“I speak to the kinds of women you see on Instagram all the time. The kind of woman you look at and think, Oh my gosh, I just want to have her body. But the reality is, there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes.”
Kim Schaper doesn’t love being called a fitness expert. Born out of her own journey of struggle, Kim’s life passion is helping women achieve optimum health on the inside and the outside.
When she was in high school, Kim didn’t dealt with the typical insecurities and food issues most teenage girls battle. Bright, positive and athletically-inclined, Kim ran track and played sports such as tennis and soccer. But by the time she returned from her freshman year in college, she’d put on an additional fifteen pounds.
“My mom said, hey, why don’t we go out and see a trainer? I thought, let’s do it,” says Kim. Little did she know, however, that this trainer would serve as the portal through which her journey began.
Kim’s trainer introduced her to the world of weight-lifting and gym-crafted fitness, but didn’t stop there. He also included an intense diet regime. “He put me on a five foods diet and was like, You can eat these five things and that’s it. So at the age of 19, my body responded very well. I hadn’t starved myself before.”
As a result of never having lifted weights before, Kim lost a lot of weight and developed some serious muscle. “I thought, Great, this is working!”
On the weekend, Kim found herself ridiculously hungry and started binging on food like cupcakes, pizza and croissants. When Monday rolled around, she went back to the gym and her trainer who welcomed her with statements like, “You’ve gained weight,” and, “You look fat.”
“So then I’d just start the cycle over again,” Kim says. “Shame, binge, shame, binge.”
By the time Kim went back to school, the damage had already by done. Her self-esteem had developed around how she looked physically. “ I put the five foods in my back pocket like the Bible.”
Kim found herself on a continuum of abusive relationships, from emotionally and mentally-abusive to physically. “My cop-out was the food or literally running away from the situation. So if there was something going on, I would either just starve myself or literally run from the situation for like 12 miles, come back and go right back at it again, versus having interpersonal communication.”
Kim pauses, remembering that particularly difficult time. “I got down to eighty-five pounds,” she says. “So my second year of college, my parents pulled me out of school and took me to a treatment center.”
The tricky thing about treatment centers, though, is that they tend to view patients as numbers. “Once they’ve re-fed you and got you back to your ideal weight, they’re like, Okay, we’re done. You can leave now. So they don’t really give you the tools you need to develop, and as a result, I went right back to the same behaviors.”
Throughout her twenties, Kim would be in and out of seven different treatment centers, battling things from eating disorders to suicidal tendencies, to depression and anxiety. In the midst of her journey, she came to the realization that she had been sexually abused by her grandfather.
“Once I started to heal,” she says, “I realized that my problems had absolutely nothing to do with the food; the food was just a coping mechanism. I started to develop more self-confidence and more intuition. I started developing proper tools to manage my life.”
Suddenly, Kim’s life mission made itself very clear to her. “I wanted other women to walk in their bodies feeling comfortable in their skin and regain the confidence they lost. My healing is helping others heal, too.”
She started looking at all of the issues that caused her struggles. “People often overlook the whole. The reality is that health is made up of many components: gut issues, hormonal imbalances, stress management, and nutrition.”
I ask Kim to clarify the misconceptions floating around the internet today.
“It’s never a one-size-fits-all,” she says. “You have to look at the client as a whole, not just bits and pieces. Thinking that it’s just counting macros or exercise is a mistake.
“There’s nothing wrong with what other people are doing. I respect that everyone has something that works for them. At the same time, I think it’s important to note that just because someone on Instagram might have a triple-six-pack, or a woman is posting that she’s eating this huge pizza and she’s like 7% body fat—the public has to remember that that’s smoke and mirrors. A lot of what you’re seeing isn’t always the truth. There’s so much more going on behind the scenes.”
As she spent more and more time in the health and fitness industry, Kim began speaking to some of these women. “On the back end of all this fitness success, so many of them are having major issues around food. They’re struggling with disorders and major hormonal imbalances where they can’t get their period anymore, or they’re trying for kids and they can’t because they’ve been unhealthy for so long.
“I think it’s important to educate the public on what’s fact and what’s fiction. Just because someone looks the part doesn’t mean they’re healthy.”
You are what you eat, right?
Kim agrees. “You are more-or-less what you absorb. So, we can inundate our bodies with all these different nutrients, but if we have leaky gut, Hashimoto’s or any other type of gut imbalance, we’re not going to be able to absorb and digest the food.”
The importance of gut health is now undeniable. Experts from Josh Axe to Hopkins Medicine are saying that when the gut is disturbed, it throws everything else off.
“Instead of pigeonholing a client and thinking that they’re not being compliant or not doing something right, you just have to keep trying to see what does work for their body.”
A recent client of Kim’s kept gaining wait and her psychiatrist accused her of binge eating and lying about it. In reality, she was experiencing a major allergic reaction to dairy. “So we cut it out and she dropped weight super quick. There’s a misconception that it’s either the food or the exercise and if you’re not doing one of the other than you’re wrong. But it’s so much more complex than that, especially for females.”
Especially for females. Why?
“Females are much more complex creatures. The biggest component behind it is all of our hormones. We have menstrual cycles, we have certain times in the month when our progesterone is higher or when our estrogen is higher, and times when our testosterone is lower.
“Even professional athletes struggle before they start their period. They’re exhausted. But then the same-level athlete competing in the same race does the same protocol and kills it because they’re a week ahead in their menstrual cycle. Whereas men drop weight quicker, when it comes to females, you throw in all the different hormones, and the fact that we’re built for childbearing, with more body fat, we’re simply more complex.”
And within that complexity is a world of complexity. No one method alone is a smart way to approach women’s health and fitness.
“The type of woman I help is someone who’s had major life stressors. Many times this woman has had children, so she’s experienced the ups and downs of pregnancy. She’s probably 35 to 55 going some sort of through perimenopause or other hormonal issues. After trying to eat right and exercise, it seems to her like there’s stuff that’s coming up that she’s kind of suppressed, and she can’t understand why she’s gaining extra weight. What she did before is no longer working. And man, that’s frustrating.
“What this woman wants to know is, How can I reduce my stress? How do I maximize my sleep? How can I balance my hormones? What am I missing?”
It’s more than what can be found on a Google search, apparently. Kim takes a very personalized approach, in cohesion with her one-size-does-not-fit-all approach.
“ I don’t give everyone the same workout and nutrition plan. For instance, if you are stressed to the max and I put you on high-intensity exercise, I’m just fueling the stress fire. I don’t want you going and killing it at the gym when your lab results show you need more restorative body work.
“If you’ve got low thyroid, you need brazil nuts and healthy fats. If have really high estrogen, you need to be getting some sort of detoxification foods in your diet, like cruciferous vegetables and dandelion tea.”
To Kim, it doesn’t matter what supplements or workout regime you used ten years ago. What matters is where your body is at now.
“I like to look at the entire picture and see what’s really going on. I ask, How have you dealt with life? What are the stories you’ve continued to tell yourself?
“The vast majority of people in the Western world think that the mindset stuff is separate from their health issues, which are then separate from their fitness goals. But from everything I’ve seen, I wholeheartedly believe emotional, physical, and mental trauma exists at a cellular level. I’ve seen way too many women with traumatic backgrounds have major adrenal issues that are in constant fight or flight because their body is so quick to respond to stimulus.”
Some people think, I haven’t been sexually abused, so I don’t have trauma. “But trauma is relevant to you,” Kim says. “It could have just been that your parent left for the day or to run to the store, but as a child you viewed that as abandonment and now you have abandonment issues.”
Kim believes that stress affects everything about the human experience. “It doesn’t matter how clean you eat, if you’re dealing with chronic stress or stagnant stress over a period of time, it’ll catch up with you. Whether it’s an emotional breakdown or not, women under stress eventually feel like they’re about to lose it. And then your paleo diet isn’t going to cut it.”
I ask Kim about her top recommendations for women just getting exposed to this information for the first time.
The first thing she recommends is throwing out your melatonin supplement and taking something different instead. “I don’t believe in quick fixes, but this is the closest I can recommend that will get you to that. Cortisol Manager is a supplement you can get on Amazon by Integrative Therapeutics. My ladies who take it are like, Oh my God, I’ve never slept this good ever!”
Her second recommendation has to do with your vegetable drawer. “We’d like to think we’re eating enough vegetables, but most of us are not, so increase your vegetable intake.”
If you have gut issues, Kim cautions against eating them raw. “Make sure you steam or bake them, otherwise it’s just too much on your system. Green juice is okay as is.”
Lastly, Kim urges women to take a walk on the sunny side of life. “Go for walks in sunshine! We underestimate how cathartic walking in sunshine is. It even helps with cortisol regulation. And when you are in the sun and you’re exercising, it’s a double bang for your buck. You’re getting vitamin D and endorphins.”
Before we wrap up, I ask Kim about her life now. What does it feel like to have amazing health and why does it matter?
Kim smiles. “For me, health is so much different than I ever anticipated it would be. I used to think health was not having any cellulite or fat on my body. But I’ve learned that the extra fat I carry is a big part of who I am and I’m healthier because of it.
“As females, we forget to take care of ourselves, but part of being healthy is remembering to do that. Now, when I’m feeling vulnerable or really emotional, I ask myself, did I get enough sleep? Have I eaten enough? Have I moved in a way that feels good for me? Have I had some time for myself? Was I not able to do some sort of movement today?
“I used to think that when I lost ten more pounds, then I’d love my body. But I love my body at a different phase than it’s ever really been. As women, we often forget how strong we really are. There’s nothing wrong with our strength. It’s perfect as is.”
Looking at Kim now, she is the perfect portrait of equal-parts joy and strength, radiance and confidence.
She doesn’t want you to be like her, though. She wants you to be like you.
Just the happier, healthier version.