This interview is part of the Real Talk Real Women interview series, where we bring you the life-changing, heart-warming and inspirational stories behind the most successful women in health and fitness. Make sure to follow us on Instagram for the latest interviews! For this installment, we are joined by Gillian Faith.
Let’s start off with a general introduction. How would you describe yourself, what are you all about and how did you get involved in health and fitness?
I am first a very proud mom as well wife to an amazing, loving husband now for four years. Together we have a blended family of 5 spread out between 12 and 21 years of age. I remain incredibly passionate about social justice issues, women’s empowerment and sharing my personal faith through my life’s testimony and various volunteer work.
As for health and fitness, that started specifically after the birth of my last child in 2005. When Faith was born after a very high-risk pregnancy, and my tubes were tied I knew that this was the opportunity I needed to be the healthiest mom I could for my children. My marriage was stressed, and I challenged myself to focus on my own health and the well being of my three young children.
You lost 18 sizes, 40% body fat and well over 100 pounds over the course of 3 - 4 years taking your time to lose it carefully. Just as remarkable is the fact that you did much of this while going through separation and as a single mom of 3. Not to mention while working full time as a Social Worker and raising 2 of your three children with disabilities. What has been your biggest learning through it all?
I had never lost weight this way before. Meaning not doing a weight loss programs, pills, weigh-ins, or restricting myself of food to the point of starvation. I really invested in myself and worked hard to understand what my relationship with food was as well where the need to eat came from when I was experiencing pain. It was clear to me I had an emotional connection, and so I had to do some real digging to stop band-aiding the hurt. I accepted that this was an addiction for me and I had to replace the void with healthy vices, relationships, and patterns or I would repeat the binging and starvation patterns.
At some point, your commitment and determination started to take the shape of an obsession - tell me about that and how you broke free from it again.
The struggle I think for anyone who has achieved something noteworthy is that you are now under the spotlight or attention of other people. I distinctly remember walking into a Wal-Mart and feeling the gaze of those who had seen me much heavier, and now, as I was thin, I thought to myself … “I can’t stay this way. I can’t gain any weight”
It was like I was now on a pedestal and the pressure to not fall off the pedestal began to grow as more and more people would search me out for inspiration and support. As a result of this I became overwhelmed, obsessed with not gaining any weight back, or my sizes changes and a hypervigilance developed.
I went from feeling free and healthy, strong and in control of my body to out of control and living in fear. I developed severe body dysmorphia, and Orthorexia, which unfortunately led me to start down a very difficult path of disordered eating for years to come.
To top it off, you also have a learning disability and had to develop your own learning strategies to match your way of understanding and processing of information, tell me about that.
Having ADHD, the learning disability you mention is one of the barriers, which as an adult I think is very misunderstood. There continues to be a great deal of stigma around all mental health conditions and so when society continues to use this diagnosis in jest, “Oh I’m so OCD, or I’m so Schizo and ADD,” it makes it quite challenging to talk about as a professional. When one like myself who has mental health diagnosis including a new diagnosis of Bipolar, is challenged to maintain their business or work, the follow through of ideas and creative output, many can not understand this.
However, for the ADHD and Bipolar mind, this is who we are. We are inventive, creative, constantly coming up with new ideas, typically excellent speakers and presenters, gifted storytellers, and communicators. The challenge is that we have a difficult time with follow through, depression, anxiety and in particular the mood swings which hold us back when we are on a roll. So for myself, I’ve had many excellent periods of starting projects, programs, businesses but I am unable to see them through.
My current strategies are attending Anxiety groups, support groups, keeping track of patterns, journaling, having clear calendars, reminders and accountability partners.
Back then you learned that you were having a little girl, you named her Faith knowing that to have Faith is having hope in what you cannot see and believe in what you know. How has faith helped you on your journey and how important is faith in your life today?
Yes, my Faith in Jesus is my everything. When I think back to then, and now 12 years later I cannot wrap my head around what I have walked through. I’ve lost my Dad, my marriage, my beautiful home, my job, friends, made countless mistakes and hurt so many people including my children yet I know God's love for me remains. It’s Him who has been faithful over and over as I have walked out some really messy times. I walked away from and tried on my own, tried to find a new husband, a new Dad for my kids and made a complete mess of that.
You’ve been through so much, yet regardless of what stood in your way, you don’t seem to have made many excuses and instead went from results. You had a thousand reasons to give up, what kept you going aside from having faith?
I don’t know that I haven’t made excuses. I certainly take my time being a martyr or victim when it comes to my chronic physical health or wondering where God is leading me to or when. Lol. I can be my own pity party for a day or so, dramatic about things as well, just ask my husband. But honestly, at the end of it all, I have a hope and belief that says, I am not in control, and so I put my trust in God knowing he has the plans all worked out. Whether this is healing for my migraines or Fibromyalgia and the daily pain or what he’s going to do with me.
How he will use me to serve or minister to other people. Of course, I’ve asked over time, “How come I’m not on stage speaking to thousands, or I don’t have a book published yet, or on TV with influential women?” But it always comes back to his still small voice telling me I am doing what I am supposed to. And right now that is being a Mom, and volunteering at a Women’s Recovery Centre, in my church and wherever is needed. When more opens up, I will pray and see where it leads.
I know you’re very passionate about writing, speaking and sharing your life story and message - why does it mean so much to you to spread the word?
I find that so many people, women, mothers, wives, especially have these skewed perceptions of what family, marriage and life really are based on how social media presents it for us. Whether this is done on television or new technology apps like Apps telling us what we “should” be doing. How we are to dress, decorate, have our children looking, bake for the cupcake sale and be the income earner as well.
In truth, I think when we listen to each other’s stories we find that none of us are really doing this or at least doing it as well as it might appear. Yet we all look at the other women and think, Jeez they have it all together. The irony is that once we start talking and being vulnerable with each other and saying hey, ya that’s my story. That happened to me too. Or I struggle with those very same things; we don’t feel alone. For myself, that’s opening the door now on Mental Health. It’s not just being the face of a 100lb fitness transformation but talking about my inner most challenges and what many won’t talk about unless someone else does first. So I will.
In one of your interviews, you state that a lot of personal trainers and so-called fitness experts might have credentials but have limited experience themselves - what are your thoughts there?
This is somewhat controversial of a subject but what I am referring to is having coaches and personal trainers who are empathetic to the experiences of their clients. So this is not to say that all persons who work with obese clients must have been obese. That would be like saying all addiction workers must have been addicts. However, in saying this, you can see the parallel and how important having empathy for one's addiction to food and the challenge to overcome this will be a significant barrier when developing a fitness program.
So if a trainer was only to build a physical fitness program and they discounted the mental, emotional and spiritual needs of the individual as well what is known as the Psychosocial model in the Addictions community, then this doesn’t take into account the whole person. So my overall thought and experience having been an overweight person, thin person, body builder, elite athlete, etc is that we must truly know our client's history and be empathetic to who they are.
We cannot simply make cookie cutter programs and not take into account if there are eating disorders on either end of the spectrum, family barriers, financial or anything which could impede their success.
You started your own consulting business, tell me about that new journey!
So in 2013 following my final year in the Non-Profit of the world of Social Work as it were, I followed the urging of many and decided to start a Coaching and Consulting business providing, workshops for women, public presentations, 1-1 coaching, company health and wellness days and more. After more than three years of building the business and few and far between bookings, with a final Street Outreach Gala for Women to which I am most proud I decided it was time to put it to rest.
I attempted to continue it when I moved to the Vancouver area being a larger metropolis but the competition is steep, and costs are high to maintain a business portfolio. As such I consider it a learning experience and one I am proud of, despite the initial feelings of failure and loss.
What are your biggest life goals?
To experience peace and joy in my everyday life. To bring peace to those I encounter everyday. To feel peace in my life and reduce the rush, the fear, and anxiety. To find peace in unsuspecting places and to breathe in peace when I want to control life. That I would experience a sense of peace in my body and freedom from pain. That in doing so, 2018 would be a fresh new start for me!
Where can people go to learn more about you online?
You can stay up to date by following me on Instagram.
Stay tuned for the next interview of Real Talk Real Women!