Christine Kenney: “How you see yourself and the world will change if you do”

How you see yourself and the world will change if you do. Don’t get me wrong negative thoughts will show up, and when they do, watch them pass by like a cloud. The key is to positively reinforce your body image by focusing on all the good within you. As a part of my series about […]

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How you see yourself and the world will change if you do. Don’t get me wrong negative thoughts will show up, and when they do, watch them pass by like a cloud. The key is to positively reinforce your body image by focusing on all the good within you.

As a part of my series about “How To Learn To Finally Love Yourself,” I had the pleasure to interview Christine Kenney.

As a founder of Christine Kenney Health, her mission is to help women break free from IBS, ditch the constant stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, and bloat, so they can fully start living their lives again. Christine Kenney has a Master of Science in Social Work with a certification in Health Coaching. @ibsfreedomcoach

Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.

Since I was in middle school, I knew I wanted to spend my life helping others. I spent the beginning of my career as a psychotherapist but quickly realized that my own mental and physical health was suffering. One day I asked myself, “how can you help others when you aren’t helping yourself?” My answer was you can’t! So I went back to school to learn how to manage my stress effectively and nourish my body daily. The key for me was learning how to develop little habits that made me happy on my path to mental and physical strength. It helped me so much that it is now my mission to share what I have learned with others.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?

I am! As part of my one-on-one coaching package, we are introducing a new program on breaking free from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It is a program that doesn’t just focus on the foods you eat; it also focuses on developing daily habits that make you happy while moving toward your goals. So many people are focused on their goal that they get lost in the journey. This program focuses on enjoying the journey by building habits you love and are proud of, so when you get to your goal, true happiness is acquired.

Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self-acceptance?

My self-love journey is surprising to most. When I was nineteen, I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It is a chronic disease that my doctor said he could do nothing to help calm my symptoms. For over eight years, I lived with a stomach that was always in a knot, irritable moods, using the bathroom twelve times a day while never feeling empty, and spending many days laying on the bathroom floor with unbearable stomach pain.

I have always been skinny, and people comment on how lucky I am to have this body. All while on the inside, I had so much hate for my body. I was so angry that it was in constant pain. I was mad that it didn’t allow me to eat certain foods.

It took me years to realize that I had to let go of the pain and start listening to my body. It was time to address why I had all this hate for my body. When I began to listen to my body by eating nourishing foods, dealing with my stress effectively, and showing my body love daily, I was able to love my body again!

According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?

I think it has something to do with continually feeling the need to compare ourselves to others. Mainstream media is getting better at showing our real selves, but I still believe we have a long way to go. Perfectly curated social media images and seeing only the positives of people’s lives makes us think that someone else’s life is better, and we make the mistake of believing that to be the whole picture. It heightens that part of us that doesn’t feel like we are enough. More and more people are starting to show their entire lives the good, bad, and in-between, which is a freeing thing. It makes us feel that we are all in this together. That yes, our struggles may be different, but we all have them.

As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?

It’s easier for many of us to focus on the ones we love in our lives instead of ourselves. But if we let ourselves be on the back burner for too long, we will find that we aren’t happy, our relationships are struggling, we have a little less patience with our kids, and we struggle to work to our best ability. I know it might sound scary but imagine yourself looking in the mirror and saying all the kind things you say to your best friends or children. Now say those things about yourself “You are so supportive, kind, and loving. I appreciate all that you do for this family.” Now imagine how different your daily life would be. By showing yourself love and telling yourself words of affirmation, you can be a better person to the ones you love and care for.

Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?

I think it’s either a belief that they can’t do better or that they have already been in it for so long, so feel stuck. The hard truth that we have to accept is that we can not change others; all we can do is change ourselves. So really, I think it all comes down to discovering who you are and what you want out of life. It’s so freeing to acknowledge that you have the power to change by developing little habits to get you to the life you want to live. When I started building little habits to better myself, I found that my relationships flourished as well.

When I talk about self-love and understanding, I don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?

Am I the best person I can be? Am I living to my full potential?

After getting my master’s degree of science in social work, I started my career working alongside the Department of Child Services as a Psychotherapist for children and families. I loved going to work every day, but my job’s stress began to wear on my physical and emotional wellbeing. My stomach felt like it was always in a knot. My sugar cravings were consistent, hello a sleeve of Oreo cookies every night. My emotions were all over the place, happy one minute and angry the next.

Then one instance changed everything for me. I fainted on my honeymoon in Punta Cana. My new husband and I had been on our honeymoon for about three days at this point. One day suddenly, I didn’t feel well. The next thing I knew, I was getting picked up off the hallway floor right outside the restroom by two hotel staff members.

After that moment, I set out on a journey to find a way to break free from all the symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome. I was determined to love my body again. I went back to school, dug into the research, started a mindful practice, and started to discover what my body truly needs daily. I began to develop little habits that have guided me into loving my body and feeling healthy.

So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?

I should start by saying that I am an introvert, so being alone fuels me in many ways, but I believe there is a difference between being alone physically and mentally. When I think of what lead me to learn how to be with myself mentally, I think of my meditation and yoga practices. Don’t get me wrong, years ago, when I first started to learn about yoga and meditation, I thought it was such a waste of time. There was no way I would be able to sit quietly for 10 minutes, umm, scary. Or slowly move my body for 30 minutes. I mean, what is the point I need to sweat?

It took many months for me to be able to do yoga. I started by making it a little habit by practicing five minutes each week. Within a few weeks, my body started to crave the slow movement. When it comes to meditation, It took me digging into the research to prove that this could benefit me physically by calming my IBS symptoms and mentally by keeping me calm and relaxed. It took me about six months to fully see the benefits of meditation, and again I started with five minutes every morning.

I can’t fully explain how much these two practices have benefited me over the years. I genuinely feel that I am a calmer, more understanding, and patient person. My moods are more stable, and I have come to understand my body more fully.

How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?

It helps build a sense of calm and empathy. When we are more relaxed, we can be with others in the present instead of being consumed with our thoughts. Also, when we have compassion, we can feel and relate to others. I genuinely believe this significantly deepens our relationships.

In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?

Slow down. At the beginning of my health journey, I was so scared to slow down and be present. I wasn’t sure what it would bring up for me. Doing things and continuously moving was a way for me to feel accomplished and needed. Once I started to build little habits into my daily life like meditation, yoga, and a gratitude journal, I understood what my body needed physically and mentally. I started to love my body in ways I never thought I could. I truly learned how to be present with myself, which I thought was the scariest thing years ago!

What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?

1. It Starts From Within

When was the last time you looked in the mirror and reinforced the things you LOVE about yourself? I’m not talking about the physical attributes. Instead, think of all the great personality traits you have that no one else does — the reasons your friends love to spend time with you or why your partner adores you. Real confidence comes from within. Self-acceptance and positive reinforcement are where body love grows.

*Go to the mirror, look closely at your face. Tell yourself three personality traits you have that you love, the characteristics your friends and partner loves about you until you mean it.

Too often, we find ourselves doing the opposite. We focus on the physical parts of our bodies, which, the majority of the time, are the ones we don’t like. We pick ourselves apart and compare ourselves to others. A cycle of self-hate and negative reinforcement that we put upon ourselves every time we look into the mirror is only hurting us. News flash: the negative self-talk is not motivating you to change. By letting what’s on the outside be in control, you don’t allow your positivity to flourish, and your body image suffers.

2. Gratitude is Key

To enrich your inside love, you must infuse it with nutrients. By nutrients, I mean positive thoughts, reminders of the love you have around you, gratitude for the people in your life, and for what you love most in life.

*Each morning before your feet hit the floor, say three things you are grateful for. Let this become a habit that you do before you let your feet touch the ground.

3. Set your Intentions and Think It

How you see yourself and the world will change if you do. Don’t get me wrong negative thoughts will show up, and when they do, watch them pass by like a cloud. The key is to positively reinforce your body image by focusing on all the good within you.

*When you catch yourself talking bad about your body or beating yourself up for how you act in a particular situation, swap those negative thoughts for positive ones. For example, swap ugh my hair looks so lousy today for wow my eyebrows are on point today.

4.Enjoy The Journey

Transforming our mindset, our nutrition, and our bodies is an ever-changing journey. There will be challenges, and if we let them, they can be overwhelming. It all takes practice. It’s so important to recognize the little steps that lead to significant change. There will be setbacks because we are all human; there are always lessons to learn from them. Learn to enjoy the process by breaking your big goals into attainable action steps to reinforce how amazing, strong, and beautiful you are. Just stay in the present and plan for the week ahead. Step-by-step, you’ll build a healthy lifestyle. Real progress happens when we enjoy making it happen and when we get out of our own way.

*Start by developing one habit you would like to accomplish that will get you to your goal, like starting your morning with a chocolate cover strawberry smoothie for breakfast. This little habit is something you can be proud of first thing in the morning. No, you aren’t changing all of your meals, just a small meal first thing in the morning!

5. Find Balance

I don’t think complete life balance is necessarily attainable. But, I believe happiness and health can be obtained when we find balance regarding health. Balance isn’t when you adhere to a rigid meal, workout, or life plan. You are human. And none of us are perfect. You will have more balance in one area than in another most days. We all do; again, we are human. Balance is found when you have the full intention to eat clean, get your movement in, enjoy a night out with friends, accept who you are, and love who you are working to become. Balance is building a lifestyle focused on health, not some unattainable diet plan. It’s time to find balance in your health while being yourself and enjoying life to the fullest.

*Going to a friend’s for dinner? Enjoy that time and know that your first meal can be one you are proud of when you get home.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?

Louise Hay — You Can Heal Your Life: This is a book that genuinely makes you look at your thoughts in a loving and understanding way. It is a life changer when it comes to loving and finding grace for yourself.

Rachel Hollis — Girl Wash Your Face: Honestly, this book made me feel like I was not alone. Reading this book makes you feel like you are apart of the club, the women club.

Feel Better Live More podcast: He is efficient and straightforward about simple steps to make your life overall better. He’s all about little changes at a time that amount to massive goals.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…

Balance. If I could start a movement, it would be to understand that perfection is not real. Balance is. Many clients come to me with this all or nothing mentality when it comes to life and health. “Healthy people don’t miss workouts, or this person never eats anything processed,” so they have these huge expectations of a life they have to live. I want the world to believe and understand that balance should be their goal, and that perfection isn’t real.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?

My clients hear me repeatedly say, “Small hinges swing big doors.” This little saying has guided me throughout my mental and physical health journey. It is what has kept me continually working toward living my healthiest life. When you focus on little habits, you find happiness in your day to day life instead of waiting to find happiness when your goal is met.

Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!

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