I am so pumped to switch things up just a little bit today and bring a new kind of guests. We’re bringing on Sam, who goes by The Sam Plan on instagram, and she is a body-positive influencer with a heart of gold and so much knowledge. I’m so excited for you guys to learn from her today and hopefully find a newfound respect for your body and love for your body that you didn’t have before. So many of the things she said had me with my “praise hands” in the air. It was like “finally I’m understanding some of these things on a deeper level.” Sam is a bodybuilder turned health and wellness coach who after years of working towards the ideal body, realized it was counterproductive to her goal of fulfillment, health and happiness. Something we can all relate to. Now she coaches others to uproot their confidence in their best selves. So today we’re talking about health, happiness, social media and all the things. Enjoy!
On her path to get to where she is today
Way back when, when I was in college, I actually started as a business major. And after the first semester I decided to switch to nutrition because it was something I was more passionate about, I had more interest in. I had always been super obsessed with health, fitness, nutrition, and food throughout my childhood and into my adolescence. I became very obsessed with weight loss and trying to achieve this “perfect body.” So really my education was essentially founded in this desire to be the master of my body, be able to manipulate the way that I looked, and that brought me through undergrad and into my masters program where I found bodybuilding and turned my pathway into coaching, which I had no anticipation of doing. I knew I wanted to be in this field but I didn’t know where my place was. At first I felt really empowered for someone who for so long, throughout my entire childhood, felt so out of control in that. And now to where I’m at in my career and in life is I’m so empowered by the balance I’ve achieved since then and incorporating a much more well-rounded and holistic approach that incorporates not just what I eat and how I train, but also the way that I think and having a healthy mindset and healthy relationship with food.
The shift really occurred after accomplishing something I never thought I could, which was extreme weight loss, and having the realization of “this isn’t what happy actually looks like.” After pining after it for so long and looking at all these women that were smaller than I was and just correlating the essence of confidence, self love, value, and beauty with that look, once I got there I was so fatigued. I was so tired. I didn’t like working out anymore, I was scared of certain foods, and scared of social situations. So the life I thought I wanted I didn’t even have, because even though I was much thinner than I had ever been before, I had sacrificed so much along the way to get there that my mental health and my physical health were deteriorating. And it had deteriorated so much that I couldn’t maintain or sustain any of the progress I had created. So it brought me back to this drawing board, blank state, to figure out what’s healthy and what’s really going to help achieve the things I’m looking for. Because at the root of it all I just wanted to be happy, confident, and feel worthy and beautiful, and I didn’t feel any of those things when I’d gotten to that thin point that I thought I would. So I had to rewrite my script of what that looks like, what that feels like and how I get there, based on some new information that I had gathered. Just like if you were a scientist and you were researching a specific theory, you implement the protocol, you observe and you adjust based on what you’re seeing. I was going through the same process of “this didn’t bring me to what I wanted, so how do I bring the change that I want for myself?”
On changing your mindset of dieting
I’ve been through so many diets and every single one of them has sacrificed some element of my happiness in the process. And that could have been sacrificing certain foods, certain social situations or even going on vacation and fully being able to enjoy certain moments. It’s really sacrificed a lot of my life and my pursuit to change the way that I looked and I’m at this point in my life where I’m just so unwilling to continue to sacrifice for something that’s so superficial. I want to be able to do things that contribute to my quality of life that enables me to enhance moments and experiences rather than pull me away from them and have me fear food or fear of not being able to go to the gym, or whatever it may be. A lot of those sacrifices are mental; we can be in one place and also be in another just simply by the way we view situations and the way we think they’re going to impact our physical being, and a lot of that fear is what takes away from you fully being able to enjoy and experience really powerful memories.
When I got into body building I turned my dieting phases into this hardcore fat-loss phase. I wasn’t just dieting, I was losing a lot of fat and I was gaining a lot of it back. And that cycle is so exhausting. I was going through such extremes of losing 30 or 40 pounds and a month or two later, gaining that weight back. Not only is that so harmful on your body, but mentally it was just crushing me. On the flipside, I wanted to be able to really enjoy vacationing or travel or going out on date nights and eating out, all the things I sacrificed for so long that I needed to embrace gaining weight a little bit and surrendering a lot of the control that I had, or that I thought I needed to have in order to stay healthy or an “attractive” weight. It was really a release of a lot of that control that I thought I needed to have in order to look, feel or be a certain way for my job. That was also a lot of pressure I was putting on myself- whether that be as a coach or simply being on social media, I had to really look at things in a very different way. One of the biggest themes was sacrificing and eliminating a lot of the control that I felt like I needed to have in order to be healthy and look a certain way.
On adjusting your fitness and wellness methods as you grow
You’re going to go through so many different phases throughout your life. And as much as you can compare yourself to other people, it’s hard not to compare yourself in this stage to the stage before or the stage before that. And it changes your relationship with exercise because you have this standard of what you think is normal and sustainable for you because you just did it for so long and felt normal for so long. But it doesn’t mean that it’s really appropriate for your body now, or that it’s time-effective, or that it’s something you’re fully capable of doing. So changing and shifting your mindset because that’s really what it is, is that mindset shift of like “ok even though this was what my activity level was before, that doesn’t mean it needs to be my new normal or I need to adapt that into what I’m doing now because who has the time for that?” Figure out now what form of movement you love, and a form of movement that feels good with your body, because as you get older that’s going to have to change. I think the best example of how your body is going to change over time, especially for women- having babies and getting pregnant and going through that whole process, you really have to surrender to where in your life you are at. If you continue to fight and try to minimize weight gain while you’re going through a pregnancy or increasing your energy expenditure and continue to train at a high level at the risk of your growing child, who is that going to benefit in the long run? You really have to think big-picture always: Where am I at in life? Who is this good for? Is it benefitting me physically and mentally? Is it realistic? Is it compatible with the life I want to live? Exercise should not be your life. It should be a contributor to what allows you to live your best life and live life to the fullest and do the things you want without having to worry about if you are physically able to do it. There are a lot of factors that go into finding what works for you, but it’s ultimately trial and error- if you’re someone who loves group classes, great. If you’re someone who loves to be challenged with Crossfit, like, so what? There are so many different ways to move your body. I’ve realized especially comparing myself to when I was competing, now I don’t have to spend 1.5-2 hours in the gym to feel like I had a good workout. I don’t have to do an hour of cardio running or on the stairmaster to feel like my time was spent well. I love to go on walks, so I make more time and effort to do the things I love to do because that’s what’s going to keep me doing them day after day, as opposed to it being a short phase of trying it and it not working for me and hating every minute of it. You should be enjoying every minute you have on this earth.
On the struggle with results and instant gratification
We can all relate, whether it was me even a couple years ago, or growing up- I’ve always had that struggle too. “I’m eating this way, I’m exercising this way, why am I not yielding the results that I’m looking for?” It could be that your methods are not compatible with your lifestyle and it’s not going to be something you can maintain for a long enough period at a time for you to see actual results. That’s why it’s so important for you to pick a mode of exercise or movement and a diet plan (or something that doesn’t feel like a diet), that feels super conducive to your lifestyle and the things that you love in terms of food choices, being able to go out to eat and whatever it is you choose. It has to be something you can maintain for a very long period of time. And I mean this should be a lifestyle. Everything you’re incorporating should feel like a lifestyle. Because if you’re just looking at a week-to-week or month-to-month progress, you’re not going to be satisfied. You’ll never step on the scale and think that any progress you’re making is enough. That’s just the way I think we’re wired- always to want more from ourselves even when we’ve reached a certain amount of success, we always want more. And if you’re constantly chasing that thought and that mindset, it’s never going to be enough. But if you’re chasing those small victories of “I moved my body today, I nourished my body today and I feel really great,” or “I feel like I have so much energy, I have so much focus towards my work and I’m able to connect with people and be social,” those are a part of building up a healthy lifestyle and a sense of fulfillment that you’ll never be able to achieve by losing 5 or 10 pounds on the scale. There are so many other parts of success that we need to focus on and are not talked about enough. Focusing on the number of the scale or how your body’s transforming over a short period of time is never going to be enough. If you can focus on those small victories of how you feel, show up for yourself every single day in terms of fueling your body well and moving your body and making sure you’re feeling your best always, you’re going to be a completely different person a year, or two years, down the road. And that’s what I think people should really focus on.
People are scared to just walk, or embrace walking, because they want it to be hard. They want it to be unachievable or unsustainable, because if it is, then there’s a reason why they’re not doing it. And there’s an excuse there too of, “Oh well this person works out 6 or 7 days a week and she trains for 1-1.5 hours and I don’t have time for that or I don’t want to work out the way she does.” So then you don’t, but then it really doesn’t have to be so hard. We want to make things hard because if it’s hard then we have a reason not to do it, but we also think dieting should be hard, or weight loss should be hard. And if it’s easy it’s not going to work and that’s just not the case at all.
On creating a healthy mindset in the way we think and talk about ourselves
The one thing for me that’s been very powerful is journaling and asking myself really hard questions where I encourage vulnerability. I didn’t know a lot about myself and didn’t take the time to get to know myself and my subconscious and how past experiences and memories have really shaped the way that I think. And it also helps me rewire a lot of those tendencies and thought-processes because again, I’m challenging why I am the way that I am and recultivating this image of someone I want to step into. So for me I took an online course with habits-based lifestyle coaching. It went through a lot of tough questions that I had to ask myself and it really opened me up to being vulnerable and being honest about why I thought the things that I did and the validity, or lack thereof, in why I thought the way that I did. It really helped me reshape and reform my thought processes moving forward, which made my mental health so much stronger.
On mental health- how to keep happiness consistent in your life without relying on someone else
What really helped me shape where I’m at now was my experience with bodybuilding because I had so much built up in the concept of “this is how I’m going to achieve this ultimate happiness and self-confidence and I’m going to be so much more attractive to other people,” but I had never been so insecure. It made me more insecure because I was so focused on every part of how I looked in the mirror. I was picking myself apart constantly and that was something that opened me up to changing that perspective of what happy and confident looks like. But also in that process of dieting and getting ready for a show I had to let go of a lot of other peoples’- I don’t want to say opinions because they weren’t shoving them down my throat, I wasn’t asking for them- but I had to bury myself into what I was doing, which was something that took up a lot of my time. It forced me to keep my blinders on and keep my eyes on one thing, so I shut out a lot of things, which again, is part of that sacrifice that I don’t suggest people do to create a healthy lifestyle. But it was something that forced me to eliminate outside perspectives and outside thoughts about what I was doing because I wanted to do this, and I was so set on doing it, that I had to zone out everything else. Even afterwards, a lot of things like going out to happy hour and being the only one who wasn’t drinking was something I had to come to terms with and accept that my goals are not somebody else’s. And nobody else gives two craps that I’m not drinking alcohol. But for so long in my mind, if I wasn’t having a drink and everybody else was, then I was the odd one out, I wasn’t going to be invited back, or wasn’t going to be friends with these people anymore and that just wasn’t the case at all. So in the process of my journey in general, I’ve learned to put my needs in front of anyone else’s expectations of what I should do or who I should be and focus on what I want, who I want to be and take comfort in that that is enough to allow me to live the most fulfilled life possible. Because if you continue to live your life only taking into consideration other people’s opinions or how they see you, you’re never going to fill your own cup and really be the happiest and best version of yourself because again, you’re feeding off of other people.
What it’s like being a body-positive influencer on instagram
It’s been a really empowering journey for me because for so long there were parts of my body and who I was that I would hide because I didn’t want anyone to know that I had rolls when I sat down, or I had any ounce of fat on my body, especially having that bodybuilding background. I was very set on this idea that I had to be thin to be in the fitness industry and I had to look a certain way. It’s really allowed me to be more confident in myself to be able to show up on a platform and be fully myself and be so widely accepted by other people and to not have to hide parts of me. Because the more you hide certain things the more insecure you become about them, and the more it enables and inhibits you to do certain things and to really shine on who you are because you’re so scared if somebody sees a part of you or sees you in a certain way there’s so much fear associated with those things, so I’ve used instagram as a journaling platform for me. I’ve been able to pour my heart out and be open and honest about certain things and it’s helped me a ton and I know it’s helped other people which is the most rewarding thing I could possibly ever think of.
Advice for those who have a message to share and becoming an influencer
For myself, I post a lot of the same themes and I have a lot of the same undertones with the messages and the things that I say because I believe so passionately about those specific topics. I talk about whatever is on my heart and what I feel like I want to share with the world. I’ve been doing that for over 4 years now and my message has changed over time, but I’ve been so consistent with trying to share what’s empowered me. The more open, honest and real you are, the more you’re going to attract the right community. Because when I first started Instagram, I was all about trying to replicate what I saw as being successful on social media, which was really fit people sharing their workouts, sharing what they’re eating, and allowing others to follow along in their fat-loss journey. So that’s what I did. I was doing exactly what other people were doing and was trying to be this motivational person, and I wasn’t truly being open about what I was going through and the struggle I was experiencing at the time and the struggles of my past. I was keeping that very on the low because I had this idea of who I needed to be on social media. Fast forward 3 years later, I just couldn’t continue to be somebody else, and I was going through such a transformative journey of my own that I needed to transition into something that felt more genuine in who I was. The more you show up as yourself, the more you will attract the community and the people who need to hear your message. And also who can connect with you and learn from you as well as vice versa- you can learn from other people and always coming from a place of “I’m here to help people first and foremost.” The whole title of influencer is you don’t get to be a point of some influence without impacting other people in a positive way. Nobody wants to follow you just because you have a certain number of followers. It’s all about the message you’re sharing and who you’re connecting with, and if you want to grow on social media you have to come from a place of “I’m here to help you in any which way you need help.” I always open up my DM’s, my email, all these different ways to communicate with me and I make it a point to always answer every single message as best as I can because that’s the type of community I want to build. One that’s based on being helpful and having genuine connections with other people because I don’t want it to be a one way street. I really want this to be a community. A lot of the things I share on social media are very personal and I know a lot of people have struggled with a lot of the same things I have. So if I can be there to support someone else, whether in a big or small way, then I want to do that. It can be something so small as a few words in a direct message or voice memo that can make a big difference.