This week we'd like to introduce you to Breanne Cogan, another amazing member of our wellness community! Breanne is a board certified behaviour analyst and is currently working towards getting certified as a health coach. Breanne is passionate about health, food and fitness but her path to wellness wasn't without challenges. Here are some of the challenges she's faced and advice to those who might be going through the same thing!
Wellness is a journey. There is no clear beginning or end and we all travel down different paths. Some of these paths are scenic and beautiful while others are unpaved and dark. While my current path is full of sunshine, I have traveled down quite a few rocky and uncomfortable roads before reaching this point and I am certain I will travel down many more like that on my journey. But, those are the roads that shape up and push us to show up and be our best self.
Wellness is all encompassing. It isn't just your physical fitness and ability, or your physique. It isn’t just your diet or what you choose to consume. It is all of those things. It is your mindset, it is your past present and future, it is your story, and it is your soul.
The most challenging portion of my journey thus far, began in college. I am from Boston and moved across the country after high school to attend Arizona State University. I didn't know a soul and I was eager and excited for this big step outside of my comfort zone. My naive 18 year old self wanted to continue my very new relationship with my then boyfriend, who was sticking around Massachusetts for college. I quickly made some incredible friends in Arizona and we shared a bond that remains to this day (ten years later!). I also very quickly developed some pretty detrimental eating habits with my new found freedom. I mean, why not have pasta and cereal for every meal. Oh, and that pizza delivery after almost every drunken night... This quickly caught up to me and I gained a few pounds. I felt a little self conscious and knew I wanted to clean things up a bit. My boyfriend at the time had many of his own insecurities that often presented themselves in the form of verbal and emotional belittling of me. He made comments about the small amount of weight I had gained. I can still so vividly remember a picture that was posted to facebook after a volunteering event at ASU. It was a picture that I did not feel badly about when I looked at it, but I quickly untagged myself after hearing his unwelcome thoughts about it and my body. This was not the first or last time over the course of 7 years that he would make me feel as though I was not enough. There is something about another person telling you there is something wrong with the way your body looks that is incredibly disheartening and sticks with you.
At that time I lacked the confidence and self love to walk away.
I developed a “love” of running during this time. I truly am not sure if I ever truly loved to run. Maybe I just loved that running made me feel okay about binge eating candy and other unhealthy foods. Or, running made me feel like I had a safe space to go and clear my head, to run away from problems that I wasn't able to physically walk away from yet. I ran my little heart out, I would spend excessive amounts of time on the treadmill at the school gym, it made me feel in control of some portion of my wellness. By sophomore year I had transferred back to a school in Massachusetts. Running was no longer enough to make me feel in control and I turned to purging. I would feel guilty about every morsel of food I consumed, trying to eat as little as possible only to later binge eat and purge to undo the damage. I struggled with various forms of an eating disorder through most of college. I think of eating disorders as more of a spectrum. In the society we live in, it is unfortunately incredibly rare for women and men alike to get off without so much as a touch of disordered or ‘unhealthy’ thoughts surrounding food or their bodies. It is this fact that has inspired me to be open and honest about my story and the work I do to lead a healthier and genuinely happier lifestyle.
If any portion of my personal journey thus far resonates with you in any way, I have some advice for you.
1. Accept that you are not alone in your struggles. This is true regardless of whether you share my struggles or have battles of your own that you are fighting on your wellness journey. Reach out to the people who love and care about you support and guidance. This is easier said than done but it is a necessary part of moving past your struggles. We, as human beings, require and need the support of those around us, don't isolate yourself. Cutting others out and putting up a wall has historically been my go to defense mechanism and I know I am not alone in that. Opening up and sharing your struggles and feelings is scary, it makes you vulnerable. A good way to start is to write it down. I have always been a fan of journaling and it is something I fall in and out of. During hard times, it is a great way to unjumble all of the thought in your head and process some of the things you are thinking about. Sometimes having a better understanding of how you are feeling and why, makes it is easier to consider confiding in someone you love. Another great option is therapy. If some part of your journey has shaped you to believe therapy is for the weak or crazy, I am here to tell you it is for all of us.
2. Get in the driver's seat. Take ownership of your journey, you aren't just along for the ride. When you stop blaming your past for things that are happening in your present, you are taking control. Allow your past to teach and shape you, but move forward and be a better version of you because of it.
3. Educate yourself. I don't mean through your favorite instagram influencer or wikipedia, I mean read some books (or listen to some audiobooks!) or peer reviewed articles. Do your own research and explore new things in the world of wellness. Just because something works well for your friend Sarah, doesn't mean it will or needs to work for you. We are all on our own personal journey and need to tailor things to fit our lives and our needs. It is okay to try things and find that they are not for you. I personally love hot yoga and incorporate it into my wellness routine multiple times a week, it makes me feel good. But if you ask me to take a spin class or go to barre, my answer will be a hard no. I don't enjoy those things and have no guilt about it. It doesn't make me less fit or relevant in the world of wellness.
4. Focus less on your appearance and more on your mindset and the way you feel. For me this has meant dedicating time to things like yoga that allow me to clear my head and be present. I love the unique challenge of yoga. I go week after week and there is never a class where I think “this is easy”. It is truly a practice, and you can always improve. I have also invested time and energy into reading self improvement books and tuning into podcasts and Ted Talks about the same. Some of my favorites are I Thought it Was Only Me (but it isn't) and Rising Strong by Brene Brown, The White Hot Truth by Danielle Laporte, and The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz.
5. Invest in yourself by investing in an expert. In my case I wanted to learn how to properly incorporate weight training into my wellness regime. AKA you would not have caught me dead anywhere near a squat rack and I wanted that to change. So, I found a way to work a personal trainer into my budget and life. I was living in Worcester at the time and went to a $10 a month gym and paid a trainer to train me 1 time a week for a ½ hour. That's all I could afford at the time and it mattered to me, so I made it work. After the first 6 months we bumped it up to an hour per week. I learned so much from my time with her. Not only that, I gained a confidence I had never possessed in my entire life up until this point and it carried over to my life outside the gym. Since I was financially invested, I found that I had less excuses to not go to the gym. It became a part of my routine. That was several years ago now and my love and appreciation for the gym and myself has grown exponentially.
6. Health shaming is a real thing, don't be a victim of it! Whether it be at the office where there are snacks and candy all over the place, opting to take the stairs over the elevator, that late night pizza order, or that extra margarita or two... you shouldn't feel bad about saying no. I found a lot, especially at the start of my journey, that people would always have something to say about my opting for healthier options. When I go out to eat I will do things like get a burger without the bun and over greens instead (I am not a huge bread person so this substitution doesn't make me feel like I am missing out) or get ½ fries ½ salad for my side. These are really small things that I can do to make going out to eat more enjoyable for me. I am able to stick to my own goals and feel good about what I am eating. It also saves room for the indulgences I really want to enjoy like skillet cookies and donuts from time to time! I used to feel badly about making smarter choices at restaurants and social events like it made me less fun to be around or something. Now that I am over that dilemma I can happily report, that isn’t the case! I now enjoy using those opportunities to educate friends and family about why I make the choices I make and how those choices provide me with a better overall quality of life.
I could go on and on about things that I have changed in my own life that have helped improve the overall course of my wellness journey. I hope that those I have provided give you a good starting point to feel less alone, feel more inspired, and reach a sunnier path on your wellness journey.
You can find Breanne on Instagram @bc__wellness for more information!