Self Image: How healthy looks vs how it feels

By: Sara Howe

Self-Image: How Healthy Looks vs Feels 

By Sara Howe 

My name is Sara Howe. I am a native Nashvillian, wife, dog mom, and lover of all things fitness and health. I am a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant, Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Health Coach. I am 35 years old and I can confidently say I finally have a healthy relationship with exercise and food. However, I went through years of mental and physical struggles around food and exercise to become who I am today.

 Some of my earliest memories of exercise were playing soccer. Growing up, my only understanding of food was based around the “standard American diet”. My parents never talked negatively about food, their bodies, or other people’s bodies. For this, I am thankful. I did not have issues with food until around age 20. 

 In 2007, when I was a freshman in college, I was involved in a near-fatal car accident. I sustained a broken neck, wrist, thumb, arm, and collarbone, as well as a punctured lung, traumatic brain injury and a stroke. After the accident, I moved back in with my parents, turning my childhood home into a hospital-like setting.

My parents and family took care of me and supported me through my extensive recovery from my accident. I was immobile for some time and put on extra weight. Two years after my accident, I ran the Music City Half Marathon with my mom as a celebration of movement. Throughout my training, I noticed that I started to lose the extra weight. My once-healthy love for running slowly transitioned into a disordered relationship with exercise. 

I became obsessed with exercise and “burning off” everything that I had consumed. I remember going to the gym and staying on the elliptical until the machine said I had burned 1,000 calories. No matter how tired I was, I would stay on the elliptical until it said 1,000 calories had been burned. (Now I know that exercise is not exclusively about burning calories, and that machines and wearables are not accurate anyway). This obsessive exercise mindset continued for a couple of years. I would “punish” myself with exercise if I ate “bad” foods.

In 2010, I met my now husband and began shifting focus to our new relationship. During this  time, I gained some weight and ultimately fell back into old habits with exercise bulimia. This time, it was worse. I participated in a fitness and nutrition program that drastically reduced calories for six weeks, while also weightlifting three times per week. To add to that, I was attending HIIT classes or other cardio four to five times per week. This rigorous schedule went on for six weeks. After the program was complete, I decided to enroll again for another six weeks. I was the leanest I had ever been after those 12 weeks, and also the unhealthiest I had ever been. I know now that being small or having abs does not equate to health. 

Some brutal side effects to over exercising and under-eating led to my blood pressure skyrocketing, hair thinning, extreme food sensitivities, zero social life and my menstrual cycle disappearing. My moods were unstable and I had underlying anxiety most of every single day. Outsiders would have never known this was happening because I “looked” healthy and I was receiving all kinds of compliments and external validation. I thought continuing to eat restrictively was the only way to “maintain” my results. The cycle continued for a year. 

At the end of 2019, I couldn’t sustain that way of life anymore. I remember vividly one night when my husband was cooking dinner. I looked over and saw him putting oil into the pan to cook. I freaked out and told him to just use water instead of oil. He looked at me and said, “Sara, it’s okay”. That moment was my breaking point. I knew I had an issue and needed some help. I couldn’t figure out how to break this unhealthy cycle on my own. 

I decided at the end of December of 2019 that during 2020 that I would go to therapy every week for a year, get off of the birth control pill (I had been on it for 14 years straight), and give up alcohol for a year. I wanted to strip back everything and finally face things head on instead of numbing and avoiding.

My first therapy appointment with Kat DeFatta was in January of 2020. I remember going into her office full of nerves. I had been in therapy before, but it had been several years and this was with a new therapist. It took a few sessions for me to let my guard down. After doing a lot of work, I realized that I was using food to control my emotions. I never thought I had control issues but turns out that I did, and food is a common form of coping. During the year of therapy with Kat, I uncovered a lot of things I hadn’t dealt with. She equipped me with the tools and resources I needed to begin turning my life around. 

If you are considering going to therapy, this is your sign to do it. It’s completely worth it and it changed my life. Talking about sensitive topics will bring up a lot of emotions, but one thing I remind myself often (that I also learned in therapy) is that we are not our emotions, we are feeling our emotions. Our emotions are there to tell us something. Meet your emotions with curiosity and compassion instead of negativity and fear.

In 2019, I decided to become an ACE Certified Group Fitness Trainer and I taught at Shed Fitness for three years. In 2021, I officially became an ACE Certified Health Coach. I was finally at peace with food and exercise and wanted to help other women in their relationships with food and exercise. Currently, I work as a Personal Trainer at Nashville Personal Training Company in East Nashville. I am so fulfilled and love the path that I am on at this time. I truly believe the path I took was all part of my story – the hard parts, the good parts. It all makes me who I am today.

Find more from Sara on her website 

And on instagram @saratuckerhowe