Here is the full text and summary of Lizzie Braicks-Rinker’s talk titled “Your Body is Talking to You, Are You Listening?” at TEDxUofW conference.
Listen to the audio version here:
Today I’m excited to talk to you about wellness culture and what it actually means to be healthy. When you hear the term healthy, what comes to mind? What do you think of as health?
So for whatever reason, I have always been the kind of person who is drawn like a moth to a flame to putting my body through intense physical discomfort. I am the friend who if you tell me that you went to a workout class that made you feel like you were going to throw up, I have to try it. I have to know what it was like.
When I was in college, I was a rower and it was my entire life. Everything that I did revolved around being healthy and being an athlete. I was arguably at my physical peak. I was obviously working out all the time, but I also was a really hardcore vegan. I had this elaborate regimen of vitamins and supplements that I took every day. I carried my emotional support water bottle with me wherever I went, and I was a cliché of a healthy person.
However, the reason that I started really thinking about what it means to be well is that despite being super healthy on paper, being an athlete, I felt terrible, my friends. I was having panic attacks almost every week. I had this really weird chronic pain that no one could quite figure out, and I wasn’t getting my periods. I just felt off, but I was really healthy, right?
I kept saying, something doesn’t feel right, and I couldn’t really articulate what it was. So this is a picture of me from the middle of college. My brother, Steve, had just turned 15 and was about to start high school. And this is what I looked like in college all the time. This was my personal uniform with athletic clothes from head to toe. And that’s only in part because I was an athlete.
The other reason was, when you are an athlete, you can get away with wearing the same clothes every single day, and nobody notices that you’re not taking care of yourself, because I was incredibly depressed. I was incredibly sad. I wasn’t bathing. I wasn’t washing my hair. I wasn’t changing my clothes. I wore those shorts a lot.
And the reason is, nine days before my dad took this picture, moving me into my apartment, our mom, Becky, died after a really long and hard-fought battle with cancer. And let me tell you, it kind of sucked. It is incredibly disorienting to watch somebody that you love be sick and die.
It was incredibly disorienting to be going through that experience as I was a college athlete, because one part of my life was completely revolved around optimizing my body and health and wellness. And I was seeing evidence every single day of that working.
However, on the other side of my life, my mom did everything right. She was healthy, she was active, and she still got sick. And there was nothing that we could do about it.
So because of my mom’s illness, and because of my experience as an athlete, I went on to make an entire career out of really exploring what it means to be healthy. So the last 10 years have been dedicated to health and wellness and what it means. So I’m going to throw some definitions at you.
The first one is health. The World Health Organization defines health as not having disease in your body. So in that instance, I was healthy. Nary a toxin was getting near this. I was obsessed with being clean and doing all the right workouts, but I couldn’t really articulate what was going on.
And what I found in my work is that what I didn’t have while I was healthy is I did not have any wellness. So holistic wellness is a trend that gets thrown around a lot. And it’s rooted in this idea that we are a whole person, not just our bodies. So rather than putting all of the eggs into the physical basket, we start to look at our lives from the health of our environment.
It looks at all of our circumstances, all of our lived experiences, and really takes those things into account to consider what we need. And I’m not saying that we’re not aware that all of this is part of wellness, but I’m saying it looks a little more like this. We know that these things are important, but they’re like little sprinkles on top. They’re not the main course.
I’ve been working in wellness for 10 years, and I have coached hundreds of athletes, and I have seen a couple things to always, always be true. The first from an athletic standpoint is that if an athlete does not have a holistic, balanced life, their performance will fail. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. It is incredibly hard to keep it together and to care about, I don’t know, going a little faster on the rowing machine if you are waiting to find out if your mom has made it out of surgery.
If you don’t have a safe home life, it’s really hard to perform. Michael Phelps and Simone Biles are two great examples of this. They are incredible athletes at their physical peak, but at some point that didn’t matter. Their personal experiences and the other parts of their wellness made it so that they couldn’t perform.
The other thing that I see when we just focus on physical wellness is an identity crisis. This can happen for a lot of different reasons. It might be because an athlete gets injured, and all of a sudden they can’t do this thing that was like their entire life, and they may not be able to ever do it again. Or maybe they don’t know what they are valued for outside of their body.
The last thing that I see that we all do when it comes to wellness is that we’re all shitting on ourselves. So, when I say shitting, I’m talking about all the things that we’re like, ugh, I really should do more of X, Y, Z, and it might not even be a thing that you like. This happens to me a lot. I am really into running. I’m a big runner. I love running.
People will find out this about me and come up to me and say, I should really get back into running. I used to be a big runner. I’m like, oh, what happened? Did you get injured? Did you have a kid? They’re like, no, I hate running. I just really hate running. I’m like, well, then why do you think you should be doing it?
There are literally so many other ways that you can exercise, but this is what we do to ourselves. We tell ourselves we should be doing all of these things. We should be learning how to listen to our bodies.
In theory, I knew that this was important. I knew that wellness needed to include not just the physical, but a more holistic picture of our lives, but it didn’t really hit me until 2017.
When I say it hit me, I was sitting at a stoplight and a car rear-ended me into the car in front of me. I went from posting handstand pictures on Instagram to truly not being able to hold my head up for more than a couple hours because of the extent of my injury. I realized within the first week after this car accident that I had an incredibly toxic relationship with my body and with fitness.
I was only looking at both of those things from what it looked like, what my body looked like, or what it could do. I had no idea what my body needed. I wasn’t listening to myself at all.
The more I started to listen to my body, and I was forced to because there was no other way, the more it felt like coming back to an old friend. A couple months after I got in my car accident, I got married. We went on our first vacation as a married couple, even though we’d been together for like seven years, I think, at that point. We’d been together for a long time.
All of our friends were making this Google Doc with all of the food that they were going to be making and all of these incredible recipes. I had been vegan for seven years. I sat down next to my husband at this cabin, and I looked at him, and I was like, I can’t do it anymore. He was trying to play it cool, like, oh, oh, you can really do whatever you want. I support you, whatever, but also, do you want me to make you some bacon?
I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with being vegan, but I, in that moment, stopped because I realized I don’t know how to nourish myself, and I realized that I didn’t like that food, and I felt terrible. I wasn’t getting the energy, the nutrients that I needed, and so it forced me to listen to my body.
Now, why is listening to your body important?
When I was an athlete and coaches would say, you need to listen to your body or you’re going to end up like me, and you’re going to have a bad back or something, I would just kind of, you know, roll my eyes and brush it off, but I want you instead to think about it like this.
Your body is your home, so raise your hand if you have ever been in a home that has been renovated, or even just, like, a wall was being painted. Yeah, we’ve all experienced that, and it sucks, and you can’t relax, you can’t get comfortable, right? Even if it’s just, like, a tiny little thing, this is what you’re doing to yourself when we treat our bodies like these constant things that need fixing.
We’re constantly putting ourselves in this state of renovation, so you’re not really ever getting comfortable in your house. You’re not really ever figuring out what you want to do with that plant or that one weird corner that gets kind of strange light.
It also, wellness culture tells us that you need to have a really nice house, you need to have an immaculate yard, but, like, you might not have any money left over to put anything in your house. You might not have furniture, but at least it’ll look good on the outside.
And why is this important?
I don’t know. Like, what’s the purpose of wellness? Is it just to lose weight? Is it just to look a certain way or to be able to go a little bit faster on the water? Or is the purpose of wellness and the balance of all of these different things to maybe, I don’t know, make your life a little bit better instead of just your body?
Because I would argue how you feel is way more important than how you look. We can’t control how we look. We can’t control beauty standards in our culture, but you do have a little bit of a say in how you feel. And, I don’t know, I think that you deserve to feel really good, but why does this happen?
I want to dive into all of the reasons that we do this to ourselves, because this is not just unique to me. This is unique to wellness culture, but thankfully, once you know what’s going on in wellness culture, it’s very easy to start to redirect yourself.
So, the first thing that we have that is influencing this is hustle culture. This is the thing that tells us, as a society, we need to do more, but in less time. Hustle culture also tells us that resting or quitting something is a failure. So, this is why people will be running all the time, even though they hate it, even though they’re tired, even though it’s making them miserable, because they feel like it’s a failure to quit. So, you just need to kind of change your routine.
Next up, we have diet culture. Diet culture is everywhere, and it is the belief and societal expectation that we are a more worthy person if our bodies are a certain way. This is also where we get thin privilege, which is people who are in smaller bodies are treated differently than other people.
An example of this is, the last couple months of my mom’s life, she was very frail. She’d lost a lot of weight, and she couldn’t drive, so I had to drive her to the grocery store, which was just her nightmare, because she did not like when I drove. But we got to the grocery store, and this woman saw her from across the way and ran up to her and was like, Becky, I haven’t seen you in years. You look amazing. You look so good. You’re so healthy. Good for you, girl, for getting so healthy. What did you do?
My mom was like, I am literally dying. But I guess you could call it the cancer diet or something, if you’re looking for a name for it. So this is what we do to ourselves and to each other. We assume if you look a certain way that you must be having a certain experience, and that is just not true. You cannot really tell anything about somebody’s wellness or their lived experiences and their circumstances by the way that they look.
Illusory Truth Effect
The next thing that impacts us is the illusory truth effect. So this is when you see something a bunch of times that you know to be fake or false or maybe a little ridiculous, but you start to see it over and over again, so you become convinced that it is real. Social media is a great example of this.
You can know that skinny tea is just laxatives in hot water, but if you see people post about them ten times in one day, especially a celebrity, you might start to think that you really need them. We’re doing these things because we see it and we’re told it all the time, despite the fact that it might not actually be what we need or be good for us.
Wellness Industrial Complex
The last reason that this happens is the wellness industrial complex, which is this really manipulative mashup of wellness and capitalism and everything that I just mentioned, but it’s essentially the force that tells us what our bodies are supposed to look like, what we’re supposed to be eating, what the right workouts are, and all of this just encourages us to not listen to our bodies and to not trust our own needs or to honor this holistic picture of our lives.
So would you rather live in this house, constantly under renovation, there’s no carpet, there’s stuff everywhere that’s probably going to fall on you, do you want to feel like this at home, or do you want to feel like this?
I would argue that you deserve to feel like this at home. We need to go from a version of wellness that looks like this to maybe something that looks a little bit more like this, honoring that things ebb and flow, right? There are seasons, we know this, our bodies age. No matter what, your body is going to need different things at different times just because you are a human being and you are alive.
And when we do this, when we look at wellness more holistically, when we start to consider all of the different things that someone might be experiencing or going through, we’re able to be a lot more compassionate.
One of the reasons that I’ve always been really frustrated with wellness culture is my brother, Steve. Steve is autistic. He loves to do the same thing every day. He knows exactly what he likes to do and exactly what he wants to do, and he has no filter. So Steve is not going to do something just because he’s supposed to do it. He’s going to do the things that make him feel good. And he has a lot of very rigid routines set in place that help him be a better coworker at work, that help him really stay balanced and stay calm, that help him feel really nourished.
If we’re just looking at wellness from this perspective, there’s not a lot of places for Steve. But if we take the either or out of wellness and add an and to it, wellness can start to look like this, too. And the smoothies that we saw earlier, it could include going to a concert, Taco Bell breakfast, right? Maybe it’s roller skating. It’s the things that light you up and that bring you joy.
And I think that Steve deserves to see himself included in wellness and deserves to see a wellness world that is built for him. Being an athlete was so frustrating because I was constantly in this world of peak physical performance and I loved it, but I also didn’t see how it was inclusive or accessible.
And this is why we have to consider holistic wellness and we have to start looking at our health as more than just our bodies, but everything that we experience. Because I’m really not sure what my version of wellness would look like if it weren’t for my family, if it weren’t for my brother and my dad and for my mom. I don’t know what it would look like.
There’s no way that I can anticipate or predict it, but I have a feeling that it would be a lot less compassionate. Those are the things that make a life, not just what you weigh, right? You don’t exist to just lose weight and die or to fit in a certain pant size or to be able to do certain things.
I love, like I mentioned, going to ridiculous workout classes, but we need to consider other parts of our being because at my mom’s memorial service, we didn’t talk about her pant size or like the dedication to her Peloton classes. We talked about how fiercely she advocated for Steve and his love of Christmas.
We talked about how much she unfortunately listens to Kenny G all the time. We talked about her love for reading. We talked about how she met my dad because she was friends with my aunt in college. Those are the things that we talked about because those are the things that make a life.
I don’t know if you remember, but earlier I asked you to think about two or three things that came to mind when we think about wellness or when we think about health. I hope that maybe you’re able to be a little more compassionate about yourself. Maybe you are able to say, you know, I’m going to skip this workout and rest because that’s what I need.
It also gives you more compassion for the other people around you. You don’t look at the person in front of you who’s buying a cart full of processed food as being unhealthy when we consider them through a holistic wellness lens. Instead, we think maybe this person is doing this because they do not have access to refrigeration. Maybe your coworker has gained a little bit of weight recently because they’re getting over some disordered eating.
And your friend who’s working three jobs to try to make ends meet probably doesn’t want to hear that she just needs to take a bath and take some time for herself. That’s not helpful. We need to consider our entire being and everybody else’s entire being when we consider wellness so that we can all have a little more compassion for ourselves and for our bodies and just enjoy our lives.
I’m going to leave you today with a quote from my favorite poem: And I said to my body softly, I want to be your friend. It took a long breath and replied, I have been waiting my whole life for this.
Want a summary of this talk? Here it is.
TEDx talk by Lizzie Braicks-Rinker discusses her personal journey and the broader perspective of wellness culture. She starts by reflecting on her history as an athlete and a health-conscious individual. Despite being physically fit and adhering to a strict regimen of exercise and nutrition, she experienced panic attacks, chronic pain, and irregular periods. This paradox led her to question the meaning of true well-being.
She shares an image from her college days, emphasizing that while she appeared healthy on the outside, she was struggling internally due to her mother’s battle with cancer, which ultimately led to her mother’s death. This personal experience prompted her to delve deeper into the concept of wellness.
Lizzie then presents two definitions: health, defined by the World Health Organization as the absence of disease, and holistic wellness, which considers all aspects of a person’s life, including their environment, circumstances, and experiences. She argues that while physical health is essential, it’s only a part of the broader picture.
Drawing from her years of experience in wellness, she asserts that athletes need a holistic, balanced life for sustained performance. She mentions examples of prominent athletes like Michael Phelps and Simone Biles, who struggled due to personal issues despite their physical prowess.
Additionally, Lizzie addresses the identity crisis that can arise when individuals define themselves solely by their physical abilities or appearance. She emphasizes the importance of not imposing unrealistic expectations on oneself.
The talk then delves into the idea that people often impose unrealistic expectations on themselves, pressuring themselves to engage in activities they dislike. She uses the example of individuals feeling pressured to run despite hating it, illustrating how they can end up doing things they don’t enjoy.
Lizzie then shares her personal awakening in 2017 after a car accident left her with severe physical limitations. She realized that she had an unhealthy relationship with her body and fitness, focusing solely on appearance and performance rather than what her body truly needed.
The importance of listening to one’s body is emphasized as Lizzie likens our bodies to homes. Constantly pushing our bodies to change is akin to undergoing never-ending renovations, making it challenging to feel comfortable and content.
She criticizes wellness culture for often prioritizing external appearances over overall well-being. Lizzie advocates for focusing on how you feel rather than how you look, as feeling good is within your control, unlike adhering to societal beauty standards.
Lizzie then explores various factors influencing these unrealistic expectations within wellness culture:
1. Hustle Culture: The belief that individuals must do more in less time and that resting or quitting is a failure.
2. Diet Culture: The societal expectation that one’s worth is tied to their body size, promoting unrealistic beauty standards.
3. Illusory Truth Effect: The phenomenon where people believe something is true after encountering it repeatedly, even if it’s not.
4. Wellness Industrial Complex: A manipulative combination of wellness and capitalism, influencing what people should look like, eat, and do, often disregarding individual needs.
She concludes by advocating for a more holistic and compassionate approach to wellness. Lizzie uses her autistic brother, Steve, as an example of someone who finds well-being in routine and specific activities. She encourages individuals to embrace their unique paths to wellness, allowing for a more inclusive and diverse definition of well-being that honors the natural ebbs and flows of life.Multi-Page