GUEST POST: THE STORY OF MY BODY AND MY BUSINESS

How Brooke Ryssel came back after an accident and built a health and wellness company around body positivity

GUEST WRITER INFO

Brooke Van Ryssel is the owner/creator of My Body Fitness + Nutrition, Winnipeg’s first company dedicated to fitness, nutrition and body positivity.

She is a 25-year-old entrepreneur, fitness trainer and Registered Holistic Nutritionist.

In August 2016, I moved away from my partner, family and friends to study Holistic Nutrition in Vancouver. Everything was going swimmingly, I was enjoying school, excelling and working a part-time job at a group fitness gym.

Until one morning when I was driving to work.

On May 16, 2017, someone went right through a red light and hit my car on the drivers side at full speed resulting in another impact into a lamp pole.

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I can still remember the exact feelings I had after the second impact: shock and disbelief, quickly followed by panic when I couldn’t open my door and realized I was covered in glass.

Am I ok?

With the help of some pedestrians I was able to get out of the passengers side door. I tapped each foot into the cement to see if I was able to stay standing, and began touching my body from head to toe as if I was giving myself an airport style pat down. As I did this, I was crying hysterically and a paramedic started asking me questions and guiding me towards an ambulance.

The woman who hit me casually walked over, travel mug in hand, and said she was glad I was ok. I didn’t say anything because I barely heard her.

I was sitting in the ambulance when I felt the first tinge of pain under my left thigh. I reached my hand underneath my leg, and when I brought it back up it was covered in blood and little shiny shards of glass.

“So I guess I’m bleeding,” I said to the paramedic.

We got to the hospital where I was assessed and laid on the table bare butt up while a medical resident pulled shards of glass out of my leg.

It wasn’t until I got home that I realized that I could barely walk and my body hurt all over. It was a deep aching pain that seemed to be just as bad when I was moving as it was when I was still. I went upstairs and called everyone to tell them what happened.

I told my mom that I was fine and that no one needed to fly out from Winnipeg to take care of me. She didn’t listen to me and left that evening. I am grateful every single day that she came because I was completely useless and unable to do most things myself for the following three months.

I began my recovery with a chiropractor, physiotherapist and occupational therapist. I kept attending school and I was determined to not fall behind and have to delay my certification. I missed one day of school total — the day of the accident.

My life became riding in cabs to school, home and various rehabilitation appointments. I became a recluse; unable to do anything I had done before. I went from teaching 13 boot camp classes per week, working out three times on my own and walking everywhere to no activity at all.

For the first two months of recovery I couldn’t walk more than one block without the pain becoming too overwhelming or having my leg swell up like a water balloon.

It was in the darkest period of my recovery that the idea for my business came to me. My body had started to change as a result of my injuries and lack of activity. I looked in the mirror, and for the first time in a long time, I truly hated my body.

I felt so helpless, depressed and out of control. After about a week of this I thought to myself, “some people feel like this every single day and I need to do something about it.”

I began to acknowledge the privileges I had. First of all, I’m alive. I could’ve died in that car! Second, I am a certified trainer and almost a Registered Holistic Nutritionist with an education in injury recovery that I can use to help heal my body. Third, pain is temporary. There is an end in sight, and I’m a small-medium sized white woman living in Canada and am fairly able bodied.

Lastly, I was asking myself why I feel the way I feel about my body in the first place?

This is when I began what I now call the “research” phase of my body positivity journey. I began looking internally to discover where my feelings about my body were coming from. My body isn’t working normally and I have cuts and bruises, butI will heal. I have more squishy bits, cellulite, scars, and flaws…wait why are they flaws? Who told me that cellulite was a flaw?

Answer: the beauty industry, diet culture and other media. In other words, I realized that this was something that I was taught and not something that was true or factual. Flaws don’t exist; they were created by someone who was profiting off of me hating my body!

This was when I began to make the connection between body positivity and the health and fitness industry. This was very foreign territory because after working within the fitness industry in some form over the past six years body positivity had literally never come up. No one seemed to know how to make the connection between the two.

How can you love your body and still want to change it physically?

The truth is that body positivity and body health are completely interconnected; you cannot have one without the other. Why do you move and exercise your body? Is it because you are punishing yourself for something you ate yesterday or will eat today? Flipping the switch and changing your mindset on why you exercise and nourish your body is an incredibly difficult and slow process, which is yet another reason why the diet industry makes billions of dollars every year.

Since starting My Body Fitness + Nutrition in January 2018, I have been called a hypocrite, had someone say I’m “not a real trainer” and been told I am promoting obesity. While I strongly disagree with what was said, I can see where they are coming from, because this has never been done before.

Body positivity has been either completely absent or just unwelcome in the health and fitness industry for far too long. The focus is always on “get rid of your stubborn belly fat” or “get your summer body ready”. Essentially do this, change that, look like this person and then you’ll be happy.

You must start with accepting and loving yourself exactly as you are in order to make any kind of positive change in your life. It’s not about throwing away your goals, just changing your perspective. Why are you doing it? Take time to notice what your body is capable of, more than what it looks like, because in reality body positivity has nothing to do with what your body looks like. Every single inch of you is worthy of love, acceptance and celebration! You are worthy because you exist.

The tagline for My Body Fitness + Nutrition is Because I Love My Body. I am bringing the body positivity movement to the health and fitness world. My ‘aha’ moment, my calling, this was what I was meant to do!!

After this revelation my recovery became easier to deal with, and to this day even though I’m still living with chronic pain, I know that the car accident was meant to happen to me.

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The moment you realize that you were born naturally flawless, is the moment you become free. • Free to not only accept your body as it is, but love it completely. • Free to celebrate your body for all that it is and all that it can do. Rather than punishing it for what it is not. • Free from all the negative images, words, and thoughts thrown your way every day that tell you that you are not enough. You will know that you are more than enough. Don’t let the people who created flaws to profit off of you hating yourself win. Say it loud for the people in the back!! Flaws do not exist!! 🙌🏼💕 #mybody #becauseilovemybody #bodypositivity #bodypositive #bopo #inspiration #holisticnutrition #nutritionist #fitness #bodylove #selflove #selfcare #love #nofilter #mybodywpg #mybodyfitnessandnutrition #health #wpg #mb #supportlocal #lovelocal #wpgglow #flawsdonotexist #effyourbeautystandards #free

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What comes next for Brooke and her business

Can you imagine walking into a gym knowing that you are already flawless as you are? Walking in, knowing it is a truly judgment free environment where everyone is there sweating, laughing, learning all with the mindset that they are there because they love their body? Sound like a dream?

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🚨THE MOST IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT OF ALL🚨 Announcing the location of the first ever BODY POSITIVE GROUP FITNESS GYM!!!! Aka MY BODY FITNESS + NUTRITION!!!!!! Opening its doors FALL 2018😍😍🙌🏼🙌🏼 3655 ROBLIN BLVD, just past the Assiniboine Park + the Zoo. This has been a dream of mine for soooo long to create a space for ALL people and ALL BODIES to come together, sweat, laugh, and learn together all with the mindset that they are all there Because they Love their Bodies!! This space will host 30 minute Group Fitness classes 6 days a week Monday-Saturday, 8 classes per day, and 4 classes on Saturdays! As well my Nutritional consulting office for 1 on 1 holistic nutrition consultations! Both available for monthly memberships! Plus monthly community events hosted in the space on Sundays! Everything from workshops, Body Positive meet ups, fundraisers, other community building events and so much MORE!! To say I can’t wait to open and share this space and labor of love with all of you is an understatement!! I am ecstatic, and now it’s time to get to work!!!! I’ll be posting behind the scenes looks at the progress of the location on here so stay tuned!! And if you want a sneak peak inside check out my stories today!! My Body is bringing Body Positivity to the Health and Fitness world!! IT’S HAPPENING!!!😭❤️ Do you want to be a part of the My Body community???❤️❤️ #mybody #mybodyfall2018 #mybodylocation #bodypositivegroupfitness #becauseilovemybody #bodypositivity #bodypositive #holisticnutrition #nutritionist #fitness #bodylove #selflove #selfcare #love #nofilter #mybodywpg #mybodyfitnessandnutrition #health #wpg #mb #supportlocal

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Winnipeg’s first ever body positive group fitness gym and nutritional consulting service will be available Fall 2018. Stay tuned!

For more bo-po power and info about Brooke’s business follow @mybodywpg on Instagram.

 

WHAT I POSTED VS. WHAT WAS ACTUALLY HAPPENING IN FOUR OF MY INSTA PICS

Whether it’s a beautiful moment in a sunbeam you happen to capture on your phone, a purposefully crafted flat lay shot with a DSLR camera, or something sexy you make happen with self-timer — Instagram is all of the above.

My goal with my Instagram account these days is to make people think critically, foster connection and remind people the platform is a selection, not a reflection, of reality. Sometimes I hit the mark. Sometimes I’m a little too deep. Sometimes I have a little too much wine and hit post.

But at the core, if I post something it means I don’t want to forget that moment for some reason or another.

I wrote a post on my old blog deconstructing some of my Instagram pictures and I thought I’d do round two with new photos since my use of the app has changed a lot since then.


What I was aiming for

It’s Saturday night and I’m feeling sassy. Maybe I’ve had a few glasses of wine, and I’m definitely going out. Might be a thirst trap (?) but it’s still classy so it passes as fashion focused.

Reality

Yep, this is a thirst trap. Not for anybody in particular, but holding it at arms length I guess I’d call it that. Sometimes when you are feeling yourself (and I definitely was because I had consumed two glasses of wine which is a lot for me) you get your girlfriends to be your personal paparazzi. I literally instructed my friend Sam to squat down lower because I’m 5’3 and my legs look like stumps if you take a photo of me dead on. I believe you’d say this is me “working the angles.”

Here’s the thing: I had made the effort to do my eyeshadow and put on a cute outfit and I didn’t want it to be wasted on the wedding *social I was going to. I briefly thought about making the caption something thoughtful but then I kept saying “that’s a mood,” and it sort of stuck.  I didn’t actually end up drinking the glass of wine in my hand.

*Side note if you are not from Manitoba: a social is where people drink for really cheap, dance, eat chips and salami on rye bread with mustard and buy raffle tickets all in a school gym or community club – not a fancy event. I was extremely overdressed.

Enjoy some outtakes for context.

 

Takeaway

This is not something I would typically post, but between the wine and the outfit — I was feelin’ myself. No shame in the game.

p.s. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck then it’s probably a duck. Same goes for thirst traps.

 

What I was aiming for

I’m spontaneous and fun! I spend my Sundays doing self-care activities and following my heart. I am carefree and independent.

Reality

This morning when I was about to start driving I put the keys in the car and started crying. I was fresh out of a breakup and emotionally fragile at the time and I knew I needed a change of scenery, so my parents lent me their car for the day.

I needed to be alone with my thoughts for a day and get some distance from my apartment. Being outside always makes me feel better and mends any wounds. It was really cold that day but I still went for a three-hour walk on the beach. I meditated on the pier and stared at birds. I walked around an empty tourist town. I went to the bar in town and ate fish and chips alone. On the way out of town, I stopped for gas and left my wallet in the bathroom so I had to drive back the next night to get it.

Takeaway

You have no idea why someone is doing what they are doing or what sort of place their vague artsy caption is coming from. Don’t assume.

 

What I was aiming for

I’m fashionable and I know how to roll with the punches and rock whatever look I’m serving that day. Also, look at that architecture!! I’m a bonAfide Instagrammer.

Reality

I hated my bangs. Like capital H hated them because they were so short. My friend Sam must’ve told me fifty times during this trip that my hair looked fine but for some stupid reason I wasn’t listening. I was feeling REALLY self-conscious, so I figured if I called attention to them nobody could say anything because I clearly already knew how weird they look???

Honestly even typing that out ^ makes me realize how crazy I am sometimes. Nobody cares in reality. Also I basically art directed this photo and it is very staged, but I’m not mad about it.

Takeaway

Not everyone on Instagram is as confident as they seem to be, including me. In fact, I’ll fully admit I care far too much what people think. I’m working on it.

What I was aiming for

Just a basic-ass selfie of me having fun with my friend at a sports-related event. I’m sure there are 1000 other photos posted that were similar to this one. Hockey!!!!

Reality

I was really struggling this day but I held it together and went out since my friend Michelle was only in town for 10 days and I didn’t want to bail. I was having a depressive episode and I had to let her know in advance I wasn’t feeling great, which was embarrassing. I ended up having a few beers which numbed the feelings for a while but I definitely had the booze blues the next day.

Takeaway

Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about, whether it’s internally or externally. I’ve noticed that women tend to get written off as ‘basic’ a lot whereas the label doesn’t tend to be applied to men as much. While it’s meant to be funny, I think it also sometimes implies that the person is one dimensional and incapable of deep thought and emotion — which isn’t true at all.


I’m trying to incorporate more honesty and transparency into everything I put out into the world. We all know Instagram isn’t a good reflection of reality, but a reminder never hurts.

What Comes Next has it’s own Insta page by the way and I always keep it real on there. Promise.

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A LOVE LETTER TO ANYONE WHO STRUGGLES WITH SELF LOVE

I know how hard it is to have a lack of self-love, and I love you for it. I want you to love yourself for it too.

I bought a book a few years ago called ‘Unworthy: how to stop hating yourself’. The cover posed the question what would you do today if you didn’t despise yourself? I remember hiding the book from people when I would read it in public.

“If you’ve felt so unworthy, so unlovable, so alone for a long time, then to realize that maybe you can feel a different way about yourself actually makes some people incredibly sad. It feels like coming home — but coming home can unleash a great deal of sorrow. It’s a ‘missed-you-so-much, where-have-you-been’ situation.”

Anneli Rufus

My counsellor at the time told me she thought people might be surprised if they knew how I really felt about myself. I mean, it’s not like you can wear a lapel pin that says “I am full of shame, and I feel like a horrible person.”

To explain, I spent most of my life hating myself. I think the interchangeable saying would be saying I have very low self-esteem, but when I was looking for the book I found above, I Googled how to stop hating yourself.

If I had to describe what it’s like to have a total lack of self-esteem, I would say it’s like sentencing yourself to live in a cave — it’s all out there to experience, but you just can’t bring yourself to do it. You don’t deserve to see sunlight. You convince yourself this is where you belong, and that the world out there isn’t for you. Maybe you’ve gone out before and it made you want to never do it again. You hide yourself, horrified people will see how ugly you really are. You are both the jailor and the prisoner.

What does a lack of self-love look like?

A lack of worthiness can show itself so many different ways. Many of them might look like personality flaws, odd behaviours, or quirks on the surface.

  • Saying sorry too much, because you really are sorry you exist
  • Saying yes to everything, because you are afraid of what will happen if you say no
  • Avoiding choice and leaving your fate in the hands of others
  • Stunting your own growth and blunting your feelings, even the good ones
  • Struggling with vulnerability
  • Replaying the past and letting it dictate your present feelings
  • Driving your life into the ground with self destructive behaviour
  • Deflecting praise
  • Internalizing failure, shame, guilt and error
  • Staying in situations that are unhealthy or don’t make you happy (this also can look like being loyal to a fault)
  • Letting other people’s opinions dictate how you feel about yourself
  • Lashing out or closing down because of shame
  • Wanting things but denying yourself them
  • Getting mad at yourself for not liking yourself, and so forth

Any of these sound familiar?

First things first — these things are not your fault. These behaviours are learned from life experience. I don’t care what anybody says, if you’ve ever felt the pain of feeling worthless, that shit is horrible and equivalent to getting a tooth pulled with no freezing. We adapt to those pains. We act in response to that pain. Sometimes we’d do just about anything to avoid that pain (some of them are a protective mechanism to avoid further pain).

For people reading this who don’t know what this is like, it’s the difference between forgetting someone special’s birthday and thinking “oh shoot, I feel bad, I’ll make sure to send that person flowers and write it my calendar for next year,” and “I’m a shitty friend who isn’t there for the people I care about, I’m going to call them and apologize profusely for forgetting and try hard for the next month to make it up to them.”

Lol true story on my part, but yeah. You get the idea.

Now that I have hindsight, I look back at the things I did as a result of that pain I was causing myself, and I’m not terribly surprised I did them.

Awareness is half the battle. Once you can start recognizing these behaviours and how they impact your life, change comes next. I highly recommend you call in the big guns for change: a counsellor/therapist/psychologist will definitely help get you there faster if your resources will allow for it (work with whichever works best for you).

Even now that my life and feelings toward myself have changed drastically, and I have a very high level of awareness of my self-hatred habits, I haven’t been able to kick them all the way out just yet. And that’s ok. It takes a lot of time and a lot of work.

But we’ll get there.

These thoughts and actions aren’t YOU

It doesn’t matter how we get in the cave, or how deep we are in. Everyone has their own challenges and experiences that drive us in there. I am telling you that no matter what has happened to you, or what you have done, or what has been done to you, you don’t deserve to be in there.

This is going to sound really weird, but every time I feel myself retreating back into the cave, I ask “have I robbed someone lately? hit a pedestrian? lit a house on fire?” Sometimes we feel the need to back in for the smallest of things, but these phrases help put things in perspective sometimes when I think I’ve done something I feel like I’ll  never forgive myself for.

This whole blog is about the moment you step out of the cave into the blinding sun and it’s so beautiful it brings you to your knees.

I remember the moment I realized I could feel differently about myself. I sobbed uncontrollably, not only because I was mourning all the years I’ve spent “in the cave” but also because I had never had hope like that before.

Just because society screams at you to be thinner, smarter, manlier, anything-er doesn’t mean you can’t come out of the cave as you are. It actually means you NEED to come out the cave as you are.

I want to share something I read in that book I mentioned earlier.

“Our true selves are the selves we were before we twisted, bent, and beat ourselves into the shapes we had to take in order to please others: the shapes that we hate. Our true selves are the selves we would have been had no one tried to break or shame or change us. Our true selves are what those who actually love us see in us. Our true selves are who we have always been, even if they have been in hiding all this time. Our true selves are who we will, in that sheer blue zone above self-loathing, always be.”
Anneli Rufus, Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself

The true you is in there somewhere. When you do come out, you be a force to be reckoned with. In the meantime, don’t hate yourself more for it. You’ll get there.

Accepting your experiences

The time you spent hating on yourself? You’ll never get it back. But it taught you a lot, created some really special traits within you, and made your goals and purpose so much stronger. It is not lost time.

Once you realize that you’re worth fighting for, you’ll never be able to un-realize it. The journey from there is a long game full of rediscovery, mistakes and triumphs. Back sliding into the old habits that are well worn grooves in our brains. Charging forward and standing up for ourselves in small ways.

Everything I’ve talked about doing in this blog — finding hobbies, making new friends, learning lessons, letting myself feel sad and so much more — have all been part of my process of coming out of that cave. It has literally been life saving, in every way. Even this blog has been an act of self-love in the face of raging self-doubt.

Just by having a blog, I have become vulnerable. It is terrifying and worth it. Every time I post something, I remind myself that this is for me — as much as it’s for the internet to read.

What have you done for yourself like this? Hold it tight. Appreciate it. Celebrate it. Don’t let anyone take it from you or make you feel differently about it.

What will you start doing? Something to ponder on for your new years resolutions.

Learning to knit won’t undo years of trauma or f*cked up shit, but these things subconsciously say to your brain, “it’s time to start rebuilding regardless of those things.” Every time you try something new you show yourself that anything is possible.

Being good as a result of feeling bad, and asking for a hand up

You can grow positive traits as a result of being someone who hasn’t always felt good about themselves. You might become more compassionate and empathetic, never take a moment of joy for granted, be introspective and maybe “a little too deep/intense” for some people (and that’s ok) and so many other good things.

I am not claiming to be on the other side of self-hatred. More like, I have come out of the cave, cried in happiness a bunch, stumbled around and wondered what the hell to do, and now I’m slowly starting the process of hiking away. It does pull me back from time to time, but the more tools, lessons and tricks I have up my sleeve the better shape I’m in to run further away.

While the war is fought inside your head, having people there is crucial. They can’t fight it for you, but they can be a huge influence on your mindset.

People who can see this struggle to improve in you, and can appreciate it, are worth keeping around.

People who are empathetic and will be vulnerable in return are worth keeping around.

People who hold you accountable to the person you want to be and don’t let you talk shit about yourself or about others are worth keeping around.

People who make you want to love yourself more are worth keeping around.

There is so much self-love in going through the process of rebuilding your self-esteem, even if it doesn’t feel that way. There is love in realizing and acknowledging things need to change. There is love in every small and defiant act of vulnerability. There is so much love in self-compassion and care.

And you deserve it all.


While this post was based on the literature I’ve read and my personal experience, I recognize that everyone’s experiences and situations are very different and I have privilege in being able to afford a counsellor, books and so forth. I wish you all the best on your personal journey, whatever it may look like.

I hope that one day you’ll be able to look back at old journal entries and realize how much you’ve changed. It’s an amazing feeling.

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HOW I’M REPLACING SERIAL MONOGAMY WITH SELF-LOVE

After too many relationships in a row, I decided to stop dating for a year as a new years resolution. Then I talked about it on national radio. (Originally posted Jan. 2018)

Did I ever, in a million years, think I would be writing a piece like this for the internet to read?

Hell to the NO. Hard no. Absolutely not.

I do my best to be vulnerable when I write blog posts. I believe the most relatable and real writing is a byproduct of having the courage to be seen in an authentic way.

With that being said, that doesn’t mean it isn’t scary. While my words seem confident on the screen, that doesn’t mean my hands don’t shake when I write them. Fear still crashes over me in waves, I just try not to let it carry me away.

But nothing could have prepared me for the vulnerability hangover I had after my interview on CBC’s Now or Never.

Ify & Raegan 2
Ify Chiwetelu! And me! At CBC Manitoba! AM I DREAMING?!

Let’s rewind to January 1, 2018.

I wrote down a bunch SMART goals for 2018 in my journal, but there were really only two that stuck out to me as resolutions:

  1. Do as much dangerous stuff as humanly possible (too bad I can’t go BASE jumping in Winnipeg).
  2. Don’t date.

The first resolution I shared with people who asked me if I had any resolutions because I thought it was funny. The second one I only shared with a few friends and family, and when I did, I got a lot of mixed reactions which made me nervous.

I never had the intention of getting on a national radio show and telling my story, but here I am. Telling you to listen to my interview with the amazing Ify Chiwetelu, still absolutely terrified.

//www.cbc.ca/i/caffeine/syndicate/?mediaId=1157120067599

My BFF (who is a producer at CBC), told Trevor and Ify about my blog and my resolution. My immediate reaction was heck ya! Cool! This is an opportunity to be vulnerable in a new format!

Then the dread set in.

I know from experience that if there’s something people have strong opinions about — it’s dating. And love. And sex. It’s also something I’ve historically had a lot of trouble with. For me, there’s generally been a lot of pain, struggle and embarrassment around the topic.

A lot of, “what kind of person can’t be alone for longer than four months?”

As much as the interview is about abstaining from dating, to me, the entire resolution is really about what I’m choosing to do with this opportunity to be alone.

To be clear, I have no regrets about anything that has happened up until this point. I’m just taking stock of where I stand and deciding where I want to go from here.

I have no hard and fast rules around this whole thing (other than staying off dating apps) and that really seems to bother people. Rules, and labels, are often created or used so others can feel more comfortable. For once in my life, I’ve given myself full permission to not give a flying fudge about what anyone thinks about this particular adventure I’m embarking on.

Everyone’s gotta make decisions based on where they’re at and what they’ve gone through — I’m just doing me. Please don’t leave comments describing hypothetical situations asking what I’d do. First of all, my mom has probably already asked. Second, I’ll say the same thing I said to her: “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”

When it comes to dating and how I see myself, I’ve carried enough shame in my life to sink a ship. That shit is heavy. I’m ready to put it down.

You can read the blog post I wrote for the CBC blog  here.


I don’t really know how to end this, so I’ll just say that this song says it all.

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