Meet Kelsey Heenan, Your Openfit Trainer and Ladder Ambassador
Everyone’s fitness journey is unique, and none of them are without their fair share of setbacks and hurdles. To truly dedicate yourself to not only getting fit, but doing real good for your body and mind, it helps to have someone in your corner who can motivate you, and empathize with you as well.
Perhaps no one embodies that more than Kelsey Heenan.
Growing up in a sports fan household in Minnesota where, Kelsey says, her mom “always has a game on,” Kelsey found that organized sports helped her overcome early childhood shyness. Her love of basketball led her to Vanguard University in Orange County, California. Despite Vanguard not being as big as nearby schools like Stanford and UCLA, Kelsey immediately connected with the high level of competition. “We’d play against some of the best teams in the nation,” she says.
Around the same time, Kelsey began struggling with anorexia. As she explains on her site The Daily Kelsey, “My heart rate was so low, my doctor said I couldn’t even go for a brisk walk or I could have gone into cardiac arrest.”
Over the course of a few short years, Kelsey began her journey of recovery, becoming a certified nutrition coach and MBSC Functional Strength Coach, starting her own fitness business, and becoming a coach and mentor for others looking to have a healthier and happier approach to life — beyond just physical gains. Her next feat: training Pretty Little Liars star Shay Mitchell in Openfit’s exclusive new HIIT and strength training program, 4 Weeks of Focus. Having been through so much herself, Kelsey takes a holistic view of fitness, and isn’t afraid to take on Instagram bullies and common misconceptions along the way.
OPENFIT: When did you make that switch from “I’m getting fit for myself” to “I want to help do this for others”?
KELSEY HEENAN: It was 2014. I was getting all my certifications while I was still working at a school district. (I went to school to do social work.) I created my personal brand, The Daily Kelsey, because I wanted to share more about the mental, emotional side in the relationship between food and exercise and your body.
You’ve described yourself as a “Type A” personality – can that sometimes be a detriment to getting involved in fitness?
Absolutely. And that was really my downfall when I got sick, because I was so “by the book.” And I eventually started making these arbitrary rules that didn’t make any sense, but I had to follow them. And that’s where it’s kind of a slippery slope, right?
Fitness is an art and a science, but you also have to learn to listen to your body. If you’re sore, you need a rest day. You need to take it easy because your body needs it, even though on paper it says that you’re supposed to workout.
Speaking of setting arbitrary rules, are there some common misconceptions that people have when you start working with them that you have to sort of un-teach them?
Yeah, there are a lot of common misconceptions. One of them is that silly trend of #NoDaysOff. I think it’s ridiculous. That kind of thing where people think, “I have to work out for X number of days per week, or it doesn’t count.” Or “I have to work out for X amount of minutes or hours per day otherwise it doesn’t count.”
It really comes down to understanding the individual and their personality and where they’re coming from. You don’t want to say that their motivation or their determination is a bad thing. It’s a great thing! But understanding where they’re coming from with some empathy and being like, “OK, I love that you’re working hard, but here are the benefits of this other part of it.”
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You’ve been very open on social media about confronting negative comments. But do they ever get to you?
You know, it’s funny, I’ve been throwing myself out there for six-plus years, so at first it was like, “Oh man that’s pretty messed up, why would you say that?” But after a while, you realize that when people say negative stuff, deep down it’s either they don’t feel good about themselves or they just truly are trying to be a mean person. And if it’s the latter, I’m like, “I don’t want to be friends with you anyway, so I shouldn’t care what you think.”
But social media can be motivating in one sense — you can certainly be motivated by someone’s picture or video and there are definite benefits to that. But then there’s this slippery slope into comparison that can be really dangerous. It’s tricky out there. It really is.
Has your own personal experience helped you motivate others?
Not everyone has to go through something challenging in life for this to be relevant, but I think that what I have gone thought in my life has allowed me to have more empathy for people from a lot of different walks of life. Not everyone is going to have a very severe, restrictive eating disorder, but I would bet if we were to survey the world, 99% of people would say they have a struggle with their relationship with their body.
And they do question the foods that they eat, and they do feel guilty from time to time, so being able to understand that on a really, really deep level has allowed me to be able to communicate with them in a better way, where I’m not just yelling at them to work harder. That’s not going to help them in the long term.
It has allowed me to be able to just meet people where they’re at, to help them get the results they want, and adjusting the message to what people need.
Since getting involved as an ambassador for Ladder, how has that helped you get people to understand that a healthy approach to fitness means a healthy approach to food?
I think that people understand that they’re interconnected, but I think it’s really hard for people to understand that a healthy relationship with food and exercise is probably more important than finding the best workout plan or getting six-pack abs.
Usually people want to go for their goal first, but sometimes people would actually be able to get there faster and keep the results that they want if they worked on the mental aspect first. Or at least try to do them in tandem.
What are the little ways you can help with the mental side?
I’m very careful in my language to be gentle and empathetic because I know what it feels like to have people speak about their bodies and about food in a negative way. I avoid saying things like a food is “allowed” or “not allowed.” Calling a food “good” or “bad.” Or “clean” or “dirty.”
It’s not like people have bad intentions at all, but the psychology of that is just so fascinating. If you say that a food is good or bad, people begin to think, “OK, I’m good. But if I eat that I’m bad, I’m a bad person, I’ve failed today.”
“Cheat meal” is another one that I don’t use. I use the word “flex,” being flexible with your food choices. I’m flexible with my nutrition because I am mindful most of the time and I get to enjoy the foods that I love. It’s not bad…food is meant to be enjoyed.