In an industry of diet programs and food fads, our January 2020 cover star Kelsey Heenan prefers to keep things simple. Something her past relationship with food was far from.

From her bubbly personality and body positive Instagram feed, you might be surprised to learn about Kelsey’s dark past with food.

In 2009 while playing college basketball, Kelsey developed strict eating habits that ended up costing her 30 percent of her body weight—and the ability to continue playing sports.  What started out as discipline for her sport had quickly turned into an isolating daily struggle. “I never ate bread, rice, or pasta,” says Kelsey. “All of that was very terrifying for me.”

Along with her intense practices, Kelsey was exercising vigorously and consuming a small fraction of the calories she needed to do so. After months of isolating herself to hide her unhealthy habits, Kelsey couldn’t disguise her struggle any longer. “The doctor told me that I could go into cardiac arrest at any moment with how fragile I was,” says Kelsey.

Kelsey was clinically diagnosed with anorexia and compulsive exercising and was restricted from playing basketball.

With therapy, hard work, and an extremely supportive family, Kelsey was symptom-free within a year, and now dedicates her days to empowering others to have a healthy relationship with food (and themselves) through her online presence and HIITMAX® app. “I know what it feels like now to feel good,” says Kelsey. “I never, ever, ever want to go back.”

1. Be flexible with yourself. Just because a diet or nutrition plan works well for someone else, doesn’t mean it should work for you. “There’s not one perfect and right way to eat in order to have a healthy relationship with food,” Kelsey says.

Kelsey believes a healthy relationship with food can look slightly different for everyone. “However, creating a balance between making healthy choices often to help the body run well and honoring your preferences is really important,” says Kelsey. “Learning how to honor hunger and respect fullness can help the anxiety of feeling the need to count every morsel of food that enters your mouth.”

Though Kelsey offers advice and recipes for her clients, she says her meal plan is more of a guideline to intuitive eating rather than a strict diet.

2. Understand what your food can do for you. “Food is not an enemy; it’s a healer,” says Kelsey. Feeling sluggish? Choose an energy boosting fruit. Feeling bloated? Try a peppermint tea. Kelsey believes that by understanding what food can do for your body, you’ll be able to fuel it properly.

“Many people struggle with simple basics of how food fuels the body,” says Kelsey. “My experience from my past and my knowledge about health can help bridge the gap so people feel informed about how to fuel their bodies to be healthy, without rigid rules, and actually enjoy life to the fullest.”

3. It’s about how you feel, not the numbers. Kelsey measures success on how you feel rather than how much you weigh or how many calories you’re consuming daily. “I don’t own a scale because I don’t think it's necessary,” says Kelsey.

Instead, Kelsey focuses on intuitive eating to create freedom in her relationship with food and offers her clients guidelines to do the same through her quarterly transformation challenges.

4. Don’t tie your morality to food choices.  We’ve all been there. The guilt you feel after a night out with friends or the poor on-the-go lunch choice—cut yourself a break! Kelsey says it’s all about living a balanced life without restrictions.

“If you eat a cookie, you are not bad,” says Kelsey. “Many people tie their morality to food choice and that can lead to guilt and anxiety. There are lots of tips that can be helpful, but overall, not having rigid rules can help take away the fear and stress around eating.”

5. Being strong and healthy is worth it. Living without food rules didn’t come easily for Kelsey, but 10 years of hard work and dedication to the practice proved to be worth it. After her initial therapy for her eating disorder, Kelsey monitored each time she had a negative thought or stint of anxiety around food to really understand it.  By working through the “why” behind her actions, she has been symptom-free since.

“Negative thoughts and anxiety around food is very common, even for people without disorders,” says Kelsey “It’s learned behavior and we can unlearn it to have a healthy relationship with food.”

Find daily motivation on Kelsey’s Instagram @thedailykelsey and her programs @HIITMAX and @HIITBURN.

Mikaila Kukurudza
Mikaila is a Toronto-based writer, photographer, and fitness enthusiast. Follow her at @mikailakukurudza