The Wholehearted Hero: Carly Cooley

Last December I got a call from my cousin Carly who asked if I'd consider participating in a 10 week fitness challenge. And after all the holiday desserts and "cheat" meals, I knew I needed a bit of a reset come January! I did lose about 10 pounds and built some muscle; however, what I didn't expect, was to learn so much about my body and health along the way. 

I've always considered myself an average size, but Carly taught me so much about how to get to know my own body, rather than consistently comparing it to others. As women it's easy to look at the images portrayed in media and think there's something wrong with the way we look. Oftentimes, my go-to response is to look inward and become self-critical. Yet when we learn to approach our personal health from a holistic mindset, there's something so much more powerful and lasting. 

Below I've included an interview with Carly with questions about her business, health, and outlook on fitness and nutrition, and am so excited to feature her as April's Wholehearted Hero. I hope you are inspired to pursue your health wholeheartedly after reading! 

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you become interested in health and fitness? What are you doing now? 

My name is Carly and I grew up all over the west coast, born in Long Beach, CA and went to high school in Southern Oregon. I went to college in Abilene Texas for my Bachelors in Science in Dietetics. During that time I became involved in a wide variety of side studies and extra curricular activities that all centered around health, fitness and wellness. Since then I’ve been hooked on health and fitness! I took the verse “love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and made it my mantra, as I really believe that we are created to MOVE and live fully! This snowballed and pushed me through my educational and vocational journey to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Personal Trainer, and even to marry a Physical Therapist (just kidding, I married him cause he’s really funny). Now, I’m taking this show on the road! I launched my fitness and nutrition consulting site in October of 2016 and am traveling with my husband all over the United States, meeting wonderful individuals and offering my time and energy wherever I can to help people meet their fitness goals. 

2. How do/did you work to overcome the comparison and competition mindset in the health and fitness field? How did you work to create a healthy mindset personally?

I don’t think competition or comparison are bad things intrinsically. But as I said earlier, my philosophy is personal progress and growth. I think “overcoming” comparison/competition means taking those thoughts captive, keeping your eye on your prize, your goals. To be competitive with yourself, because your story and path is not the story or path of another person, and to get caught up in wishing you were someone else or had what someone else has can be a huge time waster and energy burner. I’d rather use energy to become the best me that I can, and grow in the ways I’m meant for. However, I want to acknowledge how vain and trapping the images we see can be, and how much of a snare it is to fall into that vortex of self obsession and criticism. I think in order to take those idea captive requires us to stay focused on the Truth that God loves us and loves who He mades us to be.

A few actions I've made ritual to focus on my Creator and created purpose are spending time in listening prayer, really just being quiet and trying to hear from Jesus and bask in the reality of who I am to Him. Because no matter how many reps, or miles, or pounds I change or lose or gain, I know that He sees me as complete and He loves me more than I could ever dare hope. This makes my heart so grateful each morning. Then, when I’m tempted to compare myself to others, it’s almost natural to hear that voice that remind me to be happy for them! I also like to remind myself that comparison can be the thief of joy. It’s so true, if I’m not enjoying what I do, I try to take a step back, reorganize and reset mentally. 

3. I appreciate the way you talk about health holistically, instead of just one aspect of who we are. We were made to be connected to our bodies - our hearts, minds, souls, physical strength, etc. How do you stay connected to your body and work to promote a holistic and healthy lifestyle? 

Great question, and this really is a big thing for me, because how my mind is set influences how my heart reacts, and then how my body feels. This can go the other direction too; If I eat poorly, my body feels bad and perhaps my heart or emotions will be influenced negatively, which can affect my mental clarity. I’m very passionate about daily disciplines that set each of these areas in place, and I’m pretty frequently stepping back and taking a look at my daily “rituals”, specifically the morning and evening rituals. Whether it be prepping a decent breakfast, carving the time out for meditation and prayer, or aligning my day so that I can get my workout in, I have to pursue those routine practices to create a sturdy skeleton for the rest of the actions I have in a day. It helps me maintain balance.

4. How do you approach your clients and what sort of support do you hope to offer? If you were to describe your role as a fitness coach and nutritionist, what would you say? How do you see your role in your client's lives and health journeys? 

My general approach is to ask probing questions to gain an understanding of where someone is coming from, what motivates them, etc. This helps me to start to build small, achievable goals with them that are aimed at their ultimate goals further down the line. So, my role plays out as an educator and encourager, because oftentimes people know where they want to go, but they may not know where to start, or they may have practices that they didn’t know were holding them back from reaching their goals. And of course, everyone needs encouragement to continue. I had a client recently who joined with me after a weight loss journey that had a lot of ups and downs and he was sort of frustrated and tired with his old approach. I got to help him create sustainable practices that he will keep for the rest of his life. He hasn’t been a direct client of mine for a while, but I still see him regularly and every time I do, he comes up to me and shares that he’s still making progress. So, I see myself as having this little opportunity to give people direction to a place that they want to be.

I think that if a person has unhealthy actions, then their mindset is most likely unhealthy and thats the most obvious sign that something needs to be addressed. I’d say if you recognize that your mindset isn’t healthy, and you’re really ready to change, then take a step back and evaluate what “healthy” really means to you. I would tell you that “healthy” means living fully and loving the way you’re put together, and if you really feel the need to change how you look or feel, then get help from a good community of people who love you and want your best, as well as possibly professionals who can help you reach your goals.

5. How would you describe the journey / process and do you believe in celebrating this process rather than the end result? Do you have any practical tips for those of us learning to embrace the process? 

I wouldn't say that I don’t celebrate the end result, because we need to celebrate the results. After all, thats why we start the journey in the first place. But I see what you’re getting at and I think it’s awesome. Thats why I focus on small reasonable goals for all of my clients. Goals that are pointed at the end result without being overwhelming or insurmountable. So when these mini goals are completed, we’re launched forward by positivity and energy gained by completing something good. The process is to establish habits that are healthy for long term progression. That’s one of the most important elements of the journey - to keep moving forward! The tips I would share are:

  1. Write down today the commitment to working hard for what you want. The journey is hard and you need to get your head around that right off the bat.
  2. Write down today your goals, so you can push through the hard work, you need to stay focused on the results you’re shooting for. Goal setting is critical in any area of life, because they draw us towards themselves if we keep our eye on them. 
  3. Infuse the journey with as much fun as possible. Create “healthy addictions” or habits that you enjoy that are good for you. Explore what’s out there, and set up rewards for yourself (non food if you can!) when you accomplish your short term goals. This way the journey gives you energy back and continues to push you forward!

6. What does a normal day look like for you and how do you normally start your day? 

I put a lot of emphasis on how I start my day. I’m a morning person and find that how I spend my morning strongly influences how the rest of my day rolls out. So, after getting a solid amount of sleep I have my quiet time with a warm cup of coffee (with a ‘lil milk and sweetener), spending time reading, listening and in prayer. Then I have a breakfast and visualize/write out my day. Then, before I start work, go to the gym for about an hour or so. I usually work out at local gyms that I partner with to offer my nutrition services. My husband, Nathaniel, works on Physical Therapy contracts, which allows us to travel and work in a new place every few months or so. Since we recently moved again, we are in transition and haven’t totally settled into a new gym yet. We’ve had good luck with Anytime Fitness recently, but there isn’t one where we moved to (who knows, maybe we’ll open our own). 

7. How do you prioritize your health? I'm sure many of us can relate to trying to fit all the puzzle pieces of our lives into a schedule and wondering where in the world we will ever find time for everything! (Sometimes it's a win for me just to fit in a 20 minute walk!) How do you approach this and where do you make sacrifices to intentionally care for yourself and your physical body? 

It’s pretty crazy how hard fitting self-care into a busy schedule can be! I can relate to that and I encourage celebrating even those 20-minute walking victories. Schedules vary person-to-person and season-to-season, so when it comes to tailoring plans to my clients, I take into account individual needs and schedules, really making the two “priorities” be feasible exercise and nutrition habits. Those are the two most important elements for healthy living as far as I’m concerned. As for myself, I try to “work smarter, not harder” to accomplish this. With nutrition, a great tip I’ve found is the idea of meal prep. My husband and I prepare five days worth of healthy lunches as well as grab-n-go breakfasts like egg muffins, overnight oats, etc. This makes it easy to make great choices when eating meals, because everything is ready to go and available. The food I use from Thrive Life foods also saves us a lot of time and money. These foods are basically ready for snacking and very easy to cook and it allows us to add in vine-ripened vegetables to any meal in seconds.

When it comes to exercise, I like to get up early and get it done with. I mentioned earlier how I like to set up my day for success with my morning routine… well exercising is a huge part of that. It’s also why I like to do “leg day” on the first day of the week. Accomplish something hard and you’ll gain the confidence to accomplish a whole lot of hard things the rest of the week! For me, this looks like waking up early for weight lifting, using work breaks later in the day for cardio exercise.

The sacrifices include:

  • Time - notably planning what I’m going to eat, planning my workouts, tracking my meals, etc.
  • Mindless eating - while I’m not really given to Big Macs or potato chips, we all have something that is our “achilles heel” when it comes to a balanced diet. The sacrifice is giving up that “autopilot” that we allow to dictate what we put in our mouth. We have to actually start thinking about what we’re eating, and so sacrifices the lackadaisical attitude about our snacks. (Snackadaisical?)
  • Laziness - This is a major thing to sacrifice for some people. The desire to sit on our behind can be so strong we don’t even realize we’ve played into that pattern. Try timing how much time you spend sitting on social media and you’ll see what I’m saying. We need to redeem the time we’re given, which is not guaranteed!

8. How do you practice listening to your body and paying attention to your needs? For those of us who are still in the process of embracing a healthy lifestyle, what sort of practical advice can you offer to begin training ourselves to do this? 

Food logging can be really helpful and is one of the first things I have clients do when they sign on with me. If someone struggles with a lack of energy, bloating issues, weight or some type of allergic reaction, it can be so enlightening to connect the dots between those reactions and what foods may have triggered them. This practice helps teach and reinforce good habits as well as mentally connect bad habits with the undesired consequences. This really is easy to do too, there are a plethora of apps, such as Super Tracker by MyPlate, MyFitnessPal, and Loseit, just to name a handful.

This practice also helps differentiate wants from needs. Because sometimes the things we feel like we “need” are not what they appear to be. For example, when I’m tracking and I FEEL like I need another piece of chocolate, I can look at what I’ve eaten recently and realize… “Hey I don’t really need that. But I AM low on fiber, or some sort of vitamin.” and learn how to fulfill cravings with what the body really NEEDS and will ultimately help satiate those feelings (like a handful of almonds in this case).

In the search for learning more about your dietary needs, I highly encourage working with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. There’s a lot of misguided information out there and it is important to work with an expert to learn how much and what your body needs, as well as how to make these physiological and mental connections.

9. In your opinion, what does living wholeheartedly mean? And how have your views on this sort of lifestyle evolved over time? 

I believe living wholeheartedly means to live with intention, and not be swayed by the draw towards apathy or despair that I think affects a lot of people. I think truly living wholeheartedly means living a life full of awareness of God. As I already talked about earlier, personal disciplines are critical for me to foster this mindset/heartset. Those have of course evolved because I haven't always had the same set of goals or skills or experiences that I currently have. For example, over the last few years, the gravity of how important sustainable practices in food production and the awareness of the consumer in what the cost of food production is has really hit me. The prevalence of CAFO’s, use of GMO’s, etc. are having a huge toll on us and a huge toll on the earth, and it’s shocking how much of it is disguised from public view. So being intentional in this place helps me reach my goal of glorifying God by being a good steward of the earth as well as a good steward of my body, which carries my soul, which I want to be in constant community with God. 

10. Is there anyone or anything that's been inspiring you to live wholeheartedly recently? Maybe a favorite author, blogger, or podcast?

Where do I start?! Social media has truly been a blessing for making connections with people who are trying to live fully.I’m going to start to share more of these connections on my blog with an upcoming series of interviews with people who inspire me ;) I’ve also been investing my time heavily on intake of business progression literature as well, and really digging this book by Joel Salatin on sustainable farming and purpose of humans in “tending the earth”. These are some of my current reads/listens:

The Wholehearted Hero: Chelsea from Live Free Be Fit

When I first started thinking and writing about wholehearted living, so many people came to mind that embody this concept to me. A few years ago I listened to a podcast about championing the people around us, calling listeners to begin a sort of hero revolution. The idea resonated so deeply with me that I started looking for ways to encourage and promote others whom I admired. This series, then, is my attempt to share the inspiration I've gathered through some of my personal heroes, all of which embrace living wholeheartedly in their own sphere, style and words. 

Today I'm sharing an interview from one of my dear friends, Chelsea, from Live Free Be Fit. Chelsea began her health and fitness journey a few years ago and has approached her process so holistically, allowing it to transform her from the inside out. I'm so thankful she's allowed her followers a window and raw glimpse into her journey - her vulnerability is both challenging and inspiring!


1. How did you first become interested in health and fitness? 

I would say my passion for health, in a holistic sense, began in 2013. From the age of 10 I was obsessive about weight-loss. I was the girl who was buying every magazine with "Drop 10 Pounds Fast!" It wasn't until 2013, when I was about to get married and start a family of my own, that I realized that I didn't want a quick fix. I wanted contentment and comfort in my own skin - whatever that took.  

2. I love your social media handle and blog name: Live Free Be Fit. What inspired the name and what does living free and being fit mean to you? 

So much of my health journey has been about freedom. Freedom from insecurity and lies about my identity being tied to my physical appearance. LFBF felt real and fitting. 

Being fit has a great deal to do with freedom for me. When I am healthy, I am secure enough to run - physically run - without being afraid of how my belly is jiggling. Or sitting on a couch and not needing a pillow to cover up what I am ashamed of. There was so much shame tied to my weight and being fit freed me up. 

To form a lose definition of what I mean when I say fit, I mean strong and healthy. I don't mean six packs and bulging biceps because I am far from that. That was never my goal with fitness. I just want to be fit enough to run with my children and not be winded, exhausted or ashamed. And so much of that is mental, which is where the live free part comes in. 

No amount of weight lost or muscle gained will fix a broken mind and heart. Seek first freedom and then pursue fitness out of that new found, liberating freedom. 

3. I've heard you talk about how health and fitness is about an inward journey as much as an external one. What did your internal process look like? How did you learn to embrace and love yourself? 

It is an ongoing process of the inward journey just as much as it is for the physical journey. So let's just dive right in: In 2013 I lost 35 pounds. Between then and now, I ran a half-marathon, biked from DC to Gettysburg, and gained about 15-20 pounds. All the while, my exercise and eating did not shift majorly from when I was in losing mode. 

To be honest, it's shaken me. I have to figure out what it means to walk out the freedom I've claimed and choose to believe all the times I've said the number didn't matter or define me. That is a lot easier to say when you are happy with the number on the scale, by the way. 

What I'm learning now is that I want deep, soul-satisfying contentment in my skin - at all stages. I always want to be challenging myself, bettering what I can, but at the end of the day, I want to be free and to enjoy my body while I am in this stage of life. Because if I can't feel content and confident unless I am a size 6, then what on earth am I going to do when I have a big pregnant belly? 

I refuse to think confidence and health is reserved for the smaller sizes. At the same time, I want to make sure I am healthy and physically strong. So it's a balancing game of mental and physical health maintenance. One that will have its ups and downs, but is tied together with a tight knot of commitment to the process. As almost all worth-while things are.

If you are looking for the secret of long lasting health, I know it. And it can be summed up in three words: Just. Don't. Quit.

4. What are some daily, weekly or even monthly rhythms you put in place to help facilitate the process and journey you've been on so far? 

Daily, I spend time in stillness. That is where I find peace in God and where I draw life from. Weekly, I work out 5 (ish) times a week in some way, shape or form and meal plan every Sunday. Monthly, I try to lay out some goals for the month. For October this includes taking a daily walk to watch the leaves change, drink one PSL and I set a small weight loss goal. it doesn't all have to be physical health related, but setting yourself up to thrive. 

5. Have you ever chosen to take a break from those rhythms? If so, can you bring us into that a bit? How do you listen and respond to your body and your own needs? 

In 2015 I got some medical news that was scary. I had to go on and off some medicines and I knew space needed to be made. I stopped going to cross-fit at 5 a.m. every morning, and instead took long walks (and cried). I stopped my rule of one or two desserts a week and baked all the things. But that was a brief season. I came back to middle ground with the help of my friends and family. 

On vacations I chill out my workouts. I take walks and eat whatever I want. But I've noticed my eating habits have really changed. I actually love fruit and (certain) veggies. I prefer black coffee to sweet, heavy drinks. Things shift and just because I am on vacation doesn't mean I binge and lose control. 

Listening to your body is incredibly important. I actually took a course on intuitive eating last year and it was so interesting! Your body wants to be nourished. it doesn't want to be stuffed or deprived. The teacher actually told us to eat WHATEVER we wanted for a full week. If we craved Cheeto's and Velveta, then eat it. She promised after a while our bodies would beg for a salad. It was true. Our bodies want to thrive and sometimes they need a nibble of chocolate and sometimes they need some kale. 

Trust yourself and evoke that self-control when needed. 

6. Do you have any tips for those of us still learning to love and listen to our bodies? How can we live wholeheartedly by taking care of ourselves and how would you suggest initiating a journey of living free and being fit? 

There is nothing in the world like gratitude. Start your journey there. Speak out the ways you are thankful for your body, right now, as is, every time you feel self-critical. Dig deep into your heart and be honest with your insecurity, then uproot that junk and replace it with truth. Really do this and your body will fall in line with your mind. 

From there I would suggest finding something active that you enjoy doing and carving out space to do that 3-5 times a week. Our generation is the most sedentary in history, Fight, fight against that. Go enjoy the outdoors! Explore and experience the world. Shake it in a Zumba class or pump it out in the weight room or go for a jog. Look at exercise as an opportunity to enjoy the body you were given and experience the world we live in. 

7. What does living wholeheartedly mean to you? And how have your views on this sort of lifestyle evolved over time? 

Living wholehearted means living life through a lens of love with purpose and passion. It's somewhere between that feeling you get when you are drinking something warm, looking out over the mountains as the sun rises and that feeling you get right before you free fall on a roller coaster. 

I don't want anything to get in the way of my living life like that. Not money chasing, not size chasing, not comparison, not regret, not shame. I literally have no time for those things. 

I am honestly more confident now than I ever have been. I look back at photos of my younger self and just cringe at how hard I was on myself. I don't want to waste my life on that. I want to live to my fullest potential in every aspect: relationally, physically, emotionally. 

8. Is there anyone or anything that's been inspiring you to live wholeheartedly recently? 

I am inspired by so many people and things. Some fitness related, some not. 

Andie Mitchell. if you struggle with your weight, go to her website and read every single blog she has written on weight loss. 

Ree Drummond. Girl knows how to live. To me, she is radiant and joyful. She knows what she loves and lives in balance. She makes a mean cinnamon roll and takes daily long walks. I just want to be with her all the live long day. 

Shauna Niequist. All of her books mention health and her struggle to find contentment and balance. I appreciate her honesty. I just finished Present Over Perfect. I recommend that and then go back and read all of her other books, and her blog for that matter. 

Alexa Wible. I have walked closely with Alexa for years and for the past three years specifically in our health journeys. She is full of wisdom and good food. 

I just want to end by saying we are made for wholeheartedness. It's available and achievable and deserves to be written about. I am so thankful Tori is taking the time to talk about this and get a discussion going on what it looks like to be women striving for wholeness. Brava!

Chelsea is a content and social media marketing strategist for Consilium Interactive. She is passionate about creating effective and creative content to push across mediums to promote her clients. In her free time she is experimenting in the kitchen or writing side projects. 

Follow her journey at Live Free Be Fit