Detox your social media feed. That means unfollow social media accounts that make you feel badly about yourself or make you feel like you aren’t doing enough. Trust me, I get it. I used to follow all the fitspiration accounts and the healthy lifestyle accounts, hoping that their “perfect” workout routines, “perfect” diets, and “perfect” bodies would somehow rub off on me. In reality, all it did was create stress in my body and reinforce the comparison thoughts in my head until I was too frozen to enjoy my life or love myself. Unfollowing these accounts has radically changed my life. Now my feed only consists of activists, fat babes living their best lives, intuitive eating / Health at Every Size accounts, and astrology meme pages.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Whitney Catalano, RDN. Whitney is the founder of Trust Your Body Project, a coaching business, podcast, and social media movement created to help you heal your relationship with food, make peace with your body, and take the power back from your inner bully.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
My story with dieting unfortunately begins like so many stories. When I hit puberty, I became acutely aware that my body didn’t look like my friends’ bodies. I remember sitting in the car with my mom one day after school and telling her I wanted to lose weight. She looked at me and said, “Oh honey, your dad and I have been waiting for you to come to us about this. We’ll go to Jenny Craig tomorrow”. This was the first time that my belief was confirmed — my body was a problem.
Of course that first diet worked, it always does! I lost the weight, stopped going to Jenny Craig, and then looked up one day and realized I had gained it all back. After a couple failed attempts with Weight Watchers and various internet diets, I finally decided to “get healthy”, desperate to lose the weight again (after gaining and losing and gaining again) before my senior year of high school. In retrospect, my version of health at that time was the beginning of my disorder, consisting of meal replacements, salads without dressing, and hoarding diet books I never actually read.
This relationship with “health” worsened throughout college with calorie counting apps, punishing workouts, increasingly rigid food restrictions, emotional breakdowns in front of the mirror, empty promises to “change my life tomorrow”, and shameful late-night binges. Up late one night wired from diet pills, I was panicking about my future when I discovered my school had a nutrition program. In that moment, I decided to abandon my dreams of becoming a therapist, convinced that being a Registered Dietitian would help me “fix” my relationship with food. I remember thinking, if I can just learn everything there is to know about food, I’ll finally get control back.
It wasn’t until I sat for my RD exams at 23 after losing my dad when I was faced with that fateful question: what do I really want to do with my career? Losing my dad put a lot into perspective for me, and I realized that dedicating all of my mental space and emotional energy to losing weight was pretty… pointless. From there, I fell down a rabbit hole of intuitive eating, Health at Every Size (HAES), and fat activism. I realized that my years of dieting served a higher purpose — I wanted to help people get their lives back from yo-yo dieting.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
It’s so hard to pick one instance from my career that is interesting because every day feels like a new adventure. It has been really interesting to see how everything lines up when you start saying yes and taking risks. Earlier this year I joined a 6-month mastermind program, and another girl in the program reached out to me to see if I wanted to go to a conference with her for free. I figured why not, and ended up at this weekend event put on by Jeff Walker, the guy who basically invented online product launches. I realized instantly that this guy has taught some of the biggest business coaches in the industry right now, so I ended up joining his business coaching program as well. The whole experience was an opportunity to re-imagine the trajectory of my business, just because I said yes to something uncomfortable. This is one of many little moments that felt almost too aligned to be coincidence, which has taught me to be really open to new opportunities and detached from the outcomes I expect from situations.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I don’t know if this is necessarily a mistake, but it was definitely a misunderstanding. When I first started my business, I approached it the same way I approached school. I overworked myself as a way of compensating for my insecurities. I felt constantly stressed and overwhelmed, and I doubted my abilities to help people and my value as a coach. I invested in a few strategy programs and coaches, but nothing worked because at the root of it all, I didn’t really believe in myself. I finally invested in a mindset coach who helped me work through so many of my limiting beliefs, which changed everything for me. I learned that people respond to the energy and vibration you’re putting into your work. If you don’t believe in what you can do or value your services, nobody else will either. Believing in yourself is a daily practice because with every level of growth comes a new box of negative self-talk, so my goal is to have more good days than bad.
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?
There are many people and coaches I could thank, but I have to take this moment to thank my mom instead. I was living with her for the first year and a half of starting my business. Being in my early 20’s trying to figure out how to run a business while also feeling a lot like a kid was very challenging, and I know it wasn’t easy for my mom either. Our relationship wasn’t great when I was growing up, and it has taken a lot of conscious work for me to shed my teen angst and build a healthy, adult relationship with her. She has seen me in my darkest moments of building a business, as well as in my highest moments, and she’s been as supportive as she possibly can be considering she’s never run a business herself. I think for a while she wasn’t really sure if this would work out for me, but she always stayed positive and optimistic. When I finally had the money to move out on my own, I could tell she was really proud of me, which made the success feel that much more real. Without her, I financially wouldn’t have been able to mess up as much as I did and take as long as I took to learn and grow. I feel very privileged and grateful to have my mom behind me.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
I love my work because it’s a rejection of the current “health and wellness” culture. I genuinely believe that health coaches and nutritionists mean well (for the most part), but that doesn’t mean that the industry itself is actually helping people in the way that it should be. Our entire diet and health industry is rooted in five core beliefs: 1. it’s unhealthy and bad to gain weight or be fat, 2. weight loss is always healthy, 3. anyone can lose weight if they try hard enough, 4. everyone should be trying to lose weight (and if you aren’t trying to lose weight, it means you don’t care about your health), and 5. health is within your control.
The thing they don’t tell you is that, according to the evidence, none of this is true. We have very clear evidence showing that most people who attempt to lose weight will regain the weight lost within 2–5 years of starting the diet, even when they continue the dieting behaviors (Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council). This helps us understand why one diet usually leads to years of cycling on-and-off diets. The problem is that anyone who has cycled through diets will tell you that their “failure” to lose weight is all their fault, when in reality it’s just human physiology. There’s no question that yo-yo dieting and weight cycling are far worse for health than just maintaining your weight, but now we have a growing body of research showing that the experience of weight stigma is likely worse for health than actually just being fat (Tylka, et al 2014). Weight stigma is experienced every time you go to a doctor’s office and are told to lose weight instead of given actual treatment options, or every time your parents and friends tell you they’re “concerned for your health” when they really mean weight. With all this evidence that dieting doesn’t work, that dieting comes with dangerous health risks, and weight stigma is extremely harmful for peoples health, the fact that our medical system continues to recommend and push weight loss as the answer to health is not only unethical and negligent, but it’s also extremely harmful.
When I talk about health, what I’m really talking about is changing an entire culture so that we stop shaming people for their bodies and blaming people for not being able to lose weight. I’m advocating for our medical system to confront the internalized biases that are literally killing people so we can start empowering people of all body sizes to pursue health without shame, guilt, and stigma. To many, this approach to health care can seem hopeless. You may be thinking, if I can’t lose weight, what can I do? The beauty of a weight-neutral approach to health care is that the options for improving your health are limitless when you stop focusing on weight loss (and feeling defeated when it inevitably doesn’t work). This approach to health care (referred to as Health at Every Size) has been shown to significantly improve health outcomes in all areas, including diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol, without the health risks, poor self-esteem, and failure rates of dieting (Tylka, et al 2014). If you’re concerned for your health, the best thing you can do is focus on self-compassion, self-love, emotional healing, and healthy lifestyle changes (regardless of whether or not these lifestyle changes lead to weight loss). Not only will this improve your health and overall wellbeing, but it will help push the culture towards being more accepting and inclusive of all body sizes. Resistance to the diet culture paradigm has to start at the individual level.
Can you share your top five“lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Get more sleep. This is one of the best things you can do for your health, especially in our work-obsessed culture. It’s almost radical to not be tired all the time, and it’s even more radical to not be “so busy”. If you can start going to bed even 30 mins earlier for a short period of time, you can build a new sleep schedule from there.
- Drink enough water. I carry around a 24-ounce Contigo water bottle pretty much everywhere I go. I drink 3–4 full bottles a day and have gotten to the point where I immediately feel the effects when I don’t drink enough. Everyone is so obsessed with bloating and cutting out foods, meanwhile we’re overworked and running around dehydrated and stressed. Start with water! I promise it’s not more complicated than that.
- Detox your social media feed. That means unfollow social media accounts that make you feel badly about yourself or make you feel like you aren’t doing enough. Trust me, I get it. I used to follow all the fitspiration accounts and the healthy lifestyle accounts, hoping that their “perfect” workout routines, “perfect” diets, and “perfect” bodies would somehow rub off on me. In reality, all it did was create stress in my body and reinforce the comparison thoughts in my head until I was too frozen to enjoy my life or love myself. Unfollowing these accounts has radically changed my life. Now my feed only consists of activists, fat babes living their best lives, intuitive eating / Health at Every Size accounts, and astrology meme pages.
- Stop forcing yourself to do things you don’t like to do, including exercise. Sure there are days when we don’t exactly feel inspired to make it to a workout, and yet you do it anyway because you know it will make you feel better. That’s not what I’m talking about. When I say this, I mean stop trying to be that fitness person who loves running if you really hate running. Stop trying to drink juices if you hate juices. Stop being friends with people who you don’t even like to be around. Stop making plans to go hiking if you would never be caught dead hiking by yourself. Stop pretending to read books you’ll never actually read. Just pull a full stop on all the things you think you “should” do if you don’t really want to do them. When you clear your mind and your life of trying to force yourself to be someone you’re not, you create room to figure out what you DO like to do.
- Stop making decisions for your health, body, relationships, and life from a place of panic and stress. I know, I know, this is probably next to impossible for all of you who are in a chronic state of panic and stress. If you’re anything like I used to be, you’ve probably bought countless diet books, workout plans, and self-help books in the middle of the night when you’re panicking about how you can’t possibly live another day in your body without changing something. But here’s the thing — making snap decisions to “change your life” is just a bandaid for the panic. These decisions often bring you closer to the very thing you’re afraid of happening, and they usually are not in alignment with your true values. It’s okay to panic about your body or panic about some habit you’re trying to quit… AND let the panic be there without trying to solve it in 2 seconds. Those fear-driven changes never last and they just make you feel worse about yourself. Come to the mantra, “I’m not going to make any decisions while panicking” and wait until you’ve calmed down to re-assess.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I wouldn’t be starting this movement because it’s been around long before me but I wish fat activism was more mainstream. Here’s why: we have plenty of research demonstrating the harmful effects of weight stigma on health. Given the fact that we have no evidence to support the use of diets for long-term weight loss and that you’re more likely to improve your health by focusing on a healthy lifestyle, regardless of weight change, we need to stop focusing so much on weight loss as the key to health. There’s literally no evidence for it and it actually causes more harm than good. We have a medical system and a cultural climate that are violent to people of size. If you are in a bigger body and dare to just exist on the internet, you’re subjecting yourself to endless bullying and harassment by people who claim to “care about your health”. Because our medicine chooses to ignore weight stigma research and push harmful rhetoric around body sizes, people use “health” as a justification for bullying and hate. In reality, health problems that are associated with body size likely have a lot more to do with the stress of marginalization, financial insecurity, food access, and genetics. That’s why it’s so unbelievably important to reduce stress and personal blame as much as possible. By changing the attitudes and stigmas that people hold around body size, we can allow people to live in peace with their bodies and focus on the things that make them feel healthiest within their circumstances.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- You’ll never learn until you start. I spent a lot of time when I first started in analysis paralysis because I thought I had to get things perfect and have everything figured out. Now I have learned that nothing will ever be perfect, so just keep moving forward and evolving. Plus, when you’re first starting out, nobody is really paying attention on a scale that matters, so you can mess up a thousand times and nobody will remember.
- You get to decide how your life looks. I felt a lot of guilt for a long time about how I ran my business because I was still trying to have a life that looked “socially-acceptable”, which mostly meant hiding and not making too much noise or taking too much time off to enjoy my life. It’s scary to run a business and have the power to decide how my life looks because it means I’m responsible for my happiness. I’m still figuring out how to have my business serve my lifestyle instead of the other way around, but it’s been a fun process figuring out what makes me happy and learning how to allow myself to be happy, even if it looks weird to other people.
- If you don’t have a boss, you have to give yourself vacations. This is something I’m also still learning how to do because for a while I just… didn’t give myself vacations. For me, it started with taking weekends off and taking “vacations” where I would only work a couple days and have fun the rest of the time, which I thought was enough. After a huge emotional burnout this year, I’ve made a commitment to myself to plan quarterly vacations where I genuinely don’t work.
- Niche down, raise your rates, plan on hiring multiple business coaches, and release attachment to outcomes. The irony with this tip is that people DID tell me these things, but ultimately I had to learn this on my own. The first time I invested in a high-ticket coach when I had very little money left, I was terrified. I went into the program thinking that this HAD to work, and guess what? It didn’t. But what it did do was give me the confidence to keep hiring coaches and the insight to know exactly what was getting in the way of success. I could have given up and refused to invest anymore money in coaches after this one didn’t go as planned, but I chose to see this as a learning opportunity. Even though I didn’t have the crazy, successful business that this coach promised, I learned a lot and used what I learned to keep growing and evolving. As a business owner, you have to adopt this mentality because you will fail more times than you succeed.
- Embrace the fact that this is a rollercoaster. Everyone has their ups and downs, but business owners take that to the next level. Choosing to run a business is choosing to question yourself, doubt yourself, feel uncomfortably vulnerable, and go through unbelievable growth in a short amount of time so that as soon as you get to a comfortable point, you get to do it all over again. Try not to add shame and guilt on top of all of this. Learn to ride the waves and make the mental and emotional turmoil part of your journey.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
I am absolutely more passionate about mental health than anything else. I am a big believer in family of origin patterns, which means we learn how to cope, talk to ourselves, and relate to other people at a young age in response to the emotional trauma inflicted by the adults in our lives. Even those of us who grew up with incredible and loving parents likely experienced emotional trauma because our parents related to us through the lens of trauma from their parents. When I say emotional trauma, I don’t mean trauma with a capital T (like abuse, assault, abandonment, etc.). Emotional trauma is defined in the research as chronic disruption of connectedness. We all experience this at some point or another and we learn to cope with it in ways that no longer serve us as adults. This often means that instead of living in alignment with our values, we live in response to fear, uncertainty, deprivation, restriction, and anxiety. By healing these emotional traumas, we can all contribute to the world in a way that feels most aligned with our values, whether that’s through sustainability, veganism, environmentalism, health, or helping others with mental health. By focusing on mental health, we can empower ourselves and the people around us to positively impact the world.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
I’m the most active on Instagram (@TrustYourBodyProject), Twitter (@WhitneyCatalano), and on my podcast, Trust Your Body Project. You can also learn more about me at my website: WhitneyCatalano.com.
Thank you for these fantastic insights!