I was telling my client recently about one of my favorite healthy habits. This woman is gorgeous and thin and after 6 months of health coaching, looks amazing and has self confidence and love to match. So I was surprised for both of us when we had a very weird-but-normal conversation. I told her 3-4 times a week take a tablespoon of flaxseed oil. Before I could go through the long list of health benefits, she asked

“doesn’t that make you fat?”

I felt this wash of nervous energy and self doubt and wondered in a moment of panic if I was accidentally making myself fat…

Then I snapped back to reality around the same time she did (apologizing for such a blunt question) and we both laughed. It was a gut reaction that both she and I felt and it was fascinating.

To get the facts out of the way, flaxseed oil is fucking amazing and one of the best anti-inflammatory cures. It actually aids in weight loss since it helps digestion and removes toxins from your body. I take it because it helps with anxiety, improves cognitive awareness and brain function and supposedly keeps my lady parts healthy in case I ever want to have tiny-Emilys.

But I couldn’t let go of that moment where I felt so unexplainably embarrassed and scared that (cue shock and awe) I thought I might be fat. So I dug into the research and realized I’m not the only one.

Researchers from America’s Brigham Young University recently did a study on women who DON’T have eating disorders, who found that women felt scared of being overweight without consciously thinking about their figure.

Neuroscientist Mark Allen said: “These women in our study had no history of eating disorders and project an attitude that they don’t care about body image. Yet under the surface is an anxiety about getting fat and the centrality of body image to self.”

The motivation for this new study was to establish a point of reference among a control group of women who scored in the healthy range on eating disorder diagnostic tests but surprisingly, even this control group exhibited what Dr Allen calls “sub-clinical” issues with body image.

Dr Allen said women are bombarded with messages that perpetuate the thin ideal, and the barrage changes how they view themselves. “Many women learn that bodily appearance and thinness constitute what is important about them, and their brain responding reflects that,” he said.

So what do we make of all this?

It is so easy to quickly blame the media and its constant borage of photoshopped women in bathing suits. And I don’t want to do that. But a huge part of that rings true.

I heard this great analogy:

“It’s like the plant in my office. It has the potential to grow in any direction, but actually only grows in the direction of the window, the direction that receives the most reinforcement.”

And if we let the media be the thing that reinforces our subconscious fears of being fat, then absolutely, we will feel insecure and inadaquate. There is no way that we can hold up to unrealistic standards; but here is the beautiful thing, we have the ability to shape our own experience and replace the media with a more healthy “sunlight” that guides our personal growth and heals our expectations of perfection.

Surround yourself with amazing women of all ages and sizes

Surround yourself with smart, talented, funny women and spend lots of time with those women. Women who are obsessed with living healthy and happy lives. These women are rarely all size 2 women in their 20’s. My sense of body image comes from my friends. I have weekly conversations about sex and bodies (while watching the Bachelor with zero shame) with my petite yoga friend, a volumptuous mother of 3, a biathalon-loving woman in her 50’s and  a handful of women in their 30’s of all shapes. They are amazing and I love them all.

Tap into your healthy place

Meditation and yoga helped me tap into how my physical body and subconscious affect each other. In weird ways. When I am feeling sexually unattractive or “fat” I get really tight hips. When I am sexually empowered I have so much more flexibility. In the week after my last breakup, I lost a healthy 10 lbs and finally relaxed into my true body weight. I realized I carry unhappiness around in literal physical weight, so in order to stay my hottest, I need to make sure I am at my emotional best. Mindblowing..  When I am happy, I am super sexy. My happy place and my healthy place are the same. And it’s awesome.

Externalize your feelings and fears about fat

The best thing that my client could have done in that moment was to blurt out exactly what she was feeling. Because we were then able to work through it. And she’s at the place now where she can identify those feelings as unhealthy, have a good belly laugh about how crazy they sound and move on. All on her own (did I mention how much I love this woman) When we keep our fears hidden deep inside, they are more likely to take root and grow out of control. Talk about it – you may even help other women heal, the way she has helped me 🙂

Keep your health in check

This is going to sound harsh, but screw it, I think it’s important to say out loud. Sometimes you might be feeling a little fat, because you’ve gained some unhealthy weight.

Of course, our weight naturally fluctuates and not all weight gain is bad weight gain. But sometimes when we are tuned into our physical body changing with bloating, weight gain and skin changes, it can indicate deeper issues that we should be aware of so we can change our lifestyle to keep the deeper issue in check.

Often unhealthy weight gain can be linked to an unhealthy lifestyle change or a huge increase in stress.

DON’T PANIC. Just consider what lifestyle changes you can make to get back on track, not to be skinnier, but to be your healthiest. There is nothing more attractive to a partner than a healthy woman who is confident in her own skin. There is also nothing better than waking up in the morning and feeling great about your body, no matter what size it is.

Self love comes first and then a healthy lifestyle comes naturally.