Address the thoughts going through your head. Our body is listening to the words we tell it. If you told a friend, “you’re horrible and you need to change for me to accept you” do you think that friend would still be a part of your life? Why should our body show up for us if we’re constantly putting it down? If you want to heal your relationship with food, a bite-sized step can be starting with what you’re thinking about your body and starting to feed your body nourishing thoughts.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Mara Fox.
Stephanie Mara Fox, MA, CMBEC, CHC, CYT, is a Somatic Nutritional Counselor & Mentor with a Masters Degree in Somatic Psychotherapy and the creator of Somatic Eating™. She’s supported women, coaches, and wellness professionals all over the world to heal from disordered eating patterns, emotional eating, chronic dieting, and digestive and body image concerns. Stephanie is published in the International Body Psychotherapy Journal, featured in Somatic Psychotherapy Today, VoyageDenver, Elephant Journal, the Your Recovery Revealed Summit, and has provided supervision for thousands of Mind Body Eating Coaches.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I was 13 years old when I first remembered judging my body. When I became aware that I had a body and that it was different than other bodies around me, I did not have the reaction of “how incredibly unique I am!” No, instead I had the reaction: “I’m different. Different is bad. I need to change.” To navigate the harsh internal dialogue arising, food became my friend. I spent the next decade of my life on and off diets, binge eating, restricting, and over-exercising. The thing is that it was never really about the food or my body image. I find we spend far too much time focusing on eating behaviors and not exploring what is underneath and why these habits and patterns started as a means of protection.
It wasn’t really about the food, it was about processing my parent’s divorce. It wasn’t really about my body image, it was about processing being bullied. It wasn’t really about what I ate or how I looked, it was about processing traumatic events. I have seen in my work with 1:1 clients that often when we experience intense situations at such a young age, a focus on food and body can come in to try and feel a sense of control in an uncontrollable external world. Everything that happened externally for me, that was undigested life experiences, led to another decade of healing severe digestive issues. Digestive issues, disordered eating patterns, and trauma are all connected. We have an entire second brain in our gut that is not only processing our food but also our life experiences. I know for myself, and I have witnessed this with those I have also supported with their digestive issues, that healing my digestion did not fully occur until healing happened in digesting and assimilating my past trauma and wounds.
Going to my first yoga class at 18 years old was the beginning of learning about the mind-body connection, connecting with my own body in new ways, and discovering what my symptoms, habits, and patterns were here to teach me. I have now healed my digestive pain and my relationship with my food and body, which is the strongest and most at peace it has ever been. This healing journey led me to receive a Masters Degree in Somatic Psychotherapy and Certifications as a Mind Body Eating Coach, Health Coach, and Yoga Teacher to further support others in healing their relationship with their food and body to reclaim their life.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
As a Somatic Nutritional Counselor, I’m exploring with my clients all the things that have affected their relationship with their food and body from the past and in the present. I once had a client I had been working with for over a year. We had explored so many things together to cultivate a more trusting relationship with their body and a more empowered relationship with their food. There was still something missing though as they were experiencing some symptoms that weren’t going away.
One day, they were telling me a story about something that happened in the past week and just casually mentioned that they were outside smoking a cigarette. In the entire year of working together, they never mentioned that smoking a pack to two packs of cigarettes a day was something they did every day. It was a missing piece of information that finally started putting together some puzzle pieces.
That session always stuck with me. Our clients will share what they are meant to share when they are ready to bring it to a session. That was the exact moment that information was ready to come out. That was the time in our work together they were ready to look at that piece of their life. If it had been discussed any sooner, any exploration around it might have been more difficult. I truly believe we get to trust in the wisdom of those we work with and their bodies. Everything unfolds when working with individuals 1:1 exactly how it is meant to unravel and be revealed.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I will never forget this moment. It was my first year in Graduate School for my Masters in Somatic Psychotherapy. In class, we would break out into groups and be paired off with a classmate to practice our budding skills as a counselor. On this particular day, I was the therapist while my classmate was the client while my teacher observed.
As my classmate shared what they were processing around something happening in their life, I was stuck in my head trying to think of the best “strategies” or the optimal counseling tools I could utilize to support them. The whole practice session felt a little wonky.
At the end of the session, I looked at my teacher and said, “What was I missing?” He put his hand on his heart and looked into my classmate’s eyes and said, “I’m really sorry you’re going through that right now.” She started to cry as she felt truly seen and attuned to. The missing piece was the human-to-human connection.
Even years and years later, I have never forgotten that moment. No matter how many tools you collect in your professional toolbox there is nothing, absolutely nothing, more powerful than simply supporting someone in feeling seen, heard, and understood. And since then, I have seen the power in this with my 1:1 clients over and over again. You do not need to go through another training. You do not need more tools in your professional toolbox. You already have the greatest tool there is your compassionate heart.
We all just want to feel like we belong. Our clients need our presence, not another suggestion. They need our empathy, not another piece of advice.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Growing a business can be a strong mirror reflecting back to ourselves any insecurities or fears or doubts we have. The ability to believe in yourself and know you have so much to offer this world is invaluable. So I have to give great credit to the Somatic Therapists I have worked with that supported me in healing my own wounds, deeply knowing my value, and stepping into my confidence.
I also have to thank my web designer Rebecca Eisner. This is actually a pretty wild story. I knew it was time to uplevel my website and rebrand my business. I reached out on a Facebook networking page I was a part of and got several responses. As I was scrolling through each web designer’s work, Rebecca’s website and the work she had done really stuck out to me.
When I went to go visit her business Facebook page, I noticed that there was an individual who was one of my brother’s friends growing up liking her posts. I went and booked a call with her. It turned out we both grew up in Connecticut and knew many of the same individuals. I hired her immediately.
Rebecca has been immensely supportive in re-branding and making one of the most beautiful websites that I get excited to look at every time I visit it. This is something I teach my mentees in my Somatic Business Building Mentorship for Coaches and Wellness Professionals that you have got to trust those little messages your body is sending you telling you to go check something out.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
I would never want another woman to struggle in their relationship with their food and body for as long as I did. Since 2009, I have been supporting women, coaches, and wellness professionals to cultivate a more satiating and empowering relationship with their food and body, healing from disordered eating patterns, emotional eating, chronic dieting, and digestive and body image concerns. I’m a teacher at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating and I have supervised thousands of Mind Body Eating Coaches.
I created Somatic Eating™ to support others in healing their relationship with their food and body by learning how to trust and rely on bodily sensations. An individual can then discover, based on bodily feedback, what resonates with their unique system physically and emotionally. Our body does not talk to us through words. It speaks to us through bodily sensations. There is often no class in school teaching us though what emotions are and how they’re our friends and allies on our life journey. Allowing the body to feel the spectrum of human emotions and sensations without numbing out or running away from it with food can make the body a safe space to be in.
The safer we feel, the more we can heal. Feeling safe in our body is crucial to feeling safe in the world and being able to navigate our days with more ease and actualize our dreams. Knowing we can optimally satiate our physical and emotional hunger can facilitate a sense of safety, attunement, and relaxation; states where our body optimally functions. And, how we relate with our food is how we show up for everything else in our life. When we cultivate a more satisfying relationship with food, this can start to trickle into other areas where we begin relating with our careers, friendships, loved ones, physical movements, and ourselves in brand new ways.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Check-in with yourself regularly throughout the day. Whatever time you’re reading this, I want you to think of how many times you have checked in with yourself today. Every time I have asked this question to others, the answer I often get back is none. We’re often feeling and processing so many different things throughout our day. If we don’t check in with ourselves regularly and give our emotions space to be heard and seen, this can build and build inside of us throughout the day. It is like a wave that is picking up momentum and getting bigger and bigger. Then, when you finally have time for yourself in the evening, what needs to be addressed can feel like a huge tidal wave. Food can then come into self-soothe. This is why these check in’s can be so important. As your emotions are held and seen, food is released from the responsibility of satisfying your emotional hunger for your own presence.
- Identify the difference between emotional and physical hunger. These wires can get crossed at a young age for identifying our emotional and physical hunger. Food is often the first form of love we receive as a baby. For the rest of life, if we’re not feeling seen, held, and heard food can come in to support us in feeling the way we want to feel. The catch is that the emotions that are needing our attention are still there after the eating is over. This is why it can be important to know when you’re feeling emotional hunger or physical hunger to respond to each kind of hunger in truly satisfying ways. For example, if you notice you have been choosing your favorite comfort food every night, that can be a great opportunity to slow down with that pattern and explore if you’re actually physically hungry at that time when you normally eat it and if not, get curious what emotions are maybe needing your attention at that time of day.
- It’s not always about the food. I had a client come to me once looking to lose weight. They ate balanced meals and consistently throughout the day. They moved their body in nourishing ways. Yet, all the things the diet industry tells us about how to lose weight were not working. This is because it isn’t always about the food. And, sometimes it isn’t the physical weight that needs to be lost, rather the emotional weight needs to be attended to. If you’re navigating your day in a stress response 24/7 you’re telling your body it is in danger and needs to constantly be looking out for itself, which can feel exhausting and heavy. Sometimes we need to focus on the food less and explore receiving the lightness we’re looking for in other ways that have nothing to do with your body needing to change its appearance.
- Address the thoughts going through your head. Our body is listening to the words we tell it. If you told a friend, “you’re horrible and you need to change for me to accept you” do you think that friend would still be a part of your life? Why should our body show up for us if we’re constantly putting it down? If you want to heal your relationship with food, a bite-sized step can be starting with what you’re thinking about your body and starting to feed your body nourishing thoughts.
- Discover what self-care means to you. We receive a lot of messages that self-care looks like bubble baths, meditation, and massages. This might be your thing and it might not. Self-care can be engaging in acts that support you in feeling closer and more connected to you. Play with different self-care acts. This might be gardening, singing, artwork, dancing, learning an instrument or a language, trying something new, knitting, playing with a pet. We need to stop being told what is going to support us in feeling cared for and actually discover what that is for ourselves based on our body’s feedback.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I’m passionate about the Somatic Eating™ movement I’m starting to support individuals in healing their relationship with their food and body. Quoted from The National Eating Disorders website, “According to the Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report, 10,500 women and girls in 13 countries and found that beauty and appearance anxiety continue to be critical global issues and media are a key factor driving their concerns.” The importance media has put on body image has taken us away from our bodies. It has made it an unsafe place to be in. It has distorted our relationship with food where it doesn’t matter what our body is telling us just as long as we force it to do what we want it to do. This needs to end globally so that all individuals can deeply know they can be loved and accepted just as they are so that our bodies can become our homes again that have the wisdom to provide us.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Consistency is key. If you’re going to have your business for 10, 20, 30, 40 years of your life, that means no matter what happens on that journey, keep taking one step forward every day. Keep showing up no matter what comes your way and you will look back over time and see how far you have come.
- Celebrate every win. When you’re both the boss and the employee, to make your business feel sustainable, celebrate every little win you experience.
- Don’t do it alone. As your business grows, you’re going to need support. Reach out for as much free or paid support as you can. Navigating this journey with others makes it a lot more fun.
- Get clear on your offerings and build on them. Get really really good at one offer. Get feedback on it. Build on it. Tweak it so it is the best it can be. You don’t need to have a million offerings. Get clear on what one offering you want to be known for and make it better and better over time.
- Niching down does actually work! If you’re trying to support everyone, it is hard for your ideal client to find you. Knowing who you want to support in the world can actually free you up from having to support everyone with everything.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Mental health is so very important to me. I have had to navigate a lot early on in my life. I feel incredibly lucky that I was able to receive the support I needed to process these life events. Quality mental health care is something everyone deserves. When we feel cared for, seen, held, heard, and safe in our bodies and life, it can feel easier to go after our dreams and desires.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
You can find me at:
Satiated Podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/satiated-podcast/id1494607245
Thank you for these fantastic insights!