Fitness and diet culture is centered around changing your appearance and restricting yourself. But what if it doesn’t have to be that way? Today’s guests promote a method for fitness that revolves around unlearning that restriction and practicing self-acceptance, so you choose and want to move because it feels good for you. Emma and Carla Papas are founders of The Merrymaker Sisters and MerryBody Online Yoga, Pilates, and Meditation Studio. Their MerryBody Method for exercise combines physical movement with the mindset work of self-belief, body confidence, and self-acceptance. Join host Whitney Lauritsen as she chats with the pair about their health and fitness journey, where they discuss body image, unhealthy dieting, and body comparison. You can have freedom in your journey towards health and wellness. Tune in to learn how to practice and positively embrace fitness in your life.
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Unlearning Restriction & Practicing Self-Acceptance
I have two special guests that are in the same location, and they are sisters, which is special to me. I told these two beautiful women, Emma and Carla about how it resonated with me because I have a sister that I am very close to. I wish that she would work with me as these two sisters do. I feel a little envious of that dynamic because my sister lives far away from me on the other side of the United States. I only get to see her about once a year, and she has a completely different career that is very involved. When I do see her, it is these little nuggets of time.
To be able to sit with my sister and do an episode feels like the most amazing thing. I am curious, how long have the two of you been working together? Do you consistently feel like this is a positive experience or are there a lot of dynamics as being sisters that you have to work through as business partners?
We started officially working together on this business, The MerryMaker Sisters, back in 2013 but we have been so close our whole lives. We did start many businesses from age five. You were 5, Carla, and I was 7 or 8. We started selling friendship bracelets on the street. We were those sisters that were friends, although we were three years apart. It wasn’t like I was this big sister who got annoyed by her little sister. I always was very welcome, “Come hang out with me, Carla.” Even when my friends were there, I wanted her there, whereas a lot of my friends would brute their little sisters or brothers out of the room. I remember that vividly. I was like, “My sister stays.” It is amazing to work together.
Whenever anyone asks us, “What is the best thing about your business?” We always say, “The fact that we get to do it together,” and that is why we feel lucky as well. We all know with business and anything, there is a lot of hard work involved. There are a lot of action steps that you have to take but we get to do it together. We have this shared forever history for me. It makes it special. Even when we were in our teens, Emma got me my first job at a sandwich shop. She had a sandwich shop job then she got me a job at the sandwich shop. She then moved to an event center and got me a job at the event center.
I went to a corporate government job after that, and then I got her a job at the corporate government job. We were in those government jobs, and then we realized we hated these jobs. We then started the blog. We quit those jobs together on the same day to jump into this full-time. This sister thing is an ongoing partnership.
It is almost like you are twins. You have that dynamic that it seems like a lot of twins who are close to each other have. Do you have other siblings?
We have an older brother. We are not as close but when we were kids, we were all very close. We were never as close with our brother as this. We did everything together. It is different from a sister-brother partnership because Emma and I had so many similarities. We liked similar things. We played tennis together. We did swimming together. We did everything together. It was really special. Even when we would hang out with our mom, you know how some moms take each kid separately and do special things? Whenever we did special things, it was always together. We loved that. It was special.
It is interesting hearing you share this and thinking about what I can relate to with versus what I cannot. My sister and I are six years apart. You are about three years apart. I feel like the dynamic based on your age difference can shift a lot of things. That is likely what happened with my sister and me but we did do so much together as a family and that makes such a big difference. As you mentioned with your mom, feeling like you are treated equally and getting the same experiences makes a big difference. While I did experience a lot of that, I also saw the contrast.We're taught that exercise is only for external transformation. Click To Tweet
To dive into a subject matter, we are going to get into this episode about body confidence. My sister and I have very different body shapes. A challenge that I had was it always felt like my sister was praised for being thin. The more I look at definitions of what it means to be thin, and I still believe I qualify as thin. I don’t have a body size that even counts as mid-size. I have always felt mid-sized because I have been a medium clothing size girl. I believe mid-size, at least in the US, is size 10 or 12, maybe on the lower side and up. I have never worn clothing of that size but there is a big contrast because my sister is somebody who has never had to watch her weight.
In adulthood, I have seen her get nervous about putting on some extra pounds but when we were little, I would hear messaging from either my family or other people that we knew about the differences between our bodies. That almost created a bit of jealousy for me, even as an older sister. You were describing the dynamics like how the older sister might be annoyed with my younger sister.
I do not think I was annoyed with her. I think I felt envious like, “It is so easy for her because she has got a smaller frame.” It was sad because other people pointed that out. When you are young, hearing this messaging of people reaffirming like, “You are larger. You have to work harder to get this body size.” Much of your work is centered around body confidence, which was the reason, beyond the sisterhood, that I wanted to chat with you.
You work around helping people feel more confident but also not making the workouts specifically around the generic superficial body transformation but more around the internal transformation that yoga, Pilates, and other types of fitness can give. Did the two of you ever get into comparison traps between your bodies?
Yeah, definitely. Now we help each other but for a lot of our life with our exercise and our diets, it was more like a competition sometimes. It was more like if I found out Carla had done a workout, I would be like, “I need to do a workout or Carla had started a diet. I need to do a diet now.” Carla, you carried a bit of extra weight compared to me. It was not pointed out. I cannot recall anyone ever talking about being like, “Emma is thinner than Carla.” No one ever said that but as an example, I would notice. I would compare myself to my sister and be like, “I have this stomach. I can grab this fat roll.”
I remember doing things like creating donuts with my stomach and being like, “Why do I have these?” My mom would say things, “It’s puppy fat. You are growing.” It was never said, “Emma is better or prettier,” or anything like that. I noticed that I was different. As you grow up, you are surrounded by messages in the media, magazines, and movies. We grew up in the ‘90s and the early 2000s. The beautiful ideal body was like the waist, super thin, with no butt, no boobs, and like a coat hanger. The clothes hung off you. I always thought that is what I should aspire to have. I should be thinner.
That was my first ever journey from age 11 all the way out until 22. I was on a diet. I always wanted to lose weight. I was never thin enough, even when I lost 11 kilos quickly in 12 weeks, which is when I lost my period. I got sick. That was the catalyst for so much as well, that diet that we did together. Even that was not enough. Even losing 11 kilos, which is 20 pounds in 12 weeks, was not enough. I wanted to be thinner.
Many, especially women, can relate to that. Thinking that thinness equals beauty and something we should aspire to be because it is called better than bigger. We have had to unlearn all of that. Our mission now is to help other people unlearn all of that because it is simply not true. It is an idea. It is a goal that is designed to keep us in our boxes, in our cages, and so self-absorbed by the way that we look that we forget about everything else happening in the world and all of our other goals and dreams.
I developed an eating disorder. I was about age seventeen. I was bulimic. That continued in secret for many years, up until about 22, I finally stopped. Although, I was always thin. I can reflect and look back. I had a great body in terms of what society would say but I still thought I needed to lose weight. I had that whole body dysmorphia thing. I would look at any fat that overhung my pants and be like, “That is disgusting.” I think, “If only I knew the truth back then, I would have saved myself so much pain and heartache.”
All those times that I hurt myself, making yourself vomit is not healthy. That is very unhealthy for the mind and body. If I had known the truth, I would not have gone through that. It felt normal though because I had friends around me who did the same. It felt very, “This is what I should be doing.” As a teenager, our brains aren’t developed properly either.
You not only are very influenced by what you are reading and seeing but you are not thinking rationally either. I was keeping it in secret. I didn’t tell Carla and my mom. If I had told them, they would have helped me. They would have been like, “What are you doing? We need to help you,” but I kept it very secret. It is so amazing to finally begin and to unlearn this stuff. It is completely life-changing, and it has been an amazing experience for us to do it together.
It has been very helpful too because if you have this very negative relationship with your body image, you fall back on that. It took many years to learn this stuff. It takes many years to unlearn it. Every now and again, I still fall back and think, “I probably should do this. I should not eat pasta tonight. I better be careful,” and then it is like, “You are okay. If you want to go out and eat pasta, let’s eat the pasta. Let’s enjoy life because this life is a one-time thing.” When you realize you are spending hours of every day or years of your life focused on what you look like and your weight, you are like, “I am missing out on so much life.”
As you talked a little bit about your evolution as sisters in the work that you are doing, quitting the jobs, and this inspiration you have had. What has it been like working in this space and especially with the intersection with fitness that seems to be so focused on losing weight and physical transformation? Looking back over a similar history that I had with binge eating, purging, and different types of dieting.
Now working on unlearning those things is really hard. One thing that I noticed is how much I would not only focus on food and restriction or being obsessed with everything that I ate, the fitness side of it, those thoughts like, “I need to work out to burn off these calories,” we hear so much. “I need to work out to look a certain way.” That is everywhere.
You mentioned the ‘90s and the early 2000s. Growing up in that same time, I look back now, and it feels nuts but sadly, it seems like trends are going back towards that. With women like the Kardashians, everyone is pointing out how their figures are slimming down. They are no longer these voluptuous women with large behinds. They are now becoming very skinny and waify. People are saying like, “Are we going back to the ‘90s and early 2000s times?” Part of that messaging is all these workouts that you need to do to get that shape. What has it been like for you two to run a business in the midst of all of that messaging that never seems to go away?
When you talk about it, you realize how BS. It is like, “Is there another way?” The good thing is there is another way. We do not have to work out that way. We do not have to exercise in that way. We are taught that exercise is only purely to lose weight and only for external transformation. When you start to learn more about exercise and what it does to our minds, our mental health, our brains, and all the internal functionality of our body, physiology, hormone system, cardio, and respiratory. All of the systems benefit from exercise and movement. It’s not just one kind of movement. It is any movement. Exercise is a great thing that we can all do.If you can stop judging someone else, slowly but surely you can stop judging yourself. Click To Tweet
When we first started our business in 2013, it was inspired by something called the paleo diet. I am sure everyone has heard of that before. We found the paleo diet to be something that helped us back then. It helped us overcome our obsession with dieting, even though we were on technically another diet but we didn’t really think we were back then.
Time passed on, and we built a business around that. We came to the point where we realized that this is still diet culture. We are still preaching to follow this way of this regimented way of eating. You will, in turn, be a better human like, “Eat this way, and you will be better. Eat this way, and you will lose weight.” That was pretty much what we were promoting, even though we did not mean to.
When we realized that, we were like, “We do not want to be part of this ever again. We want nothing to do with this. We would never want to inspire someone to feel the way that we felt for so many years.” It was at that point that we also rediscovered yoga and Pilates. We started yoga and Pilates with our mom back when we were teens. I was twelve when I started with mom.
We moved states, and we started yoga and Pilates. We ended up doing our teacher training because we loved it so much. We wanted to learn more. At that same time, where we realized we were still so encapsulated in diet culture, we did our teacher training. We are like, “We can make a pivot here. We do not have to stay working on that stuff that brings us no joy anymore. We do not love to do that. Why don’t we build something with yoga and Pilates?”
At the same time, we discovered this practice called self-acceptance. It was mind-blowing. I could not believe that there was this practice I could bring into my life that could help me accept myself just as I am with no changes required externally. I was allowed to accept my body as it is right here, right now. I saw Emma practice this and embody self-acceptance and self-love before I did. I still look back then. I was like, “How is she doing that? How does she accept herself? This is unheard of. Don’t we have to be on a diet?” I remember thinking that and questioning it. I asked you like, “How did you do it? What are you doing?” She was like, “Do this.”
I put a Post-it up on my old mirror and wrote it in my diary, “I accept myself just as I am.” It was when I dived deep into my yoga teacher training, and you were in your Pilates. You were coming and doing the yoga classes. We decided to dedicate our movement to practicing self-acceptance at the same time. The reason why this works so well for us is that exercise used to be the polar opposite. Exercise used to be a self-loathing tool. Exercise is we would go to the gym, count down the minutes, and build up the calories that we have burned, “I have bought 200 calories. That means I can eat a piece of cake. I ate a pizza last night. I better do a double workout.” That is what exercise was.
We instead dedicated our movement practice to practicing self-acceptance like, “I am in this Warrior II. I am accepting my body right here, right now. I am enough. Here I am in my body. I am present. I am breathing. This feels good.” It was a movement practice that made us feel good in our bodies and minds. When we did that, we were like, “This is powerful. We should share this.” That is how we developed MerryBody.
We decided then and there that we would never do a before and after photo. We are not promoting our business like all the other fitness businesses. We are not about that. We are not counting calories. We are not doing weigh-ins or measurements. We are not doing that. We are not talking about people’s bodies with like, “Let’s work that muffin top. Let’s work those saddlebags. Let’s get rid of these floppy arms.”
We are not talking about our bodies in a degrading way because our bodies are amazing. Our bodies take us on life’s journey. That is what we should be celebrating when we move our bodies with our exercise practice. We should be grateful. We should be celebrating, “This is amazing. Here I am.” That was the beginning of MerryBody.
I feel like we are just getting started because that was another thing that drew me to your work. It is not about using degraded terminology. I live in Los Angeles. Here, it is the hub of prioritizing beauty and fitting into the status quo of what a body should look like. When I was going to in-person yoga classes, I was constantly battling that mentality. Especially the studio that I went to had a few different locations. I was going for a year. I loved it because they had very high-quality spaces.
Everything felt clean and beautiful. It is a nice environment to be in. The instructors were good. They were some of the best instructors I have ever had. I felt like they pushed me to all sorts of great levels but I would often find that at one point in most of the classes I went to, they would say something related to like, “Remember why you are doing this. You are earning that cupcake you can have later.”
There were these slip-in terminologies. There would also be people all around me that would show up to class wearing super expensive yoga outfits and looking really pretty that most people there would fall into the thin category. Sometimes I would be nervous about going to class because I felt like I had to get dressed up to go work out. I would worry that people will notice that I was a bigger body size than them.
I am not even that big but it is that comparison trap of being around somebody who is a few sizes smaller. If you are in the minority of your body size, it can feel uncomfortable. That, in itself, takes you out of the experience. To your point, you are there not just to “transform your body,” but the incredible benefits that yoga has on your brain, learning to be present, grateful, and breathe.
If you are so caught up in looking in the mirror all the time and weighing yourself in between classes to see how your body changed and measuring yourself, that was something about my yoga experience that I felt sad about. I have not been to an in-person class since COVID. I started doing online classes but I even found with those that I did not like turning my camera on.
The classes I was taking were with my favorite yoga instructor from in-person. She would do her virtual classes on Zoom. At first, at the very beginning of the pandemic, when she was doing that, I was like, “I am used to this.” My camera was on. She would use that to tell you how you could adjust yourself. It was great because you were getting the same feedback that you would in person.
Over time, I started not to want to turn my camera on. That took me away from getting the adjustments I needed. That reason was, over the pandemic, my body started to change, and I felt self-conscious about it. What you just shared is a reminder of how we get caught up in these superficial evaluations of our bodies, and the comparison trap is stealing from us. I am not able to improve my yoga posture because I am too nervous about being judged for the way I look in my yoga outfit.The whole reason we want to be present is to release the suffering in our mind. Click To Tweet
You are not even allowed to enjoy your yoga and even the improvement. Who cares? You are not even allowing yourself to enjoy it. It is like, “I am allowed.” When we are talking about this comparison, I can totally relate to that. I know Emma can. We had had so many conversations about the judgment of others. It is powerful when you realize that if you can start judging someone else gradually, slowly but surely, you start to judge yourself. Anything we are seeing in someone else, like if we are like, “I am smaller than them. I am bigger than them. They have got a bigger butt than me. I have got a smaller butt. I have got this. I have got that.”
If you can learn how to rein that in and be like, “I am going to stop myself right there. No more judgment,” slowly but surely, you will stop judging yourself as well, which means the comparison trap that we fall into will also stop because comparison is just judgment. That is what it is. That is what we are doing, “That is better. That is not as good. That is different. I am not like that. I am like that.” If we can learn to rein that in, then we can release that hold that we have on the comparison.
The only way to do that is to know that we are doing it. We have to be aware of our thoughts. This is where yoga, Pilates, meditation, and our presence practices, so things that bring us into the present, can help us. The whole reason why we want to become present is so we can release the suffering of what we create ourselves in our minds.
When you talked about the teachers mentioning the calories, the burning, and we have been to classes where they say, “Work that muffin top. Work that pouch.” We are like, “What the hell is even a pouch?” It is your tummy. “What the heck? Why are you calling my tummy a pouch?” That creates an environment of comparison because then you think, “Do I have a pouch? Does she have a pouch? She definitely has a pouch.”
You are there doing your Pilates, “Tap, lift, keep on breathing. It feels good. I am thinking about a pouch. I am thinking about a belly that looks like a pouch. I think I am fat.” Those are the words that are going on in your mind as you are moving your body. Instead of allowing this time to be present and grateful and enjoy exercise or have a workout, it can be just that, “I am going to do this to work out.” It is this self-monologue, this self-talk of, “I am fat and ugly. I need to change.”
Make sure you add on like, “I am fat and that is a bad thing.” We had got to add that on as well because since when was having some fat a bad thing? That frustrates me. It is not that we are an anti-weight loss. We are all for weight loss. We just care more about how you do it. We are all about health. You can be super healthy and thin and healthy and bigger. You can also be super unhealthy and thin, and unhealthy and bigger. It is not like if you are fat equals unhealthy. That is not true. In some cases, it is. It is the same way when you are thin. This is not the definitive answer. There is so much more to our health than what we look like. There is so much more to our health than the weight on the scales.
When we begin to realize this, that really helps the unlearning because we grew up thinking, “Thinner is healthy.” It is completely not true, especially when you are forever eating 99% fat-free stuff filled with chemicals or maybe you are counting your calories and drinking diet shakes, as opposed to eating meat, veggies, and avocados. They are high in calories but are good for you. When you begin to unpack all this stuff is when you can step forward and move through this mess of diet culture and begin to see with clearer eyes, heart, and mind of the truth. All this stuff is built on making money. It is marketing. This s*** is designed to make us feel bad, so we buy the product.
I am curious, on that note, for you running a business, knowing that so much of that marketing drives sales. How do you drive traffic to your business and get people to sign up for things if you are not using those tactics?
We knew that this is going to be harder. We knew that we were not going to build or grow as fast as we could. If we ever relied on those traditional marketing techniques of a fitness business, I know that we would have had more members. I do not think that we would have the membership that we would have of these people who are like family. We are so close with our members, and they are very aligned with us. We never have any issues with our members because they know what they are getting in for. We tell them what we are about. The easiest way that we have found to talk about MerryBody is to tell people what we are not.
That is exactly what we were saying, “We don’t do before and after this. We don’t do measurements. We don’t talk about burning calories. We don’t make you feel like you are degrading yourself in your workout. The reason why that works is that people are getting sick of this BS. Like you and me, you are sick of it when you go to your yoga class, and then suddenly, you are in this bliss zone. You are Zen.
You feel so good, and then they talk about a cupcake, and you have to work it off in your Warrior II. You are like, “I was feeling really empowered in my Warrior II. Now I feel like I should look at my stomach and legs, and I do not like this. What is wrong with me?” It completely shifts the way that your workout was feeling into something that is not enjoyable anymore.
That makes you feel like crap. You are not the only one. We are not the only ones who have experienced that. Everyone I know who has gone to a gym has experienced a moment like that, where their instructor has made them feel worse about themselves. If we tell them, “We are not going to do that.” They go, “I did not know that even existed. Are you not going to make me feel like crap in my workout? Are you actually going to help me celebrate my body and help me feel more grateful? That sounds good. That sounds different. Let me give it a try.” We talk about that and our own experience, our story. Storytelling is the greatest way to talk about anything.
We are on a podcast. We all know that. That was the idea when we stepped into MerryBody. We had these solid boundaries where we weren’t going to cross these lines, and that also helped us in the way that we were going to market it. We knew what we weren’t going to do. Let’s focus on what we are going to do. That is sharing our story and telling people, “If you are sick of feeling that way, there is another way. You don’t have to work out like that. Your exercise can be completely different.” That is how we went about that.
You mentioned podcasting. What episodes and topics do people seem most interested in with your podcasts? That is always such an indicator of who is listening, who is paying attention to you, and also what they need. What have you learned about people through doing your own podcast?
We talk about so many different topics from one extreme to the other. I know a lot of topics around binge eating, enjoying exercise, and then also things like time management and becoming a morning person. Those things stand out in popular topics.
One of the most popular episodes is an interview with our friend, who is a psychologist, and that was specifically about body image. It is cool to get a psychologist’s understanding of this and how we were all created to think this way, and how we can unlearn it. That is a very popular one. It is very much the body image stuff. We have got an episode called The Pizza Episode.Food is no longer fat or skinny, good or bad. Click To Tweet
They are really popular because we are pretty much talking about how we went from restricting ourselves so much, going through restrictions then bingeing, to now being able to not think about what we eat. It is the freedom not to have to plan out your next meal, and feel anxious, stressed or guilty about what you have eaten prior. That is pretty amazing. To be able to share our story helps other people realize that they can unlearn that stuff too.
That pizza episode is one of my favorites because it was so huge. To go from years and years of dieting, all that restriction and promoting it, making it part of your business and your livelihood, believing in it, and then to have your beliefs turn upside down and then to be able to eat a pizza without feeling guilty was a massive shift for me. I know for you too, Carla, and to be able to share that with people and then get so many messages back from people to say that it really helped them. That was amazing.
Anything with a personal story always does create that attention and interaction, which is always cool. Even if it is not the most popular if you get more messages or more people telling of their stories is cool. We are in this online world but there is so much connection, although it might be us over here in Australia, you are over there in America. We are connecting, and it is a beautiful thing.
I love that you bring up the pizza. I was thinking earlier when you talked about Paleo because I have been on a plant-based vegan diet since 2003. That, for a while, was a huge part of my identity. Over the years, especially when I was heavily creating content on YouTube, I did a series about weight loss. It was about me trying to understand why it was hard for me to lose weight because it has always been a struggle. I went through all these books and looked at all these different angles. I look back on that series and am like, “I hope I did not do any damage.” I still had my natural way of being honest about my own experiences but I wonder sometimes if I was focusing too much on the weight side.
Noticing other things I did, and this is popular in Australia, too. I am not sure how much you know about the fruitarian diet, 80/10/10. I remember in 2011 or 2012, when I did that, there were a lot of big Australian creators at the time. They were always talking about that way of eating. It was a very big trend on YouTube. I did that for a few months. During that time, I thought it was the greatest thing.
Is that just eating fruit?
Yes. I think you could still have some veggies but it was very heavy on watermelon, mangoes, oranges, avocado, and tomatoes, and all of the technically fruit plants and all that stuff. It was fascinating. There were times where I enjoyed it because it did get me back into eating and appreciating fruit. I have never been a big fruit person, except for berries. I do not eat a lot of fruit.
It was fun to indulge in all those foods and learn about the nuances and different types but it was certainly restrictive. A lot of people developed disordered eating as a result of that big trend. I swung in a completely different direction and experimented with the keto way of eating. I was doing it plant-based but I found something that you said about Paleo eating earlier. Correct me if I misunderstood but I found that by going keto, I started to eat foods that I considered bad like oil.
There are a lot of people that eat plant-based that are very anti-oil. For years, I was afraid to eat olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil. I was afraid to eat too much fat because the 80/10/10 was all about high carb, low fat. I was trained through all this messaging that that was bad to eat a lot of nuts or bad to eat avocado. When I did the keto vegan diet, I was like, “This is the greatest thing. I could eat as much coconut oil as I want.”
I felt all this freedom, even though it was a restrictive diet, and that helped me move to where I am, where I have a much more intuitive way of eating. Your pizza story reminded me of that too because it is so hard to find a good vegan keto pizza. It exists but I also am blessed to have food sensitivities. The vegan keto pizza would have ingredients I cannot comfortably eat.
Does it actually taste like pizza?
First of all, you are eating vegan cheese. It depends if you think that it tastes like cheese. Most vegan cheeses are technically keto but the trouble was the crust. I could go on and on about all these experiments with crust. I also had a moment where I started to find the things I enjoyed about keto and keep them in my life but add in things that I was not eating rice.
I started to have some rice occasionally. I started to eat some more quinoa. I started to add in chickpeas, for example. They can be added to the crust. I was like, “I can find a balance and move through these different ways of eating that I have tried in a more intuitive approach. If I want to have a high-carb pizza, I do. I am not going to make a big deal out of it.” It was almost as if the restrictive eating helped me get there. Did you find that at all with paleo or did you completely go away from paleo? Are you not at all in the paleo way of eating?
What restrictive eating and these different diets show is you move from one restrictive diet to another. When you make the switch, it feels very free because now you are allowed items that you used to not be allowed but then you realize, “It is still restrictive.” If you continue on that path of switching diets, it is still going to come to that point where you feel restricted. For me, letting go of the term diet completely and connecting to, “I can eat what I want and choose the foods that nourish me and know that my body is different from your body.” It is all part of it. Our history of food has got us to the point where we are but diets are terrible.
I do not believe in them anymore. They completely suck. They make you very obsessed. They make you obsessed with food, and that is not healthy. I am with an Italian man, so hence why pizza and pasta have become part of our lives. It has been such an amazing thing for both of us because the way Italian people relate to food is so different from Australia and America. We take the good stuff and then ruin it with the Italian food but we do not take the magic of the culture and the love around food.
That is what our food is missing. It is missing love. It is missing the social aspect, the connection, and the family. When you add this to your food and the freshness of produce when you care more about where it is from, this shifts everything, and food no longer becomes, “This is going to make me fat or skinny. It is going to make me feel good or bad.”There is more we can give to the world than being thin. Click To Tweet
It becomes this new layer and level to life and love, which is an amazing experience. If you can somehow tap into that or discover it yourself, that is a beneficial way to move from the obsessiveness the dieting to a place of enjoying food and remembering what is life for? What are we doing here on this planet? It is not about what we look like. It is certainly not to be thin. I am sure there is more from each and every one of us that we can give out to this world that we can create or help people feel good. Just create, think, and live instead of being obsessed.
In the past, I was thinking about and planning every meal. I was thinking about yesterday’s meal, even though it was today and last week’s meal. There is so much more to life. If you can think about the time you spend thinking about food, which we did this calculation one time. It was an eye-opening thought. It was like, “I spent three years of my life thinking about food because I have been so obsessed with it. All I do is think about food every day, all day.” That made me realize like, “I do not want to keep living this way. Is there another way?” There is.
You can wake up and not even think about breakfast. Go on with your day, and then suddenly, you are hungry. You open the cupboard, and then you get the food out but that is the first time you have thought about it. Instead of me being calculating, looking at my app like, “How many calories? Should I go for a run before or do my workout after? I am not sure. Now I have done that. How many snacks can I have? I am going to have an apple and then maybe add a teaspoon of peanut butter because that is this many calories. I can definitely do that. I have already done my workout, so I do not need that anymore. Now I am going to go do that.” That is what your life is.
There are also extensions to that. It is like, “I can’t eat after 7:00 PM. Now I need to eat in this small window of time. I am fasting. I fast until this hour. Only black coffee until then.” It comes to a point where even though these “healthy” things become totally unhealthy because you are forever stressing and thinking about them. They are not healthy at all because you allow no space to think about anything else. You have less space for love, for big ideas, and to be doing nothing. We do not even have time to do nothing because we are thinking about eating before 7:00 PM.
I will talk about my partner again, the Italian, because they eat so late. Italians eat at 9:00 PM. It is crazy. That’s mad but I was very paranoid at the start. I was like, “I could not possibly eat past 7:00. I know that is bad. I am going to put weight on.” That was a big like, “Is that actually true? I do not think so. Maybe I will digest a bit later but an hour later is going to be okay.” The 9:00 PM thing, maybe when in Italy, that makes sense. Not here in Australia because I am in bed by 10:00 PM.
When Emma was describing that, it made me feel stressed, and that then reminded me, “Let’s talk about stress for a moment.” We are forever living in our sympathetic nervous system in this Western world, which is our fight or flight. We are forever feeling the cortisol rise, the adrenaline rise. Initially, we feel really productive when this happens. When I am checking my emails and feel really stressed and like, “Look how fast I am typing.” My breath is not steady. It is very into my chest, and I am feeling stressed. We are also feeling that about our food. We are feeling that when we are driving, have got the red light, and we are late.
All of these things are causing stress in our mind but also the body is responding because it thinks we are in danger. It is like, “Let me give you some cortisol. Let me give you some adrenaline. Here you go.” It is not healthy to be living in fight or flight all the time. That is what is becoming more and more common. We need to learn to switch on the parasympathetic nervous system. This is why practices like yoga, Pilates, and meditation are so powerful. We learned to breathe properly. We learn to breathe deeply. We learn to breathe in and out through the nose.
That action alone turns on the parasympathetic nervous system. Our rest, digest, and rejuvenate. This is where our cells can recreate. We can’t do that in fight or flight, even with the obsession with food, and all of this thinking around food switches on that fight or flight, which then, therefore, we can’t even digest. We are eating, and our body is not even digesting this food properly. It is very counter-intuitive like this obsession with food. It is not allowing the body to do anything properly or allow any joy at all. We are not functioning properly and not enjoying this one life that we have because we are obsessed with the food that we think we should be eating.
It is fascinating because it has become so complex. What you are pointing out here is how food can be joyful and simple like exercise but we have added so much complexity to it all because of a capitalistic mentality of all these people trying to think of how they can make money off of us. They make us afraid. They keep us stressed. They make us think, “We have to go do this to relieve the stress.” What if the things that we think are making us feel good are just adding more stress to us? Many of us get caught up in such a loop.
It is interesting timing this conversation because as of the day that I am recording this with you, I am going on a retreat. I am so excited because I feel like the timing of talking with you is perfect because as I am trying to prepare myself for leaving and traveling a far distance and getting to a new place, all of that is causing anxiety and stress for me. The whole retreat is designed around realigning, disconnecting, reconnecting with yourself, and tuning in. We are doing breathwork. I feel like the two of you would love it. I wish I could invite you spontaneously to come to join me.
As I was thinking through this experience, my goal was like, “How can I turn off some of these stresses and not rush myself to get to that point?” I am eager for it. Even if I got a few hours of that blissful experience, as I was thinking through that, I felt sad because I have a great life. I feel happy, grateful, and at peace most days.
What if that version of joy and peace that I am experiencing is layered in with all this stress that I do not even know I am experiencing because I had become so used to it? That is part of the problem. As you were talking, I am thinking, “I spend a lot of time thinking about food.” I have for many years, especially since I went plant-based. It required me to think about a lot of things and plan.
When I found out about my food sensitivities, I almost found myself in this place of sadness like, “I can’t eat that because it is going to mess with my gut.” Part of that is wondering how much of that is imagined. We are told over and over again about what foods are going to make us feel good. What if we have developed all these beliefs around food that are not even true but now our body is responding to our thoughts?
We almost lose complete touch with ourselves. We do not even know what the reality is because we are getting all these external messages that are for profit. What is your advice to people about getting into the core of themselves so that they can have more intuitive experiences with food and movement and quiet all those external voices?
It is not simple at all because everyone is so different. There are requirements at times in life where you can’t eat certain things because it will make you sick. I got found out that I had a gluten intolerance, and that got us into paleo. Fast forward, I have done another blood test. I do not have gluten intolerance anymore, and I am eating gluten. What does that show? We have many doctor friends, and they are all very different. You talk to one doctor, and it is completely different from another. One doctor will say, “Too many people are cutting out gluten, and it is completely not good for them. They shouldn’t be cutting this whole food group out. They can eat it.” It is marketing.
There is another doctor who says, “Cut gluten. It is bad for you.” There is different advice left, right, and center. It is important to try and tune in. Do not ignore medical advice. We will never ever say, “Listen to us.” Always listen to your doctor. If you don’t like what they say, get a second opinion. There is no harm in that. Get a third if you want. If you are not feeling right, always seek out that expert help but also question them as well sometimes. If you feel like the answer isn’t helping you, go get some more advice, and question their advice. Remember, we are all human, and there are new developments all the time in science.Obsessing over food gives us less space for love. Click To Tweet
Imagine what people used to do many ago. It is completely different than now. The 99% fat-free thing, fat is good for us. We need fat. Oil is good for us. Not vegetable oil but olive oil. Olive oil is life. In the Mediterranean diet, I love olive oil so much. I am drizzling over everything. It is definitely about questioning and questioning your beliefs too because what created those beliefs? Was it a business that was making millions of dollars selling your product? Maybe. This is the world we live in, unfortunately. We can’t change it.
It is not necessarily all bad. Capitalism is bad. It is good too. It just is. If you are in it, let’s navigate it. Let’s question it. Let’s get connected to ourselves. Meditation, yoga, Pilates, and breathwork are the tools that help us connect. Give yourself time to look inwards and take notes but not too long because sometimes we reflect too long and beat ourselves up about it. We cannot change the past but if we want to make a change, we can. We have to take that action forward. It is about questioning the beliefs. It is questioning, raising awareness, getting the support you need, tuning in to how you feel, and realizing that what you thought was the answer might not be the answer.
At the moment that we questioned the time we spent thinking, worrying, and planning about food, we realized that we wanted to do something more with our lives. There is more to life than thinking about food. That was a big realization for us. It sounds strange but I know that that was our truth. We were obsessed. We would only think and talk about food.
There was very little time and space for anything else. It was that realization that we wanted something more in life. We wanted to experience life. I didn’t want to be thinking about food all the time. I didn’t want to feel restricted. I didn’t want to say no to my friend’s 28th birthday party because I was worried about the menu. I wanted to say yes.
I wanted to go, eat the food, and not worry about if they were going to have grilled chicken and vegetables for me because if I go off my diet one day, it was going to be the end of the world. It is questioning, “How do you want to live your life?” How we live our days is how we live our weeks, our months, years, and our lives. Everything we do each and everyday matters.
If you want more space for relaxation, start a five-minute meditation practice every second day. Adding those five minutes will make a big change in your life. If you want to start running, if you like to run, I do not like running, then schedule a 1-kilometer run. Do that. That will make a big difference because how we spend our days is very important.
If you reflect on your day and think, “I was obsessing about my food. I do not want to live a life like this.” You have the awareness. That is the first step. Now we need to work out, “How can we make a slight change? How can we add something different, which will take over the time that we usually spent thinking about food?” Sometimes it is not about taking away.
Sometimes it is not about being like, “I have got to stop thinking about food.” Sometimes it is about, “What else can I add that distracts me from this, which is more joyful, which is more fun, which is new, so I am learning something?” That can also help because sometimes it is focused on restricting and taking out. In fact, maybe we just add-in and then crowd it out.
It is so fascinating where my mind is going as you are sharing all of this. I am looking back over all these different messages, whether it was from YouTubers or other influencers. This show marked this big transition I made from being seeped into influencer culture and into the health and wellness realm. Being surrounded by so many people that were promoting these ways of living that you are pointing out as being not the answer that we thought they were at the time. As the world is noticing and understanding how influencers monetize, sadly, a lot of that work is based on their personal gains. All three of us have experienced saying things in the past that we now no longer align with and wondering like, “Did we cause damage to people?”
I feel like I am on this mission now to change paths and get more in alignment, not just with myself but with the messaging that I am passing on to others. I love that advice about questioning things like what does your doctor says that really aligns with you and not always taking that at face value. Getting some different opinions and taking that all into consideration.
Unfortunately, it also can become very confusing but the other answer that you are revealing here is it is just a big experiment. That intuitive way of eating and movement as well is tuning into yourself and asking, “Does this feel good? Is this how I want to spend my day?” Tapping into that joyful purpose. If you ask most people, they are struggling with their self-esteem and confidence.
They never feel good enough, and deep down, they would love to feel that. They want the relief because it is so stressful to go about every day worrying if you did a good enough job, if you look good enough, and are you working out enough? Are you wearing the right clothes? The list could go on and on. I felt that is so constraining. That makes me feel miserable. When I do go downstairs and open up the cabinets of the refrigerator and pick out the food that most appeals to me at that moment, it does feel free. When I move my body, I do not have to do it all the time.
In fact, as much as I have heard this messaging of a certain amount of movement, you should have every day. I know there are benefits but if I do not feel like moving my body, it might be causing more harm than good to force myself to do something that I do not want to do. I find not having a schedule or regimen works best because personally, I like the fluidity of life. I am curious about you two. Do you have a lot of structure in your life? Do you advise on that or have more of a free-flowing, intuitive way of approaching your days?
We love to work out in the mornings. We find that when we do that, we set ourselves up for a great day. I find when I feel accomplished after my workout, I have this great sense of motivation and momentum for the rest of my day. In saying that, I do not work out every day or every morning. That is my preference. I, too, welcome in fluidity. It always has a draft. You have this idea like, “That is what I will do,” but if something comes up like if my friend asks me to go for a coffee, I am going to go for coffee. I am totally going to do that. I am going to skip this workout. It is okay.
When you release the idea of diet culture and the regular fitness culture within diet culture, you allow that fluidity and that flexibility and realize, “If I skip a day, it is not the end of the world.” That is not going to be the worst thing for you at all. When you say yes to things like social occasions or you are flexible and fluid, it does welcome this sense of freedom. You are like, “I am not attached to this. This is wonderful. I like to work out in the morning but I did not have to. I am choosing to.” That is a really great way to feel. As soon as it feels like a chore or something that you have to do and not something that you get to do or that you are looking forward to doing, you are not going to want to do it ever.
I am all for wanting to do your workout. That is why we are also very passionate about each individual finding a way of moving that they enjoy. We teach yoga, Pilates, and meditation, not everyone is going to love that movement. Some people will. Do it. If you do not like it, don’t do it. Do the thing that you like. I think that that is another really big uncovering of diet culture because we are told, “HIIT workouts are the best. You have to do sprints. You have to do two twenty minutes of meditation, morning and night. That is the best.” We are told all these things but what if we just did what we enjoyed?Let's make food and fitness something we choose instead of what we have to do. Click To Tweet
It is the same thing with the food, isn’t it? There are so many messages throughout our whole lives of what exercise is the best one to do and how long and if it is every day if it is 3 or 2 times a week doing that. We like to keep it simple. My goal is to add movement to my every day. Each day, that movement might look a little bit different. I would do Pilates at least 3 to 4 times a week at home. I might do one yoga session a week. I will do walks. You wake up and see what you feel. If it is a beautiful sunny day, I am going to go and walk by the beach because that is amazing. If it is a rainy day, it is the perfect day to roll out the mat. Do some Pilates, do some yoga.
Some days, I wake up and don’t want to exercise because I may be sore or busy. I have a full-packed day. That is okay. You are going to skip it. As an individual, it is important to be honest with yourself because we are two people who have had a history of exercise obsession. We have had to go the other way, where skipping a workout is a celebration for us but then other people I know, you cannot skip your workout every day. That is okay. In my mind, exercise will enrich your life. You will be healthier. Not just in my mind but scientifically as well.
As humans, we are not meant to be sedentary. We are meant to move. I am not telling you how to move. I am saying I love Pilates. She loves yoga. We teach that. You could try that. You might like it. Lots of benefits but if you hate it, that is okay. Go out and walk for twenty minutes. A twenty-minute walk every day, give yourself a day off a week, will change your life. If you go from no exercise to twenty minutes of walking a day, your life will change. Wait and see.
It is important, to be honest with yourself. Sometimes you might just realize, “I sit on the couch and do not get up because that is me. I am a lazy person.” Nothing against lazy people. I love to be lazy too. I love so much to sit on the couch and watch Netflix. That is a real joy of mine too. It’s fun, especially if you have a good show and you are like, “Please never end.”
Keep doing that but make sure it is not all the time. You can do whatever you want but if you do care about your health and the ongoings of your organs, your hormones, and all this, know that movement is good for you. Also, movement makes you happy. When you exercise, it releases oxytocin, dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin. What do these things do? They make us feel good. Exercise is the most underused form of antidepressant. It makes you happy. It is not me saying this. That is, scientists, smart people.
I love that about exercise being the most underused form of antidepressant. I am writing that down. It doesn’t sound like a familiar phrase.
You never really regret it when you go for that walk. You go for that walk and feel centered, more calm, and accomplished because you did some movement. You feel more clear-headed. Maybe you have come up with a great idea and felt stuck before, and now you have come up with the plan or solved a problem that you had. There are so many things that come when you step away from what you might have been doing before. You make a blip of goodness in your day. That is what exercise can be. That moment where you step away from the busyness and the planned-ness, and you move your body for the sake of the movement that is it.
This is the whole idea of what we teach, with MerryBody. When you do movement, and you haven’t been moving, your external body will transform. There are no ifs, no buts because if you are doing Down Dog every single day and you haven’t done that before, your arms are going to get stronger. Your core is going to get stronger. That is what happens when you do something that you have never done before to your body.
Your external body will transform. That is no ifs, no buts. We have got that ticked off. We do not even need to worry about it but what if movement could bring so much more to our lives? What if we could welcome in more vibrancy, energy, focus, calmness, groundedness, connection, compassion, kindness, and patience? All of these amazing feelings can be created through movement. The best thing to realize is that our movement is much more than just transforming this external shell. You are so much more than what you look like. That is the least cool thing about you. I want to know more. Tell me your dreams and your aspirations. Tell me what you are passionate about. That is more exciting.
Isn’t that the beauty of doing podcasts? There’s so much more about our voices and not about what we look like on Instagram. That’s why I’m drawn to it at this stage of my life, and everything that you shared is powerful. The two of you have many words of wisdom to share, and this overall positive energy that you exude feels so comforting and relieving to someone like me who is trying to unlearn all of that obsession, the diet culture, the hustle culture, and all of those things that have convinced us that we are not inherently worthy or enough. I am deeply grateful for the work that you do and your beautiful website.
For anyone else who wants to read it, you can do that at Wellevatr.com. We will link to their podcasts and their wonderful website, where you can get free workouts to try out. It is so appealing, and the messaging you have on there is beautiful. I am thrilled that you are doing that important work. I have one last question that feels like the most important question I have asked this entire time which is what are your favorite shows to watch on Netflix?
I feel like I have so many. I have watched many shows. You just finished Stranger Things.
I did watch Stranger Things. That show is so good. How do they make it that good?
I was shocked. I went into it begrudgingly and thought, “I am over this show. I do not care but I am just going to watch it for the hype.” By the end of season four, I was like, “I can’t wait for the next season whenever that comes out.”
I like all of the American cowboys, like the Western.
That is the last thing I would watch. I am so not interested in that.Exercise is the most underused form of antidepressant. Click To Tweet
What about Bridgerton?
I am going to download that to watch on the plane because I was trying to think like, “What shows will I watch on the airplane?” That is a show that I felt weird that I did not like but I only watched maybe two episodes. I have learned that you have to keep watching a lot of these shows. Two episodes are not enough. Do you know what show I gave a second try that I really enjoyed? It is a podcast show, Only Murders in the Building. Have you watched that?
That is Selena Gomez. I want to watch that. I will listen to that.
She might be a producer on it. It is about true crime podcasters. As fellow podcasters, I feel like it is worth watching. She plays a girl in a building where a murder happens. She, Steve Martin, and Martin Short all come together to start a podcast about true crime and solving the murder mystery in the building.
That sounds so good. I want to watch that. I have also started watching After Life with Ricky Gervais. The English show.
I tried that. I did not get into it.
He has got that weird English sense of humor. I appreciate that. I appreciate the subject matter. There are so many great shows. We always talk about this. Some people beat themselves up by watching too many shows. There is such a thing as too many but also, I feel like you can get a lot out of watching a great show because there is so much work that goes into these shows. There is art and cinematography. I love admiring the shots, the storyline, the narrative, and the character development. It is really fun. I know me, and Carla enjoy it to talk about it after. Don’t always think that Netflix is bad for you because sometimes, it is good. It sparks that creativity.
Sometimes you learn can learn things from there. There might be that spark of creativity or you might learn something about yourself when you see it in another character. There is a reason why we watch the shows, and it is because we get enjoyment but we can also learn from them as well.
On that note, you have to watch Only Murders in the Building because it is so well written. It is one of the better-written TV shows I have seen in a while but also their artistic choices in their shots. They do so many cool, unique things. I am not even going to share examples because they do not make any sense out of context. They take you out of the experience for a second. You are like, “I wasn’t expecting that. What does that mean? That is so cool.”
It was a brilliantly done show in a very unique way. You are destined to try this one out. I agree because it gives us the opportunity to bond. That excitement people have. It is a great thing to talk about but I absolutely agree that a good show is a lot like reading a great book. It is not exactly the same but you find yourself going on a journey.
Sometimes, we use that as a way to step out of our stress and challenges. If we can couple that with everything else that we have talked about, then like food, watching TV should not be this bad thing that you have to earn. If you feel like sitting down and binge-watching a show, find the joy in that. I certainly do. I still have plenty of time to enjoy meals, workout or move my body and have conversations.
People would be amazed how much TV I am able to watch and still do everything else that I do. I feel like if I wrote down my schedule, it would be a great example of how you can do so much and find all of that balance and that airy feeling. The word Merry, I am so glad you have integrated it into your business because it is an underused word.
It is so related to Christmas. It is not the best business name.
A lot of people think, “Are you a Christmas blog?” That was in the beginning but it has been so many years. It is that solid brand but new people are like, “What is that about?” To Merrymake means to bring joy to, so that was the beginning of the blog and because the blog brought much joy and we loved sharing. We can’t turn our back on that. That is the beginning. That is part of us, and it is special. I like it.
It has brought me much joy, so you have certainly accomplished that. I imagine others reading this show are going to be thrilled. Go to their Instagram, their wonderful website, and their podcasts. Thank you, Emma and Carla, for bringing me all of these positive emotions and giving me things to ponder and think about in terms of my relationship with food and movement. I am deeply honored to have you here and be in your presence.
Thank you so much for having us. We feel exactly the same way.
- The MerryMaker Sisters
- The Pizza Episode – The Get Merry Podcast Show Past Episode
- Podcast – The Get Merry Podcast Show
About Emma and Carla Papas
Emma and Carla Papas are founders of The Merrymaker Sisters and MerryBody Online Yoga, Pilates and Meditation Studio. The MerryBody Method combines physical movement with the mindset work of self-belief, body confidence, and self-acceptance. It’s a workout that makes you feel good about yourself. It’s a workout that makes you quickly realise: “I’m already amazing!”
Across their platform Emma and Carla reach over 200 000 every month with their blog, newsletter, social platforms, podcast and Online Classes.
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