Welcome to episode eight of the Real Life, Real Passion podcast. Today our guest is wellness coach Karen Weeks. Two topics that we cover in our conversation are about living a life of moderation and about how small sustainable steps when taken consistently are the key to helping us build healthy lives. Karen offers some great tips and advice about setting ourselves up for success when we are building habits and talks about the importance of finding balance.
I love Karen’s positive attitude and that she intentionally chooses to focus on the positive.
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Karen grew up in Illinois, right outside of Chicago (go Cubbies!). Karen’s PE teacher her Junior and Senior year of high school peaked her interested in fitness as well as health and wellness. She seemed to be very knowledgeable in health, much more than a typical PE teacher. Karen became very interested in becoming a healthy person.
An average PE teacher covers the basics and explains the rules of the sport of the week, then sends you off on your way to your next class. Karen’s teacher taught a wellness oriented PE. Instead of regular sports like volleyball, basketball, and soccer, Karen’s class did a unit on yoga, a unit on meditation, a unit on aerobics, and a unit on dance—lifetime fitness endeavors. Not just sports.
This extraordinary teacher was able to draw a girls High School PE class into full participation, and teach them how to be healthy. Karen was inspired to take fitness to the next level.
Her teacher also introduced her to the concept of Corporate Wellness. Karen was introduced to Motorola’s Corporate Wellness director and she was able to get an inside look at a company that actually cared about their employee’s health and wellness.
Karen moved to Northern Utah to go to school at Utah State University. She started out as a Special Education major, but she wasn’t happy. She still thinks it’s a wonderful endeavor for people and has a lot of respect for people who major in Special Education, but it is a high burnout field, and Karen didn’t think that she would enjoy it for her whole life.
So she decided to do what she loved and looked back at the first thing that ever inspired her which was health and wellness. Karen switched her major to Exercise Science, and has found that she truly loves helping people be healthy. She completed a Masters degree in the same field with an emphasis in Corporate Wellness.
The First Wealth is Heath
“The first wealth is health.”
Think about when you have a cold, and how miserable you feel. It’s hard to work, it’s hard to go to school, it’s hard to take care of your kids, it is basically just really hard to function. Now imagine diseases that don’t go away in two weeks: Heart disease, diabetes, and others that happen when you aren’t healthy.
You can’t do anything if you aren’t healthy enough to do it.
The main reason Karen pursued her degree is to help people be able to live their lives in a better way.
Karen has not always loved working out and there are even days now when she would rather be doing something else. Some days she would rather go back to bed, go sit down, or even indulge herself by eating a bag of potato chips. However, she has gotten to the point where she craves exercise because she knows what it does for her mentally and emotionally.
When she was in High School, she was just as feisty and emotional as any other teenager, but she was able to deal with her emotions by running.
Exercise has been a healthy outlet for her because it helps her get rid of negative emotions.
Favorite Part of Health and Wellness
Karen loves to help people live a fuller life. She explains, “If you’re not healthy you can’t keep up and you can’t function in the real world.”
She doesn’t love fitness and wellness in terms of becoming the best athlete, although it is amazing when people do, that is not Karen’s focus nor is it her goal for people. Her goal is to help them live a healthier life style.
That means moderation: moderation in how you eat, moderation in how much you exercise, in how much you work, in how much time you spend doing fun things.
“I believe that life is just a study of moderation.”
The Wellness Wheel
There are many aspects of wellness: Spiritual, Emotional, Intellectual, Physical, Social, Environmental, Financial…
Picture a wheel. Think about a wheel and imagine that each of the spokes is a type of wellness. If one spoke is too big, then the wheel is hard to move. The wheel moves the smoothest when all of the spokes are the same size, when our overall wellness is balances. When are spokes are all different sizes it makes it very hard to get where we want to go.
Karen loves helping people bring their lives into balance.
A lot of Karen’s focus tends to be on eating right and exercising because that’s where we as Americans seem to really have a problem with. But there really needs to be balance across all of the wellness areas.
What are you doing for your mental health? What’s going on in your work life, your home life, your spiritual life? All of these different things need to be balanced and done in moderation.
We Tend to Compartmentalize Life
Have you noticed that when we talk about health we talk about the physical body, mental health, and spiritual health. We address all these different compartments of health, but we seem to forget that they are interconnected.
People with mental health issues are going to have a hard time with other aspects of health. People that have an unhealthy body are going to have a hard time being successful in other areas of their life too.
Everything is connected. We aren’t little pieces of a body we are a whole body with different pieces that work together. When one is out of balance, the whole machine suffers.
It’s About Sustainability
You can work hard and try to improve one part of the wellness wheel, but if you only work on that and you neglect the other parts of the wellness wheel, it’s not sustainable.
If you are always vacationing and you are never working, then soon you aren’t going to have enough money to vacation anymore.
If you are always working and you are never taking time for yourself, then eventually you’re going to have a breakdown.
If you are always working out and you never give your body a rest, your body will fail. And conversely, if you never take care of your physical body, it’s going to fail.
All things need to be done in moderation at a sustainable level.
Be Moderate in Everything
Karen doesn’t eat perfectly. She doesn’t subscribe to any clean food diets or any diet where you have to take things to the extreme. She simply eats in moderation.
She eats treats, she just doesn’t eat them all the time. She eats meat, she just doesn’t eat it all the time.
The concept of moderation has been helpful as Karen raises her family. She is able to teach them those kinds of skills. Kids and especially teens are bombarded by the media, which tells them who they are supposed to be or how they are supposed to be. None of those messages talk about moderation. Many of those messages demand perfection.
Perfection is not reality. “There’s not one person who is perfect at any one thing.”
Our kids, and especially teenagers, feel like they need to be perfect. Karen’s degree and educational background helps her be a better Mom. Her knowledge and experiences help her as she raises her family because she can teach them as well as the other people she works with how to live a healthy and balanced life.
- Karen has many motivators, but one of the biggest motivators for eating well and exercising is that she knows what will happen if she doesn’t do those things. She’s seen it. She’s worked with people who didn’t make healthy choices and knows what the negative consequences are.
She’s worked with people who have had massive heart attacks. She’s worked with people who either have diabetes or who are on the road to it. She’s worked with women who have osteoporosis. And she’s learned a very important lesson: there are things that you can do to reverse the affects of these conditions a little bit, but it’s better to stop it before it happens.
It’s better to be proactive than to be reactive
- Another motivator for Karen is that exercise is a stress relief. That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have days when she doesn’t want a piece of chocolate (or six), or a few handfuls of potato chips. She allows herself to have the things that she wants.
Because she lives in moderation the majority of the time, she can have those few days where she gives in. She is certainly not the kind of person that limits herself at Thanksgiving and Christmas. She eats what she wants on those special occasions because the majority of the time she takes care of herself.
- Her motivation for helping others is an intrinsic desire to help. She doesn’t want to see people unhealthy and unhappy.
Making new habits is hard. So do whatever you can to make it easy for you.
Karen has enlisted her smart phone to help because it is something that’s always with her. She uses alarms because she can set as many alarms as she wants.
Mondays and Thursdays she teaches water aerobics. On the days when she isn’t teaching, she will set an alarm for the time she is going to run. If she can’t run at that moment, then she will reset the alarm for an hour later. If she can’t run then, then she will reset it again.
She never just turns it off, she resets the alarm. If you just turn it off, it defeats the purpose of an alarm. Alarms are a great way to develop a habit, or re-start a habit that you used to be in.
Alarms can be used for many of things, not just for exercise. But having an external reminder can be very helpful. And we always have our phones with us.
Staying in the Habit
Staying in a habit is about putting mind over matter. Despite what our excuses are, we need to commit to continue. We have to just show up.
We can help set ourselves up for success by planning.
Karen doesn’t schedule to do things when she knows it will be a struggle to do them. For example, Karen is a morning person and loves to get up in the morning but the morning is not her best workout time. So, she doesn’t set her workout time at a time when she knows that she will fail. That’s setting herself up for failure. Her favorite times to work out are at four or five o’clock or in the evening.
“You have to pick a time that works for you.”
Unfortunately, some people have such a heavy workload or busy schedule that they can’t always do that, and they have to find ways to chisel time. But there are lots of things you can do especially if you are creative.
Choose Appropriate Workouts
Karen also picks workouts that fit with her schedule. On a day that Karen knows she is super busy, she doesn’t choose to go on a five or six mile run. She will pick a different type of workout.
A workout doesn’t have to be an hour. You can do a higher intensity workout for a shorter amount of time. Or you can break your hour up into 15 minute increments throughout the day. It might not be the kind of workout that you are expecting, but it’s still a workout, and it’s still making your healthier.
A workout doesn’t have to be the same thing every time.
“I don’t have time for that,” is a popular excuse. Karen doesn’t buy that. Yes you do have time. You have the same amount of time as everyone else. You just have to talk to someone who has lived it and learn how to use it more effectively.
Consistency is More Important than Intensity
Because Karen doesn’t work a 9-5 job, her schedule changes daily. On days when she knows she has a busy day she will pick something that doesn’t take a lot of time but that she can to do to stay in the habit of exercising. Even if that means that at 9pm she walks for 10 minutes on her treadmill, she is staying in the habit.
The same principle applies for anything. For example, if you have a habit of reading your scriptures everyday but you ran out of time to do your normal study, still read. Even if it’s 5 minutes. Don’t get out of the habit. Even if you don’t put in your normal amount of time, keeping the consistency matters. Plus, Anyone can find 5 minutes.
If you missed your work out, just do 5 minutes. Just do something to maintain the habit.
Consistency is more important than intensity.
It’s OK to Give Into Cravings
On days when she is craving chocolate, chips, fries… she lets herself give into those cravings, but she pairs it with something healthy. So, if breakfast comes along and she wants coco krispies she allows herself to eat them, but she doesn’t still eat eggs and toast, instead with her cereal she’ll eat a tangerine or half of an apple. Not so much that she’s eating two breakfasts, but she’s adding something healthy to her not so healthy meal.
Don’t beat yourself up if you have moments where you need to cave. If you live a lifestyle that is healthy, it’s OK to eat the not healthy stuff every once in a while.
You can’t treat it like it’s the end of the world if you mess up. “Be good to yourself.”
We have fat shaming, we have skin shaming, we have clothes shaming, there is even skinny shaming.
“I think that shaming of ourselves comes from unrealistic expectations that are given to us by media.” And other people as well.
Karen points out that people think that because she’s thin and in shape, that she don’t look at myself and wish she was different. Sometimes she still looks in the mirror and see’s imperfections. Just because she is a fit person, doesn’t mean she doesn’t shame herself.
It’s got to stop. Stop shaming each other. And stop shaming ourselves in our own heads.
Sometimes we are really hard on ourselves. Overcoming this tendency is something we need to work on every day.
Shame is one of Karen’s biggest stumbling blocks. She is hard on herself for what she looks like, whether or not she made her time when running, or about reaching her goals.
Even if we have to try our whole lives to be kind to ourselves, we need to. One of the best things that we can do, “is to be kind to ourselves, and it’s hard.”
There are and will always be days when we fall short of our expectations. Karen has learned that she simply just has to forgive herself. Failure is not the end of the world, “be kind to yourself. It’s not the be all end all.”
“The be all end all of life is how we treat people. It’s kindness and love for each other. Including ourselves.”
“What really inspires me is when I see someone who succeeds at something that they are struggling with.” And not just in health and fitness, but in life.
Persistent people are the kind of people that inspire Karen. You know, the kind of people who work and work and work to overcome.
One of Karen’s clients was 100 lbs overweight, and the extra weight took years to come off, which is OK. Because, to loose weight in a healthy way and in a way that will stay off, it takes time. That change was inspiring.
When she sees life changes happening and she sees the joy in her clients eyes as it starts to work, and then they hit a plateau but they keep on working and eventually it starts coming off again because they didn’t give up. That inspires her.
Karen loves seeing success. Whether it is in herself or in others, whether they are little wins, or giant leaps. Inspiration can come from everywhere. Even failures can be an inspiration when people choose to learn from them.
A Word About Failure
Failure in itself is not a bad thing. Failing and quitting is when we stop and get stuck, but failing and learning and then trying again is how we grow.
When Karen was either a senior in High School or freshmen in college Aaliyah came out with the song Try Again.
The main body of the song is not what Karen loved about it, it’s about a guy who was trying to get a girl but didn’t succeed. And the singer says well you didn’t get my attention the first time, so try again.
It’s the chorus that has really stayed with her:
“If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again, you can dust it off and try again. If at first you don’t succeed, you can dust it off and try again, dust yourself off and try again.” – Aaliyah, Try Again
The first time she heard it, the chorus stuck in her head. She loves it because that’s what life is: we are going to fail, it is guaranteed that we will fail at something in life. But we have to get up and try again.
When we try new things, chances are that we will fail the first time. Karen often experiences failure the first time she tries something new. But she also goes in with the expectation of learning from it.
We watch these professional athletes and see brilliant people and we want to automatically be like that, forgetting that it took them years of practice to master their skills.
The news tends to highlight the outliers, the amazing and talented people who have set themselves apart from everyone else, or the people who are at the other end of the spectrum. Why aren’t we highlighting everyday people?
Why does the media highlight the bad all the time?
I love the point that Karen makes about our focus on the negative. People who make bad choices aren’t bad people. Those people have an opportunity to change. They can dust themselves off and try again. They can make a change.
Don’t Give Up
Karen and her family has some friends that they go mountain biking with. She only started biking last year. She was not a good bike rider when she was little. She fell all the time, and had given up when she was younger. She went years and years, all through college and most of her adult life, without sitting on a bike. When her friends invited her to go mountain biking with them, at first she wished it was something else (because she has a little fear of it) but she committed to do it anyway.
When she started, she fell. Many times. She got scrapes and bruises all up and down her legs. But she didn’t give up!
And she loves biking now. She still falls, but she has improved. This year they went to Saint George and went bike riding. She went on the Little Creek trail which is fairly technical and difficult for a new rider. Last year there is no way she could have done it, she would have walked her bike 90% of the ride. But this year she was able to ride 90% of the trail and only walked 10% of the time. They did some of the same trails as the year before, and rides that she avoided because they were outside of her ability, she was able to complete.
“It’s OK to say this time I can’t, but, I’m going to keep trying.”
Work within your skills and your means but know that you are going to try again later. You have to be where you are, but just keep trying and you’ll get better. Realize that change takes time and work.
Another great point Karen makes, is realizing that you don’t have to be the best. “You have to pick the goals that you like, that are going to work for you, and allow yourself to say, so what if this person can do that, I don’t have to.”
A Bit of Paradox
- Goals are important to set, but they need to be malleable. It’s important to set goals and stick with them, but it’s also important to realize that our goals may change over time. We need to be flexible and revisit our goals to make sure that they are still aligned with where we want to go.
We need to be willing to work, and work hard, and know that it’s OK if your goals change.
- It’s also important that we try new things, but we also don’t want to let people push you into doing something that you don’t want to do.
It’s helpful to not look at everything as black and white. We do need to try new things but we also need to make sure that we are only doing the things that we truly want to be doing, need to be doing, and should be doing. We never want to do things that will compromise our values and standards, but sometimes trying new things is how we find new passions and talents.
- Another paradox is that we say that we shouldn’t let other people influence us, but maybe we should sometimes. Maybe we should let positive people be an influence.
It’s important to always look at the big picture. Be tenacious, but have the flexibility to change when you need to and be willing to learn during the process. We have to step outside our comfort zones to grow, but don’t let others talk you into something that you really aren’t comfortable doing. Be your own best friend.
A Common Struggle
One common struggle we all face, is feeling bad about ourselves. We may not feel like we are good enough, and many times this can be due to what other people say. Remember, no one can make you feel inferior without your permission.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
If you don’t give permission in your own head and in your own heart, for someone to make you feel like less, then they can’t.
Karen tends to be a person that waits.
If someone says something mean, she doesn’t get mad right away, she waits. Many times you find out that the person wasn’t intending to make you feel bad. While there are some miserable people in the world, Karen believes that the majority of people in our lives aren’t like that. If we just wait, and don’t allow that comment to affect us, we will probably find out later that they weren’t trying to make us feel bad.
Waiting allows us to be proactive instead of reactive. Waiting gives us the opportunity to develop perspective, think through the situation, and be creative in finding solutions.
Doable First Step to Living Healthier
The first step is having a desire. Karen urges people to consider whether the desire to change is external or internal, because if it is an external motivator, it’s not good enough. Don’t have a desire to change because that’s what you should look like according to magazines, or base what you should be able to do on elite athletes.
For lasting change, you have to have an internal desire to change. For example, I want to do this because I want to be healthier…
Initial weight Loss comes from changing your diet. And changing our diet is hard because our lives revolve around food.
We get together for dinner, whether we go out or get together at someone’s home, food is an essential aspect of the social experience.
If your goal is weight loss, the first step is paying attention to your food, and making small changes. Cutting things out completely or only eating certain things is not sustainable. Most likely you’ll do it for a while and then you’ll revert back to your old way of eating.
The key “is making small steps that you can sustain.”
Karen worked with an individual who used to drink 208 oz of soda a day, regular soda, not diet soda. In case you are wondering, that’s a lot. When changing this individuals diet, she didn’t say no soda. And if she would have, it would have been unrealistic.
Instead they worked on reducing the amount of soda this person had everyday. Instead of 208 oz they worked on 164 oz. They used in intervals of Maverick mugs to measure, so instead of multiple mugs worth of soda, this person was able to drop down to drinking only one mug of soda a day. Even though it’s still a lot of soda, compared to where that individual was, it’s a dramatic improvement. It’s reason to celebrate what they have achieved.
Make small steps that you can sustain.
Work on Correcting Bad Habits First
Karen likes to help individuals target their bad habits first. She recommends keeping a food log. People don’t recognize where they are getting their extra calories. Because food is such an integral part of our lives, sometimes we don’t even realize how much we are actually eating. A food log can help increase our awareness. It helps us be aware of what we are eating and what we are not. The log helps us be more conscientious in our food choices and see where changes are needed.
In the beginning Karen doesn’t suggest the food log to count calories, it’s simply a great tool to increase awareness.
Change Takes Time
Whatever your goal is and whatever the steps are needed to reach that goal, make sure to use steps that are small and sustainable.
Don’t go out and run three miles today if you’ve never run before. That’s setting yourself up for failure. Make small changes that you can keep up over time and stick with. Then you can add another small change on top of the first one, and build and build.
People get discouraged when they make goals that they feel need to be reached immediately. Watch yourself over time. The more you practice and keep that habit, the better you will be.
Use Fear to Boost You to the Next Level
Karen has been trying new things long enough that she doesn’t let fear stop her.
Even though she was afraid of riding a bike, she still got on the bike and learned. She steps on the fear to boost her up to the next level.
Fear can hold us back or propel us forward. The choice is in our hands. Karen’s advice is hard but true, to get past fears, you have to make yourself do it.
Don’t Compare Ourselves to Others
You may admire a quality in someone else. But that person may admire a quality about you.
We need to be happy with who we are and where we are in life. Who we are will change over time, and our past does not have to be our future. We have the power to change and choose what we want our future to look like.
Don’t forget to be proud of where you are right now and the work you have done to get there. You will continue to improve as long as you keep trying.
I asked Karen what she was looking forward to in the future and her response was, “Everything… I try to take life as it comes, and I try to enjoy every part of it that I can.”
That’s not to say that there aren’t things Karen doesn’t enjoy, and that there aren’t things she isn’t looking forward to, but she just takes life as it comes. The good and the bad. You can learn from every bad thing. And experiencing the bad helps bring appreciation for the good.
Karen looks at life through a lens of positivity because it helps her stay happy.
Her daughter will be leaving home in two years to go to college. Karen can look at that number and be sad that her daughter will be leaving or she can look at it with the perspective that her daughter will get to have great experiences at school and she will get to form a whole new kind of relationship with her. The second perspective is much happier.
It’s soccer season. Karen can think about all the work involved, running practices, coaching and dragging kids around all over for games. Or, she can look at soccer season as two months where she gets to spend more time with her two boys, that she wouldn’t necessarily have spent with them otherwise.
Karen tries really hard to choose to see the good and happiness instead of anger and sadness. There are always outside influences that affect us, but by getting in the habit of choosing the good, then those outside influences will have far less impact on how we see the world.
- Follow the River by James Alexander Thom. Karen has read this book 7-8 times and loves it.
- The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. This is another book Karen has read multiple times.
- Girl Underwater by Claire Kells is a surprisingly great read by a newer author.
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Karen has a love hate relationship with this book, but it is worth reading.
- Naughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman is a must read.
- Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande in Karen’s words “is a pretty dorky but super interesting read.” (Sounds like something I will like!)
- Aaliyah. (2009). You Tube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qOnInTJsos
- Goals Groups International. (2012). Retrieved from http://goalsgroupsinternational.com/approach/