The Real Reason I’m Losing Fat (The Answer Might Surprise You!)

This fall I wrote a blog post to share how and why I had been gaining body fat, and why I fully accepted and embraced it.

I was struggling with a lot of inner chaos, fear, stress, and sadness, and I trusted that I needed a little extra padding on me for protection. I knew that when I no longer needed to be protected, the fat would disappear again.

When I feel heavy on the inside I feel heavy on the outside.

This is perfectly normal and appropriate. My new belly fat wasn’t a problem, it was just a reasonable response to the emotional chaos I was working through. So I greeted it warmly, made it feel loved, and invited it to pose naked with me.

In December I did a naked photoshoot with my friend and photographer Chris. I showed up days after a breakup feeling puffy, pale, depressed, and exhausted. I told Chris to capture me exactly as I was; no smiles, no holding in my belly, no flexing, not even sitting up straight.

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He shot my rolls and my softness; my pain and my emptiness. I loved these photos.

Since then, my life and body have been through some major changes.

The first important change was a few days after the photoshoot, when I totally lost my shit, weeping and confessing the depth of my pain while wrapped in my mom’s arms. I hadn’t had the time or personal space in my fall travels to feel or process my feelings, and when I finally slowed down enough to open the floodgates, boy did they start flooding. And thank goodness; in one long afternoon of sobbing and hugging and then sobbing some more, I finally went from numb to just terribly, terribly sad.

My mom told me that my only job was to let myself feel all that sad. She told me to add “be very sadto my to-do list every day until I no longer needed it. Then I told her about the shame I had about of my own apathy. I couldn’t believe that I, normally so full of explosive emotions, could let myself get so dead inside. Where had that hopelessness come from? So she said to add “be depressed” to my to-do list. And there it was; all I had to do was be very sad and depressed. I felt better already.

The second important change came because I booked a flight to Costa Rica. I had almost no plan, other than to spend 2 weeks alone in a small surf town, and then 3 weeks with people I knew online but had never really met.

All I wanted was alone time to process and feel my feelings, since alone time was something I hadn’t gotten in months. I gave myself the gift of total unavailability for a few days when I first arrived in Costa Rica; no phone, no internet, nothing but time.

Those first few weeks I let myself tap back into my dreamy spiritual self, and I almost instantly came alive with new goals, mental clarity, and a sense of the ground being under my feet again. I made time to read and nap and journal and daydream and meditate and walk and watch the sunset.

I listened to my body, and through her I suddenly found all the answers to questions which had been dragging me down for so long.

My sense of purpose and joy were restored with an explosive bang.

Then when I came to stay with new friends, I slipped into a nourishing social life, supportive work environment, and healthy habits for food and sleep. Within a few weeks of getting here I was feeling light and joyful inside again, and naturally, I noticed that I had also shed a layer of bodyfat.

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It helps of course that all my meals were suddenly healthy and homemade with love. Plus the quality of sleep here was a life changer, thanks to going to sleep early and cutting electronics before bed. I was also working with clarity and purpose in a relaxed and supportive environment, so my stress levels all but disappeared.

I’ve been in Costa Rica for almost 3 months now, and I’m pretty significantly leaner that I was in December. I’m also lighter and smaller, because I haven’t been in the heavy-lifting grind since last August, and I’ve lost quite a bit of muscle.

Luckily, since I’m not attached to or identified with any particular outcome for my body, I’ve been able to love and appreciate it through thick and thin (ha!).

I loved being jacked and powerful, I loved being soft and curvy, and now I love being lean and light.

The reason I can love myself through all these fluctuations is that I know the size and shape of my body are unrelated to my worth, but completely related to my inner experience. I once admired my body for looking unapologetically strong and powerful, because I was exploring my own inner strength and power. This fall I admired my softness for being so womanly and safe, because I needed comfort and protection.

Right now I admire the contours of my abs, and how my shoulders look more delicate, because I actually feel lighter and more delicate. (If admiring myself this way sounds superficial to you, please watch my recent TedX talk on Radical Vanity: To me, women shamelessly admiring themselves is a cultural necessity.)

My body, like all bodies, is constantly in flux.

IN FLUX
Day to day, month to month, and year to year. I love that it’s in flux; my inner landscape is constantly shifting and fluctuation, and I expect and desire that my body reflects and honors that!

I’m sharing this because I want people to reconsider how they view body fat and fat-loss.

It’s easy to have lofty ideals of accepting and loving your body, but it’s much more difficult to do the deep self-examination required to avoid falling prey to every article on how to fix yourself.

One of my dear clients saw my instagram posts about a month after I got to Costa Rica, and demanded to know exactly how I had gotten leaner. Is it because you changed your nutrition? Switched up your workouts? Reduced your stress? Got more sleep?

Yes, of course. All of that. But WHY did those things happen? Did I make a conscious decision to lose weight? Hell no.

If you’re looking for a fat-loss plan you can replicate, you will not find it here. If you believe fat loss takes a lot of hard work, this will probably irritate you. If you’re a hardcore atheist with a chip on your shoulder, stop reading now.

You’ve been warned.

The real reason I lost weight is that I tapped back into my “light.”

When I’m light on the inside, I’m light on the outside.

After I’d had time and space to process the darkness, suddenly everything felt amazing, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude for my life. The heat, the beautiful views, the freedom, the independence, the whole damn thing gave me literal, actual euphoria attacks. I don’t know how to put it other than this: everything suddenly felt easy and bouyant. My insides became calm and light, my mind became sharp and clear. Everything seemed to be unfolding perfectly it’s right time; I felt alive, guided, supported, loved and whole.

There was no room for stress, and there was no need for numbing.

My habits shifted and my body shed some fat organically, when I re-tapped in my own self-trust, clarity, purpose, gratitude, and sense of divine meaning.

But… your workouts!

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Yes my workouts were different. I started doing some bodyweight workouts and cardio ONLY because there were so few options to move my body while traveling. I love lifting heavy weights, and I had been resistant to doing anything else, because bodyweight workouts and cardio seemed dumb and useless in comparison.

When I got here however, I realized that I needed to embrace the pleasure of many different types of workouts and movements if I ever wanted to use my body. I work out WAY less hard and less often than I used to, and with zero structure or plan. But I try not to let more than a few days go by without moving, and it all comes from a sense of “mmmm I wanna move my body.” Moving my body feels delicious and joyful, because right now I’m overflowing with energy and in touch with my body’s desires, sensuality, and pleasure.

But… sleep!

Yep, I sleep better now. Because I go to bed earlier and get up earlier (usually) and I don’t do electronics before bed (except for when I do). I’m only human so sometimes I do stuff that I know is bad for me, but the quality of sleep I get is exponentially better when I go to bed early and without netflix or texting.

Early to bed means more restful, deep sleep. No electronics before bed means more restful, deep sleep. More restful, deep sleep means more energy, better workouts, a clearer mind, and less of a desire eat sugar or stuff myself during the day.

But surely… nutrition!

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I know. You want me to have diet secrets. But I am an intuitive eater, which means I never follow rules, but I always pay attention to what makes my body and mind feel best. I eat what I want, when I want, but always with this “bigger picture” in mind of: what is going to make me feel my best?

For examples, if eat a bunch of sugar first thing in the morning I’m probably going to feel like shit later, so it’s usually not even vaguely tempting. But if I want cookie dough for breakfast (like I did on my birthday), I know that’s ok too.

I trust my body to tell me the right times and amounts to eat, and I trust it to regulate and balance out.

This fall, thanks to poor sleep and stress and sadness, I felt hungry all the time, and it took a lot to get full. I craved sweets, I ate til I was stuffed, I ate when I wasn’t hungry, I drank a lot, and I just basically let myself numb out when I needed to. And I DID need to, because I didn’t yet have a handle on WTF I was avoiding or dealing with.

Only when I went through the breakup, and put “be sad and be depressed” on my to-do list did I suddenly know what I had been avoiding. And suddenly, I wasn’t as hungry anymore. I didn’t watch as much Netflix or drink as much wine, either.

As soon as I started handling my dark stuff directly, I no longer needed to distract myself from them, and food became a source of joy and fuel rather than avoidance and comfort.

Right now, I eat what I want when I want, but I eat lightly. The weight of too much food brings my energy levels down and fogs my brain, and I currently prefer to stay clear-headed and energized. So yes, I’ve gotten leaner because my nutrition changed.

And it helps that my amazing roommate cooks amazing and healthy meals for us pretty much every night. But more than the food itself, it was my relationship to food that shifted, based on the light and joy of my inner life.

What about STRESS?

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Hell yes. I’m leaner because I’m relaxed.

But I don’t just mean relaxed like I don’t have deadlines or rent to pay. I’m talking about the relaxation that comes from a profound sense of existential Safety and Rightness. It’s a feeling that I am exactly where I am meant to be, according to some grand and benevolent design.

In my experience, there’s really nothing to stress about when you feel like you’re a part of some unknowably perfect plan.

I feel connected to and guided by source energy, as received through my body and my emotions.

When I need help or clarity, I ask my body and trust what she says. When I need more help, I ask directly for divine guidance, and I receive it.

This sounds made up and crazy.

Sure, whatever. Maybe it is. I neither know, nor care, if my beliefs about a universal design are objectively factual. I’m not interested in facts, I’m interested in empowerment.

These feelings and beliefs, this giant re-framing of everything, gives me such a sense of Rightness in my body and presence and clarity, that I’m able to completely let go and totally relax. I’m free of guilt and shame for anything I’ve ever done, because it’s all perfect, it brought me here. I’m free to show up fully as myself and give my absolute best, because I trust that that’s enough.

There is nothing to worry about if I love myself and give my best every day.

So I have no stress, and my hormones know this. My hormones and body composition respond to this relaxation and sense of Rightness by signaling deep and restful sleep, and a desire for light and nutritious food.

I’m leaner because I’m at peace. I’m leaner because I feel purposeful and fulfilled. I’m leaner because I believe I matter.

It won’t always be like this either, though. My body, and my connection to what I call the Benevolent Universe is constantly fluctuating and changing.

The key is to not get attached to one way of being, but rather to roll with the beauty and value of all of it.

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It’s all beautiful, natural, normal, and appropriate for you right now. That’s true when you have soft belly rolls, true when you’re totally jacked, and true when you’re light and lean. All reflect the ebb and flow of life. And none of it determines your worth, because your worth is intrinsic.


 

I am passionate about helping women learn to love their bodies, but loving your body as a woman in our culture isn’t easy, as you know. 

That’s why I created the Body Image Alchemy Blueprint

to help women explore and address the actual blocks that get in the way of truly loving and accepting yourself. If you want to love and accept your body no matter how it looks, but don’t know where to start, this course is for you.

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  • William Eberle

    There are many things in here that I need to hear. Things that friends have already told me, things that I already knew, but things which I have been struggling to put into practice. Knowing and doing are, sometimes, diverging lines. It is purely my experience and it is no comment on other people’s struggles, but the worst things I have encountered thus far in my life personally have been heartbreak. It can have a devastatingly destructive impact on me, if I let it. This time around, I think that I have done a better job of facing it and finding comfort in it, not “toughing it out” and trying to shut it up in a deep, dark corner where it wasn’t seen.

    I have been fortunate in finding positive people who have helped me identify ways to be comfortable with a situation and to be compassionate with myself. Being hard on myself has always been a “strength” but sometimes that, too, can be destructive if we aren’t also compassionate with ourselves.

    Jessi, you are one of those people whose own journey has helped me through my own. Your openness about your struggles and your process has been immensely helpful for me. This heartbreak thing doesn’t care if we are male or female, it can strike us all equally hard. And as you have helped me remember, caring about ourselves, loving ourselves, and being compassionate is key towards dealing with not only heartbreak, but any struggle we face in our lives. Self-image, exercise, educating, pursuing any goal, all of these things can be made better by having a proper attitude towards ourselves.

    As always, Jessi, thank you for sharing! You’re an inspiration 🙂 *hugs*

    • Jessi Kneeland

      Thank you for sharing!! It’s always interesting to see this material through a male perspective!

      • William Eberle

        Sometimes I feel like a bit of a voyeur, but then I am reminded that, really, many of the struggles women go through are the same for men, even if our society has different expectations between men and women, the core issues are very similar if not the same. At least, I have found that to be true for myself. I have learned so much from women I have met who have shared their struggles and how they have faced them and I remain deeply thankful to them all (including you, Jessi) for the positive changes I have seen in my life.

  • Rashida B.

    Amazing post. I was recently told I need to feel. I’ve spent so long not feeling I’m not even sure I know how to do that. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Jessi Kneeland

      Interesting. I’d venture a guess to say you feel plenty already, it’s just that you want to practice sitting with those feelings and letting them surface. I do this with clients a lot, helping them pay closer attention to their feelings. It’s tough when you’ve been trying to ignore them or dull them for a long time.

  • Jennifer Casey

    Mhmmm. 100% agree with you. You have an amazing soul & incredible gift as a writer.

    • Jessi Kneeland

      Thank you so much! <3

  • It’s the consistency that gets me. I get so into exercise, the diet, etc. and then when I go a bit off track, I’m liable to fall off the wagon altogether. I’m working on it!

    • Jessi Kneeland

      If consistency is the problem, then you probably don’t yet have your deep inner “why” for it. Once you find a why that is connected to your absolute highest values, motivation to stay consistent takes care of itself.

  • Gumpowder

    thank you

  • Thank you, I loved this. I’ve noticed the same–it all starts from the inside. You may try to follow a diet plan that is supposed to be BEST for you but if you are not at a right place mentally, it’s not going to work.
    I neglected my mind for so many years and put my physique before that (think extremely long and hard workouts even when tired, so just ignoring my body) but nothing good happened. When I’m at peace with myself, I don’t have to workout extremely hard, oddly enough, I look and feel better.

  • Great Post! This blog has a light hearted and practical approach to fitness that we seriously dig. It’s a great combo of real talk, laughs, workouts, motivation, and more.

  • Renita Kalhorn

    Such a wise post, thank you, Jessi. Especially this: “When I need help or clarity, I ask my body and trust what she says. When I need more help, I ask directly for divine guidance, and I receive it.”

  • This is such an awesome post. A lot of people go without feeling.

  • Probably the best post I’ve read on the subject of self and body. AWESOME.
    Continued success to you. God Bless.

  • Thank you for such an insightful, naked and profoundly relatable article. When your energy is good boy, does it bust through, eh?! I particularly liked your comments about how it was a landslide of horribleness (?!) that led to substantial physical changes just as, once back at your fitness peak, it took many incremental adjustments to whip yourself back into shape. There is isn’t one diet, one program, way that can ‘fix’ things. Headspace is a great beginning.

  • Valerie Zollinger

    Beautiful post❤️ I’m so grateful for my friend Jess Mather who shared it with me! I used to think that acceptance meant settling for less, and thus became obsessed with perfectionism. But what I’ve come to realize is that acceptance is the key to becoming more….more spiritually grounded, more loving of yourself and others, more of whatever it is that we are meant to be and more capable of making the impact we are meant to make. Thank you for your transparency, and for the reminders that no matter what is going on with our bodies at any given time, it’s exactly where it is needs to be.

    • Jessi Kneeland

      Yes yes yes absolutely!! “More of whatever it is that we are meant to be” <--exactly!! I'm also grateful to Jess for sharing and supporting. 🙂

  • Eurydice

    I don’t believe in providence, but I stumbled on this post at the most amazing time. Everything you wrote hits a chord in me that I didn’t quite know existed. I’m just recently coming to some major clarity about several issues in my life. At the same time I’m struggling with a 15 pound weight gain that I just can’t shake off. My intention is to eat mindfully and do the physical things that I love vs. punishing myself with food and exercise like I’ve done in the past. Thank you from the bottom of my heart – your writing has really touched something in me that needed to be spoken to.

    • Jessi Kneeland

      Wow, thank you for sharing that. I am so grateful that my writing has the power to reach you like that, and I’m sending you so much support and strength!! <3

  • Laura parry

    Thank you for this post! Literally I am going through the same flux as you have been through but I need to look to accept it and then move on. I know I will get back to a leaner more healthy version of myself but after I deal with this negative energy that isn’t me. I’m moving, leaving a job that is full of negativity which has finally worn me down to a person I am not. I’m working my way out and headed back to a place where I was probably the healthiest and I can’t wait. So I am incredibly thankful to you for sharing this and sharing your confidence in all ebbs and flows of life. It is courageous and inspiring. You’re amazing!