This article was first seen on the Huffington Post. For this installment, we are joined by Caty Pasternak,
Let’s start off with a general introduction. How would you describe yourself, what are you all about and how did you get involved in health and fitness?
I would describe myself as a vibrant, passionate, and soulful woman who seeks to inspire others to live their happiest life possible. I originally got involved in health/fitness after my own weight loss of over 100+ lbs as a teenager. The more weight I loss, the more committed to the lifestyle I became.
I eventually became a personal trainer and bodybuilder competitor. I’m no longer as extreme with my fitness routines, but exercise, fitness, and wellness are still huge parts of my life that I will always value and preach the importance of to others.
At 16 years old, you were 230 pounds… How did that happen?
Emotional eating…for sure. My parents were divorced since the age of 2 and I always felt lonely and isolated as a child. I would stay in my room all night, watching Friends episodes, eating all of the junk food I could sneak into my room. My parents became worried about my weight, but their forces to get me to diet or exercise only made me rebel and eat even more. It was a very painful time and food was a way for me to cope with the pain and isolation I was dealing with.
Since then you’ve lost over 115 lbs – that’s well over 50 kilograms, an amazing accomplishment. Tell me about those first steps, that first workout.
Oh, lord. I remember stepping into Planet Fitness and getting on the Arc Trainer and being in severe pain after 5 minutes. My legs were on fire and I could barely breathe. The beginning was not easy at all. But, with time, it got easier. I made very slow adjustments to my diet and added more time and intensity to my workouts as I progressed. My first stab at weight loss was actually pretty easy-going.
As you started seeing more and more results, what started out as more of a social thing, turned into an obsession – to the point of you being anorexic. When did you realise you were taking it too far and what did you do then?
I wish I could say I realized I took it too far when I was getting injured every other day or losing my hair….but I was in denial. But…it was actually one day that I caught a glimpse of my butt (or lack thereof) in the mirror and was shocked at how much fat and muscle I had lost. I knew I wanted to build my composition back up a little bit. It was definitely coming from a vanity place, rather than a health concern.
You wrote on your website that as you started going to the gym your parents were proud but that didn’t really affect you at all – you were thinking about being able to try on clothes in normal stores like Forever21. At some point you could, what let you to push beyond that point regardless?
It was never enough. The more weight I lost, the more attention I got. And as an obese teenager…I never got attention. And I never wanted to let it go. I liked feeling special. I liked feeling attractive. I thought “If they like me now….imagine how much they’ll like me when I lose even more weight.” I was chasing a perfectionist image that was completely unrealistic and unattainable and too young to realize.
You were doing at least 2 1/2 hours a day cardio and ate less than 800 calories when your friends and family suggested you might need help. When did you realise they were right?
I don’t think I really realized they were right until after the fact. Like I mentioned earlier, I started to dislike my anorexic body and wanted to add more muscle to create a better shape. This led me to changing my eating behaviors to eat more and switch cardio for weight lifting…but it was still coming from a very self-obsessed and dysmorphic perception of my body.
When you eased out of doing so much cardio and began lifting weights – what happened in terms of a mindset shift?
Although it was purely for aesthetics, it felt amazing to start lifting weights. I’ve always been a very driven and motivated person, and pushing myself to get stronger and lift heavier was a rush I had never felt before. I loved pushing my body. I loved learning about new techniques. I loved walking into the gym thinking “I’m going to crush this.” Lifting weights actually gave me a lot of confidence I had never had before.
Today, you’re healthy and strong – in fact you help others achieve their healthiest self. What drives you to wanting to help others? Do you want to spare them from the hardships you’ve been through?
Anorexia was only a small piece of my decade long battle with food and body. I’ve been everywhere on the spectrum from overweight teenager to anorexic young adult to obsessive bodybuilder to a compulsive binge eater. And it was painful. But, it was the inner work I was forced to doing in order to heal that truly saved me.
Meditating, journaling, self-development work, challenging my beliefs, learning to love my body, practicing mindfulness….it took me years of dedication but I am truly grateful for every day of struggle I went through because it allowed me to come out on the other end and help others in their journey.
And far beyond food and body. I’ve come to realize that my body obsession and food addictive behaviors were only a symptom, not a root cause of my problems. And realizing this…I’ve been able to relate to people that are dealing with a variety of issues from alcoholism to people-pleasing to anxiety and depression.
I’ve received hundreds of emails and comments from people who have been inspired by my story and my work now and it keeps me motivated to continue to produce content that serves others.
How do you personally avoid spiraling back into obsessive behaviour? Where do you draw the line today?
Meditation and connection to myself. I had to take a really hard look at my old patterns and actively work to rewire my brain to embody the new person I wanted to become. Someone that loved her body. Someone that felt free around food. Someone that exercised to be healthy, not to be skinny.
I make a commitment to myself every single day to choose love over fear and value my inner world more than my outer world. It has taken a lot of time, a lot of reflection, and a lot of mindset work….but it has changed my life. Of course, I’ll still have some struggles around body image and food….but I’m so aware of my inner world now that I can catch those thoughts, take a deep breath, and choose to act in the way that serves me best.
I still exercise everyday. I still eat healthy. But, I also allow myself to rest when I need it and eat whatever and however much food I want.
You mentioned you wanted to touch upon the use of social media and its impact on body image. I know you’re very passionate about this and it carries an emotional load as you’ve seen both extremes.
What are your thoughts there and what advice do you have for women who are trying to live up to the perfect physiques they see on social media and in the magazines?
STOP FOLLOWING PEOPLE THAT MAKE YOU FEEL BAD ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR BODY. PERIOD. A social media detox was one of the most helpful things I did during my body love journey. Not only should you stop following the fitspo, rail thin chicks that make you feel bad….but you should also actively start following women your size or bigger that you think are beautiful.
Iskra Lawrence and Ashley Graham are two of my favorites. These “plus size” ladies are absolutely gorgeous and are admired by millions of people. Forcing ourselves to see women who are full figured and being admired and loved helps us rewire our old limiting beliefs that skinny=love. It doesn’t. That is a scam society has been trying to force upon us that needs to stop.
Do yourself a favor and actively look up the hashtag #bodypositivity and find women to inspire you on your journey of body love.
You competed in a bikini competition and realised that it was not for you. You write a lot about finding happiness in your own body, does your experience competing relate back to your perspective on body image and loving yourself?
When I was competing, I had zero love for my body. I pushed through pain and injuries. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t nourish myself. I picked apart every piece of fat on myself. It was truly a traumatic time for me. Now, I look back at that time and cringe. I would never do that to myself every again. I love my body. I nourish my body. And I know that those extremes are not good for anyone…especially someone with an eating disorder history.
I know you also struggled with binge eating and night eating after your bodybuilding competition…how did you break free from that?
I wish I could say I woke up one day and decided to stop fighting my body and start intuitively eating and I completely stopped binge eating….but that was not the case at all. it’s taken me over 2 years to heal my binge and night eating disorder and it took me a great deal of learning, falling, and getting back up to get to where I am now. I tried intuitive eating, I tried loving my body, I tried therapy, I tried hypnosis…I did everything I could….but nothing seemed to stick.
Over time, I started to piece everything I was learning from mindfulness, self-love, intuitive eating, etc. and I started to see some changes. But, I didn’t see the huge transformation I was seeking until I started researching neuroplasticity and the brain’s role in all of this. Once I realized that my binge eating was simply a habit, a malfunction of my brain, I learned how I could retrain my thoughts and behaviors. I became so passionate about this mindset work that I started applying it to every aspect of my life and it has been truly transformational.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone struggling with food and body image?
You cannot get to where you want to go if you don’t love where you are. No book, no meditation, no coach is going to be able to help you heal your relationship with food if you hate your body and yourself right now. You need to have unconditional and radical love and acceptance for yourself and your journey if you want to see any change. That’s something I learned the hard way, but since cultivating this sincere love for myself…it has made everything so much easier.
What are your biggest life goals?
I have a lot of goals, but my overall life goal is to continue to inspire others and start hosting and speaking at large-scale events to impact hundreds or thousands of people at once. I believe in myself and what I teach more than anything in this world and I’ve seen the impact it can have on other people. I know I’m here to help other people and I want to do it in a big way. Aside from that, I just want to be healthy, happy, confident, and free. And I make sure I am embodying that every single day.
Where can people go to learn more about you online?
Stay tuned for the next interview of Real Talk Real Women!