Story by Juania in conversation with Alissa Rumsey, Nutrition & Fitness Expert, Writer and Spokesperson
“Your life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
Alissa Rumsey is a nationally recognized Registered Dietitian and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who has a knack for guiding people to eat more intuitively and create positive relationships with food and exercise. Her mission: to improve people’s overall health and wellbeing.
Her journey to becoming the nationally recognized nutrition and wellness expert she is today, began with her personal struggle to maintain a healthy weight and balanced lifestyle during her freshmen year of college.
She’d never dealt with weight issues before college, because she was always involved in sports and therefore, able to eat just about anything she wanted. That changed however, when she stopped playing sports and got to college. She discovered it wasn’t as easy to keep off the pounds, and found herself in a destructive, no so healthy cycle.
She became obsessed with exercising and counting calories: pushing herself to finish two-a-day workouts (six times a week), coupled with lack of sleep and food deprivation. But after becoming sick over winter break, she realized her strict, self-imposed regulations weren’t the healthy way of living she’d been learning about as a Dietetics and Exercise major. So she promised to start taking better care of her body.
Today she lives a far different lifestyle than she did 10 years ago. She balances her time. She exercises moderately to maintain a healthy weight. And she indulges in food…intuitively. Because of that expertise and her one-on-one consulting, she’s been featured on NBC Nightly, CBS, and ABC News. She’s been featured in Women’s Health, Vogue, SELF, and other publications. She was the spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the public relations coordinator for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
I love Alissa’s story for so many reasons, but the one I love the most is that she built her career and her business out of her own, personal journey to living well. There’s something to be said about people who craft their lives out of this type of passion and dedication, because there’s so much knowledge enveloped in that experience to help others and change people’s lives.
Spirit Animal: Cat
You will find Alissa’s story is certainly about the difficulties we experience with our diets and body image. But digging even deeper, it’s about the struggle to let go of habits that restrict us from enjoying life and living a healthy lifestyle.
In my interview with Alissa, she recalls a time when her mother told her, “Alissa, life is messy, and you need to be able to go with the flow.” And how that advice changed the way she approached life, opening her up to step out of her comfort zone, and live in the flow versus trying to control every aspect and aspects that are, sometimes, simply beyond our control.
Read about her journey below, and watch her story.
Powerful Life Lessons
J: Biggest life lesson
ar: One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to ask for help, and to be able to know when you can’t get somewhere on your own. My big thing this year is trying to be more vulnerable – both professionally and also personally. And so I think it’s having that awareness and that vulnerability to say to people: “here’s where I’m stuck”, or “here’s what I need help with”, or even getting the word out about my company.
Being able to say to people, “Hey, I’m looking for new clients”, and putting myself out there in that way has served me so well business-wise, and it’s helped me actually get a lot closer to people who I knew in the industry, but maybe didn’t know that well. People just respond when you’re asking them for their advice and their opinion. It’s really gotten my business to the next level by being able to say: “I have no idea what I’m doing. Can you help me with this?”
J: If today were the last day of your life, what would you want to be remembered for?
ar: I want to be remembered as a good friend, and as a close family member. As I get older, I think, “will I love what I do professionally and business-wise?” A lot of what I’ve chosen to do is partly from my passions, but also so that it gives me the flexibility to be able to spend more time with my friends and family. My brother just had twins a couple of months ago, and he lives out in California. I was able to fly out there and stay out there for a couple of weeks, and help out.
So professionally you always want to be remembered as being great in your field. But I would say the first thing would be with friends and family, and being someone who is there for other people, and not always working. I don’t want to be remembered as someone who’s always working, and always hustling, and didn’t have time to do anything. I’ve certainly had weeks like that (this is one of those weeks where everything has been insane), but my goal is to come down from that and find the balance between work and life.
Moments That Define Us
J: Tell me about the most defining moment in your life.
ar: I would say, the end of high school and beginning of college. This is something that’s really defined a lot about me as a person and who I’ve decided to work with professionally.
I’ve always played sports growing up and could eat whatever I wanted, never thought about food. Then at the end of high school, I hit puberty, stopped playing basketball, and started gaining weight. I went through that thing almost all teenage girls go through: trying to diet and lose weight, Weight Watchers and restrict my calories, not really knowing what to do.
That’s what actually led me to go to school for nutrition, but even still…even when I started learning it, I didn’t have balance with it. I was doing two-a-day workouts six times a week. I was letting myself have ice cream once a week. I lost weight, and I looked good. But I was always thinking about food, and I was always thinking, “Oh no, I can’t have that”, or having something and feeling guilty.
It was really sort of going through that, and finally getting to a point where really just a couple of years ago in my late twenties where I felt like I finally got to this point where I didn’t let my weight define me. But also getting to this place of eating intuitively: eating when I’m hungry, and stopping when I’m full. It took a lot of work over the years, and it was such a freeing thing for me to be able to get to this point where I’m able to listen to my body.
“I realized you don’t have to plan everything. You listen to your body.”
That really helped me in terms of feeling more at ease with myself, because you know it’s not really about food at the end of the day with most people. I used to always think about planning and planning my food, and that led me to over plan a lot of things. But going through that experience, I realized you don’t have to plan everything. You listen to your body. It took another couple of years for me to realize I really want to help people do that. And so I feel like that’s defined my whole business up until this point.
J: What was the breaking point? Did something happen for you to say, “I can no longer live my life like this.”
ar: There was a time in my freshmen year of college where I was being so restrictive, and I actually ended up getting super sick because I just wasn’t taking care of my body. I thought I was – I was a nutrition major – but I was living on barely any sleep. I was working out twice a day, and even if I went to bed super late, I’d still get up and work out. I was eating, but I wasn’t really eating to fuel my body.
I was sick for four months, and had this terrible cough. I couldn’t do anything. I was home for Christmas break for almost a month and just literally sat in my parents house. That was the point where I said something has to change because I’m a health sciences major and yet I’m not putting it into practice. I think I’m putting it into practice, but I’m really not. I let myself get so worn down. I’d be hacking up a lung, and I’d still be going out for a run in 30 degree weather.
And when I came back to school in the spring, I was like “You know what, no matter what, I’m getting eight hours of sleep.” And I started to be like if I miss a workout, I miss a workout. It’s not the end of the world. I need to do what my body needs to do. So that started it.
Beliefs To Live By
J: 3 core beliefs you live by
ar: 1) Definitely the enjoyment of food. You have to enjoy food. Not obsessing over the food – just enjoying good food.
2) For a while my mantra was: “Say yes to everything.” It was good for a while because I got to enjoy a lot of experiences. Saying yes helped me get to where I am now in terms of my personal and professional lives. But now I’m to the point where it’s a yes toward “experience things.” So not necessarily a yes to everything, but a yes to different experiences. I strongly believe in that. Whether it’s traveling somewhere I never thought I’d go, or when I do travel, saying yes to things I may not have done before. That’s when I have the most amazing experiences. And I really change myself from seeing these different things and pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
“If you’re feeling comfortable, you’re probably not pushing yourself enough. Whether that’s with life, with love, with family, or work.”
3) Getting out of your comfort zone – having to push yourself. If you’re feeling comfortable, you’re probably not pushing yourself enough. Whether that’s with life, with love, with family, or work. I think it’s important to get to a place where you’re happy and you enjoy what you do, and you feel balanced in that way, but not where you’re too comfortable. Because then you’re not necessarily pushing yourself enough to grow.
Breaking Old Habits
J: How did you let go of your older child, Type A tendencies? How did you get that way?
ar: My mom is like that. I look at my mom, and I’m like this is clearly where I got it from. But what’s really funny is that she’s the person who was like “Alissa, you’re way too inflexible. You’re too much of a planner.” She’s the one who said to me back in college, “You need to work on this because life is messy, and you need to be able to go with the flow.” That started to push me in that direction.
“Life is messy, and you need to be able to go with the flow.”
And now I know I’ve succeeded because people who meet me for the first time – and when I tell them I’m Type A – they don’t believe me. And I’m like, “Ok! That’s good.” I feel I’m still Type A in my work, but I’ve changed my perspective with what it meant if something didn’t happen. It wasn’t until I started traveling more that it hit home. Because with travel, there’s so much stuff that’s not in your control, and you just have to let go of the control. It really taught me that I don’t always have to be in control, which is a huge thing.
Although (laughs), I do still pull up Google maps with my Uber driver and say, “No, no, no you’re gonna go this way – the way I tell you.” So I’m still Type A in that way – that’s never going to completely change. But now it’s about: How am I going to let this affect me if it doesn’t go my way? And I’ve gotten really good at letting things roll off my back.
Perspective On Life
J: How important is perspective in our lives?
ar: I think perspective is everything. Growing up I always got good grades. And I was always your typical old, first child syndrome where I was like super particular about everything and I had to get good grades and all that stuff. Then as I got older, I realized it was less about what you’re learning in school or what someone else tells you what to do or what you’re supposed to do, but about the experiences you have.
Travel has completely changed my perspective on so much. I read this quote a few months ago by an author where she talked about the only way sometimes to change our perspectives is to get out of our current situations. And to me that’s travel. That’s pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and having to fend in a completely different culture. And also seeing it from the perspective of others. Because when you’re in your day-to-day, and you’re in your own life, with your own friends and family – I think that’s a lot of the issues we’re having in this country right now – people don’t necessarily see it from the other person’s perspective. And travel for me has been so fantastic to do that.
J: How do you maintain perspective, an Amazing Perspective?
ar: I think just trying to grow and experience things. Currently travel is the biggest way I do that. Every time I come back to New York, I always feel I bring back this perspective of being grateful for what I have, because we certainly have more than most of the world. And just being grateful for the city. I come back from traveling and I appreciate these little things that maybe I didn’t have for two weeks in Peru. So I think that, that keeps my perspective fresh – being able to experience things like that.
Next On The Horizon
J: What’s next for you?
ar: Right now I work mostly with women, and some men. Every woman has been through at least one diet. But I work with women to try to undo those mental blocks and rules that have come into our heads growing up in this society, and really getting out of the idea of it being a diet, but rather a lifestyle, and teaching people how to eat intuitively and listen to their bodies, and not making it so weight focused.
But the biggest thing I’m hoping to do this year is build an online program that would be released in the fall, so I can reach more people. Right now there’s only so much with my time. It’s a lower price point so that it’s more affordable for people, but it would also give me a chance to explore this idea of eating intuitively.
J: What’s one thing people can do right now to shift their perspectives in terms of losing weight, and being fit? What would you tell them?
ar: First, I would say, stop weighing yourself. Second, start to define what eating in moderation means for you. Take 15 minutes to work through what foods you really, really love. Also, figure out what event or occasions are really important to you, and also thinking about which ones are not. So thinking about food and the things that will come up in your life.
For instance, for me I love a good chocolate chip cookie, but donuts don’t do it for me. So if someone brought in donuts, it’s very easy for me to leave it. Deciding for yourself – I always say: “Eat what you love, and not what you don’t.” So not just eating stuff because it’s there, but mindfully choosing, “Do I really want to eat this right now?” or “Am I eating it because it’s there?” Start asking yourself that on a daily basis, and you’ll start to realize how much eating you’re probably doing that a) You don’t even really notice you’re eating, or b) You don’t really love what you’re eating.
Favorite books Alissa recommends to shift your perspective (one that changed the way she thinks and helped her in life and her business)
- “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead” by Brene Brown. I was introduced to Brene Brown by an ex-boyfriend and first watched her TED talk on vulnerability. Everything she said resonated with me, so I had to read this book. I am now trying to make an effort to “lean into the discomfort” and put myself out there.
- “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coats. One of the first books that challenged many of my assumptions and helped to make me understand the experience of a life so unlike my own.