#MyPlusJourney: Chrissa J. Farrell, Health and Wellness at Any Size and Age
Chrissa J. Farrell, #MyPlusJourney…
If you’ve been following PLUS Model Magazine on Instagram you may have noticed Chrissa J. Farrell featured on our IG Crushes of the week. Chrissa is a published plus model and plus-size personal trainer and Wellness/Lifestyle coach who believes in health and fitness at any size and age. On the heels of one of the most challenging years for most of us, I decided to virtually sit down with Chrissa about her Plus Journey and her thoughts about health and wellness at any size.
January was a month we were bombarded with weight loss ads and promotions. As an advocate for Health & Wellness at any size can you tell us about your personal journey?
Sure! My journey has really been a lifelong journey. I was an average size child, a smidge chubby, but not overly so. I was also quite active riding bikes, playing softball, etc. Then when I was about 7 or 8, I was molested and turned to food. That’s when my weight issues started. I was teased by classmates, jokingly teased by my dad, who, bless his heart, thought he was being helpful. And my mom always had me on a diet of some sort. I remember my Pediatrician prescribing a diet while I was in elementary school, and then from then on, I was on and off diets.
Some were dangerous, too, like the Cambridge Diet I was put on in the 7th grade. Of course, these diets didn’t necessarily work because I was eating emotionally all those years to cope with my feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy. This habit continued on through high school, college, and into adulthood. I even had a period of at least 10 years where I was stuck in a cycle of starving myself, binging and purging, and being depressed. I overcame the binging and purging, but the depression wasn’t addressed until much later.
Finally, when I was turning 40, a lightbulb went off, and I started to actually like myself, which was a totally new concept, given the extremely low self-esteem I had for so many years. Since then, I have to say, this has been an amazing journey of self-discovery, development of self-love, and learning to embrace myself fully, cellulite and all. I’m thankful for my “pre 40” experiences because I don’t know if I would have been able to handle the rollercoaster of the last 12 years, especially the changes in my weight, and other physical and emotional changes.
How do you define health and wellness?
When I was in grad school for Public Health, I learned the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. I agree with this definition, and as I’ve grown and had more life experiences, I can see more clearly just how important each of the aspects of health and wellness are, and how important it is to have a well-rounded approach to addressing each of these areas individually and collectively. So, in short, drawing from the WHO definition, my definition of health and wellness is being balanced in mental, physical, spiritual, and social health and health practices.
Many people, even doctors will argue that people who are “obese” in accordance with the BMI chart are certain to die young and suffer from various diseases. What are your thoughts?
First of all, in my opinion, the BMI is trash. Period. And was never intended for use on individuals. When Adolphe Quetelet, a Mathmetician and Statistician developed the Quetelet Index, it was to measure the trend of growth and weight gain across populations, at that time, a group of European men. It was renamed the Body Mass Index by Ancel Keys in 1972, who advised against using it on individuals as well. But, the simplicity of the BMI led medical professionals to adopt it as a means to determine obesity and health risks associated with obesity. The problem with this is, the BMI only takes into account height and weight. Not fat mass, lean mass, bone density, hydration, activity levels, or anything else that might play a factor in determining a relationship between body composition and health risk. If the BMI was truly reliable, why are bodybuilders, especially those short or average height, with high percentages of muscle and low body fat percentages falling into the obese category? There are better ways to determine health risks than the BMI, and I wish the medical community would get rid of it.
To me, health and wellness is a personal journey that many people have a hard time understanding because we have been told over and over that, in order to be healthy you have to be skinny. We hardly speak about actual nutrition and emotional wellbeing. How would someone even begin to learn about what the body needs to feel and be healthy?
So true! Health and wellness is a very personal journey that is made complicated and confusing by the constant bombardment of information. I use to subscribe to several women’s fitness magazines, and I can’t tell you how many times I came across several contradicting articles in single issues! If that inconsistency caused me to have questions, can you imagine what a person with no background in health or fitness would think? And no, being skinny does not indicate good health! Do I need to say that louder for the people in the back determined to believe and promote the skinny=healthy lie?
Truth is, when exploring health and wellness, finding the right resources is key. Qualified professionals are great to start with. Personal trainers, Nutritionists, Certified Health Coaches can point you in the right direction. Yes, there is Google, but information overload and competing schools of thought can be very discouraging. That’s why I recommend having a conversation with a qualified professional in the area you want to learn more about. Most will offer a free consultation, so you at least have a place to start.
Let’s talk about being a Wellness Lifestyle Coach. What exactly do you do… because I feel like we all need one right now after the type of year we just had.
I became a Wellness Lifestyle Coach because I wanted to offer more of a foundation for developing a wellness lifestyle to people, women in particular. Full disclosure, the timing of my certification and the increased need for me to travel back and forth to care for my parents collided, and I had to pause the development of my Wellness Lifestyle Coaching program. Thankfully I’m now able to go back and review materials, dust off concepts, and work on finally developing my program. To answer your question about what I do, I advise those who reach out to me on steps to take to begin living a wellness lifestyle by making simple changes in daily habits. From cutting back on soda and increasing water consumption to adding more veggies, incorporating more physical movement into their day, being more mindful about their thoughts, especially thoughts about themselves, and, of course, not focusing on the scale. Living a wellness lifestyle shouldn’t be a burden. It should be enjoyable and lead to growth in all areas of life.
How does aging affect health and wellness?
Aging can definitely have a profound effect on health and wellness. This is why it’s so important to develop healthier eating habits as well as exercise habits as soon as you can. Honestly, you’re never too old, but the sooner you start, the better. With my parents, who lived to be 100 and 95, I saw how devastating to health and wellness aging can be if nutrition is off. Understand that they were very healthy and active for many years, walking daily, dad being an avid golfer who preferred to carry his bag 18 holes over using a golf cart, eating healthy meals, and managing diabetes through diet and exercise(dad) until his 90’s. They did everything right, but when they became vegetarian, and I am in no way knocking vegetarianism, but when they embraced it, they didn’t know they needed to replace certain nutrients in their diet. I wasn’t aware of this at that time either. For example, when my folks stopped drinking milk, they replaced it with a soy alternative that had no calcium or protein. Daddy ended up with brittle bones and had to inject himself with a drug to rebuild his bone density. My mom developed dementia, which I know can be genetic, but when they cut out fish, there was no replacement of the fatty acids that we need for brain health. So, you can see from my parent’s example, why it’s so important to be mindful of all the details when it comes to diet and nutrition, especially as we age. Missing just a few key things can have devastating effects.
What should we be doing to prepare ourselves for how the body changes as it grows into maturity?
The key things we should be doing are:
Eating a well-balanced diet that meets all our nutritional needs, including additional supplements as needed, as well as drinking enough water.
Exercising regularly and with intention, even if it’s just a 20-minute walk daily.
Spending quality time in prayer, meditation, or whatever your practice is, first thing every morning.
Learning how to manage stress. This is easier said than done, but if point 3 is a habit, you’re already on the right road.
Getting quality sleep and rest. The body heals and regenerates when we sleep, so whatever amount of sleep is adequate for you, get that as often as possible. And take naps, too!
Staying on top of your health by having regular check-ups and tests, and following any prescription regimen your doctor gives. I’m sure there are plenty of other things to consider, but these are the top ones that come to mind.
Your confidence is so powerful and warm. Can you tell us about your self-confidence journey and what you do to stay confident in a society that promotes diet culture?
Thank you! Truth is, I finally quit caring about other people’s opinions of me, especially if they aren’t paying my bills. That’s the only way I could grow in my confidence. As I mentioned earlier, it took years, but I’m at a point in my life now where I can embrace the changes in my body and weight without devaluing myself. I am worthy no matter what size I wear! A few years ago, if I regained the weight I had lost, l would fall into a spiral of depression and embarrassment. And as far as my weight is concerned, I feel most comfortable when I’m a size 12/14 with a little more muscle mass, but I’m currently rocking the hell out of the 16/18 I’m currently at. Thanks, Covid! But I really didn’t have to start baking banana bread when we were on lockdown. Lol!
During these unprecedented times when so many of us are trying to stay afloat financially and emotionally. How could wellness help us from the inside out?
I believe wellness, total wellness that includes mind, body, spirit, and social health, can help us from the inside by giving us a foundation we can be sure of. When everything else is going haywire, the wellness lifestyle habits you develop will propel you forward, and help you cope in a more positive manner with this crazy life than if you choose to just move blindly through life without a plan or an awareness of the importance of being well.
Thank you for sharing your Plus Story with us Chrissa.
Follow Chrissa J. Farrell: IG @plusmodelchrissa_j_ and @chrissa_janel_wellness