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Health Warrior Feature: Hope Varwig

Hope Varwig is a Certified Holistic Health Coach, fellow A.C.E. Certified Personal Trainer (no wonder we connect so well) and runs her own website/blog in St. Louis, Missouri, and has been a dear friend of mine for a long time. Hope and I quickly connected over our similar passions for health, fitness, spirituality and overall life balance - Topics that permeate our conversations to this day! We've seen each other through vigorous studying and training for our certifications, changing life plans, growing families, and even starting our own private practices. Hope is a woman who is genuine and intentional with every interaction. She's amazingly open and insightful when sharing about her health journey and the challenges she has learned to flourish through. She is an inspiring woman to me and I'm so excited to share her insight for healthy living with you!

Interview Questions:

1. HOPE! I am so thankful to have you do this interview! Let's start with the basics! Who are you and what do you do? Share with us a snapshot of what prompted your journey in the health and fitness industry. 

My name is Hope and I am a wife, mother, and fitness enthusiast! :) I grew up in a family that was really into physical fitness, staying active, and eating healthy, so I had a passion for it all from a pretty young age. However, after high school, I fell into an obsession with food and exercise and became anorexic. When I finally began recovery from my eating disorder in 2011, it prompted me to think of a positive way to use my interest in health and fitness, and in 2012, I became certified as a Holistic Health Coach. I began my own business (Health with Hope) in 2013 and then became certified as a Personal Trainer in 2014 and added that to my career. After giving birth to our little girl in June of 2016, I scaled back to working part-time hours so that I can focus primarily on being a mom. But I still love getting to inspire and encourage my clients toward a healthier lifestyle through nutrition counseling and personal training!

2. In your opinion, what's the most important part of a healthy lifestyle? Can you share with us how you approach health and fitness, particularly in the midst of a growing family (ps. little Lydia is the cutest little thing!)? How have the demands of family and work impacted your life? How do you consciously steward and take care of your body on a regular basis? What sort of tools or tips do you have that help you keep a positive mindset for prioritizing your health?

BALANCE is the most important part of a healthy lifestyle, in my opinion. Because I have experienced the dark side of being obsessed with food and fitness, I cannot stop preaching now about how important it is to be balanced in these things.

My own health and fitness habits have definitely evolved as part of becoming a mom. Thankfully, I had a healthy pregnancy and was able to stay active and fit, so it didn’t take me too long to bounce back postpartum. The main things I’m conscious of in order to take care of my body are: drinking LOTS of water, snacking throughout the day to keep my metabolism up, and trying my best to get enough sleep.

I think it’s easy for moms to feel selfish for prioritizing their own fitness and health, but I know for me personally that I am a much more patient, energized, happy mama when I am working out consistently and taking care of my body. :)

3. Can you walk us through your typical morning routine? How do you set yourself up for a healthy day from the start? Could you share with us a favorite family-friendly breakfast of yours?

I’m up around 5:45 or 6 with Lydia these days! She’s sleeping through the night now, which is great, but it means she wakes up earlier than she used to. I drink lots of water first thing in the morning and then make her breakfast. We play with toys, read books, or go for a walk until the gym opens at 8am for kiddos to come with their parents. Before we head to the gym, I usually snack on a banana with nut butter to fuel my workout.

Lydia and I typically go to the gym 4-5 days a week, and she loves the kids club there. It’s so good for both my physical and mental health to have that 45-60 minutes to work out! After we get back from the gym, I put her down for her morning nap and then it’s my time to make a full breakfast, pour a cup of coffee, and sit outside on the patio to have some quiet time!

Our favorite breakfasts are pretty simple: we all - including Lydia - love eggs, either scrambled or over-easy, and we usually have some sprouted-grain toast with coconut oil or butter with it.

If we’re in a rush, we go for gluten-free freezer waffles with nut butter on top. And for special treats on weekends we love to make pancakes with a multigrain mix from Trader Joe’s!

4. You and I have had many discussions about the power of food to energize! Do you have any tips for those looking to take a step in the direction of treating food as fuel? Maybe a view or philosophy of food that people could carry with them when they choose what to eat?

Most people have heard of the 80/20 philosophy, which is what I follow in a loose sense. The majority of the foods we make and eat at home are relatively healthy, which frees us to feel okay splurging more on date nights or get-togethers with friends. I’m all about balance and love to enjoy dessert or other indulgent foods, but I definitely notice that if those things become the majority of my diet, I feel sluggish, bloated, and lethargic. So, I try to save those foods for special activities or parties, and make the food we have at home as healthy as possible.

5. What is one non-negotiable part of your health routine each week? Whatever it is, tell us what you protect or put in place each week to take care of yourself. What are your go-to ways of staying physically active?

My go-to ways to stay active are: lifting weights at the gym, running outdoors, hiking with Rob and Lydia whenever possible, and going for family walks in our neighborhood.

I would say meal-planning and grocery shopping are my biggest non-negotiables every week. Having a meal plan helps us save so much money (eating out adds up quickly!) and ensures that the majority of our meals are relatively healthy. Weekly grocery shopping means we always have healthy snack options available too.

(My favorite healthy snacks are air-popped popcorn and energy bites made with oats, nut butter, and mix-ins! One of my favorite recipes for these is No-Bake Energy Bites, but I switch up the mix-ins based on whatever I have on hand!)

6. In your experience, what's the biggest barrier a person has to overcome in terms of health? 

I would say one of the biggest barriers I see with my clients is that almost everyone has some sort of baggage in their past relating to fitness and health. It could be from the environment they grew up in, the way they view themselves or have been viewed by others, or the false beliefs they have in their head about health and fitness. There is such an emotional connection behind things like weight struggles or inability to form healthy habits, and if someone can uncover and work through those things they are so much more able to really see change and progress in their lifestyle goals!

7. Can you let us into one of your personal health barriers and what you've done/are doing to overcome and succeed? 

My biggest barrier was definitely my battle with an eating disorder, as I mentioned above. It was tough for me to find balance and a healthy perspective after going through anorexia and an obsession with over-exercising. I was in counseling for a couple years and also read many good books during my recovery that helped me correct my faulty thinking and begin to approach these things with an emotionally-healthy mindset.

8. What are some things you've done to carry such a positive, realistic and genuine attitude about health and fitness? What is something you consistently tell yourself to renew your mind and motivate yourself? 

It’s definitely a continual, conscious effort for me to stay healthy in my mindset and attitude. There are so many opportunities with social media to compare oneself to other women and that comparison trap is such a dangerous slope. I’m really careful about not “following” women on social media who promote unhealthy restriction, calorie counting, or over-exercising, and I purposely follow women (and movements) who have a healthy, balanced approach and encourage positive body image. I probably have to be more careful about these things than the average woman because of my background, but I think almost everyone would benefit from curating their newsfeed and unfollowing people who cause them to be discontent or insecure about their weight and size!

When I do see things that tempt me to feel insecure or “not good enough,” I try to remind myself of specific truths from God’s Word about how temporary physical beauty is and that it shouldn’t be the focus of my life! I remind myself that I am uniquely created by God with the body HE gave me and that comparing myself to other women will do nothing but steal my joy and contentment. Why would I want to let these insecurities have control over my peace and happiness? It’s always a wake-up call to me to think of it that way. Spending time consistently in God’s Word and filling my mind with His truth is my #1 way to keep my perspective healthy. When I think about this life in light of eternity, it reminds me of how silly it is to obsess about my physical body. This helps me remember that my life is about so much bigger things than my size or weight.

9. How do you set health and fitness goals for yourself? Do you measure them? If so, how often? What are some goals you are currently working on?

In the back of my mind, I’m always working on getting stronger and running faster, but I don’t track it or set goals on paper these days. I used to be one of those people who runs with a Garmin to track their pace and writes their lifting numbers in a notebook, but the past couple years I’ve just been more focused on making my fitness enjoyable and balanced. Overall, I always have mental goals and take steps to achieve those, but it’s not something I track in any tangible way.

The main goal I’m currently working on is remembering to take my supplements and vitamins every day! I tend to forget or get lazy about it, so I’m working on being consistent with that!

10. What's the best advice or inspiration you could give to someone just beginning their own health journey? A key takeaway you could share with us?

Give yourself a lot of grace. Don’t get discouraged if things are up and down at first. You’re in it for the long haul, not the sprint. This advice all sounds kind of cliché, but it’s so true. These things take time. I often remind my clients, “You’ve been eating unhealthy and not working out for 10, 15, 20 years, so you’re not going to be able to change those habits in 2 weeks!” Take it one step at a time and set *manageable* and *realistic* goals for yourself. You might have a goal of losing 30 or 50 pounds, but right now, how about a goal to cook homemade meals 3 nights this week and take four 15-minute walks? Set baby-step goals in the beginning to help you build momentum and confidence as you see yourself succeeding at your goals. And don’t forget that everything in your lifestyle is connected to your health goals. You might think it’s all about watching your calories or getting in your gym time, but there is so much more at play. I love helping my clients learn how things like getting good sleep, managing stress, and engaging in self-care can greatly aid their health and fitness goals!

My personal inspiration for being healthy comes largely from my background. After experiencing the “dark side” of these passions for health and fitness, I’m more fervent than ever in my desire for a balanced, healthy lifestyle. I know what it feels like to be obsessed and rigid with these things, and I wouldn’t go back there for anything. I am motivated daily to stay on track because I’ve seen how much happier I am because of it. Trying to get fit or lose weight because you hate your body is so frustrating and never leads to lasting change. The biggest inspiration for me to pursue a healthy lifestyle is because I want to be able to fully enjoy the more important things in life while feeling energetic and alive!

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