My Kind of Life: model Emily Nolan

Emily Nolan is beautiful. Both on the inside and outside. A model, a vegan, an inspirational role model for those looking to lose weight or get healthy, this writer/model/awesome woman has been helping to change the way women perceive themselves.

I first came across her work on Mind Body Green, and now love following her Web site — My Kind of Life — for reminders that I am fine just the way I am.

Recently, I was able to interview her on everything from her days of being underweight and unhealthy to her life as a model, her lifestyle and more. Enjoy!

Emily Noland

Diana: Can you talk about your struggles with weight over the years? Specifically, can you address when you decided to embrace your body as it is versus being unhealthy to be a small size?

Emily: I struggled for 10 years with painful eating disorders, starving my body from the nutrition it craved to blossom into a woman’s body. I worked very much during that 10th year to be as skinny as possible, so that I could be a model with one of the largest modeling agencies.

I was working out for six hours a day, and one day, I walked into the cardio room, hit a wall (figuratively speaking) and said, that I’d rather be dead than torturing myself for the very little appreciation and recognition that I was getting. That day, I left the gym, and promised myself that I was going to model (or continue my journey) at my own size–wherever that equilibrium falls for me. I chose to connect with my food instead of eating what magazines and fad diets were telling me to eat, and I ended up choosing a plant-based diet (my Mom also did this with me).

I continued to work out, but this time around, I was focused on happiness. I was constantly asking myself, “Does this exercise make me happy?” When you live in the land of excessive habits and disorder and you’re trying to heal on your own (for the most part), the best way to do it is to constantly ask yourself helpful questions that remind you of where you are and how you feel. So, I was asking myself questions and I was answering them honestly. Questions like, “Should you go back to torturing your body to live someone else’s dream, or is it worth giving up their dream to build your own miraculous life?” After realizing that I’d rather be dead than going through the torture I had put myself through, the answers were very clear and I was able to chart my new course for a healthier lifestyle.

D: What is the worst thing someone has said to you about your weight? How did it make you feel? How did you overcome it?

E: There are so many things that people can say about someone’s weight, height, color, etc. In the past, I let it dictate who I was. “I am fat, I am tall, I am athletic.” Now, I just live life as the best version of me, and much to my surprise, people have stopped negatively commenting and started complimenting who I am. Maybe it’s because I surround myself with a network of safe friends that are nonjudgmental, highly supportive and intelligent.

D: In society, it seems like a person’s weight is directly attributed to the respect, love and success they deserve. Do you agree with this statement? How do you suggest people can change the way society links weight to these things?

E: The internet is much to thanks for the rise in “respect for ‘perfect’ body pictures,” which can be attributed to certain men and women being idolized to a god-like level. If we realize that everyone is human, even high-paid supermodels, and that we all struggle with our own issues, we can start to understand that we are all the same–billboard or not. The important takeaway is to know that we all struggle, and we all have things that we’re great at, too. The size of your thighs or waist does not define your beauty or importance–but your brain and heart, do. And if you are setting out to make a difference in the world which I highly recommend, the latter two are the only things that matter.

Model Emily Nolan

D: You’re gorgeous. When did you realize you were perfect just the way you are?

E: Thank you very much. I always thought that beauty came from the way I appeared on the outside, and what I came to realize is that beauty is like a flower. The flower grows from the dirt, through the spine or stem and into a tight protective bud. Only when the bud feels like it is pretty enough, does it open up to show the world just how pretty it is–and that all came from a seed in the ground. I realized my true beauty when I started to make decisions that were deeply authentic and true to my seed; beauty has to do with living a compassion-filled life.

Have you ever looked at a fat manatee and said, “Ew, how gross and fat?” I didn’t think so. Most likely we say, “Oh, look how cute and big that manatee is! How amazing! How majestic and incredible.” By reframing the way that we see beauty, as well as sharing the same spirit with friends and family, we can move past the pressure that’s placed on outer beauty and begin to focus on that beautiful seed that is planted within us all.

D: What is your comfort zone? How did you step out of it to get to where you are today?

E: I am part German, which means my tolerance for torture and rule-following is quite high. That being said, my comfort zone is anywhere that I feel safe. It is important to note that in the beginning of My Kind of Life and my modeling career, public speaking and being in front of a camera were not always the most comfortable feeling for me; however, I always felt safe–to fail, to succeed, to be myself–so I allowed myself to work through the discomfort of a new task or job, in a safe environment.

Build self-confidence by being hyper sensitive to your authenticity, and seeking out safe environments to practice your truth is a great place to grow your comfort zone. And I highly encourage pushing your limits if your goal is to share a message that is great and life-giving.

D: What advice would you give to other women in the world who struggle with their weight?

E: If you’re like me and have struggled with your weight, the best advice that I can give you to feel more confident in your size is to eat healthy, exercise and buy clothes that fit. If you like what you see in the mirror, who cares about what the magazines are promoting, or what fad diet your friend or partner is on. We were made to be beautiful in our size, color and personality–let’s be unique and embrace the paradox of life, we’re all so different, and yet we’re all very much the same.

D: Can you talk briefly about your modeling career, why you don’t like the term “plus-size” and how your modeling career has empowered you and can empower others to love who they are?

E: My modeling career has been an incredible journey; it’s given me a platform to get up and speak to other people and share that the size of our body is insignificant. Plus size, straight size (skinny), men, kids–we all take beautiful pictures. So what makes us unique? Our brains and our hearts.

I stopped calling myself a “plus size” model because I don’t believe that women who are looking at me in their catalog should feel that they are different from thinner women. We are all beautiful and we all deserve to look stylish and feel confident, no matter the number on the tag of our clothes.

Some women disagree and think that I should embrace the label “plus-size,” but I just think, if I was a man, I would not say, “I’m a male model.” It is so obvious that I’m not skinny, so there’s no confusion as to what size of clothes I wear. I can understand both sides of the discussion–I just choose to be inclusive, since I don’t endorse any form of labeling. If I do label someone I’ll say, “She is very inspirational. She is highly intelligent.” Those are positive labels that grow from the seed within us.

My Kind of Life Emily Nolan

D: What are the most important lessons you have learned about loving yourself? What would you tell others to do to honor themselves above others?

E: Notice the patterns of your personality. From day one, I was an animal lover, an athlete, a family person, and highly self-aware (I’m a taurus–again, I can’t be blamed). To stray from that path–maybe if society encourages another lifestyle–is to deny yourself the ultimate truth, and the opportunity to live your life with a bright mind and a brilliant, open heart.

Be true to who you are, and you’ll find nothing but love and fulfillment in your future. That is how I define success.

D: When you realized you could be happy as you are, how did life change for you?

E: As soon as I started to reconnect with my authentic interests, my career(s) started to take off. I built a very unique vessel to navigate life–because no one else has the same story that I do. I dedicate a lot of the hours in my day to fulfilling my interests and helping others find theirs. When I started to help others with no strings attached, my career again, started to build on another, higher level.

I stopped seeing money as a means to life, and started to see how giving life to people is a highly rewarding way to live. Put your heart out there and let it work miracles; money comes and goes, love and good work is consistent.

D: What is your fitness routine these days?

E: I try to sweat everyday. I love the way I feel after I workout. Sometimes I don’t make it to the gym–like twice a week–because I’m on a plane to another country. Sometimes, I just feel like taking my dog on a nice long walk along the water to look at the colorful fish swimming by and to take time to reconnect.

I’m a fan of group exercise because I work a lot harder than if I were to do a workout on my own. I like to use weights, I love spinning, kick boxing, yoga–I’ll do it all. If you’re afraid to jump in to group exercise or any exercise at all, know that even Lance Armstrong had a first day–no need to feel afraid or intimidated. I take a kickboxing class with a 90 year old woman, who shows up every week and spends the whole class going at her own pace. No one at the gym is there to judge her, we actually want to see her succeed! That woman is an inspiration to me. I hope when I’m 90, that A) I’m alive, and B) That I have a gym membership or fulfilling exercise routine.

D: Can you give us an example of your daily meal consumption?

E: This is a popular question that piques a lot of interest. If I were to tell you exactly what I eat, it may encourage others to aspire to the same habits. So when I tell you, know that this is what works for me, and you could require more or less–and your decisions to eat what you do, are great enough. Also, my entire diet is vegan, which is all plant-based, whole foods.

Note: I drink Yerba Matte all day long and drink way too much sparkling water for my own good.

Breakfast:
Soy latte
Organic granola with coconut milk greek yogurt with fresh organic fruit on top

Lunch:
Lettuce wraps with tempeh and grilled vegetables.
Side of wild rice with veggies mixed in.
Bowl of raw crudités with a baba ganoush

Snack:
Candied nuts
Mandarin orange

Dinner:
Barbecue tofu over mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus and root vegetables

Dessert:
Plant-based whole food dessert. A healthy cookie or a few bites of a cherry cobbler with nuts and seeds as a base

D: When do you feel most beautiful?

E: I feel most beautiful when people come up to me and thank me for the work that I’m doing to make a difference in the world. Whether it was a speech I gave, a picture I published, an article I wrote–those are the things that matter, and the things that I value the most. To know that my labor of love has touched someone, that is when I feel the most beautiful.

Do you want more Emily? Be sure to check out her Facebook and Twitter to help motivate you to improve your lifestyle.

Photo credit: Mary Beth Koeth

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Perspectives

Being fat in Thailand

Being overweight in Thailand

“Oh, why you so pom pui?” People ask me. Strangers. Friends. You name it.

Pom pui.

You’d think one of the first words I would learn in Thailand would be how to ask someone’s name, or how to ask for directions. But, nope. One of the first words I learn other than “drunk” is pom pui or “fat.”

And that is because everyone asks me why I am fat. Or tells me I am fat. Or says I am soai  (beautiful) followed by pom pui. 

Fat AND beautiful. Now, that is a nice backhanded compliment. Thankyouverymuch.

Unlike in Western cultures, weight here isn’t one of those hush-hush things. It’s an in-your-face thing. Comments people make here that would make me cry if someone Western was saying it simply roll of my back. Or, they try to roll off my back.

But.

After awhile, those “you’re fat” comments begin to take a toll.

Skinny is everywhere in Thailand. If you’re above a size 8 (and I think I’m being quite forgiving when I say that), you won’t be able to find cute clothes. I’m a size 10 or 12 (depending on the day), and yeah, shopping at the department stores leaves me feeling defeated when I look at a pair of pants that can’t even fit an arm through the leg, let alone my ass.

The only place I can shop is Tesco Lotus, and then it is clothing that is more like a tent than anything cute and form-fitting.

I’ve always battled with being overweight, and here in Chiang Mai, it is a constant reminder of those battles.

The Skinny Syndrome and Las Vegas

When I lived in Las Vegas, I lived in a world where beauty was directly attributed to a tiny waist, big bust (check), spray tan and hair extensions. It had nothing to do with anything else. You got further in Vegas if you were skinny, and I was not a fool.

Even when work asked that I get a headshot, the photographer worked magic.

“I’m just going to make your nose a little smaller, your eyes a little bigger, your teeth a little straighter, your face a little smaller … oh, but you are beautiful,” he said, as he Photoshopped me to a younger illustration (or caricature) of myself.

After only a few months in Sin City, I began to do PR for a doctor who shall remain nameless because after years of following his business, I think he is the most unethical doctor I’ve ever met or heard of. This good doctor had a weight loss program that basically was a cocktail of diet pills and seizure pills that resulted in the heaviest of people transforming quickly into slimmer versions of themselves.

As I sat on the table after getting an EKG done, he looked at me and said “You’re going to be blown away by how fat you are.”

I kid you not.

Sure, I was tipping the scales at 200 at that time, but for a doctor to tell me that broke my heart. And yes, it is his job, but to say so in such a callous way …

He handed me two bottles of pills, a Phentermine concoction for the mornings and Topomax for the evenings, and prescribed me a weekly fat burning shot.

The shit worked. Within six months I had gone from a size 16 to a six four. I had gone from fat to toothpick. It was a miracle drug, but it had its prices. My vision became blurry. My heart would race like I had just snorted an entire eight-ball of coke for breakfast. I was skinny, but it wasn’t me.

As the good doctor put it, I was now sexy. I had newfound attention from men. I had gone from the ugly duckling in the corner watching all of the couples snuggling to the girl with guys at her side. I had gone from the girl who hid her body behind enormous, billowy shirts to the girl wearing tight dresses. I had the body I had always dreamed of.

Until I didn’t.

After nearly a year of taking the pills, I decided to stop them. Cold turkey. Within months, my weight shot back up and I was back to the loose clothing.

People would look at me with their brow furrowed, casting me their deepest sympathies for my weight gain. I was back to being the girl in the corner.

It was then I made the conscious decision that I would not let those stares ruin me. I would not let those stares define me and my body. I would take control. I enrolled at the gym and started working out. I didn’t get back to a size four, but I made sure I could have control over my weight.

The thing about weight-loss is, you have to be all in, or not at all.

I had worked out for about six months when I started to get depressed, and soon even lacing up my sneakers was a challenge. So, instead I ate. Papa John’s. McDonalds. I drank. I did whatever I could to camouflage my insecurities by doing something I could control — my intake of food and drink.

But, when your intake trumps your exertion, you gain weight. So, I ballooned back to the weight I was when I arrived in Vegas.

It’s all about control

It wasn’t until I left Vegas and relocated to Atlanta that I finally was able to control my weight again. For at least six months. Then, depression again. Weight gain again.

I thought traveling would make me skinny, so when I set out for my career-break, I decided I would lose weight. I lost a little — there’s something to be said for walking places with a huge backpack on your back that causes those calories to just burn, burn, burn.

I returned to America a smaller version of myself, but still not happy. I looked in the mirror and saw a fat, fat girl who hated herself for not being able to control her own body.

Of course, the normal lose weight-gain weight battle once again ensued upon my arrival back to Vegas. I was up to five days a week at the gym, busting out an hour of cardio a pop, followed by yoga or pilates. I was counting calories. Cutting down on the booze. And, then, I wasn’t. Again. Because it is all cyclical.

The expat life

When I moved to Thailand, I was the heaviest I had ever been. Standing in front of the mirror in my room at Smith, looking at myself naked … I would burst into tears.

I. Am. So. Fat.

Thoughts would race through my mind. I will never find someone to kiss me again. I will never find someone to sleep with again. I will never find someone to love me.

The worst part about living in Thailand and being overweight, is living in Thailand and being a western women. The chances of finding a guy are nearly zero.

I’ve always operated with the belief that beauty is everywhere … that I shouldn’t have to be skinny to fall in love or to have someone fall in love with me. That no one should be anyone they are not … that as people, we are all gorgeous, whether skinny, fat, short, tall, etc. I’ve dated men who I wasn’t initially attracted to, but as I got to know them, they turned into the world’s hottest people.

Attraction is important, yes. But, there are other things, too. And, I always held tight to the belief that people would like me simply for me. For my heart. For my mind. For my passion. Not because I am or am not a size four.

I guess I’m not everyone.

Even as the pounds began to fall off — a total change in diet (cutting out meat), along with sweltering heat and sweating my weight out of me daily — dropped the scale about 20 pounds. But, it didn’t matter. People saw me the same. Fat. Pom pui.

And soon, it became just a part of my life. Everyone commenting (and I mean everyone — strangers, friends, people I see everyday and can only exchange bits of broken Thai or English), even when their comments were not asked for or welcomed.

I have no idea why anyone thinks it is ok to tell someone they would be so much prettier/better/etc. if they weren’t fat.

Sometimes, it boggles my mind.

I don’t look at them and say, “you know, you would be better if you pulled that stick out of your ass and completely rearranged your face?” It would certainly not be met with an understanding smile. So, why the double standard? Why is it OK for someone to give you their opinion about what makes you “not worthy” of being loved? And since when does weight become the single most important factor in any part of life?

I know people here don’t mean it to cause pain. It is either no big deal since calling someone “fat” is normal, or they tell me because they think it can help me become a better me. But that doesn’t mean it just rolls off my back. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t impact my self-esteem. Or the way I feel about myself.

Today, I’ve grown accustomed to being “fat” even though my weight continues to drop. Men here still don’t look at me. And, I still get judged as to the person I am based on my clothing size.

Is it disheartening? Yes. Is it defeating? Yes. Is it life? Sadly, so long as I live  here, it is. No amount of weight loss … no amount of lifestyle change will ever amount to me having the Thai version of a perfect body.

While it used to make me sad (hence, staring at the mirror in tears), today I look at myself and think “fuck you. Really. Fuck. You. If you don’t like me for who I am, cellulite and all, then please. Do me a favor. Fuck yourself and go find a skinny woman who will be your everything.”

Because I am worth more than my weight.

At the same time, I want to give myself a chance to kick this once and for all. I want to look in the mirror with confidence, even if the people around me don’t see the beauty I possess, regardless of whether I am 100 or 200 pounds.

It is one of the reasons why I started The Comfort Zone Project — because I want to push myself to be the best version of me I can be, and give myself the best version of the life I am living.

I enrolled in a gym. I hired a personal trainer. Drinks are cut down to twice a week. Smoking is going to stop.

Either I will be a fat girl in Thailand and embrace the shit out of it, or I will do my damned best to be the not-so-fat girl in Thailand and love myself. Because, you know what? I deserve it.

This post originally appeared on d travels ’round.

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