The Best Health Challenge whole-life plan
Our featured participant gets advice from life coach Dr. Susan Biali to help her start living her dreamsBy Erin Phelan
If you had asked Kelly Mathews one year ago if she would be planning an extended trip to England and spending her free time blogging about the Royals—or even having free time, for that matter—she would have laughed. “This time last year I was coming off of working for almost three months straight without a day off. I had gained a ton of weight and had zero time for my friends, family or partner, Kevin. I loved my work, but I knew I wasn’t living a balanced life.”
A lot has changed. In March 2011, Kelly decided to become a consultant (she has done work for Reader’s Digest, which publishes Best Health), and she says that was one of the hardest career changes she’s ever made, because she loved her old job. Now, as our featured participant in the annual Best Health Challenge, she’s on a journey back to better physical health. (She’s become a lot more fit, and it shows in the photo.) Part of the Challenge is to find more life balance, and for that Kelly is getting help.
Until she started the Challenge, Kelly had never thought she’d benefit from life coaching. “I’ve always been an advocate for other people seeing a life coach or therapist but never thought self-reflection would help me very much. I was wrong!”
Kelly had already thrown herself wholeheartedly into the Challenge—committing to her fitness regimen with a workout from celebrity trainer Bruce Krahn, and overhauling her diet with advice and a meal plan from nutritionist Sue Mah—when she met Dr. Susan Biali, a Vancouver-based life coach and medical doctor. That’s when she decided she needed to open the emotional floodgates, too. During their first session together, they produced six pages of notes for ways Kelly wanted to transform her life. “Verbalizing thoughts I haven’t said out loud was hard. I never thought I’d be so open or emotional in front of a stranger,” says Kelly.
“Life coaches help discover the real you,” explains Susan. “In our society we are not encouraged to be our true selves, or to nurture those passions that aren’t practical or that don’t lead to conventional success. As a result, many people spend their lives trying to conform rather than live authentically. A life coach encourages you to express who you are and helps you get back to what you love, what you care about, your values, and what you want your life to feel like.”
One of the things Susan and Kelly worked on during their face-to-face meeting, weekly phone calls and regular emails was to quiet Kelly’s habit of negative self-talk. “Kevin is my biggest cheerleader,” says Kelly. “And it can’t be easy to be in a relationship with someone like me who isn’t happy and who is always putting herself down.” Says Susan: “Kelly used such judgmental words to describe herself the day we met, such as, ‘It’s sick the way I eat…. I’m lazy…. The person I once was is long gone.’ What she wanted most was to get Kelly Rachelle Mathews—or, who she called ‘KRM’—back.”
During their initial meeting, Susan and Kelly mapped out five key goals, then planned check-ins and weekly assignments to keep her on track. “Kelly’s life had gotten so far away from her best self—that’s how the KRM concept emerged,” says Susan.
So, who is KRM? “She is athletic and super-fit, and loves competing on teams,” Kelly says. “She prioritizes family, friends and her relationship with her partner, and she loves travel and adventure. KRM enjoys a good book, coffee on her porch and a romantic weekend getaway. And she’s a size 8.”
Susan delved into the heart of Kelly’s passions during their sessions. “That gave us clear guidelines for the changes that needed to be made. Life coaches look for signs—or happiness flags—because these are the things that make life fulfilling for a person,” Susan says. A huge flag went up when Kelly talked about how much she loves softball, a sport she has enjoyed since she was 12—but hasn’t played since 2006. With Susan’s encouragement, Kelly joined a co-ed team, which has brought her joy. “There’s a high that comes from sports you can’t get from a cookie,” says Kelly. “I need sports to feel balanced.”
Most of us are overscheduled with social obligations, Susan notes, and Kelly’s life was severely lacking “me” time. “My personality doesn’t allow me to relax,” says Kelly. “One of the last words any of my friends would use to describe me is introverted. But I crave time for myself.” Looking at her calendar with Susan, she saw there were many engagements she didn’t really want to attend but felt obligated to. Susan encouraged her to declare a “social bankruptcy” month, telling friends she needed to spend time on her own.
The result? Kelly began her “Me Month" and loved it. “I had naps—I hadn’t napped in over 15 years! I fell asleep on my porch once during a rainstorm. The high-strung Kelly would never have allowed that to happen.”
One key desire was to spend more time with her family. She is very close to her parents and her twin sister, Kimmy, and she calls her three-year-old nephew, Henry “my heart.” “At 34, I realize my family is the most important thing to me.”
Kelly is also a not-so-closeted anglophile. “I have a book on Queen Elizabeth that I’ve read many times. I am obsessed with the Royals and Tudor England. ” (She’d been to the U.K. in 2008 to visit a friend, and longed to go back.) Before she started the Challenge, Kelly began a blog about all things English, revealing another passion: writing. “Now I get excited to go home to blog,” she says.
Another dream that came to the forefront during her sessions with Susan: a desire to travel for an extended period of time. “I never did that backpacking year after high school or university,” says Kelly. “I went straight into my first job, and always felt that I had missed out. Until I started life coaching sessions with Susan, I felt like, ‘At my age I can’t go off on a big adventure.’”
Susan asked, “Why not?” and encouraged Kelly to open up to the idea of travelling alone if Kevin couldn’t come with her because of work. “Destiny sounds so cliché, but there is a big life out there for you,” says Susan. “If you ignore who you really are and don’t have a life that nurtures your true self, then it will bubble up in various ways such as depression, overeating and other self-defeating behaviours. We have an epidemic of people with ‘squashed selves.’”
And it seems destiny was at play when, within a few days of starting the Challenge, Kelly was talking to a colleague about her passion for Britain and her dream to travel. It turns out the colleague owns a 19th-century cottage in England’s Lake District that is unoccupied for part of the year. She offered it to Kelly, who now plans to spend a month there in 2012; Kevin will hopefully join her for the last week. “I can’t wait to see all the places I haven’t seen yet,” says Kelly.
Susan calls Kelly the perfect client because “she was ready to change. The most groundbreaking shift has been her attitude toward herself and her belief in what is possible. There are countless women feeling the same way, and they can do what Kelly has done if they say ‘Enough!’ You feel you’re light years from the life you want, but it can be just a few choices and actions away.”
As Kelly’s weight has come off, the changes within her have also run deep. “I hear myself saying positive things—and not just about me, but about the world around me. Self-worth has a trickle-down effect that seeps into every aspect of your life. Most importantly, I am present in the moment versus worrying about what I look like,” she says.
“If someone asked me when I started the Challenge what I wanted to get out of it, I would have said to lose 40 pounds and fit into my old clothes. But I realize now my life goals are much more important than just that.”