If you have unhealthy food in your home, you or someone you love is going to eat it. But thankfully the opposite is also true. If you have healthy food in your home, someone is going to eat that, too. We need to make it extremely convenient to eat well and uncomfortably inconvenient to eat unhealthy. If I have apples and donuts in my house, I’m going to pick the donuts every time. But if I only have apples and getting a donut requires me to get in the elevator, go down to the parking garage, drive to the donut shop, find a parking spot, wait in line, order, etc. then I’m probably just going to eat the apple.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Brianna Bernard an Isopure Athlete, Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach. Brianna has been on her own health and wellness journey over the last few years — losing over 100lbs and completely changing her relationship with food and exercise. Her journey has helped her fully transform the way she feels about herself and how she approaches every situation in life including how she approaches food and exercise, the way she feels about herself, how she parents her child and more.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Thank you for having me! I’d love to! In October of 2012, I became a mom to a sweet little boy named Tye. After gaining 70 pounds during my pregnancy, my weight had escalated to 245 pounds. At the time, I wasn’t overly concerned about all of the weight I had gained because I was positive it would come off quickly after the baby was born. But as those of you who have children know… the first year of parenthood doesn’t leave much time for self-care! And before I knew it, Tye was turning ONE! I hadn’t exercised or watched what I ate the entire year. My knees and feet hurt from carrying around extra weight, I was always tired, and I felt disgusted and embarrassed when I would see a picture of myself or catch a glimpse of my reflection in a mirror. None of my pre-baby clothes fit me and I didn’t feel like I had the energy, time or motivation to do anything about it. I felt guilty even considering taking time away from my baby to do something for me. I had come to terms with the fact that this was the size I was going to be for the rest of my life.
But then in August of 2013, everything changed. I was standing in a grocery store check-out line with Tye and picked up a copy of People Magazine’s, “How They Lost 100lbs” issue. Inside, I found the story of a woman, who was also from Minneapolis, who hired a personal trainer the year before and lost 130 pounds. I thought — if this gym and this trainer could have such a profound impact on this woman’s life and health… then maybe they can help me, too. So, I made the call. I started training two to three days per week and completely revamped my eating habits.
I started logging everything I ate and drank in MyFitness Pal. I cut out processed foods and focused on eating lean proteins, vegetables, fruits and healthy fats, and I made it a priority to drink 100–128 oz. of water every day. After one month, I was down 12 pounds. Three months in, I had lost 30 pounds. Seven months after I started, I was down 60 pounds. And just before my one year anniversary at the gym, I had lost 107 pounds.
It changed my life in EVERY WAY. It changed my relationship with food and exercise. It changed the way I feel about myself. It changed the way I parent my child. It gave me the courage and confidence to leave a marriage that was no longer serving me and become a single, working mom. It introduced me to competitive powerlifting and the physical strength I found in that sport spilled over into every other area of my life. And it inspired me to become a Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach and help others become the healthiest, strongest versions of themselves.
And exactly five years after I picked up the copy of People Magazine that changed my life, MY weight loss story was featured in the very same issue. It’s been quite a ride, to say the least… and in many ways, I feel I’m just getting started!
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?
I’ve learned that people don’t buy coaching, they buy coaches. There are thousands of good trainers out there. We all earned certifications. We all know how to write workouts and meal plans. None of us reinvented fitness and we will probably give relatively similar advice when it comes to achieving a healthy lifestyle. In order to be a great trainer, I’ve learned I don’t need to have a PhD in kinesiology or be a registered dietician.
My story and my personal experiences are the most valuable thing I can bring to the table. My ability to connect deeply with a client and truly understand where they’re starting on their personal journey overrides any degree or knowledge of macros or the human body. My superpower is my personal narrative, and when I allow myself to be vulnerable and share my experiences, I give others permission to do the same. When you focus on nutrition and exercise alone, it is a recipe for temporary change. But when you add-in true human connection and matters of the mind and heart — that is when sustainable, long-term transformation occurs.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting out? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I started training clients, I thought people would want to work with me because of my 107-pound weight-loss accomplishment. I thought, “I have done what they are trying to do! And I can share what worked for me and then they will be motivated to create their own success!” Then I realized that my clients didn’t want to hear about how I ate chicken and broccoli for lunch every day or that I trained back and biceps on Mondays and chest and triceps on Tuesdays. They didn’t care that I had six pack abs or that I was featured in People magazine. They wanted to hear about my struggles. They wanted to hear about all the times I failed and wanted to quit. They wanted to know that I ate a free meal every Saturday and still indulged in sweets over the holidays. They wanted to know about how hard it was in the beginning to get through a 60-minute workout without throwing up or passing out. They wanted to know that I was human. I have built countless more meaningful relationships by sharing my struggles than I ever have sharing my successes.
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?
My mom and dad are an incredible support system. They are my first phone call when I have exciting news or when I need advice. They are my constants. They’ve got my back and always have my best interest at heart. They’ve supported me through the most difficult periods of my life and encouraged me when I decided to start my own fitness business. Their unwavering belief in me throughout my life has given me the courage to take big leaps and do hard things.
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 work with so many women — moms in particular — who need help prioritizing their health. When I ask them WHY that is important to them, an overwhelming majority say, “Because I have kids and my number one priority as a parent is to raise a healthy family.” As a fellow mom, I can totally relate to this.
When I began my weight-loss transformation, Tye was just starting to eat a lot of solid foods, so he has really been on this whole journey with me! As a parent, raising a healthy and strong child has always been one of my top priorities — and in order to successfully achieve that goal, I know I need to lead by example. If I make exercise and nutrition a priority in my life, there is a greater chance that Tye will do the same for himself.
And this was the birth of one of my programs, B Healthy Kids! My mission is arming parents and educators with tools and approaches to help them teach our youngest generations about healthy relationships with food and exercise. If we can help adults lead by example, we can set children up for a lifetime of healthy habits and success, in and outside of the classroom. My goal is to build meaningful relationships and work together with families and educators to inspire health in our homes, schools and communities — ultimately raising money to help school districts fund healthier cafeteria and vending machine options, refurbish playground and gym equipment, and provide more opportunities for kids to move and exercise throughout the day.
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.
- Supplement with protein powder: At the beginning of my weight loss journey, I started adding 1 scoop of Isopure Low Carb Dutch Chocolate to my oatmeal every morning for breakfast. It became the healthy substitute to the sugary cereal and milk I was formerly eating, and something I looked forward to eating when I woke up. Adding additional protein to my day helped me build lean muscle, which helped my metabolism burn more fat — even while I was resting.
- If you have unhealthy food in your home, you or someone you love is going to eat it. But thankfully the opposite is also true. If you have healthy food in your home, someone is going to eat that, too. We need to make it extremely convenient to eat well and uncomfortably inconvenient to eat unhealthy. If I have apples and donuts in my house, I’m going to pick the donuts every time. But if I only have apples and getting a donut requires me to get in the elevator, go down to the parking garage, drive to the donut shop, find a parking spot, wait in line, order, etc. then I’m probably just going to eat the apple.
- Find a supportive community of like-minded people to hold you accountable. So many of us wait to eat healthier and exercise until we “feel” like it. We use the excuse, “I’m just not motivated right now,” and we wait until things slow down at work or until the kids go back to school or until COVID-19 is behind us to start taking better care of ourselves. I’m here to tell you that motivation is a lie. Successful people don’t necessarily have any more motivation than you do. They succeed because whether they feel motivated or not, they do it anyway. They force themselves to do the things they don’t feel like doing every day. When we’re little kids, our parents make us do the things we don’t feel like doing. They force us to brush our teeth. They force us to do our homework. They force us to make our beds. And then we grow up and become adults and think, “This is going be so great! Now I can do whatever I want!” And then we realize there’s no one around to force us to do the stuff we don’t feel like doing anymore. We need to build support systems of people with like-minded goals, to help “force” us, so to speak, to do the things we don’t feel like doing. Join a gym. Hire a personal trainer or nutrition coach. Take a group fitness class with friends. These people will help you do hard things when you don’t feel motivated.
- Be prepared: plan and prep your meals and snacks for the entire week (including the weekends!) in advance. Even though many of us are working from home right now and don’t have to worry about packing a lunch for work, it is vital to plan ahead and meal prep. If you don’t have groceries in the house or all of your meat is frozen because you forgot to take it out of the freezer the night before, you are much more likely to order takeout or pizza. But if you make a thoughtful plan every week, including every meal and snack, and you not only have the groceries in the house, but you’ve already cooked and portioned all of said food in Tupperware containers and Ziploc baggies in your fridge, freezer and pantry, you are much more likely to eat that instead! Never allow yourself to be more than a 2-minute microwave session away from a healthy, home-cooked meal, and I promise you, it will be so much easier to stay on track because you are prepared.
- Log everything you eat and drink: Writing down everything you eat and drink not only holds you accountable for hitting certain macros or staying below a certain calorie total each day, but it also educates you on how much sodium, how many grams of protein, and what an actual serving size looks like, when it comes to the foods you eat. Whether you share your food log with anyone or not, I have found that most of my clients don’t want to disappoint themselves by going over their total calorie allowance for the day, so they are more likely to skip dessert — or have half a piece of cake instead of the whole piece — when they are consciously writing it down.
- Stay Hydrated: Throughout my entire weight-loss journey, I drank between 100 and 128 oz. of water every single day. Not because I just love water so much — but because I knew I was dehydrated and that my metabolism could not function at its highest fat-burning capacity if I wasn’t drinking enough H20. In addition, most of us consume some form of caffeine every day, which is dehydrating! So, in order to counteract the effects of my coffee, I knew I needed to make up for it during the day with more water. But here’s the deal. If you sip water all day long, you will have to use the restroom all day long. But if you can chug a set number of ounces at once and just get it over with, so to speak, you won’t find yourself in the bathroom all day. I personally have to schedule my water drinking like I brush my teeth every day. Before COVID-19 hit, I drank water on my commute. I’d chug 32 oz. right when I woke up. Then I drank 32 more oz. on the way to drop my little boy off at school, then I drank another 32 oz. on my way to pick up my little boy from school at the end of the day. Ninety-nine ounces gone before 5pm! Now that we are distance learning at home, I force myself to drink 32 oz. before I can have my morning coffee. Then I drink 32 oz. before I can have my afternoon coffee. And before dinner, I need to drink an additional 32 oz. Schedule your water drinking like any other task you do daily, and soon, it will become your new normal!
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 would start a weekly support group that focused on building mental strength and overcoming limiting beliefs and barriers to living an active, healthy lifestyle. At the end of the day, for most of us, it isn’t about the food. Our unhealthy eating habits are simply the coping mechanism to a much deeper issue. In order to remedy the emotional eating or unhealthy habits, we need to identify and implement a solution to the root problem. We are stronger together, and when we surround ourselves with others who are going through a similar experience, we can heal.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Hands down, mental health. As someone who has personally struggled with anorexia nervosa, depression, anxiety, panic attacks and complex PTSD from abuse, I know firsthand the impact of how our physical health can impact our mental health. The better I took care of myself physically, the more control I had over my mental health. In addition to therapy and medications to correct chemical imbalances, when necessary, exercise and eating well have had profound impacts on my mental health and mindset shifts, as well as those of my clients.
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