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Health Warrior: Hannah

If you aren't chasing health like Hannah, I highly recommend it! Hannah is like a burst of adventure, life, and joy. She, like many of us, is practicing living life to the fullest, enjoying the blessing of being able to move and fuel her body with food and exercise. She does it so well!

I've actually only known her through social media (and that only through friend circles) and she still inspires me constantly! She is a fellow Registered Dietitian and fitness enthusiast with a passion and a mission. She works mainly with teen girls and athletes, helping them adopt healthy eating and lifestyle patterns from a young age. She is making a big difference!

I'll let her share her story. Please, grab your blanket and a cup of tea (and coffee, if you're like Hannah) and dig in!

1. Could you please start by telling us a little bit about yourself. Who are you and what do you do? 

Hello hi hello! I’m Hannah. 

Let’s see, where to start! Well, I live in Bend, Oregon. I’ve been here for about a year now. I moved here after grad school in Washington. I grew up in Maine, and love it there, but I am thoroughly enjoying the North West and will likely stick around. Most of my hobbies revolve around food or exercise, I can’t help it… I just love it so much. I really enjoy mountain biking, brewing beer or other fermented beverages, skiing, live music, rock climbing, picnics, all that jazz. I’ve been a dietitian since 2014, I love it, but it’s been a journey. I think I’m in the process of creating my dream job, which I’ll expand on later. Dietetics is a special field, regardless of how interested someone is in nutrition, they still eat; and therefore you can connect with anyone simply via the language of food.

2. What prompted your journey into the field of dietetics, particularly working with teen girls? What does a typical teenage girl you work with like? And what is the focus of your time with them (are parents involved and, if so, how/to what extent)?

I was funneled into the world of dietetics before I really knew it was right for me. I grew up figure skating and saw a direct correlation in how my nutrition affected my performance and growth. I also spent my childhood gardening with my father and cooking in the kitchen with my mother. I got hooked on this concept of slow food and laboring over something that will later nourish you. Additionally, I was (and am) a nerd for science. How freaking cool is the human body? Or how vegetables are grown? It’s amazing! All together, the love of movement, culture, community, craft, and science… All roads pointed to dietetics.

My work with teen girls happened in a very serendipitous way. I will go more in detail about why this is a passion project of mine on question 6. Disclaimer: I work part time. I counsel female atheletes online. And I work for a company in the summer (in addition to mapping trails) called ZGirls. ZGirls showed up in my life by a series of small yes’s. A peer of mine in grad school, shout out to Katy Figel, forwarded me an email. Her email said “this sounds like something you’d love”. And the female empowerment snowball started rolling. This email turned into a facetime call with CEO and co-founder Jilyne Higgins. We immediately connected and I said yes. Months later, without realizing I had the itch, I discovered how empowering it was to invest my time and resources in the lives of young girls. It’s amazing how many girls and women are dissatisfied with their bodies and have an unsustainable relationship with food. This passion laid dormant while I focused on sustainable food systems and nutrition education in grad school. But it feels so great to be back. I do mostly sports nutrition and body image work now. This includes a lot of things, like prescribing specific meal plans or foods to eat before, during, and after sport. But it also includes engaging in conversation about body image. At summer camp, I try and lead by example. I want to girls to know that loving your body is not always easy, and this will come and go with seasons. I want them to know that self worth is not created by the shape you take or the movement you do. Let’s let go of body weights, pant sizes, personal records, and podium finishes. I want the girls to know that they can talk about it, collaborate, and support each other: they are not alone. I want them to know that food is not a prison, and exercise is not a punishment. Recognizing all the reasons we choose to eat what we do is a huge point I try to emphasize. I strive to help the girls reach a place where they are confident in themselves, considerate of their nutrition, and compassionate to their own bodies while recognizing that finding their balance always deserves some of their intention. I think there’s a zeitgeist around female strength, emotionally and physically, right now. I feel quite special to be a part of it. It’s an amazing energy, I’m constantly inspired by the women I work with and the girls I get to work with.

3. Can you share with us how you approach health and fitness. How 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?

I am a fan of making goals for myself. There have been many races or certain hiking trails I do to push my own limits. For example, I just signed up for a 100-mile mountain bike race, yikes! But overall I believe that we should move because we want to and we can, not because we have to or because we want to change shape or fix something or ate something. For me, movement outside is what fulfills my needs. I only want to move in ways that bring me joy. Variety is a key component of my fitness. I try and mix up what I’m doing, if I run one day then I will climb or cycle the next. I try and counter any endurance sports with resistance or strength based training and a little restorative yoga. I’m a strong believer in rest and getting good sleep. 

4. What do you believe is the most important part of a healthy lifestyle, a sort of non-negotiable? Please walk us through your typical nutrition or exercise routine… and maybe include some of your go-to ways of staying physically active.

Movement and enjoyment of food, hands down. I’m one of those people that gets stir crazy if I’m still for too long. And I really don’t eat anything I don’t enjoy either. I work from home right now, so my day is quite flexible, and oh boy I am definitely milking that schedule. I wake up and do a 15-minute yoga flow. This isn’t something I have planned out, I just start moving the getting into the corners of my body that I feel need attention. This helps me guage what kind of activity I should do today, if any. Then I make coffee and tea, yup both. I sit and enjoy my coffee while checking emails, writing, communicating with clients, and attending to whatever work I may have. Slow mornings are incredibly therapeutic for me. I take a break from work and make breakfast, usually this is some sort of combination of eggs, sourdough toast, vegetables, and a random yummy cheese. I continue working, eventually anxious to go move, and get ready for an outing. Today I went and did a little 9-mile mountain bike loop by my house. I’ll come back and eat again, usually I’m craving something carby after a ride, and I make sure I eat some protein for healthy recovery. Perhaps street tacos, Hannah style. Beans, sweet potatoes, maybe a meat, greens, radishes, my cilantro green sauce, avocado, and whatever other veggies need to be consumed from the fridge. After this I’ll tick off items on my to-do list or spend time with friends until dinner-time. Dinner is typically a bowl of some sort. My bowl formula is: starch, protein, greens, other veg, seeds, nut, sauce. These really vary, but are always colorful, full of fiber, and full of goodness.

Thanks for the Hannah taco recipe! I know some of us can't wait to try it!

5. In your experience, what's the biggest barrier to overcome in terms of health? 

I’m going to get a little Brene Brown up in here and be a tad bit vulnerable. I struggled in graduate school; emotionally I was not in my best place. I discovered endurance exercise as an outlet. I don’t know if you’re familiar with enneagrams but I’m a type 7. And what that means is I prefer to live in a space that’s constantly exciting and ecstasy. But what it also means is I counter any hard spaces in my life with adventure. I did this during graduate school, I could not get enough time on a trail pushing my physiological limits. I became dependent on exercise and arguably abused it, there were times where I would choose exercise over social scenarios, and times where I would feel guilt about consuming a certain food, especially if I hadn’t exhausted my body with movement that day. I would say that I dabbled in orthorexia during this time, which is ironic for a person getting a masters in nutrition, hey? I think it’s really hard for dietitians, who tend to have a perfectionist personality, to always achieve balance in their own lives. But I realized I needed to stop critiquing myself so intently, I needed boundaries in relationships that were also critical of me and wearing on my self worth, I needed creativity, joy, and freedom in food. I needed to let go of ego and expectation for how I should be and what I should be able to achieve. I needed to be okay with my food choices and what impact they had on myself, the people around me, and the earth. I needed to stop overthinking each food choice I made.. Is soy okay? Is meat okay? Is avocado okay? How often? How much? What about unsustainable growing practices? What about politics around migrant farmers? I went deep into the ethics of dietary intake with every choice I made. I needed community and culture in food. You’d think this obstacle would’ve occurred mainly during my years figure skating, but truly it wasn’t until grad school that these tendencies I likely held stagnant for so long truly arrived. 

6. How have you worked to overcome these and other health barriers and carry such a positive attitude about health and fitness? What is something you consistently tell yourself to renew your mind and motivate yourself?

Oh this is a tricky one. It comes in waves of struggle for me. Sometimes I look in the mirror and I love my body, I’m so thankful for what it can do. Other times, it doesn’t come that easy. I think opening up this concept for discussion with friends who have and haven’t struggled has been extremely therapeutic for me. The idea of saying “hey this is really hard for me today” can be so freeing. Learning that I need to be moving for more than the reason of exercise has been pivotal for me. Learning that food guilt is toxic in so many ways and that I should do everything I can to reject food shame has been pivotal for me. I arrived at a space where I finally understand that body acceptance is not a finish line, it’s not something you achieve and then it sticks. It’s something that takes continual effort and mindfulness. And that’s okay. I try to remain aware and appreciative of all the things my body can do. And reframe my thinking to value the shape I take for what I can do. But I still struggle, I remember running a race this summer with some of the most badass, kind, and loving women I know. I had a mental breakdown, I couldn’t keep up and I expected myself to be able to. Because a month prior? I could’ve. A month prior I surprised myself with a podium finish at my first mountain biking race. But this race helped me realize how hard on myself I still sometimes am. I wasn’t happy with how I did, I wasn’t happy with my appearance. And not because my friends were implying that I was less than, in fact these women effortlessly empower and support me. But it’s hard. Even for me. You heard that right, someone who’s studied nutrition and body for over 8-years and has probably let it consume the majority of their headspace, STILL struggles sometimes. Sometimes I still need to remind myself that I need to be better to myself… And what that looks like is grace, rest, compassion, letting go of expectation, accepting the crappy-miserable-run, and marinating in all the good, juicy, life-giving, bits of food and fitness.

7. 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?

Most of my goals are based on experience. Each season I think about what types of things I want to do, and I try and learn a new sport or take an existing sport further. I often set goals by race, by tick list, by running further on a favorite trail, faster on my bicycle, or climbing harder. I do measure my performance; I’m a big fan of data. Shamelessly, I’m a Strava user. But let’s be clear, I’m not out there, or trying any harder, because Strava is on. I also take my heart rate variability (HRV) every morning which additionally tracks exercise, sleep, emotional fatigue, physical fatigue, and menstrual cycles. I log my protein intake and hydration status with this information as well. These statistics and data points help me celebrate my improvements, analyze my set backs, and help me learn when my body needs rest. It’s extremely helpful to recognize what trends I’m currently experiencing in my routine and how I can be better to my body. 

My current goals for the year, hmmm let’s see. I’d like to run a 50k. I’d like to be able to confidently top rope 5.11’s and lead climb 5.10’s. I’d like to run the trail adjacent to the Rogue River. I’d like to host more dinner parties, and gather people together more. I’d like to run or bike around Mt Saint Helens. I’d like to ski, or at least summit, Mount Hood. I’d like to complete the High Cascade 100 (mountain bike race). I’d like to practice yoga more routinely. I’d like to consume more protein, and enjoy it. I chronically struggle with meeting my protein needs, but hey I’m working on it. And I’d like to become more proficient backcountry skiing. 

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

What are your intentions? What changes can you make that will be sustainable for you? What will bring you joy? What parts of nourishment can you explore more? How can you be better to your body? How can you let food nourish you in all the subjective ways? I encourage you to set your intention and chase YOUR vision of healthy.

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