020. How to Prioritize Fitness without it being an Obsession ft. Makena Romagnano; @balancedmakena

Makena Romagnano

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Ryann Nicole

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Episode Transcript

Ryann

Hello. Hello. I’m so freaking excited for this episode. I have McKenna here. She and I, I can’t even remember how we connected, but regardless, I’m so grateful that I did because she is just such a bright light. Fitness and athletes and all that kind of stuff is her realm of expertise. So we’re going to dive into movement today, a lot about fitness, a lot about mental health, how they kind of work together.

So I’m so excited to bring McKenna on here. McKenna, thank you so much for coming on the Coffee Docs Therapy podcast today. So why don’t you tell us to start off like a little bit about who you are, what you do, and then how you got started with your Instagram, Balanced McKenna.

Makena

Of course. So basically, I like to introduce myself as a college athlete, a certified personal trainer, and owner and operator, I guess, of Balanced McKenna LLC, which basically, I started my Instagram for it’s an online coaching business that helps former athletes, whether you were like a college athlete, high school athlete, or just did it for fun, intramurals and stuff like that. Just find your strength and identity to develop self-confidence and self-efficacy in your body and life. And mainly I just started this platform because I myself struggled with an eating disorder in high school, which put me in a bubble of like not fitting in and not really feeling connected to the people around me. And I was in constant struggle with food and exercise. I even had to give up my sport of tennis for a few years.

And during that time, I had like a serious identity crisis on who I was without my sport. And I know that so many athletes go through this phase of like, literally now what do I do? I’ve been in practice and coaches have been telling me what to do for so long. And now I kind of just feel lost. So I learned and I grew up as my passion for fitness and health, and I went down the more sustainable route. So I immersed myself in like literature and knowledge and literally just learning as much as I could. I am like a sponge. I constantly have a podcast in my ear and I absolutely love learning.

And so slowly but surely, I got the courage to start my Instagram account, which is something that if you would have asked like 10 year old me if I would ever be on a podcast, let alone like start an Instagram to document my fitness journey and help other women do the same. I would have like thought you were absolutely bonkers. So it’s kind of crazy to think of how far I’ve come in the last couple years, but I really want to just serve other women because I wish I had something like my account a few years back. So I just want to be able to be that kind of person that just listens and will be able to help people if they just even need to chat because I was there at one point and I don’t want people to have to suffer through that as well.

Ryann

Totally. And what I love about your Instagram and the approach that you take is that identity component that you add into it, which you just kind of discussed because I feel like growing up, we create this identity for ourselves. And then when we are in a sport growing up or if you are a collegiate athlete or anything like that, it does totally form your identity. And I think that it’s so important to recognize that we kind of form our identity based on our actions. So if we are an athlete that’s life revolves around whatever sport that we’re doing, of course, that forms our identity. And so when we aren’t doing that anymore, or let’s say you graduate from college, or you decide that you’re burnt out, or you decide that you want to do something different, it is like, okay, then who am I without that?

And so I think that it’s so important that you bring that part in, because I feel like not a lot of people address that, but like, it’s something that all of us kind of feel, whether it is in relation to letting go of a score or doing something different, or just kind of making these changes in your life when you’ve been doing something for so long, and you change, you definitely have that identity crisis where it is like, as you were a tennis player, and then you said you took a little bit of a break, and then how you kind of navigated that, like, into the fitness world that you are now, like, after you were, you know, known as your, or your identity was formed around tennis for so long.

Makena

Yeah, so like, basically, I’ve been playing for around like eight or nine years now, and I’ve done sport my entire life. So I feel like a lot of people can relate. Whereas like, even if they were little, parents would take them to the soccer games, they would go to basketball, swing practice, whatever it might be. And eventually you just get burnt out because that is all, you know, and so what do you do in your free time? Oh, I’m a swimmer. Oh, I’m up. I play basketball. And that becomes so closely tied to who you are as a person that when you take that away from the equation, it’s kind of like, what happens next? Like, who am I? So I did have to take some time off. It was not by choice.

It was because I was so sick with my eating disorder and like it was doctor’s orders. I had to go to therapy and things, but it was kind of the break that I didn’t know I needed because taking a step back from where I thought I should be and who I was as an athlete really gave me perspective into who I am as a person. So instead of having 100% of my identity tied up in my worth as a tennis player, if I did well that day, I was a great person. If I lost the match, then my whole day was shot. Like it’s very different going towards a more sustainable approach. And just fitness in general, especially now with this whole pandemic going on, I feel like a lot of people recently have been saying like, I don’t get to play my sport. Like, I don’t know what to do with my time.

And that’s where I feel like my fitness journey kind of took action and started because of this new kind of gift of time, I like to say, where we were given so much extra time and most of our sports facilities and teams and things were shut down. And we really had to get creative about what our hobbies were. And so I like to take all of my girls and myself included, I went through like a hobby list and literally tried out so many things. I even would be journaling, I would try meditation, I tried yo-yo at one point, like I literally got my hands on anything that I could do just to be a little bit more exploratory with my interests.

And so eventually I landed on weightlifting, which is a form of fitness as well, but I feel like it’s so different to the competitive form of fitness that I have grown up with being more like self-guided. So I go to the gym on a regular basis and I lift the weights. There’s no pressure, which I think is huge for athletes to realize that you have to have something in your life where there’s no pressure to be perfect. Because in athletics, we want to win. We have our coaches, our team depending on us. And if you can find something just for you that even relieves the pressure just a little bit, that is so key, at least was key in my journey to find something that was sustainable and I could do long-term.

Ryann

Oh my gosh, the pressure piece is huge. I was a swimmer growing up and I can totally relate to that. When you grow up and you are a serious athlete and that is something that defines who you are, that is your life, you do have this mindset where there is pressure to win, there is pressure to be perfect, there is pressure to play perfect. And I think that that is such a huge thing that we established very early on. So before we dive more into that, I would love to go back a few steps and kind of touch on the eating disorder component that you had. So tell us a little bit more about that. Like when did that manifest and like what kind of happened there?

Makena

Oh, basically, I honestly couldn’t tell you exactly where it started. I feel like it was kind of a birth of genetics, of my environment, of just my personality in general. I’m a type 3 enneagram, very type A personality. And so I feel like all that together was like the perfect storm, especially in middle school and high school where I wasn’t really known as somebody who had a lot of friends. I was very much friends with everybody, but I didn’t really know anybody. I was very much acquaintances with literally everybody in my math class, science class, you name it, I knew them, but they didn’t really know me. And that’s where I think it really stemmed from was, I felt like I knew so many people, but I wasn’t connected at a deeper level.

And being able to try to fit in with all of these different people led me to spread myself way, way, way too thin and not really focus on myself. And I tried to fit it in so many different buckets that I ended up not fitting in anywhere. And that’s kind of where my eating disorder started. So I was diagnosed with anorexia. Honestly everything is kind of a blur at this point so I’m not exactly sure the timeline of everything but when I was diagnosed I was originally taken out of school, had to go into multiple treatment centers just to get help for my condition and what I was dealing with at the time. I believe I went into like six or seven different in-person treatment centers where I had to leave school.

I took a gap year as well to get help. And it was just a long and tumultuous journey with most of all just restricting food and overexercising were my kind of vices. And that’s where I really see a lot of people maybe not have an eating disorder, but disordered eating and disordered relationship with food and exercise, which I feel like needs to be nipped in the bud before it can turn into something long term. Because as I know from first hand, it took so much away from me in my life. Like for example, even in tennis, like I couldn’t play to my years in high school because I was so sick.

I couldn’t play my best when I was on the court because I wasn’t fully there and focused. So my eating disorder took so much away from me, not only time of my life, but also like friendships that I could have had, events that I could have went to. So many things were basically taken out of my control from my eating disorder that when I got to the point of needing help, it was almost too late. And I remember vividly a few times being in a hospital bed with my heart rate so low that people were surprised that I was still alive. And that kind of took me to, people say you have to hit rock bottom before you can bounce back. And that really was my rock bottom. I was barely living and only surviving. I wouldn’t say I was thriving at all. It was a struggle for me to even get up in the morning, but that all took me to the where I am today.

And with countless hours of therapy and countless, just soul searching, I guess you could say, it’s just so empowering to figure out like why I went through what I went through and not necessarily know every single detail, but be able to like accept the past for the past and be able to move on into the future because the future is so bright. And the way I see it is the past is in the past, the present is what you make it, and the future is what is to come. And that just gets me so excited every single day to be able to use what I’ve learned in the past to hopefully help other people and also keep myself on track.

Ryann

I love that so much and what I really appreciate is you openly sharing that you went to six or seven different in-person treatments or therapists or whatever and I feel like that is so important to draw attention to because I know that a lot of people have expressed to me or just expressed in general that therapy doesn’t work, this process doesn’t work, and I think it’s so important to kind of recognize that, you know, it’s not like a one-and-done kind of thing and sometimes the first person that you meet with, the first treatment center that you meet with, is just not aligned with what you need in that moment.

So that doesn’t mean that it’s not gonna work, it just means that maybe there’s somebody else out there or something different out there that works better for you. You know what I mean? Like we are all different people, we all have different personalities and that means we align with other people and other treatments and other methods of processing this that work better for us based on who we are. So what do you feel like finally helped you kind of embrace recovery, finally get to that point after you had been to quite a few different treatment centers?

Makena

So I really think that I took maybe bits and pieces from every place that I’ve been to. And I don’t want to say one place was the worst, one place was the best, because that’s really narrowing it down into a very slim bubble. And different places work amazing for different people. But the crazy thing about treatment is that a lot of people don’t realize it’s very much a revolving door. The amount of times that I walked into a treatment center as my first day and I saw so many familiar faces from other places honestly shocked me even and I didn’t really get used to the fact that people are going to be there.

It’s kind of like a weird community of people who are just trying to recover and they go to every single treatment place that they can get their hands on and every single therapy session that they can do and still nothing works. So I feel like I was so young at the time, I was under 18 and so I didn’t really have full autonomy over where I went or what I did. My parents more took that into their own hands as they did because they cared about me so much that they gave me the opportunity to go to different places and try different things. But ultimately you have to do it for yourself.

So since I was a minor at the time, the majority of my treatment stays were basically chosen by my parents. I didn’t really have much say, but their intentions were great. I know that as a fact, but they wanted recovery more than I did at the time. And once I fully felt in alignment with recovery is when it all kind of unfolded. I understood different pieces and parts from other therapy places. And eventually when I did it for myself, I ended up recovering alone, I guess, quote unquote, because I’ve been in therapy for so long. I honestly, there was nothing left for them to teach me and I’ve gotten all the knowledge that I can, but the implementation of it was key for me and doing it outside a treatment center was what really stuck for me because I can do things.

If somebody tells me to do something, I will 100% do it, but it’s if I have to do it for myself, it’s do I care enough about myself and do I trust in the process enough to actually follow through? And I did have all the tools but it was also up to me to make the initial but they like change that change my life and That’s kind of where everything stems from so I had all the foundation from treatment centers and things and then when I finally just Jumped all in as I’d like to call it. That’s a story That’s another whole story about going all in and my food journey as well, but I think that was key for me was just choosing it for myself.

Ryann

Yes, yes, and and that’s really what it comes down to. I mean you can get all of the skills and all of the knowledge and everything that you need to know handed to you, presented to you, whatever, but until you decide that you’re worth it, until you decide that this is something that is worthwhile, that is worth your energy, that there is a better life than the one that you are currently living, no change is going to happen. You have to put in the work. So I love that you address that. So after this, did you, because you’re in college now, are you playing tennis in college now?

Makena

I am actually, but I mean, it’s kind of been rocky. So my first year, I was not cleared to play. I was just too of a body weight to be cleared and understandably athletics did that in my best interest. But my sophomore year, I was also not playing. I mean, that’s this year, just because the season was unfortunately canceled. I played my first college match last March in Florida on spring break, and everything shut down that week. So that was kind of where I stood. And I’m honestly so, so grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had and the realizations that I’ve come to because if everything would have shut down when I was deep in my eating disorder or even not even fully recovered, but just, I like to say quasi recovery where I was for a majority of my life, I would say I would be in a very tumultuous place right now internally because I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.

Because all that time and all that energy that I put into my sport, and now having that literally just ripped out of my hands without any control that I can do for it, it’s kind of crazy to think that I’m so calm right now. Because I know how much I can offer and what my sport has given me, but also what I can give in other aspects of my life, and I don’t define myself by it anymore, but surely 100% I still love and adore tennis, and I will until the day I die, but it’s just not as a big part of my life anymore, and it doesn’t dictate my happiness.

Ryann

Totally, so going off of that, because I was never a collegiate athlete, I would love to know what it’s actually like being a collegiate athlete. I mean, I know that with the coronavirus, you have had a little bit of a different experience, but I mean, tell me some more about like the behind the scenes stuff. Like, what is it actually like having to be a student and then having this like very intense training schedule and the reality of being able to balance both?

Makena

Yeah, so it differs depending on what college you go to and what division you’re in. But I’m in Division II, and that was partly because I wanted to have a life outside of athletics. My goal was D1 my entire life, and I honestly could have gotten there. But I have just had that epiphany, like, I don’t want sports to rule my life. So it obviously depends on what school you’re going to. But for us, it’s just it’s so different because there’s the glitz and glam of like winning a match and the interviews and the newspaper and the magazines and all those things that people see on the outside, but they don’t see those practices that don’t go to plan.

They don’t see those early morning practices when it’s like 30 degrees outside and we’re playing outside. They don’t see like the hours of day that are dedicated to learning your sport and improving team bonding, team building, and even on the nutrition side of things, inside our team, it’s just diet culture because there is still praise for eating less, especially on like trips or vacations and things that we go to to play matches. People still, we travel with the guys team a lot, and it’s still definitely a stigma that the guys eat more than the girls, and just little tiny things like that when the camera is off and there’s no behind the scenes that’s being broadcasted anywhere, the social media aspect of it is kind of turned off and people don’t see when we lose, what really happens.

We literally get up and go back to practice. And I feel like it’s so glamorized. And of course, I mean, there’s great parts of it, but there’s also really, really hard days where we have to practice on Saturday and Sunday when everybody else is sleeping in and doing their own fun things we get up and we go to practice and those are the kind of things that I feel like people don’t really see. They see the glitz and the glamour of course but they don’t see like the locker room and just every little tiny minutiae of detail that goes into our team building and team performance.

Ryann

Yeah I love that you just brought that up because I was gonna ask just from a outsider’s perspective, I’ve never been a tennis player, I feel like there is this generalization or just this expectation that as a woman tennis player, it is very like the glitz and the glam like you said, like when I think of tennis, I think of like a cute Lululemon, like little skirt.

Makena

Exactly.

Ryann

A long, like beautiful ponytail. And that’s totally just like an outsider’s perspective based on what the media has shown me and just like how toxic it is on the outside of just like the generalization of what tennis is like for girls. And I can’t even imagine being on the inside, having that perspective on the outside, did you feel that pressure at all?

Makena

100%. I feel like a lot of people put tennis as a country club sport where people don’t sweat at all and they just hit the ball over the net and they laugh and giggle. It can be what it is, but for the collegiate level and just the level that I’ve been playing at for most of my life, that’s 100% not the case. I show up to practice in an oversized t-shirt and some leggings, hair in a bun, and I just grind. And that’s something that people don’t usually see is the kind of effort and energy it takes to be good at something. I mean, if you are good at anything, you know how much dedication it took to get there. And I think the misconception with tennis especially is that it’s so boring and no one would ever want to do it or it’s so easy and everybody can do it, which it’s actually really interesting if you think about the strategy behind it. It’s all angles. It’s all strategy.

You could have the most amount of points won in the match, but if they aren’t won in the order that they need to be won, you could lose the match. So it’s very technical and it’s very intense brainpower and very, very much pressure full situation. And especially when you’re looking at it from like a team perspective, playing doubles with a partner, you have to make sure your chemistry is there, because if you’re playing doubles with somebody who doesn’t want to be there, it’s not going to be a fun time for either of you.

So we really have to focus on kind of what is the sport and how can we do it the best of our ability. And that most of the time does not look like blue lemon skirts and cute tank tops. For the majority of my life, I’ve been wearing oversized t-shirts and leggings to practice. And definitely there is a time and a place for like the country club tennis, but more often than not for if you’re being competitive, it takes a lot more grit.

Ryann

Oh my gosh, I love that you just kind of like threw that out there and it’s so true. So with you going from two to three hour practices, I mean that is a long time. Do you feel like growing up where that was normalized, like two to three hour practices were normalized, that that kind of skewed your vision on how fitness should be, like how you should work out as a human being, like that two to three hours is something that you need to do versus like maybe like a 30 minute workout, because that was something that you did your entire life.

Makena

110% yes, because I feel like, especially with sports that are more endurance based where people do have longer practices After like after your practice the last thing you want to do is go to the gym and totally understandable For the majority of the people but for me I took that to the extreme and I really was like, okay If I go to practice this long, obviously, I’m not done for the day I still need to go to the gym and I still need to get a workout in and that’s kind of where The other part of my eating disorder stemmed from was the over-exercising piece, which was very, very toxic because as you were saying, like an exercise routine can be, a workout can be so effective if it’s like 30 minutes.

And I did not agree with that. I did not see that. I would refuse to believe it. And so all of my workouts were so incredibly long and not until I actually read more, understood, got my certification, did I realize that’s actually not helping me in the long run? And I feel like a lot of people put so much pressure on themselves to do that such a long workout, but in reality, that’s just not how muscle synthesis works. And if you’re trying to build muscle and just be the best athlete and best person that you can be, majority of the time, anything over an hour and an hour and a half with a warmup and cool down is more than enough.

And you’re probably doing more harm than good. And that took me so long to internalize. Of course, I read it and I understood it, but actually internalize it and put it into practice. And only until I did that, did I see progress. Like I saw progress the second that I stopped putting so much emphasis on how long I’d been at the gym and started putting emphasis on what I did at the gym. Instead of being there and crushing myself for like two to three hours, I literally just took the moment to think, okay, what can I do to better myself right now?

Doesn’t matter the time, because I feel like growing up with practices that are that long and even coaches too, um, that say you’re doing this practice and then you should go to the gym because you want to be the best version of yourself that you can be, that kind of puts that pressure on you from the adult side as well. You’re not good enough the way that you’re doing things right now, you need to be better. And of course, there’s always room for improvement.

But I think when especially when it’s coaches and people who quote unquote, no better than you telling you that you’re not doing enough, even if it’s a generalization to the whole group of people in that lesson, it still hits home saying like, I’m not doing enough the way that I’m doing it right now, even when I was doing practices that were two, three hours on top of like a two, three hour workout for the day and being told that I still wasn’t doing enough. I feel like that’s where everything kind of really spiraled.

Ryann

I completely relate to that because again, as a swimmer growing up, I mean, in the swimming world, you do morning and afternoon practice and each practice is two hours long. So at one point, I mean, a few days a week, I was swimming four hours a day. And yeah, when you leave that sport or you no longer do that sport, I know for me, like in my head, I was like, okay, one hour workout, that even seems short. Like I feel like I need to go out there and I need to do at least an hour of this and then an hour of this and then an hour of this because that is what was kind of put into my mind as what was normal.

And so I want to kind of like change gears a little bit and now talk about how you found balance, like how you’ve pulled yourself away from that, like after recovering from an eating disorder and then being in the tennis world and like still being a collegiate athlete, like how you support your mental health so you don’t get sucked into that. So let’s talk before we dive into that more about your all-in food journey. Tell me more about that and what you mean by that.

Makena

Yeah, so I feel like it’s become pretty popular in the media as of recently, especially with Stephanie Buttermore going all-in. She’s one of a pretty big influencer and she was shredded, shredded enough to be considered stage lean for like a bodybuilding competition 24-7. She also opened up about how she had extreme hunger and that’s something when I read her story, I was like, oh my gosh, this is me. I was so hungry but not allowing myself to eat and I was still so incredibly lean and just small and not only mentally or physically but also mentally. I was so small and I didn’t have any capacity to do anything else. So that’s when I really decided, okay, recovery is worth it and I want to go all in, especially seeing another female role model that I look up to do this as well.

It kind of gave me the extra push to say, you know what, this is something that I want to do. And especially after reading the research from Dr. Nicola Rinaldi, No Period, Now What? That also really opened my eyes to the female athlete triad and just the consequences that can come from under eating and over exercising for so long. And so what I basically did was all in, it’s kind of like a protocol where you ideally stop all exercise. I wasn’t in the headspace where I could do that just yet, but I did severely cut down my exercise as well as increase my food to the amount that I needed.

And I put no restrictions on myself whatsoever. I had let myself eat whatever I needed for as long as I needed and I gained weight very very rapidly and this was during my Freshman year of college and right before that as well And I gained so much weight so quickly that it kind of scared me in all honesty but eventually my hormones did regulate I did start my cycle regularly and Everything kind of just fell into place even though I was up like 30 40 pounds from my starting weight, I feel like I not only gain the weight back, but I gain my life back. And that’s where something I feel like people need to take more into consideration that it’s not always to lose weight to lose weight. Sometimes people need to gain weight and that is perfectly okay and honestly the healthiest thing they can do for themselves. So I was struggling with hypothalamic amenorrhea and that’s really what was the precursor to having me go all in. I already was, what was it, what’s it called?

Osteo, I had osteopenia basically, and which is a precursor to osteoporosis. So that kind of was like a wake up call to me. I’m a 17 year old girl, and I have the bones of a 60 year old female. And that was something that I was not okay with. I was like, I still have so much life ahead of me. The last thing that I want to do is break a bone and it be so damaging to my life. So that’s really where I started to go all in and it lasted for quite a few months. My body eventually trusted me again. My extreme hunger went away and I’m now able to go through my whole entire day not preoccupied with food and exercise and be able to really just nourish my body and feel my body for what it needs and not what society tells me it needs.

Ryann

So tell me, because everybody that I talk to, clients, just people on Instagram, one of their biggest fears, or one of the hardest things they find to be able to cope with, or one of the biggest fears they have when going all in, or allowing themselves to actually eat what they need is fear of weight gain. So how did you cope with the weight gain? How did you mentally stay in a good place to keep moving forward as you were gaining this weight?

Makena

Such a good question, because that’s the biggest thing in our society. Girls, even in sport and just in the world in general, are trying to shrink themselves constantly. And that’s something that we need to really bring awareness to, because that’s not the foundations for a healthy life. I wish I would have known that in growing up because I was the smallest person in the room. I just had genetics that I was naturally gifted as like a runner. And so that kind of lends itself to be more of a thin physique. And not that I was unhappy with what I looked like, but it got to the point where I was so small that I just was not living my best life. And I think the weight gain was needed. And I knew that deep, deep down, but also I was scared to give up the life that I’ve known for so long, even though it wasn’t healthy, it was normal.

And I feel like stepping out of that normal comfort zone is something that is super, super hard, no matter if you’re having a good change or a bad change, just getting out of that comfort zone to begin with is something that is so difficult. And for me, going into this whole weight gain journey, not only was I thinking about the weight I was gaining, but I was thinking about the other things in my life that I was gaining and putting that into perspective. Weight was only part of the thing in my life that I was gaining. I was also gaining confidence. I was gaining self-efficacy. I was gaining friendships, relationships. I was gaining food freedom. I was gaining all of these things that you can’t really put a price tag on or a number on, but I was becoming so much of a better version of myself that I feel like the waking was kind of second thought after a while.

Of course it was hard in the beginning, but I think also having people who were doing it as well, like Stephanie Buttermore and there’s a few other influencers that have had such a positive impact on me during this journey. I think seeing people as well go through it and having a supportive community around me is something that really I cannot express how amazing that has been. But also just focusing on the things that are not the scale weight that I was gaining. Because there’s so much more to life than what you weigh, and I feel like that really was solidified in me these last couple years.

Ryann

I literally have chills. That, I mean, I’m gonna quote all of that. That is so good, and it’s so true, right? Like, yes, sometimes with beginning your intuitive eating journey, or your all in journey, or whatever, you might gain weight. Might not happen, but it might. And I think it’s so important to recognize, okay, yes, you might gain weight, but what else are you gaining? What else in your life are you getting back?

And then what is more important because when we focus on our weight we’re saying my weight is the most Important thing about me and my life and when we let go of that we’re saying okay That doesn’t define me that doesn’t even matter because that is not that is not who I am That is not the most interesting thing about me I have all these other things to offer and so when we can change our mindset to really focus on, yes, like, okay, maybe we’re gaining a little bit of weight, but what also are we gaining, we can help ourselves from falling back into that diet culture mentality, or listening to that inner critic voice in our head that gets so loud when we gain weight, or when we’re afraid of food, or when we see something that is triggering.

So that is so huge. So from there, you have created a very balanced lifestyle around food and around fitness. So what is your, I mean, I know you talked about it a little bit earlier, but what is your current routine with fitness and what is your current mindset around fitness?

Makena

So I’ve come from obviously a competitive background. So moving forward into my fitness journey now, it’s so much more balanced. I do have a workout plan that I follow and I do have an amazing coach. I think all coaches need coaches and my coach has a coach and so on. But I feel like it’s more the accountability piece than anything. And she keeps me aligned and knowing what I need, even though I can’t tell her what I need, having that relationship and just knowing that I can have a workout that’s 100%, I actually hopped on my stories yesterday and was talking about this.

My workout yesterday was not amazing. And in the past, I would have beat myself up about that. But instead of doing that, I gave my 100% that day. And my 100% that day does not look like the same as my 100% the next day. As long as I give 100% every single day, then I will see progress. Then I will see progress in every aspect of my life, not only the fitness part of it. And that’s where I think weightlifting has been so therapeutic for me because it’s literally just me and the barbell and I have a competitive attitude and I just compete against myself. There’s no outside pressure. There’s nobody watching.

It’s literally just me and the barbell. And if one day I’m feeling great, then I can go a little bit harder. If the next day I’m needing more of a chill session, I can totally do that and listen to my body and what it’s asking you to do. And I think we should all just find fitness that works for us because it’s so imperative that we enjoy what we’re doing on a daily basis. And it’s just creating a balanced lifestyle with food and fitness and realizing that food fuels your life, not only your activity, which is actually only 5% of what your intake fuels in a day, it’s majority your intake is, fuels your basal metabolic rate, which is basically the amount of energy that you need to literally just sustain your life, to breathe, to have your heart pump, to have blood run through your veins.

There’s an immense amount of energy just needed for you to survive and focusing on fueling your body for literally living and also doing what you enjoy, whether it’s weightlifting, whether it’s running, whether it’s sports still, whatever it might be, just to understand that we all come from somewhere and we all start somewhere. And it’s so important to focus on the journey and not just the end goal. Because if I were to focus on what my, where I really want my squat to be in five years, I would not enjoy the process of learning and failing and getting better every single day. And I think that’s where I really fell in love with just sports that are not as competitive or I’m not getting scored on it. It’s more me and myself that I’m competing against and there’s nobody telling me that I have to do a certain thing. My workouts can be as short as I want them or as long as I want them, as long as I move my body because I know that’s what makes me feel my best.

Ryann

Right, and I love the journey aspect of it because I think that that is so true. And if you’re doing something where you are not in love with the journey and this is the reason why diets fail and why crazy workout routines fail is because most often than not, you’re just doing something in the moment to get you to your goal, but you don’t necessarily enjoy it. It’s just something that you feel like you have to do to reach your goal. So when you don’t enjoy the journey, when you don’t enjoy the process, when you aren’t enjoying your food, when you aren’t enjoying your workout routines, the problem is once you hit that goal, that is going to go out the window because it is just not sustainable when you don’t find enjoyment, passion, pleasure in it.

And so when you said that I didn’t have the best workout yesterday, but I still gave it a hundred percent. So to me, like, that’s okay. I love that. And I think that’s why it’s so important for us to set goals that are like, I want to feel more energized. I want to feel stronger. I want to be more flexible, like these more vague general goals. So it’s like, okay, I didn’t have my best workout ever today. However, I still lifted weights, which means I’m getting stronger. So I’m still working towards that goal. So I’m still achieving what I want. So there’s no way to be disappointed in that. And I think that that is so important to recognize and that helps keep kind of the obsession piece away. So how do you feel like, I mean, going off of that, you’re able to make fitness a priority without it becoming an obsession after your history with exercise obsession.

Makena

It was an obsession of mine for so many years. I got up late to work out. I took no rest days, doing ridiculously long sessions and literally putting my worth into my gym sessions. And so how I prioritize it now is I schedule it in like anything else. Like it’s a dentist appointment, like it’s a doctor’s appointment, like the therapy session. Like I just put it in my calendar because it is a time for me and time for me to better myself in all aspects of my life.

And as cliche as it sounds, I feel like weightlifting and just exercise in general has overlapped into so many other parts of my life because I’m more disciplined, I’m more confident, and just showing up as my true and authentic self is so much easier now that I give myself that time every single day whether it is a walk on my Rest day or whether it’s a full-out Workout CrossFit style that I’m actually dying on the floor afterwards no matter what it is I try to schedule it in so my physical health is a priority, but it’s also a balance I don’t schedule my workouts in to take up half my day like I used to I schedule them in so I have time to give my whole self to other things in my life that also require it. Because once fitness comes to the point where you’re saying no to plans just to work out or making excuses on why you can’t eat out or even sacrificing sleep is where the problem can really stem from. And I believe fitness should add to your life and not take away from it.

And the second it starts to take away from your life, that’s a sign that something isn’t adding up and you might have to reevaluate your why. I feel like the biggest thing that people need to look at when evaluating a fitness routine is why am I doing this? Like you were saying, it’s not to get that to that end goal and be happy there. And then immediately one another change because it’s not sustainable. It’s asking like the deeper questions. Like, why am I doing this in the first place? Is it to eventually be able to run around with your grandkids in 20 years and still have the capacity to do so? Is it to have children one day so you want to get your menstrual cycle back? Is it literally to do anything that betters you as a person? Is it to build your confidence inside the gym?

Because that definitely translates to outside the gym. Is it to, there’s so many other ways you can think about going to the gym and not even the gym, but it can be for a run. It can be whatever you might want it to be, but adding to your life in that way, I like to think of everything as adding to your life. Like the food on your plate, what can you add to make it more nutrient dense, not take away. Fitness, what can you add to your life to make it more enjoyable and more sustainable? And what can you learn in that process to make it long lasting? Because we’ve all done those like 30 day ab challenges and at the end of the 30 days, it’s like, okay, literally now what do I do? Like, maybe I have the abs. Most likely you don’t because that’s not how it works. But like, what do I do now?

I’m at the end and I still don’t have what I’m looking for. It’s because that’s not what you’re looking for in the first place. You weren’t looking for those abs to begin with. You were looking for something deeper and you still haven’t found what that is. So I think diving into the why behind everything is super, super important.

Ryann

Totally. And that is such a great example. And I definitely relate to that and I think that so many people relate to that in the sense of whether it’s a 30-day ab challenge or squat challenge or I hear a lot of people and I did this last year sign up for a half marathon or some kind of event and it gives them the motivation in the moment to do what they need to do but then after it’s done, it’s like, okay, now what? Now I don’t have that motivating me to continue to wanna do abs or continue to wanna run because I never really enjoyed it in the first place. And exactly what you said, like I was really looking for something more.

So, oh my gosh, so much good stuff, McKenna. So to end kind of that chat and just to like open the conversation or to open people’s mind to kind of this self-reflection. What advice do you have for those struggling with working out for themselves, struggling for working out for more life, like you said, instead of weight loss?

Makena

Love. If you genuinely hate running, like I ran so much when I was younger because everybody told me I was so good at it, but I honestly hate it. Like, it’s not something I enjoy. I don’t want to go out for a run. I would rather literally just sleep. So you have to find something that you really enjoy. And I love lifting and I feel like it’s so empowering on so many different levels. There’s also like CrossFit, there’s sports, you can find dancing enjoyable. You might love walking, but you have to find something that you love and that you can see yourself doing for years to come.

If you see yourself only doing it for the next month until you hit that goal or just training for that marathon and it being done, you’re not gonna eventually take it with you to go farther and farther and you’re gonna stop right there and then you’re gonna be back at square one. So you really have to find something that you really, really enjoy and love. And another thing that I would say is to challenge yourself to think, what if working out did not change your body, would you still do it? Because if the answer is no, then you’re not doing the correct form of exercise for you. Sure that might be Sally’s preferred exercise or Karen, but that’s not your preferred form of exercise. And that’s so important to realize that it’s not going to be a long-term thing for you. If you are working out just to change your body, let me tell you, you’re never going to get to the body that you’re looking for.

The second that you hit that goal, you’re going to want to be leaner. You’re going to want to have more muscle. You’re going to want to be X, Y, and Z. So in order to actually fully envelop yourself in self-love and enjoying your workouts, you have to first focus on not the body that you’re going to try to change, but how much more, like I was saying, you’re going to add to your life and other aspects. And then also the last thing that I wanna add is, we wanna control our lives. And so we usually, as women especially, it turned to food and exercise as they are like the most easily toggling factors that we can control and manipulate.

And that’s something that is outside looking in, but we have to look inside and see where you feel out of control in the first place. So if you’re looking to manipulate your food, is it because that you have an unstable work relationships? Is it because your family might be struggling? Is it because you’re stressed because you’re in school? Is it because the weather is looking not so great? Like, where do you feel out of control in your real life? And what can you do without turning to fitness and food to try to mitigate that part of your life and make it a little bit better?

Maybe it’s having that deep conversation with that coworker, maybe it’s literally doing anything that is outside of fitness and nutrition, because those should be constants in your life and they shouldn’t change depending on your mood for the day, you should always nourish yourself and you should always move your body to make you feel good. And those kinds of things, I feel like in our culture, especially, have been so manipulated to more so be a toggle for happiness. And the crazy thing is that you’re never gonna actually find the correct combination to make you happy because they’re always there to sell you the latest diet tea, to sell you the latest diet, workout routine, fad, whatever it might be. And you have to figure out where in your life you want that control. And if food and exercise are giving you that control, it’s time to look elsewhere.

Ryann

If your body did not change, would you still eat that or work out like that? That is, I mean, the best self-reflective question I think I’ve ever heard. That is like, just getting down to the core of it because that is like, oh my gosh, I feel like that could bring so much clarity to so many people. Oh my gosh, and you guys, McKenna is so knowledgeable. I know that she’s dropped a lot of information, a lot of great self-reflective questions, so if you want to see this in more of a tangible way, I will have all of these details kind of dive into this deeper. All right, McKenna, to wrap up today, I always love to end with a little speed round of questions so that people can get to know you, McKenna, a little bit better outside of what they already see. So for this, just answer with the first thing that comes to your mind. Are you ready?

Makena

Ready.

Ryann

Okay. I always have to start with this one because this one is a make or break it. Peanut butter or almond butter?

Makena

Peanut butter.

Ryann

Oh, okay, so crunchy or smooth?

Makena

Smooth.

Ryann

Ha ha! Okay, okay, okay. What is something I would never guess about you?

Makena

I have dual citizenship with Canada.

Ryann

Ooh, so interesting. What is something that people do at the gym that they think makes them look cool, but actually makes them look ridiculous?

Makena

Doing like half reps or quarter reps with like a bunch of weight just to make them look like they’re strong. But I know that they are so incapable of actually squatting that weight and they just want to look strong. It’s just ego at that point.

Ryann

If somebody wrote a book about your life, what would the title be?

Makena

Oh my gosh, I have no idea. Probably just a balanced life, as cliche as that is.

Ryann

I love it. I mean, it had to have something with balance didn’t it? I mean you’re I know. You’re Balance McKenna. Would you rather have to sew all your clothes or grow all of your own food?

Makena

Garden of all this beautiful produce? I would love that.

Ryann

Yeah I think I would go with that one too. What tradition did your family have when you were growing up?

Makena

Open one present on Christmas Eve and we still do that to this day.

Ryann

I love it. Would you rather have someone cook for you for the rest of your life or clean for you for the rest of your life?

Makena

Absolutely cleaning. Like, I love cooking so much and I just love experimenting in the kitchen. Cleaning can sometimes get tedious, so I would say clean.

Ryann

Yeah, yeah. I would just love for someone to put my laundry away.

Makena

I’m not in bed right now as we speak.

Ryann

Oh my god, my biggest problem. OK, and last question, because obviously this is coffee docs therapy. If you were a coffee drink, what would you be and why?

Makena

I would say something, I don’t actually drink coffee. So this is, I love the smell of it, absolutely love the smell. But the taste, I just can’t do it. I don’t know why. But decaf every once in a while. But I would say probably for my personality I would say like a triple shot mocha espresso or something.

Ryann

Oh my, so are you a tea drinker? Do you drink any kind of coffee?

Makena

Oh yes, I would say more so tea, but usually just my water. I’m so boring when it comes to drinks. Kombucha sometimes, but yeah.

Ryann

Honestly, sometimes I wish I didn’t like coffee because it is such a staple in my life. Okay, McKenna, where can everybody find you? What are all your socials, your platforms, your everything?

Makena

Yeah, so everything you can find me at Instagram at Balanced McKenna. All of my links are in my bio and just feel free to come, hop in my DM, say hello, I’d love to talk to you.

Ryann

Yeah, yay! And I’ll have all of those linked in the show notes as well, so you can just click there. All of McKenna’s information will be there, so you can get in touch with her if you want to chat with her more about any of this stuff or if she does do one-to-one. Is it fitness coaching or what kind of coaching do you do?

Makena

It is. So it’s fitness coaching with nutrition and also mindset. I have a course that I’ve been pouring my heart and soul into. It runs through 12 weeks of literally everything that you need to know and everything that I wish I knew when I was starting my fitness journey and I would love to help you guys out.

Ryann

Is that course something that’s available now or are you launching it later?

Makena

It’s available now. I have a few girls running through it right now. I’m getting so much good feedback on it. So I’m just so excited to continue to grow.

Ryann

Yay! Okay, cool. That is so exciting. McKenna, thank you so much again for all of that information, for sharing your story, for dropping that knowledge. I so appreciate you coming on here today.

Makena

Thank you so much. This was so much fun.

Ryann Nicole

Licensed Therapist, Certified Nutritionist, and Virtual Wellness Coach

Ryann is a licensed therapist and virtual wellness coach who has assisted individuals worldwide in establishing a healthier relationship with food and their bodies.

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Ryann is a licensed therapist and virtual wellness coach who has assisted individuals worldwide in establishing a healthier relationship with food and their bodies.