When it comes to transforming women’s health, look no further than Courtney Townley.
Courtney Townley is passionate about a multi-dimensional approach to women’s health and fitness, and integrates the practices of clean eating, functional movement and stress management. She loves to move and share her love of movement with others while also introducing them to optimal health through healthy living practices. To her, it’s the greatest gig in the world to work so closely with women who want to be happier, healthier and more fit and change their lives for the better.
Courtney began working in the fitness industry nearly two decades ago when she transitioned from the professional dance world. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a BFA in dance and is fully certified as a STOTT PILATES® instructor, NSCA personal trainer, ACE Health Coach, Genesis Transformation Health Coach and Precision Nutrition Level 1 (soon to be level 2) Health Coach. She is also a very proud student of the Ido Portal Method.
Courtney has owned 2 fitness facilities and was so blown away by the results that clients got from her health coaching services, she decided to commit fully to developing that aspect of her business. She’s driven to learn everything she can about her field to help her clients get the results they desire and to be sure they have fun along the way.
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When did you decide to work with women to transform their health?
I’ve always been a dancer. As someone who is used to moving their body a lot, it made sense for me to move into a career that advocated movement and taught people to become body aware.
I didn’t understand the complexity of health in the early stage of my career. I approached everything from a movement perspective which I now realise is incredibly naïve. But I was young.
I was working with a lot of women in my mid to late twenties that were asking me questions that I couldn’t answer. They were questions about nutrition and stress management. People wanted to come to me to get stronger and transform their bodies. But more than anything women wanted to feel better.
I started recognising in my late twenties that I wasn’t feeling so hot. As a fitness professional, I was in break-down mode. I reached out to a health coach to help me sort myself out, and ended up learning so much about the health equation and how wrong I had it. I was following the advice of the diet and fitness industry which honestly wasn’t working. And if it wasn’t working for me as a fitness professional, it probably wasn’t working for most women. If I didn’t know this stuff that I was learning from my health coach, then most women didn’t know this stuff either.
The career chose me more than I chose it, but it has been incredible. I have been health coaching with women for over a decade now.
What’s disappointed (or even angered) you the most about the health and diet industry?
At a conference recently, someone asked me what I do and I replied “In a nutshell, I help women to stop doing silly things to improve their health.” So many of the silly things that we do have been brought and certainly perpetuated by the diet industry.
A few things really disturb me; dieting is not changing habits, and it also promotes that we can unravel decades of less than stellar habits in a few weeks or months. When women can’t achieve that (which of course they can’t), they feel like failures. They’ve been set up to believe that they can create these amazing results and massive transformations in a short period of time. Even if they get a result, it’s typically not sustainable.
It bothers me, the amount of money that companies are making when they don’t even help people for the long run. I truly believe that diets are designed to fail because it keeps us running back and spending more money to do the same thing over again. Dieting doesn’t teach lifestyle changes, it is only a quick fix that ultimately isn’t sustainable.
The diet industry largely focuses on us being smaller as women, rather than empowering us to live bigger lives through dense nutrition and movement nutrition. The conversation is very shallow in the diet industry concerning the reasons behind why we should be treating our body with more respect in terms of what we’re eating, how much we’re sleeping, the chatter that is going on in our head, and the way and amount that we move our bodies. These can all be empowering but not if we’re using them as mechanisms to just make ourselves physically smaller.
A lot of women tend to focus on just the weight loss and how lean we can get. I’ve worked with so many women over the years who get incredibly lean and it’s not their happy space. Getting lean has a cost. Getting yourself to a very low body fat percentage has an extreme cost. You must be attentive to your foods, you’re probably having to exercise multiple times per day, who wants to live there? I think that this links back to what the diet industry has brought on.
Finally, I think that the diet industry largely perpetuates people being externally driven rather than being internally aware. When you’re following someone else’s meal plan, it’s not requiring you to become a critical thinker about what you’re eating and how it is affecting your body. Getting healthy is about building a better relationship for your body. Good relationships require that we pay attention and listen. Yet largely women are not doing that with their bodies.
Building a better relationship with our body, food, and exercise is really the answer, and relationships take time.
Can you explain how dieting has sustainability implications for our planet too?
Diets are largely outcome focused rather than behaviour focused which is problematic for sustainability. Not only are we not paying attention to what our body is asking, we’re probably not paying attention on a lot of other levels.
We’re not honouring our body with organic foods or those from sustainable farming practices. These are real issues that affect our health on a cellular level. We can hurt our environment by not paying attention to how we are moving through the world as a consumer.
I truly believe that when we’re crabby and reactive, everything suffers. We suffer, our family suffers, the environment suffers. But when we feel good about ourselves, we don’t need so much stuff to make us happy. Our need for ‘stuff’ greatly diminishes when we truly feel empowered in our body, mind, and soul.
Where do you see the health industry heading in future? What needs to change?
I have watched this evolution over the last couple of years. There is much more education available to people now because of the internet. There is more opportunity to work with professionals and to seek out the right person for you.
A lot of people in the fitness and wellness industry are moving into the online space. A big reason why I chose to move online, is that my clients get far better results than they ever did when I was a personal trainer holding their hand in the gym. It teaches self-responsibility. I can give you a process and help work you through and navigate obstacles. But at the end of the day, I can’t do your push ups for you. I can’t put the fork in your mouth or cook your food. The online space for health coaching has been really powerful because it is really about helping someone instil good habits slowly and progressively over a long period of time so that when you reach your goal, there is no question that you will sustain it.
The education of health is changing. The preventative measures that we can take to live in healthier bodies for longer is becoming more mainstream. Consumers are getting smarter. People are realising that if they are truly seeking change and better habits, it’s all in behaviour change.
What is the meaning behind Grace and Grit?
We need both grace and grit in our life to be healthy and achieve a level 10 life, no matter what that means for you. Grace refers to the self-love, self-respect, awareness and compassion. Grit is the work that needs to be done to honour the self-love and self-respect. When we love ourselves enough to honour our health, we are more likely to engage in behaviours that respect our body.
What advice can you share for our listeners today?
Most often the simplest answers are the best answers. After two decades in this industry I can definitely say that this is true about health. Going back to basics is probably the most powerful thing that you can do. Stop making everything so complicated.
Just become more aware by closing your eyes, breathing, and paying attention to your body for 3-5 minutes. Your body has a lot to say about its state and it is asking something from you right now. But you’re probably not listening because you are busy; listening to podcasts, washing the dishes, putting your kids’ shoes on. We lose the awareness of what our biology is telling us.
A simple exercise I use is called a body scan. Start with your toes and work your way up through the crown of your head. Ask yourself in every space of your body “what’s going on right now?” As you practise this exercise consistently, you will start to really notice the messages about what our body needs.
Get back to real food. Swap out packaged food for real nutritious food.
Your body was designed to move. Yet we have made exercise so complicated that a lot of women are paralysed with the feeling that they won’t do it right. You live in a body that needs to move. You don’t need any special attire or an instructor or a list of rules and regulations. Go outside and walk. Get on the floor and play with your kids or dog.
Get enough sleep at night – it sounds simple but can be so complicated for most people. If you are not getting enough sleep, you probably won’t be motivated to do much else.
Drink water. It is the foundation of life, it is part of every biological process in the human body. It helps us think and move better.
Start small. Don’t try all the basics at once but pick one and roll with it for a while to build consistency.
Can you tell us about how you’re working with women to transform their health?
I have a website at graceandgrit.com and I work with people on many different levels. I work with some clients every week and usually for between three months to a year. It’s a journey on unravelling a lot of stuff.
I also run group programs.
Largely, I feel that my role is an educator to help women. They know more than they think they do about health. But the challenge that women face is how to piece it all together and create the response that they are looking for. When I teach women about physiology and how biology actually works, it makes it simpler for them to start doing the behaviours to help these processes work efficiently.
My mission is to keep expanding this conversation on what it means to be a healthy woman. It’s a much bigger definition than what the diet industry has promoted.
Where can we find out more about the programs that you offer?
On my website graceandgrit.com, there is a 7-day video series that is free for listeners. If you want some information that is different from what the diet and fitness industry is pushing, you can sign up for this 7-Day Grace & Grit Reboot.
I’m running a webinar on the basics of metabolism, Metabolism 101. Most people believe that you have no control over your metabolism which is absolutely untrue. There’s a lot we can do to take responsibility for our metabolic power, and I’ll be sharing these on the webinar. Sign up for my newsletter to keep up to date with when I’ll be running these.
I have a new short and sweet program that came out in June 2017. It’s a 4-week group course that guides women through some of the fundamentals of a healthy lifestyle and how to create traction with these things.
If you’re a podcast listener – check out Courtney’s Grace and Grit podcast. She shares the most amazing content and information. Plus she often has high-profile and knowledgeable guests joining her. It’s my number 1 pick of health podcasts – so check it out!