Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How I Found My Voice: The Story of a Sweat and Butter Health Coach

This isn't a weight loss success story. It's the story of a skinny girl with a lot of insecurities. This may seem unrelated to your purpose for visiting the Sweat and Butter Journal, but I assure you that my story is as - if not more - relevant to healthy habit formation than many weight loss stories you've read in the past. My name is Stephanie Telep, and I have worn many hats in my life. I am a Sweat and Butter health coach, but I also have been a daughter, an older sister, a younger sister, a middle child, an awkward teen, a girlfriend, an ex, a lover not a fighter, a young adult, a partner, a sappy Sally...shall I go on?

Stephanie's attempt at organized sports in 5th grade
I love reflecting on these roles, because they have shaped me in every way. Growing up, I was always the skinny one in the family. Because I wasn't overweight, I was aloof to the world of weight loss.  We didn't have terrible eating habits in the household. My family took advantage of opportunities to eat locally, and we cooked a lot of our meals at home. Our kitchen environment offered no sugary cereals, no candy drawer, and minimal to no chips or snacks. It is safe to say that items in my brown-bagged lunch were never fought over at the lunch table in elementary school. Suffice it to say that I never had to stress about my weight. I did, however, worry that paying any attention to my body would be misunderstood as vain or insensitive. I am not in any way trying to inspire pity, but, because I was a different body type from the rest of my family, I was encouraged to embrace my natural stature and give credit to the good fortune of my draw in the genetic lottery.

As an adolescent, I boasted the fact that I had an appetite like a football player. Everything seemed to go straight to my wild, curly hair. That is, until it started to go to my hips, which seemed to happen overnight. I went from a size 0 to a size 5 out of nowhere. Boobs came with the territory and insecurities flooded my entire being. Lovely. Even though I had always been "the skinny one", I knew I had certain feelings and reservations about my body.  In the words of the great poet Britney Spears: "I [was] a girl, not yet a woman."  I was fortunate enough to have a great support system, but, ultimately, issues of body image are solo journeys.

Another thing about me: I'm not very athletic. As a kid, I was more like a nervous ball of energy running around than a star athlete. I also did not give much thought to my meals when away at college, because, let's face it, buffet style was my favorite food!  I realized I was not motivated by competition, and anyone who challenged me to do my best was quickly disregarded with an eye roll and a sour face. A post-college breakup (I was the initiator) started a fire within me, inspiring me to focus on something other than the heartbreak. I signed up for my first half marathon and took to an online training program. 

In the past, I sometimes had a hard time following through with things. My efforts were usually mediocre, and I ended up falling short on many school exams. I never felt good enough at anything. I was not a science geek, a writer, a math whiz, or an artist. I had always wished something would just click, but I lacked the understanding that practice was the key to developing skills. People are good at things because they work hard at them?! Whaaat?! So this half marathon forced me out of my comfort zone in many ways. I had to compete with myself, follow through on commitment, and meet my own expectations. In other words, I wasn't permitted to wuss out at the last minute. 

The training period was unusual for me, as the responsibility to hit the pavement was mine alone. I had no one to answer to but myself. Running allowed me to make time to reflect on the feelings I pushed aside and confront my own errors. The time alone with my thoughts permitted me to take a step back from situations and dismantle the chaos of my introspection. For most of my life, I was guilty of finding ways to escape. I would have a whirlwind of thoughts that were self-deprecating: "You are worthless" 
"You suck at running" "Why would you think he loves you?" "Do you actually think you're the only one he is seeing?" "You are dumb" "You are ugly”. It was scary and sad because these thoughts were my own, not the voice of a bully on the playground. My doubts and fears all surfaced like high tide.

These discourses would often go into hibernation for a week or so, but eventually that hateful inner voice would reemerge. Before long my self-doubt began creeping up even during late night runs, which previously had been my refuge from the internal dialogue. One evening around two o'clock in the morning, after my shift at the bar, I was running with a heavy heart and felt the drag. I felt capable of maintaining my pace for the remainder of the run, but there was an emptiness inside. I heard myself saying, "If you decide to stop now, it's your decision. Your body hasn't failed you, you simply don't want to do it."

The word "fail" kept ringing in my head, and I couldn't take it anymore. I was disgusted that I

was being such a doormat to my inner demons! If anyone were to speak to someone I love in this way I would snap! So how on earth was I permitting myself this hateful dialogue? I needed self-love ASAP. I gradually realized that I had to be my own best friend. Nobody could do this for me. I imagined reaching deep down to my beaten up self and pulling her out of the dark place in which she had been residing and told her: "Come on! Only two more miles. You can do it!" 

As bizarre as it may sound, I had two manifestations of self at one point. Outwardly, people saw the positive, supportive person. On the inside, however, I had to identify the self-loathing counterpart that needed so much healing. The fear of failure was so deep that it manifested into a horrible, self-hating persona. I was forced to look at that fear. I needed to touch it, analyze it, and make a decision to not let it control me anymore. Of course I still have doubts and reservations today, but now I realize how important it is to face my demons head on rather than settling into a comfortable cycle of apathy. I'm worth more than that!

If you know one thing about me, you know that I love Michael Jackson. To sum up this story, I'll draw from one of his hit songs. In working through these insecurities, I was finally able to look at the (wo)man in the mirror to make that...CHANGE! It is hard to acknowledge that you don't like your attitude, body, efforts, or excuses. Having since shifted to a healthy balance of physical activity and conscious eating, I have found a new appreciation for my body type. I am more in tune with what my body is telling me and how I feel as it changes through different cycles of stress, eating habits, and general life. Although I still fluctuate from time to time, I am much more comfortable in my own skin. I finally realize what people meant when they would say, “You have so much potential!” I was in a constant state of potential energy until I decided to push through and burst out in kinetic glory.  

Here's to no longer hiding from ourselves and to the start of a life-long journey of challenging the comfort zone.

Stephanie Telep is a co-founder and health coach at Sweat and Butter.  She received her training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Duquesne University.  She is inspired to help others make necessary changes in their lives while fostering a positive and healthy path. She can bereached at

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