Stop treating your health like an inconvenience. My clients often start out by saying they “don’t have time” to eat well and exercise and that it needs to be “convenient.” But if you lose your health it will steal your time. It is amazing what a huge difference it makes when we tweak their thought process to believing their health is important enough to be a priority. Unfortunately, too many of us wait until we are sick to start seriously thinking about how we treat our health.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Robyn Odegaard, co-founder of The Whole Food Muscle Club and co-author of “How to Feed a Human: The Whole Food Muscle Way.” Dr. Robyn is a former competitive beach volleyball player who has spent her career using goal-achievement psychology to motivate, inspire and focus her clients on achieving success. She holds a certificate from the Center for Nutrition Studies at Cornell University.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Robyn! What is your “backstory”?
After I turned forty, I felt like my body started to betray me. I had always eaten what I thought was pretty well and I exercised regularly. But I was gaining weight and my cholesterol was going up. When I asked my doctor what I was doing wrong, she responded that I just needed to accept these changes as normal with age and suggested I see a psychologist to address my “body dysmorphic disorder.” (I am more qualified to diagnose that disorder than she is.)
I KNEW that couldn’t be right. The human body is not designed to be fat and sick as we age. I put the research skills I’d learned in college back to work to figure out what was happening and how to fix it. I read, listened to, watched and attended anything and everything I could find about the science of health, nutrition, exercise and how psychology applied to all of it.
My studying culminated in a certificate from The Center for Nutrition Studies at Cornell University. And more importantly, I learned how to easily shed my twenty extra pounds and drop my cholesterol back into the healthy range without medication.
That is when people started asking me if I could help them with their health goals and I had to decide if and how I would incorporate wellness coaching into my business and the Whole Food Muscle Club was born, followed by our book, “How to Feed a Human: The Whole Food Muscle Way.”
Can you share your top three “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing?
- Stop treating your health like an inconvenience. My clients often start out by saying they “don’t have time” to eat well and exercise and that it needs to be “convenient.” But if you lose your health it will steal your time. It is amazing what a huge difference it makes when we tweak their thought process to believing their health is important enough to be a priority. Unfortunately, too many of us wait until we are sick to start seriously thinking about how we treat our health.
- Eliminate fake food. I define fake food as anything created, designed and marketed to make a company money. It has very little, if any, nutritional value and companies spend millions of dollars to make it easy for us to eat WAY too much of it. Good for their shareholders. Horrible for our health. Most people tell me they eat very little junk food. But when we start looking for fake food, they are shocked how much of it has crept into their daily diet.
- Get up and move your body once an hour. Long-term sitting is horrible for our wellbeing on so many levels. Our GI tract doesn’t move well. Our lungs don’t breathe well. Our blood doesn’t circulate well. And we become mentally sluggish. An easy way to get a two-for-one deal is to drink enough water that you have to get up to go to the bathroom once an hour.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
My career has taken several interesting twists and bumps. But the most interesting might be how my taste buds have changed. Before learning about nutrition, I loved burgers, chicken wings, nachos and sausage pizza. I knew they weren’t good for me, but I thought once in a while (which was actually about once a week, sometimes more) wouldn’t hurt me. When I learned the truth about real food and fake food, I realized it could and was hurting me and I needed to change.
I started by spacing out how often I ate those things. Moving from once a week to twice a month, to once a month, to only on special occasions.
The last time I had nachos, we were celebrating getting a new client. The nachos looked mouthwatering when they arrived, covered in gooey cheese and chili. I took a bite. Something was off. I tried another bite. The cheese tasted like plastic and coated my mouth in a greasy slime.
I asked the manager, who we knew because the place used to be a regular watering hole for us, what they had done to the cheese.
He told me, “Nothing. It’s the same cheese sauce we have always used.”
I left the rest of the nachos uneaten and have never had the desire to eat them again.
I’ve learned since it is a normal experience for people who switch to eating real food. Many of the Whole Food Muscle clients are excited to share similar stories of fake food losing its hold on them.
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?
My biggest mistake was assuming I knew the truth about diet and exercise and when what I “knew” wasn’t working that a medical doctor would have the answers. I believed the calories in/calories out and portion control mantras of weight loss. And, unfortunately, my doctor told me I was doing everything right, even though my weight was going up and my health was getting worse.
What I learned is that I had to take control of my health and educate myself. I’m not suggesting that everyone has to spend the 1000’s of hours I did diving into the science of nutrition and human health. You can work with professionals like me to help shorten the learning curve. But if what you’re doing isn’t working, you’re yo-yo dieting and your doctor is pushing more pills than healthy food and lifestyle choices, it’s time to invoke the power of personal learning.
When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
I strongly believe that knowledge is power when it comes to personal health. There is SO much noise in the world of wellness that most people just throw up their hands in confusion and go back to eating whatever is easy and convenient. The truth about the difference between fake food and real food gives people the information they need to make educated choices about their health. There is nothing more empowering than taking control of your personal health and the health of your family.
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?
Unfortunately, I have had a lot of people in my life who have said, “Who do you think you are to write books and be a coach?” “Why would anyone take advice from you?” and “Don’t pat yourself on the back too hard. You aren’t that impressive.” That is one of the reasons my TEDx talk is about imposter syndrome and not nutrition or health.
But my husband and business partner, Russ, has always been different. Shortly after we started dating, he became my biggest cheerleader. He believes in me, talks through ideas with me and is more than happy to do battle with my imposter syndrome when it comes up. I couldn’t ask to have a better person in my corner.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
That is exactly the goal of the Whole Food Muscle Club! Being able to show people how to bridge the gap between wanting to be healthier and how to actually do it has been one of my biggest joys. There are so many moving pieces when it comes to helping someone improve their health choices — their emotional and psychological relationship with food, their family history and culture around eating, their beliefs about time and convenience, their previous successes or failures with diets, what they already believe about food (right and mistaken) and how they feel about exercise and fitness.
Bringing all those things together in one place that allows people to change as slowly or quickly as they want to without judging them and seeing their joy and success is a dream come true.
What are your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- You don’t need nearly as much protein as you think you do. In How to Feed a Human we talk about the “Protein Cult.” The amount of chicken, turkey and whey protein I ingested in my life is just sad. I would have been healthier and a much better athlete if I had known then what I know now and I never would have gained excess weight I had to lose.
- Portion control is bad for your metabolism. Like most people I used to believe that skipping meals caused my body to go into starvation mode so I would eat tiny amounts of food all day. I remember being so frustrated when my food and exercise log showed I had negative calorie intake and I was still fluffy. Truth is restricting nutrient intake over a long period of time puts our bodies into famine mode and turns down our metabolism. That is why so many people hit a weight loss plateau before they reach their ideal weight, they aren’t eating enough of the right foods.
- Your health and weight are in your control and it’s not that hard. I used to think that being healthy and maintaining my ideal weight required a lot of measuring, counting, deprivation and willpower plus working myself to exhaustion in the gym. I now realize that none of that is true. Just understanding a few basic things about food and changing the way I think about eating has made SO much difference for me. Now, I work out because it’s good for my heart, muscles and bones rather than because I have to “work off” something I eat. It’s that ease and joy that I try to impart to my clients.
Do you have a “girl-crush” in this industry? If you could take one person to brunch, who would it be? (Let another “woman in wellness” know that you respect her as a teacher and guide! )
I really enjoy Gianna Simone. I love that she uses her platform to share information that allows people to make informed decisions, rather than just pushing an agenda. She has gotten to interview some of my favorite people on her YouTube channel and she seems legitimately kind. I think we’d have a great time at brunch, not just because we could talk about health and food and making a difference but because she seems like an easygoing, fun person.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
It’s really hard for me to pick just one! The cause dearest to me is overall human health. As a trained psychologist of course, mental health is super important to me. But as a health, wellness and lifestyle practitioner, getting people to eat more plants is also high on my list. And what kind of world would we have to live in if we were all physically and emotionally healthy and stable but the planet was falling apart around us? I believe that the work I’m doing with the Whole Food Muscle Club moves all four of those things forward in different ways. In my world, that’s a win!
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Thank you for these fantastic insights!