Steady as She Goes

Discussions around fitness, nutrition, health, and wellness tend to lead average folks down a rather predictable path, one that’s been forged and monitored by a long line of lean, mean, and convincing experts. All along the way: strict rules, intense regimens, product prescriptions.
     Add to that the discussions dominating so much of the culture’s everyday conversation, which could easily be reduced to simple word association games: Goal. Skinny. Exercise. Boring. Diet. Guilt. Try. Fail. Repeat.
     With the just-released book, Lightness of Body and Mind: A Radical Approach to Weight and Wellness, personal trainer, nutrition consultant, and author Sarah Hays Coomer has leapt into the center lane and declared: Enough is enough!
     People are listening — perhaps because she’s not shouting. Instead, she’s inviting anyone who will listen into a new conversation, which she’ll initiate by seizing any opportunity to illustrate how pleasure and health merge in real yet profound ways. With Lightness, Coomer has crafted — from years of personal experience and clients’ stories, and with a refreshing cocktail of common sense, humor, and irreverent cool — a radical resource for personal wellness.
     Including “radical” in the book’s subtitle isn’t just a semantic play. There is a real rebel spirit at work here since Coomer reframes self-care as an act of defiance. She emphasizes strength, intelligence, satisfaction, fun, and forgiveness. She weaves lyrics from roots rocker Abe Wilson and the words of Where the Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak with hard neuroscience, and offers up just enough expert, actionable advice to serve as a practical guide.
     Coomer admits she hesitated to include anything close to instruction. In the end, however, the editors prevailed, and each chapter of Lightness concludes with assets for the reader’s toolbox. But even these aren’t strict instructions. Coomer offers questions and prompts like: “What makes you feel like crap?” “What makes you feel amazing?” “Pick your poison.” Suggestions and examples follow, along with user-friendly checklists for getting started. In a refreshing departure for the genre, diet plans, step-by-step workouts, or photos of a Spandex-clad model illustrating proper push-up position are nowhere in sight.
     Coomer’s credentials as a certified personal trainer and nutrition and wellness consultant are impressive, and her years of experience, clearly inform her simple yet unorthodox approach. She describes her core clientele as having a certain type of brokenness in common; however, the themes in the book have universal appeal. About one client, Coomer says, “[She] has a long road in front of her, but so do the rest of us who are striving to build new, neural pathways. . . . Her path is harder, but the pursuit is the same. We should all hope to be so irrepressible.”
     Coomer gives voice to the condition many of us living and loving in this place, in this time, know all too well, as she reminds us: “We are all essentially groundless. The world can drop out from under us at any time.” For those stuck inside a looping reel of diet, exercise, stagnation, exhaustion, and pants that fit and then, well, don’t — seasons of pain and loss are made that much worse when they haven’t established an infrastructure for self-care.
     With science to back her up, Coomer reminds readers that they are equipped with tools — built right into their brains — which allow them to break free of bad habits and create new ones. Her book doesn’t hawk false promises and quick fixes; there’s an acknowledgement that it’s not always easy, but it doesn’t always have to be miserable either. Lightness emphasizes responsibility without ever wagging a finger or belittling the reader.
     Coomer’s storytelling is imbued with empathy and compassion, no doubt due to her own self-described history of depression and food addiction. She combines a fearless memoir with unpredictable stories of real clients. In many ways, the book is a love song to those men and women and an expression of gratitude for all they’ve taught her.
     Through Lightness, Coomer hopes to invite others into the conversation and, eventually, to change it — to reconsider their priorities and, more importantly, to say them out loud. As a mother to a young son, she’s especially mindful of the language and behaviors parents model for their children and suggests “stretching and stimulating our bodies, never starving or sucking in” in front of them.
     Fortunately, she acknowledges a gaining momentum — the pendulum swinging in the right direction, especially in communities where creativity and individuality are highly valued. Still, the war against people’s own bodies — to restrict, to shrink, to deprive, to dominate — has had deep, long-lasting effects. As such, Coomer will continue to teach and train, and wave, wiggle, bounce, dance, twist, and shout, in a passionate attempt to inspire and equip others to keep that pendulum from swinging back. To help them see new possibilities and make their own way.


(Editor’s note: In addition to being a personal trainer, nutrition consultant, and author, Sarah Hays Coomer writes the

“Simple Pleasures” column featured in each issue of The East Nashvillian.)

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