How To Use Habits for Weight Loss (WITHOUT counting calories)

Guest post by Sean Flanagan

Often when Amber or I talk about how a calorie deficit is what produces weight loss and how a calorie surplus causes weight gain, people assume that this has to be achieved via calorie counting.

Being aware of calories is great and there can totally be value there, however 1) you're not going to count calories forever (we hope), and 2) unless you're in a tightly controlled scientific laboratory, your estimates for your calorie intake are always going to be exactly that ' estimates.

So how can we create a calorie deficit without aiming for a specific number' There are four different broad brush categories of habits that we use in the Habit Project to accomplish this ' each category complimenting the other.

Category 1: Satiety and Eating Pattern Awareness

I'm kind of cheating here since becoming more aware of your current patterns is essentially a built in 'meta habit' that ALWAYS happens when focusing on changing your habits one at a time. But specifically, we also have the 'record what you eat' habit which is 100 percent focused on becoming aware of current eating patterns.

In addition to the increasing awareness of what you eat, there is also increasing awareness for your body's satiety and hunger signals. Learning how to identify true hunger from hunger resulting from boredom, as well as what 'satisfied' feels like compared to 'stuffed', is critical for creating a calorie deficit without counting calories. If you're always eating when not hungry and eating until stuffed, your chances of creating a calorie deficit are not very high.

I put these in the same category as there is a lot of overlap ' often when people record what they eat, they start becoming aware of times where they eat mindlessly and then start the practice of checking in with their hunger/satiety. When we transition to habits on satiety awareness, we take this eating pattern awareness and we bring it to the next level.

Category 2: Food Habits That Maximize Satiety

Being aware of your satiety signals is awesome! What happens though if you're paying attention to your satiety signals but the foods you're eating add a lot of calories without adding a lot of satiety' This is where playing with the dietary variables that support satiety come into play. It's even possible that your time practicing your satiety awareness has taught you a few things about what types of foods make you fuller than others.

We have a few different food habits that we use to support satiety ' but the big two are really our protein and veggie habits. Most people can benefit from eating more protein, more veggies, or both. And they make a huge impact on how full we get.

Some meal time variables that impact satiety are; 1)Fiber content, 2) water content, 3) protein content, and 4) slowness of eating.

Category 3: Physical Activity Habits

The benefit of physical activity for creating a calorie deficit is of course that moving more means burning more calories per day. There are a few different ways we like approaching movement habits ' mainly we like to create habits that help people find enjoyment in walking and their preferred methods of resistance training.

The important thing to emphasize here is that the physical activity habits on their own are ALWAYS still good for health, but it's the appetite awareness and the maximizing of the satiety value of meals that enables the increases in movement to lead to a calorie deficit. If increased exercise leads to increased hunger and increased hunger means more meals where you're eating until you're too full with mostly foods that don't contribute much to your satiety, you could end up accidentally creating a calorie SURPLUS rather than a deficit.

Category 4: Habits That Maximize Your Chances for Success

The 4th category is essentially all of the behaviors that contribute to a calorie deficit in a less direct way, but are still powerful for creating the health and fitness that you are aiming for. Our habit focused on self-compassion is the example we're the most proud of from this category ' as many Habit Project members have reported this habit had a strong impact on how they performed on every other habit. Apparently self-compassion doesn't burn many calories, but does impact a bunch of different components of your life to make the entire process less bumpy and more direct.

Other habits from this category would be sleep-related habits, as sleep helps to enable you to be more active AND become more aware of your satiety. Food and lifestyle skills habits like planning and prepping can also fit into this category.

Want Help Making These Habits Actually STICK?

While of course coaching is helpful for making changes, the combination of coaching AND community is super powerful. The more you support your team, the more they'll support you, and the more you support each other the more you'll feel accountable TO your team. In other words, the amount of energy you put into your community will help determine the power of the community in helping you create change.

We're incredibly proud of the communities we create in the Habit Project, and we hope you'll be a part of our newest one. On July 13th, we start our 12 Week Habit Project On-Ramp (exclusively on iPhone/iPad) and enrollment is now open.

Over the 12 weeks, we'll be focusing on all 4 of the habit categories talked about in this article ' spread over 6 different habits ' to help you build a strong foundation in your habit-based approach towards fat loss success.

Registration closes Wednesday at 6:30pm pacific time/9:30 eastern ' you can grab your spot here:

And we do have something for those without an iPhone! Our Facebook-based Habit Project has rolling admissions, check it out, and sign up for the next admission day here:
Facebook Habit Project

Talk soon,

Sean Flanagan

How the Habit Project Gave Me Freedom and Sustainable Weight Loss

Guest Post by Habit Project alum Meredith Gafill

'The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work.' From the book Habit, by William James

This sums up my experience with the Habit Project better than I ever could. Simple to the point of boring but so spot on.


I came to be a part of the Habit Project by accident. I had signed up with Amber Rogers and Sean Flanagan to participate in their Body Recomp Program late last year. I had been working out pretty religiously but wasn't seeing the results that I wanted. Not quite enough muscle definition, a bit too much flab.

I was convinced that if I could just push myself a little harder that these goals would be mine. Push, push, push. If I could just do more and eat less, I would be better. Push, push, push. Work harder. Eat some magical combination of foods invented by someone smarter than myself. Push, push, push.

As it turns out, a week or so after I started the Recomp program, I found out that all that push, push, pushing had left me with a torn labrum in my left shoulder. Surgery would be in a few weeks and there would be no way to continue my kettlebell training. Benched! Even worse I wouldn't be able to do all the house and gardening chores that helped me burn so many, many calories. I felt totally bereft. Everything was going to fall apart.

Suddenly, the Recomp program seemed silly. If I couldn't lift then what was the point' Lucky for me, as I was checking in on the Recomp Group Facebook page, one of the other members of the group posted about the Habit Project. She asked Sean if she could switch out of the Recomp Program and try the Project instead. I was intrigued and asked for the same favor and was quickly welcomed into Group Panther, a division of the Habit Project. I had no idea about what I was doing there but things started rolling and I was learning as I went.

I had my surgery right after the switch and was pretty out of it for a few days but continued to check in with my team and read what others were experiencing with their habit work. As the days went on and I was finally able to live without handfuls of painkillers, I started to engage and participate in the first activity habit. Movement, exercise, some kind of workout. Could I do something every day' What would I like to do' Was I sure that I could do it daily' Once a week' Twice' Thrice' I settled on a morning walk, five days a week. You create your own goals in the Habit Project and walking was all I could really do. Nothing epic, but it was a start. Seemed a bit too easy but what the heck' I'd just try it. That morning walk has been with me ever since and I continue to absolutely love it. I can count the days that I have missed and they have only been because I was sick as a dog or had an unusually early appointment, which is rare.

Success! Right out the gate! I was reporting to my group daily and even participating as a group leader at times. We worked on one habit every two weeks and that we had to check in was what kept me REMEMBERING to do my new habit. Kept me on track, working towards bettering myself and creating a healthier lifestyle. The successes kept me engaged with the program.

I was patting myself on the back instead of always judging that I was doing too little. That little thing' Walking daily? It kept me from gaining weight during my long recovery (in fact, I lost weight) and I found that starting my day with a nice easy walk put me in a better frame of mind than my previous habit of grueling 5 to 8 mile runs. And I did it while eating very well as the next few habits were all based on taking in the proper amount of protein and vegetables.

I won't take you through every habit in the Project but I will tell you a few things you can expect. No one will ever tell you what you may or may not eat. You will not be given a strict plan to follow. You will not have any activity taken away, nor will you be required to use equipment or follow a particular exercise regimen or plan. You will be given a habit and then Sean, Amber and the rest of your group will be there to help you scale it to your lifestyle and needs at the time. I know, that sounds like work. You were hoping for a magical recipe to perfection'. Really, this is so much better because you invent your new life the way you want it, which is easier to maintain for life. These little changes' They lead to the freedom William James was referring to in the quote at the beginning of this post.

Freedom. I now have a handful of habits that streamline my days and make things so much easier. I eat 3 solid meals and have at least 5 servings of veggies on most days (I used to be a vicious meal skipper- I thought it was a good thing to fast) and my energy level is much higher than when I was skipping meals right and left. I take a good protein powder and probiotic daily. I walk 5 days a week and lift 3 days with pull up training in between. I go to bed and rise around the same time daily and I shut off the computer about an hour before bed and don't look again until I rise- this helps my mind calm so that I can rest better. I am nicer to myself (Self-compassion habit!) and have found that I am generally more relaxed and have a more positive outlook these days. I am done push, push pushing all the time.

In the end, I lost 8 lbs without ever giving up a food group or a meal. My weight hasn't fluctuated more than 3 pounds in the last 8 months and I now enjoy knowing that my clothes fit all the time. I feel better and I am rarely 'hangry'. I am a lot more accepting of myself as I feel really good about the changes that I've made. I am 100% positive that my changes are sustainable and quite honestly now that I have practiced these habits for such a long time I find it hard NOT to do them. Plenty of days I have rationalized why I don't have time to do my workout only to find myself on the mats getting in sets between loads of laundry and stripping sheets off beds.

I just started my own new habit upon returning from vacation and I have a recipe for success. I created the habit and have a way of checking in with that habit daily. In two or three weeks, that habit will be mine and I will hardly have to think about it again. I'll just do it. Freedom is what the Habit Project is all about. You learn the recipe, the procedure and then you practice it until you own it.

Note from Amber: for a limited time, Sean and I are enrolling for our 12 Week Habit Project On-Ramp exclusively on iPhone/iPad via an app designed for programs like ours. To learn more and claim your spot, go here: Habit Project On-Ramp

Want to Become Strong, Confident and Healthy without Fads or Deprivation? Got an iPhone?

For the past 8 months, Sean Flanagan and I have been running our latest community and coaching program the Habit Project'. The results have been really cool ' people who felt like they were previously spinning their wheels or backsliding in their health and fitness journey have been steadily moving forward creating the habits that support their goals.

The approach is super simple' and that's why it works so well. We harness the power of community and coaching support to maximize success with the small, day to day habits that impact our bodies and our health… one habit at a time.

Within the Habit Project, each small team supports one another in the systematic implementation of new behaviors, focusing on one habit for two weeks, before moving onto the next.

I'm really excited, because today I get to announce a new way to get started with the program. It's called the 12 Week Habit Project On-Ramp and it's our first group that will take place exclusively on an app for programs like ours. For now, this app is exclusively available on iPhones (and iPads).

Here are some reasons why you may want to check this out:

1) Sean and I mapped out the habits that we think are the most foundational. We've found some habits work great for newer people and some habits work better if you have some more time in the program first. So after observing how different habits have worked with our groups in the last 8 months, we outlined the 6 habit sequence that we think will have the greatest impact for helping you create a strong habit foundation and seeing the most immediate changes in your health and fitness.

2) You don't need to be on Facebook. Oh believe me, I know how distracting Facebook can be. With the app, the only things to do and the only notifications you'll receive will be related to your participation in the program. This will allow you to participate more in the program ' on your terms ' without getting sucked into the usual Facebook nonsense and distractions.

3) You start with other Habit Project newbies. The experience and support of our Habit Project members is invaluable, but it can be scary for some new people to join an established group as one of the few new people. With this program, you'll know you're starting off on the same foot as everyone else.

If the 12 Week Habit Project On-Ramp sounds interesting to you, check it out here:

12 Week Habit Project On-Ramp

This is our first ever group on the app so I have no idea how long spaces will remain. Technically, enrollment is open through July 8th. But if this group sells out, enrollment will be closed until we decide on the start date for the next on-ramp.

How To Be Beautiful

Ok, ok, sorry for the cheesy title.

Several years ago, before I started Go Kaleo, I entered a contest run by Women’s Health Magazine called ‘Fittest Friends’. I submitted a picture (along with a couple hundred other women) and there was a public vote on the pictures. I actually won the public vote, kind of by a landslide. But when the celebrity panel of judges decided on a Grand Prize winner from among the top ten vote-getters, they actually chose another entrant. It was an interesting experience (you can read my blog post about it here). Very shortly after, I started my Go Kaleo blog and facebook page. The Fittest Friends contest was actually one of the impetuses for creating this movement. It was pretty obvious to me that the public was hungry for a different “face of fitness”, and I wasn’t seeing it provided by the fitness industry monoliths, so I decided to start it myself.

In the years since, I’ve seen some amazing shifts in the industry. I like to think that I, and others like me (like James Fell, Disrupt Your Diet, Sean Flanagan and others) had a hand in bringing about that change. While shame-based advertising is still the ‘normal’, there’s a powerful groundswell happening, and more and more fitness and health professionals are calling out that shaming and creating a new standard, of self-compassion, compassion for others, and joyful self care.

It Cosmetics is running a video contest with the theme ‘Your Most Beautiful You’. With the memory of the Fittest Friends competition, I see an opportunity to bring this message of self compassion to the beauty industry. Help me do it. Please ‘like’ and share this video! Lets shift the thinking. Makeup not as disguise to blend in, but as self-expression to stand out. And on a deeper level, a message that who you are as a unique individual is important and worthy of expression, and when you value the qualities that make you YOU, people who are looking for those qualities will be drawn to you. It can start with something simple like the way you do your eyeshadow, but the more you honor and express your authentic self, the easier it will get. And over time, you will find yourself growing and thriving, speaking out in ways you never thought you could, recognizing how valuable your time and passions are, and you will begin to effect those around you – and the world.

This video is about makeup, yes. But it’s about so much more as well. People thought I was crazy when I started my blog, but look what happened. So, you may think this video is crazy, but lets see what we can DO. Please like and share. Join the revolution. Take up space. Be #partofthesolution #VoteItGirl

Click here to see (and like, and share) my video.

Thank you friends!

5 Things I Stopped Being Afraid of When I Learned How to Science

Yes, I used science as a verb there. And when I say I ‘learned to science’, what I mean is I learned to read and understand a scientific study, I learned to think critically and apply the rules of critical thinking to the information I was consuming, and I learned how to tell a credible source from a thinly veiled sales pitch disguised as ‘news’.

critical thinking in wood type

We are creatures driven by fear. Marketers take advantage of that and make us fear…well, anything and everything. And then when we’re nice and afraid, they handily provide a solution to those fears, a product you can buy that will protect you. The ‘Organic and Natural’ guru scares the bejeezus out of you with gruesome tales of rats with tumors from GMOs (and the subsequent green juice detox sales pitch), while the conservative talk radio host fills you with dread at the looming fiscal Armageddon (and then offers you the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in gold! Gold!). Like pretty much everyone else, I’ve fallen victim to this form of stealth marketing, in fact I probably still do now and then, even though I’ve gotten MUCH much better at recognizing it.

So, without further ado, here are 5 things I used to be afraid of, until I learned how to science.

1. The Government

Have you heard the rumors that ebola was invented by the Government as a population control device with the ultimate goal of rounding us all up into FEMA camps? Yeah, I never got quite THAT deep, but there have been times in my life where I’ve gotten a little paranoid and conspiracy minded. It was actually kind of gratifying thinking that the government cared enough about me that it wanted to destroy my health and livelihood and be all up in my business.

I imagined I was much more important than I really am, and that made me feel good about myself. It also gave me the (false) sense that I had Special Knowledge that not everyone was privy to. Turns out, though, that The Government has bigger things to worry about, and actually would prefer I be a healthy and functional member of society, because then I can pay taxes. And really, The Government could give a rats ass about what I text to my husband to bring home from the grocery store. For real, yo.

2. Big Pharma

The Pharmaceutical industry is certainly powerful and profitable. But it’s not trying to make/keep me sick. Big Pharma has never forced a pill down my throat. It HAS, however, produced medicines that have improved my quality of life, and actually SAVED my life a couple times over. Could there be better oversight? Sure. Is there a seamy underbelly of the industry? I imagine so. Is Big Pharma a monster waiting to snare me and force me to become addicted to a hundred different pills? Uh…no.

Nowadays, I’m actually much more concerned by the far less regulated supplement and ‘natural health’ industries, which are free to sell any number of untested, unproven magic concoctions at rather extraordinary prices, unburdened by the kind of regulation and oversight that the pharmaceutical industry is subject to. “Don’t buy the medicine pill, buy my snake oil pill instead” the supplement marketers bark at me from the internet. As if.

3. GMOs

Oh, the fearmongering about GMOs abounds! And I found myself ensnared in it. But the more I learned about the science of biotechnology, and more importantly the potential benefits, the less worried I became, until one day I found myself wistfully hoping that Big GMO would hurry up and invent a drought-resistant mango tree that I could grow in my Northern California back yard. Wouldn’t that just be the bee’s knees?

Oh yeah, and that ‘study’ with the terrible images of rats riddled with tumors supposedly from GMOs? It was retracted. It was later republished, but the (well earned) damage to Seralini’s credibility had been done. And then I fell in with a crowd that reads science journals and websites like and (neither of which sell essential oils on their sites – in fact they don’t sell anything) and after that I just couldn’t bring myself to live in terror any more.

4. Skyrocketing Cancer Rates

Who WOULDN’T be terrified at the ever increasing rates of cancer we’re constantly hearing about? Is it our food? Something in our environment? Is The Government running secret population control experiments on us? Best to eliminate every chemical from our lives and spend all our money on pure clean chemical free food and personal-care products, right? I mean people are dropping like flies over here!

Except when I learned how to find and read actual studies, imagine my surprise at learning that cancer rates aren’t skyrocketing. They’re not even increasing. In fact, they’ve declined slightly. What? But all the websites/magazines/diet gurus/essential oil marketers led me to believe cancer was skyrocketing. If they were wrong about that, I wonder what else they were wrong about.

5. Chemicals

“OMG did you know [insert food producer] puts [insert scary-sounding chemical] into their [insert food product] They’re pumping us full of chemicals and we wonder why cancer rates are increasing!” I admit, this line reeled me in more than a little. I filled my shopping cart, both in the grocery store and online, with ‘natural’, ‘organic’, ‘this-free’ and ‘that-free’ products, and emptied my wallet into the pockets of Big Organic and Big Placebo. I was a Natural Mom, dammit, and that made me safe. And better than everyone else. Right? All in an effort to protect my family from the deadly chemikills. Except that I learned how to science, and began to realize that everything is chemicals, and that a lot of those scary sounding chemicals the marketers were telling me were dangerous were actually things like salt. And vitamins. And vinegar.

Every substance on earth has a chemical name, including the air we breath and the water we drink and the compounds that form the tissues of our bodies. Being a chemical doesn’t make something bad. Everything is chemicals. And being natural doesn’t make a chemical safe. Arsenic is natural. Snake venom is natural. Diptheria and measles and tetanus are natural. Oh yeah, and being man-made doesn’t make something dangerous. Science takes the active compound from a natural substance, isolates and refines and standardizes it, tests it and regulates it and makes it safer and more effective, and turns it into a medicine that can save or improve lives. This is not a bad thing, yo.

Science is a good thing. And learning how to critically evaluate the information you consume can be one of the most empowering things you can do for yourself. You don’t have to actually be a scientist to be able to recognize a credible source of information. You just need to know how to evaluate an argument and determine if it is strong and based on verifiable evidence, or if it is weak and based on flawed logic. This skill can be applied to all sorts of information, not just science – it can be applied to political rhetoric and cultural establishments and religious dogma.

Want a reader friendly place to start? Check out the Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments.

And there’s also some of my other posts on this topic:

Cognitive Dissonance
The Straw Man



Disorder in Diet Culture, Habits for Fat Loss, and DEADLIFTING

I sat down for and interview with Coach Cox on Saturday, and we had a GREAT discussion. We covered quite a bit including strength training, recognizing disorder in Diet Culture, and establishing new habits to support fat loss. Be sure to check out Coach Cox’s website here, and you can watch the video below.


I’ll be online, LIVE, this Saturday!

Hey guys! Just wanted to let you know that I will be chatting LIVE with Justin over at this Saturday June 13th. You can even leave a question in the suggestion box on the registration page and hopefully we’ll have a chance to answer it. Just click here to read more and sign up to listen. It’s gonna be a blast!

I don't think I've ever been referred to as 'world-renowned', but I kinda like it!

I don’t think I’ve ever been referred to as ‘world-renowned’, but I kinda like it!

It’s Not Really About Protein World

iamstrong (1)“Why are you complaining about one ad campaign? What’s the big deal? This is how things ARE, it’s not like this one campaign is any different. Stop whining.”

This was essentially the jist of a twitter exchange I had a few days ago. And really, it seems to be the jist of a lot of the criticisms of the backlash against Protein World’s London ad campaign. ‘It’s just a bunch of Social Justice Warriors picking on a company that is doing what companies do.’

I have a couple responses to that line of thinking.

First, it’s not really about Protein World. Yes, this is how things are. Pictures of half naked women are used to sell everything from protein powder to cars to razor blades. Naked ladies sell. Fact. I chimed in to the Protein World fray, but the fact is that Protein World is just one small drop in an ocean of objectification. I don’t really care about Protein World. I care about the bigger picture. I’m not ‘complaining’ about Protein World specifically, or this ad campaign. I’m objecting (and have been objecting for years) to the use of half naked women’s bodies to sell stuff that has nothing to do with women’s bodies. I’m tired of seeing half naked women’s bodies used as objects to sell shit that had nothing to do with women’s bodies. I’m tired of my daughters seeing half naked women’s bodies used to sell shit that has nothing to do with women’s bodies.

This is the way the world is. Yes. And I don’t like it. So I’m changing it.

Which brings me to my second response to this line of thinking:

Protein powder won’t give you a beach ready body.

Sorry. You can drink protein shakes until you puke, and you won’t get (what Protein World declares) a beach ready body, not that way. Protein shakes don’t make you lose weight, they don’t make you build muscle, they don’t burn off fat.

What protein shakes do is..get this…give you protein.

Now, getting adequate protein, in addition to a balanced, calorie appropriate diet, and a well planned exercise program, and adequate sleep, and a LOT of time and patience and consistency, and the right genetics MAY give you (Protein World’s version of) a beach ready body. But…and here’s where it gets really crazy…you can get adequate protein without drinking protein shakes.

I know. I’ll wait for you to pick you jaw up off the floor.

Protein shakes can make getting adequate protein a little more convenient, but it turns out that protein is in all sorts of foods, and it’s possible to meet your needs through food alone! I KNOW, RIGHT? CRAZY!

Now, if you like protein shakes, well then you go on with your bad self and drink them, I won’t fault you, and in fact I may join you now and then (I have been known to imbibe a little myself). Ain’t no thing wrong with a good protein shake now and then, or heck, every day if that’s what floats your boat. Knock yourself out!

But the reality is that 1. getting Protein World’s version of a ‘beach ready body’ takes a HELL of a lot more than protein shakes, and 2. you don’t even need protein shakes to get (Protein World’s version of) a beach ready body, and 3. you don’t need Protein World’s idea of a beach ready body in order to go to the beach.

And also. The model in the ad is gorgeous. And so are you. Yes, you, the one reading this right now. Her body is awesome. So is mine, so is yours. And we can appreciate each other’s bodies, it won’t diminish our own beauty to acknowledge someone else’s. So, take your badass body to the beach (or not – take it where YOU want to go), and lift each other up, and show our daughters that our bodies are good for more than just selling shit that has nothing to do with women’s bodies.

Untitled drawing (4)Got something to say? Join the conversation on my facebook page here!



Internet Manipulation 101: Gaslighting

Once you become aware of the tricks people use to manipulate others, you see them everywhere. Marketing for sure. But also from individuals, sometimes even well-meaning individuals who are unaware they are being manipulative. I have written about this stuff before, such as my post on The Straw Man fallacy.

A couple days ago I posted on my facebook page about some of the ways people disrespect me, my audience, and the community I’ve created, by posting pseudoscience, fearmongering, or just plain emotionally manipulative content. A great conversation ensued.

Then, not 48 hours later, a person came to my public page to provide a real-time demonstration of what I was talking about (see pic below, name redacted). The topic was sugar ‘addiction’, but that’s not really what I want to focus on here, it’s the subtle manipulation, the diversion from the topic at hand. Putting someone on the defensive is a way of deflecting the conversation away from the topic and onto the person. When you feel like you need to defend yourself, you stop focusing on the topic, and the person using the manipulative tactic has effectively ‘won’, by shifting the conversation to something they can control.

Gaslighting (in internet interactions) is a form of emotional abuse and manipulation in which a person says something abusive, and then accuses the victim of abuse when they push back. I see it all over the place. “Wow, I was just stating my opinion, calm down!”, “You’re so aggressive!”, “What a bully!”, “I’ll be sure not to share my thoughts here again” – all emotional manipulation tactics.

When I push back in my facebook group, sometimes people who aren’t familiar with these tactics think I’m being unfair, that I’m ‘picking on’ the person I’m pushing back against. Because this form of manipulation can be very subtle and subversive, and the manipulation can be almost invisible, while the pushback is direct and upfront.

Learning to recognize manipulation is intensely empowering. But sometimes it can be painful to acknowledge that you’ve been manipulated – or that you’ve manipulated others. That pain can keep many people locked in the cycle of abuse and manipulation. Learning to recognize it, though, is a powerful step toward personal growth, and a skill that supports long-term mental (and ultimately physical) health. How? When you realize a person is using these manipulation tactics to control a conversation and deflect it from a substantive topic, you can be relatively sure they are doing it because they don’t have the facts and evidence necessary to back up their claims.

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Confessions of a (Reformed) Natural Mom

The blissful glow of Natural Motherhood is a lot to live up to.

The blissful glow of Natural Motherhood is a lot to live up to.

I love it when someone comes to my facebook page and tries to educate me about nutrition. Or exercise. Or natural health. Or vaccines. Or GMOs. Etc. Because the only reason they can comprehend that I don’t agree with their opinion is that I simply haven’t heard the Thing about the Thing they have heard. I haven’t read the same diet book, or googled the same blog, or bought the same MLM supplement product. The only source for my differing opinion MUST be ignorance. And that if they just share the Good News with me, I will immediately repent and be saved.

Oh oops, did I get my analogies mixed up?

A long time ago, I was a Natural Mom.

I was a brand new mom. I mean, all moms are brand new moms at some point, and none of us is ever really prepared for it. They just don’t tell you how hard it is, is what I tell people now. I had just moved to a new city halfway across the country from my home in California. I’d left my friends and family, and my job, and all the things I was good at back at home. Have I mentioned I had a brand new baby? And my body was changing daily. Not in ways I was feeling very good about, either. I know now what I didn’t know then – I had post partum depression, though it wouldn’t reach a critical level for another two years, after my second baby was born. My husband had gotten the break of his career, so he was working his ass off trying to meet the challenges his position presented. I barely saw him – even when he was home he was down in his basement office working. And even when he wasn’t working, he was grappling with his own feelings – feeling overwhelmed by fatherhood, overwhelmed by his new professional responsibilities, overwhelmed from also leaving his home and friends and family, overwhelmed by not knowing how to help his wife. It was a dark time. Certainly not the glowing bliss of motherhood I’d been promised.

In other words, I was lonely, and depressed, and desperately in need of a friend. And oh! What friends there were to be found on…Mommy Blogs. What began as a search for information on teething became a descent into shame, judgement and The Mommy Wars.

And, my rebirth as a Born Again Natural Mom.

Oops, there I go getting my analogies mixed up again.

On Mommy Blogs and their counterpart Mommy Forums, I found a veritable wealth of information! I learned that I had pretty much been doing everything wrong for my entire life. I had been eating the wrong foods, wearing the wrong clothes, using the wrong sunscreen, washing my clothes (and body) in the wrong soap, using the wrong cleaning products, and USING THE WRONG CAR SEAT FOR MY PERFECT BABY. I couldn’t believe how misled I had been. My parents, my teachers, my friends, my doctors, and EVEN MY DAUGHTER’S PEDIATRICIAN had been leading me down the path of wickedness – I mean TOXINS – all this time. Fortunately I had unwittingly stumbled upon a group of other moms with Special Knowledge. How very lucky.

I learned about how toxic vaccines are, and that moms who vaccinate their babies don’t really love their children. I learned about how to grow my own food, and make it into homemade baby food, so that I could protect my baby from toxins everywhere. Store bought baby food was lazy. Store bought non-organic baby food was child abuse. I learned I needed to breastfeed my baby until she was at least 2 years old, or I may damage her psychologically, not to mention give her brain damage and probably ruin her immunity and cause her to contract the diseases I wasn’t vaccinating her against. I learned about co-sleeping, and how it was the way moms slept with their babies for millions of years, and it was selfish modern mothers who forced their babies to sleep alone, and how it was damaging children permanently. Moms who didn’t co-sleep were selfish and lazy. I learned about baby wearing, and how I needed to do it until my baby was about 8 years old or she would be insecure and think I didn’t love her. I bought a really expensive sling, because it was The Best. Strollers were for lazy mothers. Store bought sunscreen was verboten, unless it was $30/oz organic mineral sunscreen. Anything less than that would mean I didn’t love my baby. Far better to make my own sunscreen out of organic raw virgin coconut oil though. That’s what moms who loved their babies did. I learned to make my own cloth diapers and diaper wipes, because of course. And I could only wash them in vinegar, because of course again. And hang them to dry in the sunshine, because…well, you know. I learned that I should use breast milk to ‘treat’ ear infections, because medicine is toxic chemicals. And don’t ever dream of letting your child have pain reliever. You might as well be shooting them up with heroin. I learned that the only shoes that were acceptable were these $40 moccasin type things. Everything else would deform my child’s feet for life. Moms who used other kinds of shoes were lazy. I learned that the only kind of car seat that was acceptable cost $300. And any other car seat would pretty much kill my child no matter what, even if we weren’t ever in a car accident. And she needed to be rear-facing until she was five. Only lazy moms who don’t love their kids use other kinds of car seats. Oh, and I learned about off-gassing. So I had to buy organic mattresses and bedding. Because only moms who don’t love their kids buy non-organic mattresses.

Have I mentioned how expensive and time consuming it was to be a Natural Mom? Good thing I had so much free time.

For a while, I really felt like I’d “found my tribe” (yeah, that’s the phrase we used). I had friends. They were supportive (as long as I bought the right things and never ever admitted I wasn’t blissfully happy being a mother every minute of every day). I had a community, and it helped. For a while. Kind of.

I began to base my identity on being a Natural Mom. It’s what I was. I wasn’t Amber. I wasn’t a wife, or a sister, or a daughter, or a friend. I wasn’t a pit bull rescuer any more. I wasn’t a musician any more. I wasn’t even a mom any more. I was a Natural Mom. I took great pride in being a Natural Mom. We all did. It made us feel good. It made us feel superior.

And that’s what the Mommy Wars are. They are women losing themselves. They are women assuming a new identity (one of ‘Natural Mom’ in my case), and in order to remain a Natural Mom you have to Buy all the (expensive) Things, and make everything homemade (out of really expensive and hard to find ingredients), and never ever ever let on that motherhood is anything other than absolute bliss. And in return, you get a sense of identity. And a sense of belonging. And a sense of superiority.

And those things are really, really appealing.

Especially when you are lonely. And maybe depressed. And maybe not so excited about what is happening to your body (because lets face it, our culture makes it UBER clear that the physical effects of motherhood are NOT ACCEPTABLE. Pop that baby out and get back to your pre-pregnancy weight the next morning or you are a lazy slacker. And don’t EVER leak from ANY orifice, EVER.) New motherhood is a hell of a lot to deal with, and women don’t get a lot of support for it, not really. It is no wonder so many new mothers find themselves drawn to the apparent solidarity of Mommy Blogs and the Mommy Wars. It can be comforting to feel like you’re part of a tribe, that you have special knowledge, when you’re stuck at home with a new baby and a leaky body and maybe feeling guilty because you’re really not enjoying this whole motherhood gig but don’t you ever tell anyone that because there’s obviously something wrong with any woman that doesn’t enjoy motherhood.

The Mommy Blogs were comforting at first. But ultimately, I found myself saying things I didn’t really believe. Like, I didn’t really believe that giving my hurting baby some pain medicine was child abuse. I didn’t really believe that I would damage my kid if I stopped breast feeding at 18 months. More than that, I began to really feel uncomfortable with the idea that if another mom did something differently then it meant she just didn’t know what we knew, and that I needed to educate her. Some of the women with different opinions were smart – some of them were people I knew – and I really didn’t think they ‘just needed to be educated’. I started to question the motives of the people feeding me these lines. And then one day I realized how much fucking money I was funneling into these people’s wallets, these Mommy Bloggers, who’s blog posts were full of affiliate links to products they ‘approved’ of. How I was alienating real life friends and family with my holier than thou attitude that I was a better mother because I bought XYZ and spent my days making organic virgin this and that. Worst of all, I realized how misguided I’d been to believe a Mommy Blogger knew more than my baby’s pediatrician. How much I was risking, putting my faith in the (medical!) advice of an unqualified stranger on the internet.

I began to climb out of my identity as Natural Mom. I got my kids vaccinated. I stopped shaming myself for wanted a goddamn minute of time to myself. I stopped looking down on mothers who didn’t do things the Natural Mom community did. And that was the best thing I ever did for my kids. Because the act of ceasing to judge others allowed me to stop judging myself. It allowed me to see that I needed real help for my post-partum depression. It allowed me to see that I’d lost a sense of myself, and I started re-engaging in things I enjoyed and was good at. It allowed me to nurture REAL friendships, that weren’t based on ridiculing people who did things a different way. Friendships that were based on respect for each other, and respect for the people we share the world with. It allowed me to model a healthier self-image, healthier relationships, and healthier self-care for my daughters.

Now, I would still find myself getting caught up in fad diets for a couple more years, but fortunately the things I learned extricating myself from Natural Motherhood allowed for me a quicker escape from the Diet Maze than I probably would have had otherwise.

So, when people come to my page and try to “educate” me about nutrition, or vaccines, or GMOs, or carbs, or evil sugar, or Cross Fit, or any number of other trendy food and mothering and exercise fads, I chuckle. Because I was them, like 10 years ago. I already read what they read. I already googled what they googled. I already Bought All The Things that they bought.

And then I read more. And googled more. And learned how to read a scientific study. And made friends with some scientists and doctors and even (gasp) some vaccine and GMO proponents. And those people turned out not to be heartless monsters bent on destroying the health of my children. They turned out to be kind and intelligent people with children of their own. And I know now that all the ‘Special Knowledge” I thought I had back then was bullshit, cleverly designed to separate me from my money, and make me feel ashamed of my natural body, and my emotions, and my desires and my fears. Make me ashamed of who I was, so I would want to be someone else. And buy the things promising to make me someone else.

YOU are ok. I am ok. Being a mom is fucking HARD and sometimes I don’t like it. That is normal. It is ok. We are allowed to have those feelings. We are also allowed to have cellulite and leaky body parts and thighs that jiggle and poochy bellies that our children love. And we are allowed to get mad. And sad. And sometimes be really tired and buy something convenient for our kids to eat. Those things are ok. Really. It doesn’t make us lazy or bad mothers. It makes us human. All of us. Human. With strengths and faults. Things we do well and things we suck at.

And being able to afford organic, and having enough spare time to make home made baby food, and having the space and facilities to cloth diaper doesn’t make you superior. It makes you fortunate. And that’s ok too.

And to keep this on topic, you know what the very best thing you can do for your health and that of your children is?

Take a walk. And eat fruits and vegetables (non-organic is fine, so is frozen, so is pre-cut). And get enough sleep. And nurture real friendships. And get your medical advice from your physician, not a stranger on the internet.

For me, post-partum depression manifested as anxiety and panic attacks, not as a feeling of sadness. Untreated, it produced a lot of upheaval and stress in our lives. I was shamed, by the Natural Motherhood community, into believing I must just not be trying hard enough. Post-Partum Mood Disorder can manifest in any number of ways, and can be enormously destructive to a family. If you have ANY suspicion that you may be struggling with something bigger than yourself, please seek out credible information and screening by a qualified medical professional (not a Naturopath, or a ‘nutritionist’ or a Chiropractor. None of those is qualified to treat Post-Partum Mood Disorder. See your physician or a psychiatrist or a psychologist).

I wish that I had had a better, truly supportive community during that time. I wish I’d been able to find a place where non-evidence based claims were countered with rational, credible evidence-based resources, and emotional manipulation was identified and called out. Where I’d been referred to a medical professional for what was truly a medical condition. I have never been able to find such a place, so I created one. Come join us if you’re ready (but don’t be surprised if we challenge you and maybe even piss you off sometimes). We’re mothers, and fathers, and daughters and sons. Sisters and brothers and friends. And everyone is welcome. Except assholes. We make assholes leave.

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Sometimes motherhood isn't blissful. And it's ok. It's ok to ask for help.

Sometimes motherhood isn’t blissful. And it’s ok. It’s ok to ask for help.