Sarah Vance is a Body Image and Self Esteem Coach, Self-Care Advocate, and general badass. With her no nonsense approach to body image she has helped tons of women stop the madness around food and body, ditch self-doubt, treat themselves like the queen they are, and give the middle finger to perfection and all-or-nothing mindsets so they can finally start showing up in the world as the radiant woman they are.
With her help you will beat body-hate, and step into freedom feeling happy, confident, worthy, and enough. You can grab her free guide 5 Mindshifts to Make To Embrace Your Body and Have Food Freedom HERE.
Hey! It's Kellie Davis of Fit Thrive.com. Today I've got an incredible interview with Sarah Vance, from sarahvance.com. Sarah is a body image and self-esteem coach, self-care advocate, and general all around badass. She's doing amazing work in the body positive community and she has a no nonsense approach to body image.
She's helped tons of women stop the madness around food and body, ditch self-doubt, and treat themselves like the queen they are. Today we're going to dig in deep to body acceptance and self-love, learn about Sarah's approach to coaching, and touch on some pretty deep topics.
Kellie: Sarah, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to my Fit Thrive community. I'm so excited to have you. Before we get started, why don't you tell us a little about your background and how you got started in your coaching services to help women overcome body image issues.
Sarah: Thank you so much first of all for having me on this so it's super exciting. My background is that I used to be a fitness competitor myself as well as a personal trainer and a fitness model. I went down the route of having a pretty messed up relationship with food and my body. Where I was experiencing some symptoms of orthorexia, binge eating, overall guilt and shame within my fitness lifestyle, within my body, within my food so eventually I knew that something had to give. I had many red flags that happened, I had a few rock bottoms, and eventually I just knew that I couldn't go on. My body was actively fighting against me, my hair was falling out, I didn't have a period, my nails were not growing. No energy, just a lot of symptoms that were just not okay. Physical symptoms on top of that. I had a lot of emotional and mental issues as well. With guilt, shame, and playing the battle of diet, sabotage, diet, and just this constant self-loathing when I would see myself in the mirror. And I put all my worth within my body and within my food habits and also within my exercise habits.
Eventually I knew something needed to happen. I decided to start breaking away from the diet mentality and that was a really messy process that I'm sure we'll get into a little bit later. Through that I was still being a personal trainer and what happened is that I was actually seeing women come in for my consultation because I only worked with women and I would hear them say things I was saying to myself out loud. It just blew my mind because I was seeing someone completely different than what they were seeing. I was seeing these amazing human beings and they were just so incredibly down on themselves and they were dealing with the same struggles that I was dealing with. The shame, the guilt, not feeling comfortable in their body. Just overall body hate and food issues.
I really worked together with my own journey that I said, "You know what, I need to change for myself" because I just wanted to - I knew I couldn't do this 10-years from now. I was like, "something has to change". But I also know that I wanted to start helping women. So this is when I really got into the body positive community and really just dove head first head into it.
I went through my own recovery process and then educated, got some education in regards to help others break away from the diet mentality and start being the women that they are and having that be enough. So really internalizing those emotions of "I’m enough as I am" and getting off the diet cycle, letting go of guilt and shame, and just having overall food freedom and then experiencing confidence, happiness, acceptance, love, success, in any body that they have. So that was really where I started and now I coach women from all over the world to help them get off the diet cycle and experience food freedom and body acceptance. That's kind of where I am now.
Kellie: That is awesome. And you are right, so many go through that. Especially when we get heavily immersed in the fitness culture, the competitor culture. It's just ingrained in us that image is everything. And we become so externally focused. You've mentioned a little bit about orthorexia. And this is something that has come to light over the past few years. It wasn't really an identified eating disorder. When I was growing up, we always talked about bulimia, anorexia, but it's definitely coming to light more recently.
Can you tell me a little bit about what that experience was for you and how you identified that in yourself?
Sarah: Orthorexia is not yet in the DSM5, which is the criteria to actually be diagnosed with any type of mental illness. It's not actually in there yet but I foresee that changing relatively soon. So it's a pretty new like you said, issue or diagnosis. Eventually it will be a diagnosis. But basically, orthorexia is this overwhelming anxiety, fear, everything that you want to eat is basically on the basis of being "pure", "good", "right", "holistic" "clean" - so that was one of the things being in the fitness industry. And I'm saying clean with quotations. Clean eating where there's a lot of anxiety around that. That is where you kind of put your worth and you have a lot of shame and guilt if you eat off of that. And a lot of anxiety and a lot of planning around food in general.
There were definitely some symptoms within that. And then the overall any time you restrict you are obviously going to binge. That is just an actual fact. Any time you have over-restriction you are going to binge. Not only would I have the symptoms of having severe anxiety, overeating these good or clean foods, but I would also go from the other end of bingeing, eating large amounts and then feeling that shame and guilt associated with both ends.
That's what orthorexia is now and that is one of the most common things with people that are within the fitness industry and it is becoming more and more prominent. And almost acceptable and kind of glorified and normalized almost because we have been so conditioned to believe that this is just quote-unquote "healthy way of living" but we're not looking at the whole person. We're not looking at the emotional, the mental, social things that make up a human being. We're just looking at food. And on top of that you can obviously have issues along with food that are also physical. It's really scary how on the rise it is. Because it can be so masked with the "healthy living lifestyle."
Kellie: Absolutely. And that is a lot of what I saw when I was a competitor and that sort of compelled me to along my journey as well. Saying, "hey you know what? I did this a different way. It got me this far so I need to share my story."
Now, what is your approach to eating, as in your own life and also how you coach women? What are your foundations on a healthy eating lifestyle now?
Sarah: Basically I coach all my clients to step into their normal way of eating. And normal is going to be defined completely different than what it is for me, what it is for you, and anybody that's listening to this. So it's a matter of finding what's normal for them. But honestly it comes down to getting rid of guilt and shame associated with food. So I actually don't care what people eat, when they eat it, how much they eat it and you're allowed to - I coach my clients that you have unconditional permission to eat what you want, when you want, how much you want. But not having that guilt and shame associated with it.
I coach people to basically feel free from those emotions. So even when it comes down to health vs non-health, in my coaching we let that go because there have been so many issues around those two words and you can argue health, like what is healthy? What is not healthy? I think in general none of us can truly define what actually is healthy. You can define that however way you want.
An individual might say, "this salad is healthy for me". But then I could say, "yeah that might be healthy, [it’s going to provide more nutrients to] your body, but maybe this cupcake is something that is going to be for your social health”. Because you are at a birthday party and it's celebratory and it's pleasurable. And it is for your mental and emotional health. I really take a stand of looking at the whole picture. I'm more interested in how people actually feel, what they are thinking, and how they feel about themselves around their eating habits. That's what I change.
And oftentimes what happens is when we get off the diet cycle and we kind of let go of all these rules, restrictions, I should eat this, I shouldn't eat that - when we let go of that. We actually take care of ourselves in a more holistic way. But that is not an obligation for somebody as well. So it's really an empowered choice on what YOU want to do with your body. Not on the basis of what you think you should do, not on the basis of what your mom, or fitness industry or the health doctor says. It's on the basis of what you want to do.
But when really cultivate self-love, oftentimes more than not, people end up taking care of themselves in a more holistic way and that can mean a variety of foods, a variety of movement or non-movement - a variety of things.
I don't necessarily coach people to in any way, shape, or form around health. It really is what's going on in your mind and how are you actually feeling about yourself. Because ultimately I don't want an individual to be hindered within their life and putting themselves in a box to not go out and live their life, their purpose, live in their values and show up in the world on the basis of what their food choices are or what their body looks like.
Kellie: Absolutely. I 100% agree. Looking at that and obviously you're not a "diet coach" you're almost like an "undiet coach". There are a lot of people who are Type A and they thrive on regimen, they thrive on tracking. It's something that actually makes them feel in control and feel good. "I like to track my macros" - (laughs, not me, I'm completely the opposite).
Can people balance both? Can they have the Type A system to where they keep logs and track and still have that healthy empowerment of choices and the self-love and the social health that comes along with food? Are you able to see a balance for people who need that in their lives?
Sarah: Everybody has a choice to do whatever they want their body. I'm a big advocate for autonomy. So no one can tell anybody that you shouldn't do that. Because that is a choice for that individual. I really am fighting a bigger fight, which is against diet-culture, which is contributing to the increased rise of eating disorders, body hatred, and overall just feeling really crappy in people's bodies. I actually don't promote or advocate any type of tracking even if an individual is a Type A. Because if it comes down to it, my question always comes down to - What is the purpose of tracking? What is the real purpose here? What are you really trying to achieve? Because unconditional body acceptance, if you really love yourself - I shouldn't say that - but unconditional body acceptance is not on the basis of what you're tracking or what food is going to do.
So if the tracking the food had absolutely nothing to do with changing your body, would you actually still do it? And if it's causing more stress in your life than it would, say something else, is it really worth doing? Only that individual really knows that. But for my clients specifically I help them get off that cycle completely and learn to trust their body. Because our bodies really are super intelligent; they will guide us. But that comes with unconditional body acceptance and being like "I'm enough as I am right now" and however my body decides to show up in the world: 5-years from now, 10-years from now, whatever. Because our bodies are going to change.
So I think it comes down to what is the purpose you are actually trying to achieve with the tracking. If you are Type A - because I have a little bit of that - there are other areas of your life that you can have that fulfilled without it being directly related to your food or body. That's a really fine line there but everyone has a choice to do what they will with their body. I personally will not advocate for that what-so-ever.
Kellie: I love that and I love how you talk about channeling that energy into other aspects of life. I really value the trust aspect that you brought up because I think that's huge. We put a lot of trust in other things in our lives but we don't trust ourselves enough.
Is this an issue that you see often? Is it a setback that a lot of your clients have and a lot of women have in general? Not trusting themselves?
Sarah: Trust is such a big, big thing. Especially with people that I end up working with or within the health and fitness industry. Because we have all put our eggs in the basket of somebody else - these health guru's, these coaches, these whatever-it-may-be, we're putting all of our trust on them and we forget to check in with ourselves and ask, "what's going on for me? what's really best for me?" And we have really not learned to trust ourselves.
When you look at a child, they don't know all these things yet. They just eat normally. They play, they eat, they move, they rest. Whatever it may be. And they trust that their body is going to do what it does. Because it does. But we have not been allowed - once we get into all this dieting mentality - and [the] health and fitness industry. We have really broken that because we have not allowed ourselves to build trust up. And on top of that, when you get into the diet mentality, the diet mentality really is one big cycle.
It starts with not accepting your body, you want to restrict your food, life happens, you're human, restriction sets in so eventually you "fall of the wagon". And then that's when people say, "well obviously I can't trust myself around those cookies because I have a million of them." Or "obviously I can't have just a few chips because I eat the whole bag". So we haven’t allowed ourselves to build up that trust. But that isn't a result of the individual itself.
It actually is a result of the diet cycle and a lack of body acceptance. That is not a problem of the individual. That is a problem of the diet mentality. It does not set us up to trust our bodies. And that whole experience really takes time to surrender and to allow and have faith and trust within. That is a process that does take time. As long as individuals keep moving forward with this process, they will build up trust within their bodies and realize that our bodies always have our back if we listen to it.
Kellie: I love that statement. A lot of what you are talking about as well as sort of a fear that we build into ourselves that stops us from trusting. [we might say to ourselves] "Well, I'm not sure if I can stop tracking" or "I'm not sure if I can have cake at the birthday party because it might set me back. I'll have to work out an hour extra".
How do you address fear? Fear of the potential outcomes. We really can't predict what's going to happen and having a piece of cake isn't going to set you back but there's always that innate fear of "I'm going to lose my progress".
Sarah: I think that blowing this picture up a little bit, it comes down to what exactly are you trying to get back to? What are you exactly, what is that for you? Are you putting yourself in a box where it's this specific body? Because maybe your body doesn't really want to be there. Because body diversity actually does exist. We are not meant to look the same; and sometimes we fight our bodies so much to be smaller or whatever it may be that we don't allow it be what it is. And allow that to be enough. So it really comes back to that body acceptance piece that I'm talking about. Where we don't think that our body or even our self - because it really comes down to ourselves - because our self is not enough as it is or what it may become. When people have "well I don't really trust myself to do this" or "I feel like I'll fall off track" or whatever it may be, it all come back to acceptance.
That we have this overwhelming fear thanks to society and diet culture that weight gain and fat is the worst thing that could ever happen to us. I think there is this statistic that 70% of women would rather be hit by a truck than be labeled as fat. People would rather die than do that.
When you think of that, it's really big. It plays a gigantic role into it. Because if you think about why the majority people get on the diet cycle, it's related to their body. And it's because we've been conditioned that a specific body is going to provide us with success, worthiness, happiness, confidence, feeling loved, whatever it may be. That just isn't the case. You can be a variety of body shape, sizes, genders, races, abilities, and ages because it goes deeper than just weight and size that can have that. It's not just saved for a specific look.
It's this culture that we've bought into. This idea that we bought into from growing up in this society that we live in.
Kellie: I often my clients as well - everybody has goals. And obviously the draw to the fitness and diet industry is aesthetic. That is a draw in my business. When they [clients] come to me with a goal, I ask: what happens then? Say you reach this goal? What changes about you? Are you going to love yourself more? Do you foresee that? Why would you love yourself more with this body? And it has to be that entire mental shift. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be lean and fit and strong. That's such a great goal. But if you get lean and fit and strong, are you going to love yourself more? If you don't see that happening, then we need to work on that self-love.
You talk a lot about body acceptance and self-love. What is your definition of body acceptance, for you?
Sarah: Body acceptance - I think there is this idea that it means that you are going to love every single inch of your body, every single day that you wake up. And that's an actual false. That's not what acceptance is.
Acceptance, for me, is that you don't think positively or overly negatively about your body; that it is what it is and it is one of those things where your body is no longer preventing you from showing up and going out and living the life that you truly want.
It's not waiting on a specific body to get you to happiness, confidence, success, all that stuff that I've talked about. It really is saying "this is me today and this is enough". It's a very much internalized feeling of "I am enough as I am" and realizing that you your body is such a small percentage of who you are as an individual. You are a person with thoughts, feelings, purpose, values, emotions, opinions, all this stuff. You're much greater than just your body.
It's really internalizing and knowing "I am enough and my body is here for me but it really is not everything about me".
Kellie: That's wonderful. Talking more about self-love, right? You say that - obviously nobody is going to love everything about themselves. That's perfectly normal. I've never met anybody that does. I've met more people about themselves than love.
How do you start cultivate this sort of self-love and how do women learn to love their body more?
Sarah: I think again come back to acceptance. When it comes to loving your body it really is acceptance. It's neutrality, it's not thinking "oh my God, I hate my thighs and I'm a horrible being" and it's not thinking "oh my God, my thighs are the best thing that ever happened to me".
It's just like "these are my thighs." And this is who I am and going to go out and do what I want to do.
That's really what body-love is: it's acceptance and neutrality. So when it comes to self-love it's kind of unlocking this idea that in order to love ourselves we have to love our body. Because body esteem and self-esteem are two completely different things. Self-esteem is a big umbrella term that does have a small portion of body esteem but it also has a lot of other things involved in it. Such as compassion, values, core beliefs. A lot of other stuff that kind of makes up our self-esteem.
Self-esteem really is at the root of all this stuff. At internalizing this emotion of "I'm not enough" or "I am enough". And through that process it really takes getting to the root of the issue. So oftentimes it's this fear of judgement, this fear of failure, internalizing of "I'm not enough", shifting the mentality around that.
The process of loving yourself is just knowing that you are enough. It's a really messy process. But it starts by getting rid of conditions that you've placed on your body. If you say, "I'm only going to love myself if I weigh x, y, and z" then we need to blow that up a little bit. We need to: A. stop weighing ourselves, which is a superficial level then B. we need to realize the core belief that you are thinking. Is it really the core belief that an individual can only love themselves or you can't love yourself unless you're this?
Shifting that mindset and getting back to your values. What is really important to you? How do you foresee yourself 15-years from now? 20-years from now? On your deathbed even? Do you want to be remembered by having a tight ass? If that's something that you value -great. Own it and rock it. But is it something that you truly value? And if not, then what do you value in place of that? And then just staying in your values, being authentic to yourself, and then treating yourself with compassion, respect, and kindness like you would anyone else that you love in your life.
Kellie: I love it. That is perfect. Do you have a strategy that you use with your clients as that initial stepping stone? Say somebody wanted to walk away from this interview and they're ready to get started. They're charged, they want to work on their body acceptance, they want to work on self-love...what is one thing that they can do every day, that initial step that will sort of propel them into the process?
Sarah: That's such a difficult question to just narrow it down to one because everybody is so incredibly different.
I'm going to say two things. Number 1: I think you would have to ask yourself where you are placing conditions. What is making you feel crappy? Is it the scale? Get rid of the scale. Is it your Fit Bit? Get rid of the Fit Bit. Is it a pair of jeans? Get rid of the jeans. If it's something like that that's a tangible item that's creating these emotions of "I'm not enough" or making you feel amazing when you did hit x, y, & z - then get rid of it. Because that's just placing yourself in this little, tiny box.
So that would be my number 1. Be aware of the things that are making you feel crazy, making you feel not right in your body, making you question your own worth.
And number 2 would be - in all honestly this is one of the most powerful things I ever did for myself and it often is for my clients, too because it's so small but it has a major impact - would be to start seeing other bodies.
Other bodies that are not only your size, but bigger than you. Getting involved in the body positive movement and looking at women of different shapes and sizes and not even just women. Looking at individuals of different sizes and shapes that are going out and living their lives. We can start to really see more than that 5% of people that we see within our culture and society because we only see maybe 5% of what is actually representing our culture. We only see about 5% of that in movies, billboards, whatever it may be.
If we start changing what we actually visually see that can be really powerful. Seeing women that are larger than you or even smaller than you or different color or different whatever it may be - just diversity. Seeing diversity and seeing them go out and live their life can be really, really powerful. So if you take just 5-minutes a day and look through social media and see within the body positive community - body positivity, body positive, those are both really good hashtags that I would say to [use to search through social media]. Get your visual sight and your mind to start seeing other bodies. That can be really powerful for individuals
Kellie: That is such an awesome tip. I love it because we have the tendency to go on social media and look at all the bodies that we define as perfect and we get so wrapped up in that we don't see our own body as being acceptable. So I really appreciate you giving that tip and I'm definitely going to go do that today. I'm excited about that.
Well, Sarah, gosh, you’ve given us such great information. I'm so glad that we sat down and had this talk. Body acceptance, body positivity, body celebration has been a huge talk in our community. People really get lit up about it. It ignites us and it makes us energized and you bring that energy to the subject so thank you so much.
Where can people find you?
Sarah: You can find me on all the social media at sarevance. On all the social media, I'm active on IG and FB both. And there's also my website, sarahvance.com, where you can download my free guide "5 Mind Shifts to Make to Start Embracing Your Body and Have Food Freedom". So that's how you will get my free guide and you will also get any updates. And of course my coaching services are there, my 1:1 coaching service, and a new program coming out in the next month or so that is going to be amazing and they say it has been life changing. Super excited about it.
Kellie: Awesome, thanks for sharing all that with us, Sarah. It's been such a pleasure and I'm really excited to get this out to my community. And we will chat soon. Have a great day.
Sarah: Thank you so much. You, too.