Journey to Health and Wellness with Becca Shern: Minimal Wellness
This is another of my favourite feature because combines three things that I love talking about, health, wellness, and minimalism. Before going into the post, I just wanted to thank Bex (Beeca) for being so patient and understandable through this whole process. This post was supposed to come out five months ago, but due to heath issues, I had to postpone and took a little break from blogging, not knowing when I'll be back again - but five months later and Bex still agree to do this, which I am forever grateful for.
That being said, down below shares her journey to minimalism, health and wellness and how she incorporate minimalism into her healthy lifestyle. This is a two part feature, in the upcoming days Bex will be sharing her favourite recipe with us.
Tell us about yourself (Who you are, what you do for living, where you’re from, anything interesting fact about yourself)
Hi, I'm Becca — I'm a mom, partner, registered dietitian, recreational athlete, and wellness nerd. For the past decade, I’ve been working and studying as a Registered Dietitian, with a particular interest in public and environmental health. I started and run Minimal Wellness, a nutrition coaching business to help people find, navigate, and enjoy the simple path to optimal health. My partner, Joshua, our four year old daughter, Ella, and I currently live in Missoula, Montana — Big Sky Country. Although we currently live in Montana, I’ve been a bit of a nomad — living in Alaska, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Most of my family still lives in Minnesota, where I grew up on a small hobby-farm outside of Minneapolis.
What does minimalism mean to you?
For me, minimalism means living with the essentials to enable vibrant health and allow pursuit of my passions. It means that I continually evaluate the things, activities, and relationships in my life and curate them to allow me to be the most optimal version of myself — meaning that I am the best mom, partner, and member of society that I can be. What is essential to me, will not be what’s essential to someone else, but I think it’s helpful to consider minimalism as a mental and physical framework that helps us continually grow and evolve into better people.
When did your journey to minimalism begin? And what or who inspired you to pursue this life style?
I grew up in a household that believed in simple living. I feel fortunate to have been surrounded by family and friends that valued someone’s contribution to the world more than how big their house was, what kind of car they drove, or how stylish their clothes were. But, I began jettisoning unneeded material things in earnest a couple of years ago after I realized my life was not headed in a positive direction.
Three years ago, I was a salaried professional working mom, a student trying to complete my master’s degree, and was in a mismatched marriage. My then spouse and I bought a house, in part because I thought home ownership — the missing component of the American Dream I’d completely bought into — would cure my discontent. Unsurprisingly, the house wasn’t the answer, and my marriage ended shortly thereafter. At the same time, I stumbled upon a TEDx talk by two guys living here in Montana, called The Minimalists. Since then, I’ve been paring down and honing in on what is essential in my life.
When did your journey to health and wellness begin? How do you incorporate your minimalist lifestyle into the meals you create?
I've been interested in health and wellness for two decades. Our family was fortunate to have my mom shape our eating habits — she's an outstanding cook who always grew a garden and prioritized making delicious healthy meals for us every night. As a kid and teenager I was an athlete, so being fit and healthy became part of my identity. When I entered college, I drifted away from many of my healthier habits. But luckily after a couple of years, I stumbled upon an intro to nutrition course and found my way back to loving wholesome food, fitness, and a healthy lifestyle.
The recipes I create at home and for Minimal Wellness focus on simple, real ingredients, and easy preparation methods. I try to decoct healthy eating for people and make it as straightforward yet delicious as possible. The recipes emphasize the essential components of any diet — tons of vegetables, healthy fats, protein, and fruit. The recipes don't require complicated equipment or a pantry full of millions of ingredients, they minimize unnecessary grains (I believe some grains for some people are fine, but the standard American diet places far too great an emphasis on grains), eliminate gluten, and contain as little added sugar as possible.
As a minimalist mom, what has been the biggest challenge of raising a child in minimalist household?
Our daughter is four, so I realize that difficult times might come in the future, but in all honesty, minimalism hasn't posed any direct challenges with parenting — it's only made life raising a child easier. There is far less mess, we have fewer distractions, and we're able to enjoy more time with one another. Our small issues arise occasionally around gift giving with friends and relatives. We encourage experiential gifts over physical items, but that's not always possible, so we try to be flexible.
How are you teaching your daughter (Ella) to lead a minimalist lifestyle?
We lead by example. When she has questions, we talk to her about why we live the way we do and its benefits. We include her. Quarterly, we go through her closet and toys together and discuss the items she uses and the ones she doesn't. She identifies the things she doesn't use or wear and decides what she wants to donate. We don't have friends in town with children younger than Ella, so most of the things she grows out of get donated instead of given to friends. When we do purchase an item, we specifically buy the most durable goods in order to pass them onto someone else when Ella's no longer uses it.
If I had one recommendation to make to others considering minimalist parenting, it's to eliminate the TV from your home. Ella still watches a few select shows from a tablet, but she's spent her young childhood without the outsized influence of a large light-emitting rectangle on a wall. Not having a TV does a few things for our family, first and most notably is the lack of direct advertising — she simply doesn't see the vast majority of stuff that other kids see and therefore she doesn't ask for it. Second, not having a TV eliminates that large volume of time that adults in the family often choose to watch shows while the children are still awake (Josh and I do occasionally watch something in the late evening), so we have more time together as a family.
Is Minimalism for everyone?
I think we can all benefit from being intentional about what we purchase and how we spend their time and attention. Our society dictates what we "need" and what we "should" do — it makes sense to question this template and determine for ourselves what we want out of life. Often when we start questioning and searching, we find that we need far less and are happier and more fulfilled by creating our own path.
Take us a through a day in life of Bex.
5-7am Wake up. I don't use an alarm and I wake up when I'm rested, usually that's after 7-8 hours of sleep.
7:30-8am Ella wakes up and makes her bed. Then we get her ready for pre-school (get dressed, brush teeth, take vitamins & probiotics, have a snack (usually nuts or a hardboiled egg and some fresh fruit).
8:30-9am Drop Ella off at pre-school.
9am-5pm Work. I'm fortunate to have a flexible schedule and the ability to work from almost anywhere, but client sessions require privacy, so I usually work from our home office.
10am Breakfast. My mealtimes aren't set in stone and I let my hunger cues determine when I eat, but these times I list here are pretty typical. I do a type of intermittent fasting that extends the overnight fast to 14-16 hours. This means I usually finish eating for the day before 7pm and don't eat the next morning until somewhere between 9am and 11am. You can read more about my eating pattern here.
1:30pm Light lunch or substantial snack.
3pm Workout. Like mealtimes, my exercise time is fluid, I do some type of purposeful movement everyday, but never on a routine. I've been doing at least 15 minutes of daily yoga lately which I enjoy in the early morning as a wakeup or in the late evening before bed. If I do cardio or weight training, that usually happens sometime in the middle of the day.
5pm Ella home from pre-school.
7:30-8:30 Bedtime routine for Ella: a bath with lavender epsom salts, reading, rocking in her rocking chair, sleep by 8:30 at the latest. We're strict with her bedtime and nightly routine.
8:30-9:30 Unwind time: clean up, get things ready for the next day, make nighttime tea.
10-11pm Reading and sleep.
When do you feel best in your body?
I feel best about my body when I take care of myself by consuming nourishing food, enjoying frequent movement, managing stress, and getting adequate sleep. For my 35th birthday, I donated my bathroom scale which did far more for my ability to love my body than just about anything else (beyond the four pillars of health I mentioned above) I've ever done. It's always been relatively easy to not let the number on the scale determine my self-image or worth, but the scale had become a mild source of negativity. For the better part of a decade my weight had been stable within a small five pound range. I was used to that range and felt good about my body within that range. I started doing some weight training this year and put on a few pounds of muscle. Although I still felt great in my body and clothes, which has always been my primary barometer of health, seeing a different number on the scale was hard to reconcile. So I got rid of that input. It's not that I deny my weight, I just realized I don't care what my weight is as long as I feel great, which I do.
What’s your workout routine? And how do you remain motivated?
Honestly, with the exception of 15 minutes (or more) of daily yoga, I don't have a workout routine. I know I need to exercise to be able to do the things I enjoy in life and to feel the way I want to feel. I want to be able to keep up with Ella and set a good example for her of how we can live healthy lives without feeling compelled to exercise. Removing the obligation from exercise and finding your "why" seems to be the key to being happily active for life. My why is simple, I enjoy being fit. There are many times I don't "feel" like exercising, but as with lots of things, if you wait for the times you're in the mood, it doesn't happen. Sometimes you have to act your way into right thinking, and not not wait for illusive motivation. Nike's slogan "Just Do It" is catchy because it's the distillation of many active people's view of exercise, including mine. I want to be fit, it's important to me, so I exercise.
How can minimalism help one lead an optimal and healthy life?
We live in a world that profits from confusing health messages. Massive industries — food, healthcare, fitness, even alternative medicine — all have different and often opposing motivations, which unfortunately results in information that is frustratingly conflicted.
Health is not a commodity, but that’s often how it’s treated in modern society.
Applying minimalism to our lifestyles can help us achieve a healthy life in a simpler and more enjoyable way. Filtering out the thousands of conflicting messages helps clarify the path and focus on a simple framework makes a healthy life more tangible, accessible, and achievable. For me that framework is: eat nourishing whole foods, move your body, get sufficient sleep, and manage stress. Focusing on and committing to continual improvement in those four areas of our lifestyles leads to a healthier life.
Balance is the key to healthy living, what are some tips to creating and maintaining balance?
Indeed, balance and moderation are central to healthy living. It's important to understand that everyone's balance point is different and will shift over time. What feels balanced to us now won't necessarily be what works in the future. Conversely, what worked in the past won't necessarily lead to balance today. One way we create balance is by understanding that 180 degree changes don't happen overnight — we’re unlikely to be successful with a drastic diet plan, or a very intense exercise routine if it’s significantly different than our current routine. Those enormous shifts are destabilizing and unbalanced. Instead think of change in terms of committing to small and realistic pivots from our current habits — with time and effort, we end up in a radically different but balanced place, living a beautifully healthy life.
What advice would you give for anyone who wants to become a minimalist?
My partner, Joshua likes to say minimalism isn't a radical lifestyle, it's a practical lifestyle. Getting rid of the excess in our lives helps us focus on what's truly important and that's different for everyone. For anyone contemplating the minimalist approach to life, understand that it's not really about the stuff, it's about being intentional with all of our resources — money, time, attention — it's about living more deliberately. When I started down this path, I played The Minimalism Game a few months in a row, which ingrained the habit of evaluating the physical items in our home and jettisoning the stuff that wasn't necessary. Since then minimizing been a continual process without an endpoint. I didn't cross a threshold of "having less stuff" and suddenly become a minimalist, it's been an evolution.
What’s next for Minimal Wellness?
I'm offering a web-based program in October called the 23-Day Priorities Reset. This will be the third "class" of the Priorities Reset and I love coaching these small groups of highly motivated, like-minded people. I also plan to do more writing this fall and am looking forward to seeing where the creative process takes me.
Where can people find you?
Minimalwellness.com is the source for blog posts, recipes, information on coaching services, and my contact information. I'm also active on social media (@minimalwellness), my preferred platform is Instagram, but I'm also on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.