Robyn Youkilis Helps You Feel Good in Your Body

By Robin Rootenberg

“Weight is not a number on a scale. It’s a feeling in your body.”

That’s how celebrity health coach Robyn Youkilis thinks about weight loss—now that she has made peace with the topic. First and foremost, Youkilis is interested in gut health and intuition, and the kind of mindful eating that naturally leads her clients to the foods and habits that are uniquely nourishing to each of them.

Her first book “Go With Your Gut” (Kyle Books, 2016) was well-received, and her publisher asked her to write a second book—about weight loss. At a time when public conversation was finally moving away from the number on a scale, Youkilis declined and returned to her coaching practice. Over time, she realized that although she might coach her clients to practice self-care and self-love, their end goal often was in fact weight loss.

Youkilis isn’t shy about naming what’s so hard to admit: We’re cheering the body-positivity movement but at the same time thinking, I should feel as good as that woman does who’s curvier than I am, and I still don’t. Our pants are just tighter than we want them to be, and we’re uncomfortable. Or we feel great until we find out that we “shouldn’t.” Youkilis tells the story of a friend who had just launched her own online magazine and felt so terrific that without thinking much about it, she found herself walking around Brooklyn in shorts—something she normally would have felt too self-conscious to do. At a doctor’s appointment the next day, she was shocked to find she was at her heaviest weight ever.

Aligning your internal and external impressions

Youkilis reframes the discussion about weight in terms of the difference between the way we feel about ourselves on the inside and on the outside. “People still want to feel good in their bodies,” she says. But they don’t. “There may be a certain amount of weight that they’re carrying because they’re still eating over their feelings,” she says, “or they’re not eating mindfully or there’s some inflammation and they’re not eating the foods that make them feel their best.”

So Youkilis wrote “Thin From Within” (Kyle Books, 2018) to address fundamental questions such as the following:

What is the lightness you’re looking for on the scale?

How can you find that in your life?

How can you bring in some practices that nourish you, that feed your microbiome?

The most important thing to Youkilis is the alignment of your inside and outside. She adds, “And then maybe if your body wants to lose some physical weight, great! It’s not likely to be a large amount of weight loss, but it’s going to be enough to get you feeling, ‘This is more like home to me.’”

The “T” word

The title of Youkilis’ book is a little controversial to some—and she wanted to get the attention, specifically the attention of people who might say they don’t need another diet but turn to the latest expert’s advice. She can relate: “I was always trying to fix myself. I always said this person knows better, this diet knows better, this is going to be the thing that fixes me.” If she can get our attention long enough to reshape that conversation and recognize it’s not about fixing ourselves but instead recognizing we can feel good in our bodies, then, she says, “I’ve done my job.”

That conversation about weight loss begins with a question from Youkilis: “What’s been weighing you down?” She explains, “A desire to lose weight is a sign that we want something to be different in our bodies, but even more so in our lives.” What feels heavy right now in our lives might be an uncomfortable but necessary conversation or a change that we need to make. “It’s never about the food,” she says.

To help identify the source of the underlying heaviness, Youkilis has an exercise in “Thin From Within” that asks readers to capture “used-to-be’s.” ‘“I used to be able to eat whatever I wanted on vacation. I used to be able to eat anything and now I have all these allergies.’ Write down your used-to-be and what your current reality is,” she advises. “Then write down a new and empowering story—not goals but what would feel new and empowering.”

When it’s about the food

“Thin From Within” also has practical tips and recipes. When it comes to educating people about diet, Youkilis says that mostly she is trying to get people to eat more. “It’s as if we take pride in eating less when we’re supposed to eat,” she explains. “So that’s why, in the book, I have my Rule of Five plate: the five foods that you want on your plate for lunch and for dinner to make sure that your body is getting the right balance of macronutrients and micronutrients. … Your body’s going to be extracting more nutrients from the food you’re eating, so you’re going to have more energy.”

Water with meals is also not a good idea, according to Youkilis. “Your digestive system is like a fire, like a furnace,” she says. “And when that fire is trying to burn through fuel, you wouldn’t want to douse it with water. … If you dilute [gastric juices] you weaken their strength, their power.” Instead, she recommends eating more slowly and chewing more carefully.

How to Listen to Your Gut

As Robyn Youkilis coaches people to be their own best intuitive guide, she bypasses the notion of being “your best self” for something deeper. “Our gut is the literal center of us,” she explains. “If that [gut feeling is] coming from the center of me, maybe that’s meant to be where I make my decisions from and not my brain.” She considers the gut to be our “first brain” where our emotions are processed and our brain as a “second brain” that coordinates action.

Here are some basic practices that Youkilis advises.

1. Ask. Put your hand on your belly and recognize that there’s this gift inside of you and this intuitive voice that you can ask questions: “What would feel supportive right now? What do I need? What can I do today that could get me closer to me feeling amazing again? Do I need a bath? Do I need to go to bed early? Do I need to call a friend? Do I need to put this food down that I’m eating? What do I need?”

2. Listen. Youkilis laughs and says a lot of people ask her, “Well, what if my gut tells me I only want french fries and pizza?” She acknowledges that might happen, at first, “but over time, the more you do this again and again, it likely will shift to what would be more supportive for you.” Youkilis knows firsthand that it might not be possible to hear; she spent many years searching for a sense of fulfillment and eating over her gut feelings. “I would hear this voice from deep inside of me say, ‘Put the cookies down,’ literally. And then sometimes the universe would [try to get my attention], and I’d bang my head on the cabinet or I’d drop something from the shelf on my foot.”

3. Practice. “If this is something that you’ve been hearing or ignoring for years, it’s going to take some time,” she explains. “I recommend asking your intuition everything, even if it’s something that’s completely routine for you.” For example, Youkilis makes herself a power yogurt parfait for breakfast, but every morning, she still asks her intuition, “Is this what you want? Is this what sounds good to you this morning?” When the answer is yes and the action is in alignment with your gut, she says, you can find joy in acting—even eating—in alignment with your intuition.

With practice, Youkilis says, we’ll find that “a space opens up to make the best choice in the next moment” and the next.

Follow Robyn Youkilis on Instagram @robynyoukilis.

Video credit: Robyn Youkilis
Photo credit: Caitlin Mitchell Studio (hero); Taylor Smith, Unsplash; Rostislav_Sedlacek, Thinkstock; Caitlin Mitchel Studio; Caitlin Mitchell Studio


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Robin Rootenberg

Robin Rootenberg is managing editor for 24Life and 24Life TV. Nothing makes her happier than the possibility of one more person rediscovering the joy of movement, or trying something new. A UC Berkeley grad, her writing and communications career spans more than two decades, and she’s been running for even longer.