Michelle Hastie Thompson of The Om Institute On The 5 Things You Need To Do To Achieve a Healthy Body Weight, And Keep It Permanently
Enjoy the heck out of food. This step is both fun and terrifying. If you’ve been dieting, it will feel very scary and counterproductive to enjoy food. The easiest thing to do here is write down how you would love to eat if you didn’t want to lose weight. It’s usually the way people describe maintenance. It’s typically very balanced without restrictions or weird food rules. This is how you will want to eat to lose weight keeping in mind that in the beginning, as you come out of deprivation, you will be overindulging in the things you are most deprived of. It can feel out of control, and it’s imperative that you stay mindful, calm, and trusting that it’s all part of the process.
So many of us have tried dieting. All too often, though, many of us lose 10–20 pounds, but we end up gaining it back. Not only is yo-yo dieting unhealthy, but it is also demoralizing and makes us feel like giving up. What exactly do we have to do to achieve healthy body weight and to stick with it forever?
In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Do To Achieve A Healthy Body Weight And Keep It Permanently” we are interviewing health and wellness professionals who can share lessons from their research and experience about how to do this.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Hastie Thompson.
After entering the fitness industry, Michelle noticed that clients were more obsessed and less connected to their bodies with each calorie counted. Inspired and confused, Michelle began her journey to figure out why she and so many clients struggled with weight and food. Through extensive education and experience, Michelle has been living her life free of weight concerns for over ten years and has been helping other women do the same.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in Los Angeles in a small home with five people and one bathroom. I never did well in sports and idolized athletic people, which plays into my adult issues with food and weight. I started musical theatre when I was seven and swore I would be an actress and singer one day. Unfortunately, through adolescence, I became painfully insecure and shy and wanted nothing more than to fade into the background, which single-handedly ended my musical theatre hobby. It became my adult work to find my way back to my true self, a bold little performer with big dreams and a desire to be seen.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
My career happened accidentally. I was in undergrad to be an elementary school teacher. I applied to work at the gym because I wanted a free gym membership and figured I could handle working in the kids center. I ended up getting hired as a personal trainer due to my “people skills.” As a non-athlete pretending she was confident, it was a big stretch, but I followed the opportunity despite my fear. When I started working with clients, I figured I should practice what I preached and began counting calories myself. I was thin, but I didn’t look like a trainer. I thought I should make it a priority to look the part if I didn’t believe I was the part — clearly an unhealthy step in a seemingly healthy direction. I rapidly began gaining weight and started have issues with food and exercise — binge eating, emotional eating, sugar addiction, exercise bulimia, you name it. At my heaviest, I was in a horrible car accident and couldn’t move for about a month. And in that month, I lost 10 pounds and dropped around 5% body fat. It became my mission to figure out this weight mystery and help other women permanently exit the insane world of dieting. I was able to release all my weight, fall in love with food again, and truly enjoy freedom in my body.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
On my quest to figure out how the heck I lost weight doing nothing and gained weight following all the rules, I stumbled across Marc David. He was teaching an online course for Food Psychology. I had never heard the term before and quickly purchased his program. This program completely changed my entire outlook on food and weight. It answered every question in my mind about why my body did what it did and set the tone to live a life of freedom around weight and food.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
After I lost 10 pounds on the couch doing absolutely nothing, I started obsessing over how I would lose the rest of the weight. It was as if I learned absolutely nothing. I continued to ask my doctors how soon I could start working out again because I was eager to get out there and lose the weight. Even though I lost the weight on the couch, unable to move, it’s as if my brain went right back to what I did before (even though it never worked). I had a moment where I stopped and realized it was crazy. I tried doing it the way everyone says, and I just gained weight. I did the opposite, and I lost weight. The lesson was that I didn’t need to “work” for it; I needed to allow it. I needed to obey my body’s wishes, and then it would be able to do what it needs to do. It’s a lesson I turn back to over and over again in many areas of my life.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
When everything feels challenging and full of effort, you are going in the wrong direction. I continuously receive this lesson over and over again. I will receive things easily and realize that I didn’t have to hustle and grind to have what I wanted. And I will still find myself wanting to force something to happen. In those moments, I remind myself that there is an easier way; I have to allow and receive. It guides my action more intuitively and calmly and allows the action I take to pay off with a much higher reward.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
The most exciting project is one I never thought I would have in a million years. It’s a female-driven cornhole business. The opportunity fell into my lap a few months ago, and I’ve been co-hosting a podcast called Girls Throw Too. It started as just a fun way to talk about one of my hobbies, and in just a couple of months, the American Cornhole League approached us and asked us to be a part of their team. Nothing about this business has felt like effort. It’s a lot of work, but it’s all in a place of ease. People come to us and offer opportunities. Our team came to us organically with the skills we need to thrive. Everything is happening quickly and fulfilling many of my childhood dreams in ways I would never have expected. It reminds me to stay loose with our goals. Allow your goals to be heard and interpreted in ways you may have never imagined. I would never have written down a dream of being a cornhole personality, and yet, here I am, just a few months in, with that same reality.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field?
To start, my education in this field is vast. I was a personal trainer for many years and a yoga teacher. I did training in Neuro-linguistic programming to understand the relationship between the body and the mind. I did my training in Food Psychology with Marc David and then my Master’s in Human Behavior. Now I am in my dissertation for my Ph.D. in Psychology. Secondly, my experience is vast. I was a binge eater, a dieter, and an over-exerciser. I came out the other side with the exact methods I teach. I have been helping women do the same since 2009.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about achieving a healthy body weight. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. How do you define a “Healthy Body Weight”?
A healthy body weight is a body that feels the best to you once you cast aside societal pressures and norms. It’s the weight that allows you to thrive in life without having to effort. It’s achieved easily and naturally and will enable you to live your life without having to micro-manage or manipulate.
How can an individual learn what is a healthy body weight for them? How can we discern what is “too overweight” or what is “too underweight”?
A starting question could be, “if there were nobody else on the planet to see my current body or witness my body get smaller, would I still want to change it? If the answer is yes, I would follow it up with, “why do I feel this body needs to change?”
If the answers are about other people, receiving more approval, love, appeasing another person, or really comes from anyone other than you and your own intuition, I would suggest doing some more digging.
The only time I recommend even beginning a journey of weight loss is if it came from an intuitive and connected place. Even then, I suggest making it a secondary goal and having the first goal be to have a healthy relationship with food and exercise. From there, we see how the body responds and see if we need to do anything else.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to expressly articulate this. Can you please share a few reasons why being over your healthy body weight or under your healthy body weight can be harmful to your health?
Assuming the person is genuinely over or under and not coming from an external source, it could be unhealthy because we all have the right to live our most fulfilling lives. If the body we are in is TRULY not our ideal, healthy body, then we owe it to ourselves to go on a journey with food, exercise, and weight and move towards our most fulfilling lives. The journey may or may not change the body physically, but it was always necessary to live our best lives. We all deserve to enjoy food, exercise, and our bodies regardless of what happens physically.
In contrast, can you help articulate a few examples of how a person who achieves and maintains a healthy body weight will feel better and perform better in many areas of life?
It’s not really about achieving and maintaining a healthy weight as much as it is about living in freedom and connection to our bodies, food, and exercise. Often our weight is the catalyst to begin this journey. If we allowed the journey to explore these topics and want to be in an ideal place with them, the rest would unfold naturally without much effort.
Ok, fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Do To Achieve a Healthy Body Weight And Keep It Permanently?”. If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
- Uncover your motivations for losing weight. Our weight desires must come from a healthy place. My desire to lose weight came from my childhood wound of feeling inferior to my peers, especially athletes. I was desperate to fit in and look the part. This is not a healthy place to make healthy changes. Healthy changes can quickly become unhealthy if they come from wounded places like needing to fit in, receive more social approval, make others in our lives happy, or anything external. We want to find intrinsic motivators that are really about us and not about others. Only from this place can we make genuinely healthy decisions for our bodies.
- Enjoy the heck out of food. This step is both fun and terrifying. If you’ve been dieting, it will feel very scary and counterproductive to enjoy food. The easiest thing to do here is write down how you would love to eat if you didn’t want to lose weight. It’s usually the way people describe maintenance. It’s typically very balanced without restrictions or weird food rules. This is how you will want to eat to lose weight keeping in mind that in the beginning, as you come out of deprivation, you will be overindulging in the things you are most deprived of. It can feel out of control, and it’s imperative that you stay mindful, calm, and trusting that it’s all part of the process.
- Find your imbalances and needs. Most people search externally for a diet or exercise program to guide them to their weight loss. This is the worst way to lose weight. If someone truly has excess weight, the body will tell you exactly what it needs to feel balanced. However, the only way to hear it is to shut out all the external noise, including other experts that feel they know what is best for you. Your body will tell you if it needs rest, movement, fun, creativity, connection, or anything in between. It will tell you if it’s had too many carbs, too much sugar, or not enough pleasurable foods. Your body can guide you through the entire process; we just have to allow it to and obey its wishes even when they don’t make sense to us.
- Define your ideal life on your terms. As you begin to shed the layers of who you aren’t, you can start to discover who you are. Weight loss can be physical pounds lost, but often it begins as a process of shedding all the parts of you that have been edited. You’ve now come to the real reason you want to lose weight just for yourself, started enjoying food and eliminating all the crazy rules, and started to listen to your own body’s needs. So now is the time to allow your ideal life to unfold. Dream big and imagine what you want as if you had no limitations. You don’t have to do anything drastic here except let it all be heard. If you feel guided to take some action to support those dreams, do it! And if not, trust that it will all unfold in divine timing.
- Live your life without apology. We are taught to edit ourselves to make others around us more comfortable. It’s a social survival technique that will ensure you are liked by as many people as possible and disliked by as few as possible. It’s a challenging way to live and requires great sacrifice of your true self to accomplish it. Part of asking for your ideal body is having the courage to live your ideal life. So this is your excuse to live it without apology.
The emphasis of this series is how to maintain an ideal weight for the long term, and how to avoid yo-yo dieting. Specifically, how does a person who loses weight maintain that permanently and sustainably?
The only way to effortlessly maintain our weight is to lose it effortlessly. This starts with believing it’s possible and then getting clear about how we would love to lose weight if there were no rules. Imagine we knew nothing about weight loss and woke up one day and said, I’d like to start living my ideal life today! Part of that might include a different way of eating or moving; it might not. This is the best way to move in the direction of what we want, including our ideal body.
What are a few of the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to lose weight? What errors cause people to just snap back to their old unhealthy selves? What can they do to avoid those mistakes?
The most common mistake I see people make is searching externally for solutions to their weight. The answers outside of you can inspire you, but they should never dictate what you do. Every piece of health advice should be considered, tested, and checked by your intuition. If it feels like something you’d love to do the rest of your life and would feel effortless to maintain, it’s worth a shot to try it. If not, let it go and allow it to be someone else’s. How someone else loses weight says very little about what would work best for you. Furthermore, you have no idea if that person can maintain their weight loss. If not, is it worth the temporary discomfort it will relieve?
We have to release the desperate need to eliminate the discomfort we are feeling in this current body. Let it motivate and inspire you, but not rule you. If we go to extreme measures to try and remove the discomfort through extreme diets, we not only create an unsustainable lighter body, we damage our belief that we are capable of true long-term success. We blame ourselves for gaining it back, and we beat ourselves up for wanting to live our ideal lives despite the lighter body.
Sitting in the discomfort allows us to process what’s happening and allows our body and intuition to guide us to our next steps. If we all slowed down and let the process unfold, we’d find everything we are looking for and more.
How do we take all this information and integrate it into our actual lives? The truth is that we all know that it’s essential to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it isn’t easy to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion, what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know and integrating it into our lives?
The reason it’s hard to implement is that we are attempting to use behavior change therapy. We think if we force habit changes, they will become our new habits. This rarely ever works. We have to allow our action steps to come forth organically, so it’s easy to follow. We have to ask more questions instead of dictating solutions. We have to breathe more and act less.
On the flip side, how can we prevent these ideas from just being trapped in a rarified, theoretical ideal that never gets put into practice? What specific habits can we develop to take these intellectual ideas and integrate them into our routine?
The best step you can take is powerful presence and mindfulness. Practice things like yoga, meditation, or journaling to help you slow down and allow solutions to present themselves. When you hear about a new habit change, could you write it down instead of acting on it? Take a few breathes and check how that habit change would feel to use for the rest of your life. Trust that if it doesn’t feel good, a better one will show up.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would love nothing more than then to see radical connection. Connection to others, connection to our bodies, connection to food and exercise, a whole lot more connection. Everything about dieting requires disconnection from our bodies, food, and exercise. You have to ignore body signals, ignore cravings and food desires, ignore movement requirements. We need to connect to ourselves and the people who accept us in life without editing 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 the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)
The person that has influenced my life, Marc David. He is a blessing to all of us.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!