Welcome to our new weekly segment! Each week I sit down with a strong woman with an empowering story or message that will motivate, inspire and help you change your life for the better.
Marie Barker is a high school teacher turned lifestyle entrepreneur who helps women empower themselves and find their healthiest, happiest lifestyle possible. She has over 2,000 followers on each of her social media platforms and assists 60 coaches to be the best wellness and health advocates they can be. She’s real, raw, honest and funny. Above that, shes smart, insightful and full of wisdom. Read on to see what we talked about:
What We Don’t Do: Tell us a bit about you and your journey so far
Marie Barker: I’ve always been an advocate for health and wellness. I went to a naturopath from a very young age. I followed alternative medicine, doing acupuncture, herbology, reflexology, iridology etc. I took a lot of natural supplements. My mom was really into it so she got me into more natural methods. I know there’s a time and place for western medicine; we need antibiotics sometimes, but I know that a lot of our ailments can be healed with food and herbs. So she taught me that. But I got super sick in high school, I think, because of stress. My immune system was at an all-time low.I developed celiac disease. It’s usually genetic but it can be triggered by stress. No one in my family has been tested positive for it so I think stress is what offset it.
I never really understood how stress really impacted the body. As a kid I was always expected to be a lot and do a lot so growing up my parents put a lot of pressure on me. When I hit high school I was a high, high achiever, like 95%. I was working by the time I was 15-16, working two or three jobs at a time. I was playing club sports and school sports. I remember I’d come home from school, maybe have a snack, go to work from 4-9, come home, work on a school project until three in the morning and then go to school the next day. On the weekends I would work Friday nights until four in the morning, I would wake up the next morning and go to Sobeys to work cash from 9-5 and then go back to the German Club from 6-4 a.m. I was 16! And I was playing club sports in between too (lunch practices or before school basketball). I was just Go! Go! Go!; I never understood, obviously, what stresses the body. I never understood that you actually need to stop and fill your cup and rest. That led to compounded cortisol levels and my immune system was already pretty shitty from being a preemie. Plus, adding in all the sports and work and stress, I never rested or slept properly.
WWDD: Were you pretty fit at this point?
MB: See, you would think so. Because I wasn’t sleeping which is so important I know now, or eating properly, I developed hypoglycemia. I wouldn’t eat all day from being so busy doing all of these things and then if I went home and had a couple hours to spare, I would just gorge myself on whatever I could find. Then at that point, you’re so messed up you’re just like, “I’m going to eat that box of KD, I’m going to eat cereal…”
WWDD: Easy, quick, processed foods!
MB: Oh ya, easy, quick, what’s left in the fridge, leftovers, rice, all these starchy/ carb-y foods that give you a quick energy hit. So I’d do that and just feel disgusting after. I wouldn’t eat for so long. I remember having a night off and I sat at home and downed an entire bag of dill pickle chips to myself. It wasn’t like I was overweight or anything. I was always super athletic so I could get away with it but I was always self-conscious.
MB: Comparison. I always compared myself to others from a very young age. You see all this stuff in the media and you read magazines plus seeing other female athletes made me compare my body to theirs. But I honestly think my comparison struggle came from elementary school. I was so tall so young. I look back now and I see that I was a bean pole. I was so thin but I was so tall! Picture day would roll around and I’d be in the back row with the boys. I was taller and bigger than any of my friends. They’d all be in 00 sized jeans and I’d be a size 9 because I was 5’7 in grade 6!
WWDD: Are your parents tall people?
MB: Oh yeah; tall genetics on my dad’s side. Everybody is six foot and above. I was tall and so I told myself this story that I was big. So I had this deep seated story.
WWDD: So as opposed to saying you were tall woman you would say, I’m a BIG woman.
MB: Yep I would say big. And because I was also athletic, I had these really strong shoulders which came in handy for throwing sports or volleyball and basketball or even rowing. But that contributed to this sense of “I’m big.” I told myself that story for so many years that I obviously believed it.
I don’t want this to sound like I was the sad kid. I was the happiest, most outgoing, awesome kid. I was super dedicated, super loyal to my family, really hard working. But I was ALWAYS self-conscious. Specifically my stomach area. I was always trying to suck in and be flatter and thinner than I was. It’s crazy because I look back now and I was slim. I remember laying down and feeling my hip bones. My stomach was lower than them so I thought, “okay that’s good.” How messed up is that?
WWDD: Recently, you’ve been a lot more vocal about your struggles with body image. Why? What’s the aim in doing that? What’s your purpose in sharing?
MB: Honestly, because I think there is massive strength in being vulnerable. I think there is massive strength in sharing your story. I know from experience of working with hundreds of women in the last couple years that by sharing your story you empower other people to empower themselves. So having grown up with low self-esteem and a negative body image and now being in this mental space where I’m so confident and so content with where I’m at and the progress I’ve made and where I’m going, I want to help. I have crappy days too, we all do. But I think it’s so important now, more than ever, to be a voice for people to accept themselves where they are as they are in a world that shows you it’s a one size fits all when it’s so not.
WWDD: So you’re being you, you’re being real.
MB: Yeah. I think that’s important. Being real, raw, transparent, authentic, and genuine; those are all qualities that I’m dedicated to being. You know, you’re lied to in the media all the time. You’re told you should probably look a certain way. You assume you should look a certain way, I suppose, through seeing those images all the time. Now, more than ever, we’re such a Photoshop-centric, idealistic, perfectionist society, it’s important to be real and raw. People crave it.
When I do a live video and I’m sharing about mental health for example, and my struggle with anxiety, people are messaging me after saying, “thank you for putting that out there. It hit me right in the heart and I feel those things.” It’s so nice to know somebody else feels that. That’s the point: to provide that sense of “you’re not alone in this. Let’s go at this together.” Everybody’s got their shit, everybody’s trying to figure it out, nobody has it fully together.
WWDD: I think you’re on to something. I’m seeing a lot of pictures on social media now of these fitness models and babes who are now saying, “No this isn’t real. When I sit, I have this flub like you here and it’s staged positioning of my body and it’s make up and it’s lighting and it’s Photoshopped.” Your pictures aren’t filtered either and people are responding to that.
MB: Nope, it’s just me doing my thing.
WWDD: How has your new ventures changed your life? Your nutrition? Your lifestyle?
MB: It’s changed everything for me. Two year ago, I was at an all-time low with my body image. I had just finished my teaching internship. I had just gone on vacation to Dominican with Brandon and we ate and drank everything over the Christmas season and we ate and drank everything in Dominican. I came home and just felt like I wasn’t even in my own body. And that was weirdest feeling. I hadn’t felt it ever or at least, not in a really long time. Something needed to change.
WWDD: You mean your inside didn’t match your outside?
MB: Yes! We ate healthy growing up. I’ve never even eaten a pop tart before. I ate well but I knew nothing about portion sizes. For instance, I’d eat sweet potatoes which is a complex carb and way better for you than white potatoes but I was eating way too many in a sitting. So that lack of knowledge about portion size and portion control and what I needed meant I was eating less protein in a day, less levels of unsaturated fats that I needed, and I was compensating with carbohydrates! It was out of whack.
I got home from Dominican and at this point, I had a gym membership. I went to the gym, I did free weights, I would go on that damn stair climber for an hour and hate my life! I was trying. I was eating well and working out and going to university. I had active jobs and still, my efforts weren’t matching the outcome. I knew something needed to change.
My girlfriend told me she started doing at home workouts and drinking Shakeology and reading personal development [PD] books and I was like, “what are all of those things?” I had tried Jillian Michaels at home and it didn’t really work. But I was desperate so I started the at home workouts and drinking the Shakeo and reading PD every single day and it’s drastically changed my life in the last two years. Alongside that, I started coaching online and facilitating health groups.
I’m celiac, allergic to dairy, allergic to preservatives and my skin and stomach flare up with sugar. I was just so frustrated with always feeling awful.
WWDD: So you couldn’t find any relief or lifestyle that worked with your illness?
MB: No, and I just wanted to find balance somehow. I wanted to feel good and be able to enjoy some treats sometimes and not restrict myself so much because that’s where that yo-yo nonsense comes from.
My immune system is now stronger. My digestion is finally regular for the first time in years. Maybe this is too much info, but I would go days without going to bathroom. I’m now regular. My body has been able to heal itself from the inside out.
WWDD: Beachbody aside, would you have hit a point where you still felt like you needed to do something regardless?
MB: I had tried everything. I was just desperate for something to work. The biggest frustration came from feeling like I was already putting in the effort. We grow up and hear that we’re supposed to eat less and workout more. That’s backwards. If you want to actually live a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle with longevity and energy, you have to eat more nutrient dense foods, you have to get more of those healthy fats and healthy proteins and good vegetables and fruits. Cut back on the processed sugars. You need to figure out what kind of exercise or movement lights you up. Some people hate lifting weights, so don’t lift weights. Some people love marathons; I would rather walk across hot coals than run because running is not my thing. But I love high intensity work outs. I love doing yoga. I love working out at home with a video.
I work out as therapy. Sweating helps your skin. Nutrition is so incredible. It can have so many positive or negative results or outcomes depending on what you eat. It’s really hard for us in our 21st century, North American society to actually to get the legit nutrients that we need that aren’t genetically modified, not sprayed with pesticides, not full of hormones, or not laden with sugar or sodium or intense levels of fats. Food business is still a business.
WWDD: So as a wellness coach, what is your biggest advocacy? Are you looking to tout the importance of nutrition? Or working out? Supplements?
MB: The most important thing I am trying to advocate for is worthiness and self-acceptance. Shakeology isn’t going to be for everybody. It’s an amazing product but somebody somewhere may be allergic to reishi mushrooms or ashwagandha or whatever. At home workouts aren’t for everybody either. Some people like going to the gym. It’s the only time they get out of the house. Some people do Crossfit. Some people do all these different modalities and that’s so great. But my advocacy is for self-acceptance and self-love and body image because until you accept you for you, nothing else changes. And until you address your mental health nothing else can change. So I’m a massive advocate for “the body achieves what the mind believes” paradigm because everything begins and ends with your mind. You decide to do a workout program. You decide to change your nutrition. You decide to sit on the couch, eating a bag of chips and crying and watching movies for a year. You decide all these things so the decision making process is the most vital process.
You only decide these things based on your habits and your habits are based on your thoughts and your thoughts are based on how you view yourself.
WWDD: What would you say to someone who comes to you and says, “I think I’m fat, ugly and I have no self-love or confidence.”
MB: I would probably first give them a hug because I’ve been there and it sucks. Second of all, I’d tell them to start reading and listening to PD because that has made all the difference for me. It depends on what they’re dealing with but I have a few good titles that have made a big impact on my life. The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy that, to this day is still the number one book that I’ve read, changed everything for me. It’s just the small habits done daily that will either make you or break you over time. It’s so vital. I use to think it was all or nothing. But no, that’s not how it works. I’m two years into my fitness and wellness journey and I’m not where I would love to be physically. I’d love to rock a six pack. Will I ever? No, because I also love red wine and I also love tacos way too much. I’m not willing to restrict my life to have a six pack for aesthetic purposes. It’s amazing how when you switch your mindset and when you start doing PD that you start understanding how amazing your body is and what it’s actually doing for you. It’s healing itself constantly, and getting you from A to B and breathing without you telling it to and functioning! You start to accept it and be grateful for it and it’s incredible how the relationship with yourself shifts.
I hate when people say they need to earn the birthday cake, the drinks etc. You don’t need to earn shit. Just go out and enjoy it!
I use to think the same thing (about earning food rewards). I use to work out to punish my body or to be hard on myself with this weird aesthetic vision that I wanted to be skinnier, and now I work out because I want to be strong and I want to be healthy and I want to be my most badass self. That’s mental as much as it is physical.
WWDD: As a teenager, when you looked at your body, what was perfection to you?
MB: Be skinnier mostly but it was everything. It’s probably similar to what people think now. I’m blaming the media but media is a reflection of society. But we grow up and we see that the image of perfection and the image of beauty is a Caucasian female with J-Lo’s butt but with Candice Swanepoel’s waist but with Brazilian skin: an image of beauty that’s not obtainable because it’s like one person in a million who actually looks like that and it’s Photoshopped to shit! Then these girls and women can’t accept themselves because they’ll never be that image. So they don’t think they’re worthy and they base their worthiness on how pretty they are.
As little girls, our parents are told how pretty and lovely and cute we are from infancy. We grow up hearing that and it goes into our subconscious and we think we are pretty! Until we don’t believe we’re pretty anymore because we’re seeing these images that we don’t look like and we start to question ourselves. Then we value ourselves for our looks instead of what’s in here (points to heart) and that’s a big issue.
WWDD: Have you read Love Warrior? This is similar to how Glennon felt growing up. That’s why I try so hard not to constantly be complimenting the little girls in my life for their looks or cuteness or beauty. It’s so hard!
MB: Right?! It’s insane.
WWDD: *talking about my post pregnancy body that you don’t want to hear*
MB: I work with so many women who have just had a baby and they tell me they need to get their body back. “I need to get it back to where it was,” they say. And my response is always, “what do you mean you need to get it back? You just made a human. You can’t get it back to what it was because you are a different person now. So you need to grow into whoever you want to be now but you’re not going backwards. Why are you looking that way? Go forwards. The secret to happiness is progression. We have to always be making progress in order to be happy.” So don’t go backwards, it won’t serve you. Always move forward.
WWDD: Maybe look at it in a different light of “I’ve just had this baby, I’m a beast, I’m a goddess, I just created a life. So let’s honour these stretch marks, these uneven breasts, whatever it is and let’s go forward.
MB: And honour where you are at too. One of the best things I’ve told myself in the last couple years that has kept me where I am at and kept me sane when I’m frustrated with my progress is: “You are exactly where you need to be on the path to where you are going,” So acceptance of being okay with where you are at while working towards who or where you want to be is so important. It’s made all the difference for me especially when dealing with my anxiety because you have to be present in order to kick anxiety. When you’re anxious you’re thinking in the future. If you are depressed you’re thinking in the past. But if you have peace of mind, you’re thinking here, now. All we ever have is this moment. With the future and with anxiety comes fear and that’s what anxiety is. You’re making up scenarios in your head that you assume to be correct and most times, they’re never right or they never happen. We inflict this pain on ourselves through anxiety and fear of the unknown for no reason.
WWDD: Yeah, you have to do the work. Whatever that looks like whether it’s exercise, medication, a change to your diet, counselling etc.
MB: Yeah, and especially as women, it’s honouring that your body goes through cycles. We are very much cyclical creatures. We have a menstrual cycle, the seasons change, our bodies change. We go through times where we are super motivated and want to eat kale salad and lean chicken breast and then we go through times where we just want to gorge on mac and cheese and drink bottles of wine. We just have to honour that it’s going to ebb and flow. The ocean and the moon is the most powerful combination you can portray because it’s the pull and the wane of energy and it’s the pull and the wane of motivation and the pull and the wane of our lives. You have to be okay to ride the wave because if not you’re going to either go too high or too low and you’re going to get stuck. You’re going to go too high and crash or go too low and crash. You have to be able to ride the wave and understand that there’s going to be highs and lows and one can’t exist without the other. It’s the whole yin and yang dichotomy. We have to be okay with failing a little bit sometimes and moving through that. That’s what body image is all about. You either go through it or grow through it.
WWDD: Oh yeah, and another problem for us women is that we love rewarding ourselves with food. “I ate healthy all day so tonight I’ll have this shitty, sugar filled snack.”
MB: But you know why though? Because the fat content and the sugar content actually hit pleasure zones in our brain that is the reward centre. So we view these foods as reward foods because they legitimately reward our bodies. Everyone needs to read Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss. It’s mind blowing.
WWDD: What would you tell younger Marie?
I would tell younger Marie to look inside rather than outside for happiness. I would tell her to be patient and trust the process. I would also tell her to not be so discouraged with the lows because with the lows comes highs and you have to accept all of it in order to enjoy and move forward. So often, we try to fill the voids by looking outside ourselves and filling it with stuff or we fill it with drugs or sex or booze to try and numb it instead of working through it. That’s just a Band-aid. I would tell her sometimes life is going to be hard, sometimes it’s going to be awesome but as long as you stay present and have an attitude of gratitude and you learn to ride the wave, you’re going to be just fine.
WWDD: Would you give me some tangible tasks you’d give her to help her achieve all that?
I would tell her to:
- Stop treating booze like medicine on the weekend.
- Drink more water
- Stop eating processed junk
- Stop pushing so hard at the gym and just find a style of movement you enjoy. Just get sweaty.
- Stop feeling guilty about eating the foods you want to eat occasionally like chips and salsa and pizza with friends. Enjoy it for what it is. Be okay with it.
- Find a balance between the things you enjoy and the things that you know will benefit you like drinking more water, eating more healthy fats.
- Stop being so hard on yourself. You’re doing the best you can with what you have where you are at and that’s all you can do. Chill and enjoy life for what it is. Appreciate your efforts.
WWDD: Would you say the same to other young girls?
MB: Yeah, I would. Accept where you are at right now while working towards where you want to be. The compound effect is very real and it will work for or against you. If you’re going to booze every weekend or be inactive every week or if you’re going to stress yourself out with what everyone else thinks of you; that will work against you. But if you’re going to get up half an hour earlier every morning and meditate for seven minutes or move your body and fuel your body; that will make all the difference.
WWDD: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten that you’d pay forward to someone?
MB: Understand that you are enough just as you are. Don’t look outside yourself for happiness because what you are searching for is within you.
WWDD: What don’t you do?
I don’t binge drink nearly as often as I use to. I also don’t take my life for granted. Adopting an attitude of gratitude has created a massive shift for me. I write down three things I’m grateful for each day. More than that, it’s catching yourself if you’re thinking too far into the future and just breathing into the now. Where’s the joy in the moment? Until you realize that right now is all we have, you won’t live a very satisfying existence.
Just love yourself. Stop being so hard on yourself. We’re in the middle of nowhere spinning on a globe made of water and plants. Nothing is as big of a deal as we make it out to be! So just love yourself and have fun. Life is so short.
United, we rise.
PS. I honour our contributors and acknowledge each of them for sharing their vulnerable stories with us and hope you get as much out of reading it as I did experiencing it. I’m grateful for Marie for sitting down with me while we snacked on healthy vegan dip with carrots and chips and salsa and chatted about everything under the sun, with a delicious glass of red in hand. If you love Marie as much as I do you will want to follow along with her at mariebarkerwellness on Instagram and Facebook.