite foods, daily, and avoid cheat days. This is a lifestyle approach, not an exam. It will take some time, but you will find your own way of compassionate eating, not dieting.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

Eat to Love by Jenna Hollenstein. This book will not help you lose weight, nor get fit, but it will transform the relationship you have with your body, food, and exercise. Hollenstein unpacks magical eating, diet culture, body image, and its connections to history, power, politics, and the economy. It is a journey one needs to be ready to take. It discusses the body-spirit divide, and how we have come to realize our bodies as experiments and separate from ourselves. I realized, after reading this book, that even the way I would talk about my body was as if I was talking about someone else. Working with teens, I am surrounded by a demographic that is living through a very crucial phase in their lives. Confidence, self-esteem, and body-image are the top 3 concerns for teens. Most eating disorders develop during adolescence, as did mine. Although schools do an amazing job teaching students about daily physical activity, proper nutrition, health, etc., it does not eliminate the way teens scrutinize their bodies and compare themselves to their friends, or prevalent images on social media. Having conversations about the impact that diet culture, chronic exercise, and the power this industry holds is very eye opening for teens and adults. This book does not promote unhealthy living, it promotes wellness, balance, mindfulness, and acceptance.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Make healthy self-esteem an epidemic. Teenagers are our most valuable asset. Make self-esteem, wellness, mindfulness, mental health, positive body image, and positive self-concept part of the curriculum. Teens have so much insight and so many questions. Adults recognize the importance of these concepts in our lives, mostly because we have suffered from the lack of them. If we were to make these concepts part of mandatory education, we would be raising awareness on resilience and mental health; fundamental aspects of our wellbeing. My movement is to make this a course in school taught by educators, social workers, or coaches, who value relationships and having difficult conversations. A movement where “leadership” is not a career, but a life skill, where educators, and those involved with youth, are committed to empowering young individuals by bringing to the surface the obstacles and mental roadblocks that hold us back from becoming and valuing who we are.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“You can’t hate yourself into a version of yourself you can love” –Lori Deschene

My little sister, Sia, told me this during one of my countless rants about my body, my weight loss struggles, weight gain struggles, frustrations, and confusions about how to handle my countless diets, as if my body was some broken tool that needed to be fixed. I know I am not alone when I speak of how diet culture has instilled in men and women that we need to ‘manage’ our bodies. That if we don’t follow a regiment, we will lose control. We will let ourselves go. We will be undesirable, loveless, and alone. I know I am not alone when I speak of how we have little faith in our bodies knowing what is best of us to be healthy, balanced, and well nurtured. How did I get to the point where my self-worth was attached to my lbs rather than my accomplishments, education, thousands of people I taught and had an impact on? So, I promised myself that I will never “diet” again. The war is over. At 41, I decided that I will practice kindness towards my body, trust what it needs, whenever it needs it. I am not as thin as I used to be when I lived on 500 to 1000 calories a day, but besides that, I am more forgiving, more aware, and more compassionate with my self and others. The best part, I am becoming more and more aware of others feeling the same. I now realize I am not alone. I am not ashamed. I am what I am. If we don’t attend to the deeper issues we have about our bodies, and how cultural standards have shaped how we need to look in order to be accepted, we will be caught in a stop and go cycle for our entire lives. Once this relationship is mended, we will appreciate an active lifestyle, way of eating, and a healthy relationship with ourselves.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

Brene Brown. I, like many of her followers, feel like she knows me so well. We never met, but I would love to have a conversation with someone who is not only highly aware of our human nature, gender norms, cultural standards, but someone who has gone through the same struggles as many of us have in order to “belong.” I admire what she offers to the world in regards to speaking with courage and vulnerability. Her insights into shame and secrecy have been so eye opening for my growth, even the ability to talk about my relationship with my body, how it has impacted my relationships with others, how it is so deeply rooted to a sense of self-worth, shame, self-armour, etc. I would love to ask about her spirituality and how she has learned to love herself. Also, I would love to learn how we can help teens and young adults, early in life, in schools, by coaching, or in workshops, on self-esteem, shame, and self-worth. Unless self-esteem becomes an epidemic, the world is in trouble.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Visit Teenacers at www.teenacers.com to learn more about coaching teens, subscribe to our newsletter, and read the blog section for teachers, teens, and parents. Like us on Facebook at Teenacers, and join our group page: “Teenacers A group of teachers, artists, and wellness coaches helping teens,” for resources. You can also follow us at teen.acers on Instagram and Teenacers on YouTube for more video tips on how to support teens. You can contact me directly at coach@teenacers.com

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

Authority Magazine

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Pop Culture, Business, Tech, Wellness, & Social Impact

Authority Magazine

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Dr. William Seeds

Written by

Board-certified orthopedic surgeon and physician, with over 22 years of experience, specializing in all aspects of sports medicine and total joint treatments

Authority Magazine

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.