WTF is a health coach? + biz bonding & intuition with Abbi Miller
an interview by Madison Wise, written for her site.
Photo credit: Andrea Larson, @andrealarson
I sat down with Abbi Miller, of Abbi Miller Holistic Nutrition + Yoga, to talk about her role as a health coach, her passion for business coaching, and why she’s so adamant about listening to her gut. Abbi was glowing as usual, full of energy, and visibly passionate about what we were discussing.
How would you describe what you do to someone who’s never heard of health coaching?
It’s different per person, and coaching is an important word. I’m not going to tell people “this is how you should live your life; this is what you should eat; this is what you should be.” It’s an interactive process where they’re as much of, if not more of, a participant in the actual session. I’m a total nerd so I love to give information, so I’m going to say what I know then I’m going to ask them, “do you like this? what do you think of this?” We look at the whole picture, which is what was so appealing to me (about the Institute for Integrative Nutrition). My own journey as a teenager with food was so emotional. Yes, I think I could have eaten more spinach and more protein, those things, but so much of it was what was under the surface. People crave a deeper healing, deeper acknowledgement, deeper conversations, and I think it can be common in any sort of therapeutic session to just talk about what is topical, what is visible, instead of saying “what’s underneath that?” And then you talk about it, then again, “what’s underneath that?” And I feel like that’s when the magic happens, when you get deep, and that’s why health coaching was really attractive to me, as a way to connect with people to say, “how do you want to be in the world? how can I support you?” And, there’s just such a big accountability component to it, that I haven’t experienced with doctors.
What is it about health that gets you excited, and happy, and like you want to talk about it forever?
The simple answer is that I’m obsessed with feeling good. That’s probably what’s underneath it. You know, whether it’s a really good meditation, or drinking tons of water, or having great sex, or watching a great movie, or traveling… feeling good is so human, it’s such a desire, and I think we all want that, deeply, underneath. And I think that’s why for me yoga and nutrition together complement each other. And that we have it inside of us. It’s not about material objects or so many things that I think it can be easy to feel like we need to feel good, but just that simplicity of just being with yourself and breathing and feeling good. You know I didn’t learn that until I was like 21 that you can just… kinda… you know… just go inward for that. Practicing contentedness instead of expecting it to find you.
“It doesn’t feel good to eat something and beat myself up about it. I’m done with that. I’m over it. I don’t care what it is. The worst possible thing I could ever imagine eating – if I eat it, I’m going to be like, well, that happened, and I’m going to savor it.”
And I think even beyond that, I know what it’s like to not feel good. I’ve had a lot of big things happen in my life when I did not feel good. And I think that it’s hard. Life is suffering, it’s how we deal with it, and I think for me when I see something that’s so preventable, whether it’s nutritionally speaking or habit or whatever, there’s a part of me that’s just nosy. Having a friend who eats no protein and saying, “I wonder what would happen – you’re saying you’re feeling really spacey – if you ate 30 grams of protein before you left for work in the morning?” and them doing that and feeling like “oh my god I’m a different person.” I’ve had that even with my mom with protein. Leveling up my own self care to a point where I have so much to give to another person where it’s like “oh, come with me!” Bringing it all in. It’s not about objects or finding the answer outside. Teaching people to listen to themselves… feels like a big thing.
Are there any common misconceptions that you feel like someone might have about you or the role of a health coach?
This idea of perfection. Back to feeling good – it doesn’t feel good to eat something and beat myself up about it. I’m done with that. I’m over it. I don’t care what it is. The worst possible thing I could ever imagine eating – if I eat it, I’m going to be like, well, that happened, and I’m going to savor it. What’s the point of eating anything if there’s any type of negativity? I remember being about 25 when I realized that, and it was just so simple to me and I want everyone to have that ease around food. I’m healthy; I’m not fancy. It’s sustainability, not perfection. It feels good for me. I know what works for me. And there isn’t one thing that works for everyone. It’s about being kind to yourself and not judging others, and doing the best you can.
In addition to Health Coaching, you’ve started Dream Life Coaching – how is that going, what are you excited about with it, what is it?
I’ve started business coaching, which I call Dream Life Business Coaching. I’ve been self employed forever… building my own brand, all of this, it’s all stuff I’ve had to do. I’ve never been like “I’m going to learn about social media” or “I’m going to learn about WordPress.” That was never on my list of interests, but it was a necessity. Especially starting off with no money… you just do it. I’ve done different business courses and I’ve read different business books and I feel like I have these smart friends. There are all of these different resources that I’ve had that have enriched my ability to the point where now it’s a topic that I love, and wasn’t so conscious about until my friends would reflect it to me. I ended up connecting with my dear friend and (we) had this vision of not doing it alone anymore. I knew all these badass women, who were running businesses, by themselves, who didn’t have secret investors or a business figure behind them. They were just doing it. I feel like we could all answer each other’s questions. We don’t need to go hire a lawyer for this – we can ask someone who’s already done that. So we formed this group called “BBB – Better Business Babes” and we got together once a month and there would be a themed topic. It was a really cool discussion group… that was the start of facilitating business related discussions. I’ve always been obsessed with podcasts and things like this… Last year I was talking to one of my dear friends, who is a totally super savvy business lady, about different processes and productivity and she was really reflecting to me that that’s not normal, most people don’t feel that collected about it or that intentional about it and I was like “what do you mean!? You guys don’t all have a system!?” And then I realized I’m totally a systems nerd, I am fully a nerd, and I own it. And just this one conversation with her led me to writing an article about it, then it got picked up by Darling Magazine. I really got affirmed, not about me but about the content, and seeing something that I created be helpful to other people. And having people say “oh my god, I run my own hair salon and I never thought about doing x, y, and z, thank you, this changed my work.” And it was like “what!? That is so cool!” And I think also having been very used to working one on one you just don’t have that mass reach.
“You don’t feel lonely when you’re doing your favorite thing. You feel lonely when you’re all alone in your living room trying to figure out WordPress when you want to stab it.”
I started talking to the same friend about how I can do more of this. And then obviously being a coach I thought, that’s a natural thing… so I told my boyfriend, “I kind of think I want to start supporting, kind of in the creative entrepreneur realm, at whatever stage they are, whether it’s business formation or kind of the nitty gritty boring business license, like the legal stuff, or you know, talking to people about marketing and social media.” It was like “I kind of want to do this, we’ll see.” I said it to him, that’s it. And the next day I get an email from this girl “hey I just saw your website. I just graduated from IIN, I love your look, love your brand, could I pick your brain?” Here you go, Abbi. So I wrote her back and was like “yes! I actually offer business coaching, would you be interested?” and she said “yes, when can you start?” So that day, all day I created that entire program, created all the content, emailed my web guy, and got it up. And it’s just taken off. I’m doing that more than I am health coaching now. And I love it! It’s like, so, freaking, awesome. And it’s so personalized. And I think there’s a way, I’ve spent so much time researching this, not ever with the intention to share. You know, when you’re studying health coaching you’re like “okay, how can this translate when I’m talking to someone?” But when I’m staying up researching patent searches that you need to do for a trademark, for a brand or a logo, I’m not taking notes. So the fact that I can give any of this back it feels almost like I’m getting back hours of my life or something. Almost like, “oh I didn’t spend 3 hours researching this random fact about business licenses in Missouri for nothing, I can share this, thank god.” It’s been very cool doing that, and it’s so personalized. I have clients who are acupuncturists, fully accredited, working more in marketing. I have people who are health coaches at all different business levels. It’s just so freaking awesome. It’s been really fun… I freaking love it. It’s so fun for me to talk to people, and back to the feeling good, I think I can only imagine I would have felt good if I had someone helping me, and not reinventing the wheel – if I had someone saying “oh! Fill out this form. You’re good.” I think there are ways I could have saved some space. I’m just trying to be the person I wish I had.
What is a bad day like for you?
That’s a good question. A bad day for me is self-doubty. It’s like “I don’t matter, what am I doing?” Whenever I have a bad day, my default is “I just need to quit everything, and go work at a bookstore.” That is always my default, I don’t know why, but that’s my default fantasy. Nobody’s gonna ask me questions or care; I’m just gonna hang out and read books. That usually lasts about 24 hours, and my friend, she’s so funny, because I always entertain that in my head, and the first time I said it out loud to her she’s like “you’re so dumb, that is absolute bullshit, talk to me tomorrow.” Then the next day I’m like “oh my god this cool thing happened!” You know, I totally have days where I feel deflated, I think that’s part of it. And I think back to feeling fabulous, and it’s not actually sustainable to feel fabulous everyday. That’s not real. But I think the psychologist Victor Frankl, one of the psychologists who survived the Holocaust, his work talks about how he thinks that we’re mistaken in that we think the goal of life is to feel happy, when really it’s about finding meaning and I think about that, and I think about the days when I quote unquote don’t feel fabulous. And it’s not because I’m actually not happy, it’s because I’m lacking meaning. ‘cause I have a roof over my head and good food and people who love me. It’s about meaning. It’s about feeling lost and not plugging in. And I think that’s why I started this networking group, because this work can be kind of lonely, even though it’s so amazing and so special and very social, I think it’s still important to create your own network and support system, and to do things like get a massage and talk to people who love you, and have ways that you’re refilling your own cup so you have stuff to give. I think there are definitely bad days. But again, I feel like I’ve been through some shit, so the bad days are so far from the worst days, that you just deal with it. And back to like, if you eat the brownie, don’t beat yourself up over it – if you have a bad day you’re like, “I’m feeling shitty today.” Some days, I have a to-do list of 20 things, but it’s a one-done kind of day. And whatever, you watch Netflix, and you take a bath, and you start over the next day. I think I’ve learned that, whereas I think when I was 20, there was a lot of force, and a lot of should, and you’re not allowed to have a bad day. Which is so not human.
It’s refreshing, because I think it’s easy to see someone, with a picture perfect life and think, “wow, they’re doing so much. I’m sitting at my desk or in my bed, looking at what they’re doing, and not doing it, what’s wrong with me?” when really, everyone has bad days. Nothing is wrong.
And I do think the desire to change things is real. (When) we look at people online, first of all, how much of it is real, how much of it is curated, manicured, but like, you only see the good things. I actually just wrote an article about this. I had a male student sexually harass me a couple of months ago, and it really shook me. It really shook me. It really made me question teaching, and being in front of people in that way, and being in front of people in spandex, and touching them. And I was like, “whoa, have I been naive to what I’ve been doing for nine years?” And ultimately for me it was a chance to stand up and say “you can’t talk to me like that. You don’t say that to a woman, you don’t say that to a person, you don’t say that,” instead of being like “oh my god, everything sparkles!” I think in the yogic world, there’s a thing that my friend calls the “spiritual bypass,” where if something shitty happens it’s like “oh my god, but I learned so much from it,” but you never actually name, oh, that was shitty. And eventually, whether it’s a day or a month or a year, you eventually say, “what have I learned from that?” And I have questions now. Do I want to teach men? How do I want to dress if I’m teaching where there’s men? I have questions now that I hadn’t thought about.
“For me it was this practice in not being a stereotype, and saying, okay yes, I believe in love and meditation and all these things, but don’t fucking talk to me like that”
And I kind of resent that I have to think about that. I think there’s a way that, I’m a friendly person, I’m, especially in a teaching setting, I’m paid to be there, and I play a role in that way. And there’s a way again, it’s like this stereotype of “I’m okay, it’s all good, stuff rolls off my back, peace and love like, I’m so happy all the time.” And yeah, that’s true, a lot of those things are true, and a lot of those attributes I’ve worked really hard for, but that doesn’t change the fact that I have boundaries. For me it was this practice in not being a stereotype, and saying, okay yes, I believe in love and meditation and all these things, but don’t fucking talk to me like that, you disgusting pig, leave my class. And I didn’t say those words and I wish I had. But I don’t know, I feel like it was a big test of my boundaries. It would have been easy to say, “oh he didn’t mean it,” and I really had those thoughts. You know, he didn’t touch me, it was verbal harassment, and so I’m fine, you know what I mean. But it was this thing where I would talk to my mom, and I would talk to my best friends and it was just like “I feel sick.” Like I just feel sick. And so I filed a report. And the people who need to know, know, it’s all good, I won’t see him again. But for me it’s like a bigger thing too, hopefully I’ll never see him again. And whether I say this or not, it probably won’t affect my exchanges with him, if I’m lucky, but I was like what about his wife, or his daughters, or his next yoga teacher? That’s why I wanted to say something, it was like having this duty for the people in his future, and teaching him how to treat people and say, “no, you don’t do that.” It’s such a big part of what I care about… specifically, I give a portion of my proceeds to a non-profit,International Justice Mission, they’re an anti-sex trafficking non-profit. They do great work globally. And it just feels inline, you know, if something like that happens… to stand up. It’s basically completely related. It’s being objectified and that being “okay” because I’m wearing tight pants, and that’s not okay. And we get to create these environments, we get to shape the people around us by standing up for ourselves and saying “hey, that’s not cool.”
Knowing you, and following your work, I know that your gut is super important to you, not just that feeling, but the health of it. Do you think there’s a connection?
Totally, there has to be. Over 50% of your immune system cells reside in your intestines and there’s a brain gut access where brain cells actually communicate, and your serotonin is secreted in your stomach which affects your brain. We now understand the actual health of your gut is going to affect your immune health, your mental health; there has to be.
And I think there’s a thing here between the masculine and the feminine. I’ve always felt that I have to explain why the thing I’m doing, that is completely feminine and intuitive, is a very rational, smart thing. And I don’t know where that’s from, like if it’s that the world values logic, I don’t know. But you know it’s interesting, if you look at the Discovery channel and see a documentary about a fox in the woods, they’re going to narrate it, and so you see the foxes ears perk up and then he runs, and a minute later, a predator appears. My guess is the narrator would say, “oh there’s that keen intuition and animal instinct,” and we would be amazed at that. But then if we as humans, are walking down the street and we get an “ugh, I don’t want to go into that bar,” and you’re with your friends, and they’re like “c’mon let’s go,” but there’s no reason, it’s just a feeling, at least for myself there have been a lot of times that I’ve dismissed it because I don’t have a reason. The fox can’t say “well I think in ten minutes a panther is…” no, they just run. And I think that we forget that we’re animals, you know what I mean. And I had an incident (when traveling in India) where I had that gut feeling, loud and clear, and I ended up being sexually assaulted. When I first met the men who did it, I knew. I knew in my gut. I couldn’t say anything – they were super hot, they had tons of money, they were like, “let’s buy you drinks.” There was nothing visually that was a red flag. But my gut, when I met them I wanted to vomit. And I’m not really being dramatic; I really felt icky. But I was with my friend and it was like, we’re having a fun night, I don’t wanna change the plan… So I totally overrode it. I even said to her, “I don’t feel good,” but I couldn’t name it, and I didn’t let that be enough. And I just think having gone through that, intuition is so freaking important to me because I know what can happen when it isn’t listened to. And I think that often the less you listen, the quieter it gets. But not the less important it gets. It just gets quieter.
Back to finding the meaning in things, after what happened in India, I felt so hurt and lost and like the world was a dangerous place. All of my beliefs disintegrated overnight. I remember being like, “there is no god, I’m alone, people are bad.” Like, literally the opposite of what I’ve believed my whole life, and I just felt so naked and vulnerable. It wasn’t until years later that I started to really remember and connect with what happened and remembered – you were not alone. Your gut, your intuition was speaking so loudly. It was there. It was how I responded to it. I’ve let go of my shame, and I’ve forgiven myself for not listening, and that’s why I don’t live in fear, because I know that with my gut, in my future, that’s not gonna happen again. First of all, my situation was super circumstantial. You know I don’t plan to ever come across those men again. But for me it’s like, just trusting it. If something doesn’t feel good, then I just fucking, I don’t do it, and I don’t care if people don’t like that, and that’s probably the biggest thing on the topic of intuition. I don’t care if I’m annoying, I don’t care if I’m the un-fun friend, I don’t care if you wanna know why. And I think I have a little bit of a fierceness about that because of being in such an extreme.
Trusting your own path like that can be lonely. How do you deal with being lonely?
I think that is definitely a big feeling for anyone starting their own business, doing their own work, and the thing that’s taken me 31 years to do is just to seek community – with the women’s networking group, with getting my own business coach, my own health coach, who I can work with. And outsourcing things too. It makes me feel less lonely. Like maybe historically I would have sat and tried to figure out my website all by myself. Now I have this awesome web guy, he’s a sweetheart, I say, “can you do this?” and he says “yes,” and I say “thank you.” Even though it’s not that interactive, I get to just do what I love, and do what I’m good at, and that makes me feel more supported, makes me feel less alone, because I think the loneliness…. You don’t feel lonely when you’re doing your favorite thing. You feel lonely when you’re all alone in your living room trying to figure out WordPress when you want to stab it. For me it comes back to the support thing, and allowing people to help you too. That’s a big question for me, everyday, how to stay connected in a digital age when we are finding more and more of our connections via a device, and how to have human time, and I think it is doing the atypical thing and calling someone and saying “can we meet?” instead of just texting “how was your day?”