Who Are You? Why determining your identity is pivotal in fitness and nutrition.

Megan Dahlman
January 11, 2016

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​Are you aware that your identity, the titles you carry, and your own personal quirks completely affect every aspect of your health and fitness journey? I could create a perfectly designed workout program, complete with scientifically proven methods of strength development and progression, and include a top-notch nutritional meal plan that covers all the bases; but each individual that embarks on this plan would have very different results. Why? Because we’re all incredibly and beautifully unique. Not only do our physical bodies behave differently, but our personal lives and individual stories are vastly different. Before you take a single step forward, lift another dumbbell and eat another salad, you HAVE to understand what makes you unique.

Let’s stop and answer this question: Who are you? What titles do you carry? I bet if you think about it for a minute, you could come up with many titles: wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, Christian, boss, nurse, caregiver, social worker, chef, cleaner, volunteer, advocate, fitness enthusiast, runner, cyclist, dreamer, lover, victim, and the list just begins.

Which title do you carry with the most pride? Which title brings shame? Which title do you wish you could have? Which title is the most important to you?

Let me be vulnerable for a couple minutes and tell you about myself and the titles I carry…

I am a Christian. This is my first and foremost identity. I am a daughter of the One True King, and this identity trickles down and impacts how I think and what I do. My purpose in life is to bring God glory and experience His love fully. Sometimes this title shifts down in importance and becomes eclipsed by my other titles. The kids overwhelm me, the household duties stack up, my marriage needs attention, and my role as a trainer and coach fills my mind. Sadly, these other titles look uglier, more dreadful, and less effective when this first title gets out of whack. I turn into an angry mom and wife, I’m exhausted with the housework and I lose passion and focus for my job. It’s a sad spot. But then I remember, “Oh yes, God loved me, chose me, died for me and still loves me today. This is my true identity. What the heck am I doing?” Suddenly, I have patience, passion, love and trust once again.

I am a wife. Scott and I have been very happily married for close to ten years now. We have a lot of fun together creating our little home oasis, going beer tasting, playing golf, glamping in our trailer, and pretending we’re little farmers. (As you can see we’re completely embracing everything Oregon.) I don’t think I’m a particularly good wife, or “excellent” as Proverbs says. I have a lot of room for improvement, but here is where my identity as a Christ-follower is important--Jesus is transforming my heart and one day I may actually be my husband’s “crown” (Proverbs 12:4).

I am a mom. I have two young boys, Calvin and Peter. They’re blonde, blue-eyed and crazy. Rowdy does not even begin to describe them. The fact that so much intensity and wildness can be packaged into two little human beings is beyond me. I know that I am smack dab in the middle of the most demanding years, but I will admit that mothering these two is hands down the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Most of the time I don’t like it, don’t want to do it anymore, and just want to run away. (Sigh…) God alone holds me here. And sometimes in the midst of the mess, one of them will say the sweetest thing, making it all smooth for just a moment.

I am a coach. I teach people, mostly women, how to workout well and how to eat well. I help women discover a version of themselves that they never knew existed. This is what I always wanted to do, and I love it. I got my degree in Exercise Science and haven’t stopped learning, getting several certifications and absorbing every tidbit of knowledge I can, whether it pertains to physical fitness or nutrition. What I didn't know I was signing up for is the “coaching” part of coaching--being a motivational speaker. Working with different personalities is not always easy, especially when it comes to teaching people how to do something they don’t really want to do. I am often a therapist, a counselor and an intimate friend. I didn’t realize this was part of the gig, but it is and I’m totally down with it. Many of my clients have become my closest friends. The bond between trainer and client is very special.

I am a depression sufferer. (Now it's getting sticky.) I wouldn’t say that this is a title I flaunt or even like to talk about. Looking back to high school and college, I realize now that I suffered from it then. In high school it took the form of a very insecure body image. In college, this morphed into dabbling with bulimia, anorexia and anorexia athletica (exercising neurotically to burn a ton of calories). The depression dwindled after college, but as soon as I had my first child, it came back with a vengeance. Postpartum depression hit me hard, complete with hopelessness, feelings of isolation, extreme irritability and resentment. After a long, hard year I finally sought help and received medication, which helped a great deal. I now know what these “out-of-body” feelings are when they creep up.

I will note that if I feel depressed, my desire to exercise, eat well, be a mom and be a wife fly right out the window. It effects me, big time. 

And more... I am a horse lover. I can’t live without ice cream. I love pina colada’s, getting caught in the rain… oh, wait…

So, these are the main titles that I carry, my identity and what makes me who I am. This affects everything I do, especially how I approach fitness and nutrition. I workout because I want to be faithful with the body God gave me, I have to plan my workouts around my home life, I know how to stay really motivated because I teach this to others, and I have to stay on top of my depression or it kills my focus. These things all matter. 

Now It's Your Turn.
Take a moment and think about it…what are your top 4 or 5 titles? Write it down if that's helpful.

So, why is grasping your identity so important? When you are uncertain about who you are, being tossed to and fro by waves of insecurity, your ability to tackle the fitness challenges ahead of you will be nearly impossible. You need to be aware of your quirks, your limits, and your primary roles.

Is Self Esteem important, here? Be raw with yourself. You will NOT be more successful if you’re arrogant and think very highly of yourself, like you have it all together. Because you probably don’t. (“I’m awesome, I have this all figured out and I can do this workout plan like nobody’s business!” Really?) Don’t search for self-esteem as you’re nailing down your identity. The entire idea of self-esteem is completely unbiblical, anyway. John the Baptist said “He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease”. (John 3:30) I suppose this is where I differ from most trainers. Scrutinize the fitness industry and even the coaches with the “positive” messages are still promoting self-acceptance, self-esteem, and self-confidence. Don’t bury your limits and your failures in an attempt to trade up for self esteem. Just acknowledge them and give them to Jesus.

Some of your titles may be pivotal. See if any of the following titles ring true with you:

Are you a mom of two or three little ones that are still at home all day? This will impact your expectations regarding how much you can do. You need to make a realistic plan, incorporating your duties as a mom. Unless you’re willing to wake up at 5:30am every day of the week, you probably shouldn’t commit to 5 workouts per week.

Are you a depression or anxiety sufferer? This will have an extreme impact on your ability to get in shape. Certain medications make it more difficult to lose body fat, let alone the lack of motivation that you will frequently experience. You will need to somehow rise above your feelings and make working out a priority.

Are you addicted to food or certain foods? Following healthy eating habits or a meal plan will seem like climbing Everest. You have an addiction to something that you still need to consume every day. Your goal should be to create a good relationship with food, so you know how to enjoy food without overindulging. (Obviously, this is a bigger issue than one paragraph to solve. I’m sure we will delve into food relationship issues in future posts.)

Are you a Christian that feels like you have been living up to the “sluggard” lifestyle Proverbs warns about? Acknowledging this will change your focus and motivation. You will need to learn to lay down your comforts and become disciplined. Discipline is a form of humility—you surrender what you want to do for what you ought to do.

Are you in the middle of some sort of conflict? It’s nearly impossible to not carry this burden with you everywhere, even into the gym. I have coached several women that put their workout clothes on, but can’t quite get going because crying seems like the only viable option at the moment. You need to invite grace into your fitness journey.

Just Be Vulnerable and Then Carry On. 
Be vulnerable with yourself, discover who you are and where your identity lies. Your uniqueness will determine what your experience will be with regular workouts and nutritional eating. And no matter what titles you carry, you can still do this. You might be on the fast track to the best shape of your life, or it may be a slow and tedious crawl. Either way, it’s worth it. It’s always worth it, momma. 

Go deeper. Click here to keep reading in Part 2 how one title that you carry may be the one thing holding you back. This could be a breakthrough...

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Trainer, nutrition coach, and Christian mom — in a culture that’s obsessed with “gym-selfies” and a number on the scale, I’m passionate about helping moms discover what it feels like to actually love their bodies and thrive in them.
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