For close to two decades, Stacy Berman has been teaching people how to get in shape, eat healthy, and find balance in their lives. Thanks to her training in Tae Kwon Doe, Capoeira, kickboxing and bootcamp drills, she has a comprehensive understanding of the body and its movements.
In 2009, she created The Body❊Mind Project which combines exercise and meditation in one program. She is also the founder of The System, shakes made with completely organic ingredients that are non-GMO, gluten-free, soy-free, antibiotic-free, hormone-free and paleo friendly.
In 2015 she received a master degree in natural medicine and is on track for her Ph.D in natural medicine. We were excited to sit down and speak about her work, including her Love Yourself Naked project
Please share with us your fitness and wellness journey. In other words, how did you go from running your Stacy’s Bootcamp Classes to your current PhD studies?
After more than 20 years of training everyone from Iron man athletes to post natal moms I saw first hand that you cannot out train your diet. What you put in your mouth accounts for about 80% of everyone’s weight loss journey. Exercise is an essential, but much smaller component.
The shift from looking at behaviors to looking at thought and feeling patterns happened when I stepped back from training people everyday and started my PhD in Natural Medicine. With a bit of distance I could look at common health goals, like weight loss, from a new perspective. I started to see that the way we look at health and weight loss was missing one obvious ingredient…our self perception. The way we see ourselves from an emotional level has a huge impact on our physiology. I had seen it played out for years and wanted to study the science behind it all.
Tell us more about how your state of mind and emotional patterns can change your biochemistry and neurology!
Here’s how it works:
-We have a thought.
-The brain sends signals, in the form of nerve impulses, to the body in accordance with that thought.
-The body releases chemicals which you experience as feelings in line with that thought.
-The brain picks up the chemicals being released by the body.
-The brain thinks the thoughts in line with the chemicals being sent by the body.
-Your biochemistry and neurology is altered and you are in a repeated pattern of thinking and feeling, feeling and thinking.
For easy to understand examples just think about how you felt when you were really scared or very attracted to someone? It was not just an idea, but there were physical reactions in your body. If those altered states continue over time they can dramatically alter your biochemistry, but more on that later.
Tell us about your work with women looking to lose weight.
Once I had concrete evidence through my dissertation research that self perception effects health and weight loss I began working with women individually on their issues in the same way a therapist might. I saw that many women have this negative tape playing in their heads. Outside of private sessions and my upcoming book I wanted to do more. Something that would force women to step out of their comfort zones in order to rewire their brains immediately. I wanted to create a safe space for women to explore what it feels like to see themselves naked, feel sexy and strong, outside of the male gaze, in essence to reintroduce their bodies to themselves in an empowering positive way.
With this in mind, I created a series of, what I call, vaginacentric photo shoots i.e. women only/women focused. The aim was to bring women together to help them see themselves through a different lens, not the overly critical lenses they usually view themselves through. The results were staggering. As you can imagine, the way we see ourselves can become very distorted and we often block out anything positive in favor of the familiar negative thoughts that we are accustomed to.
By opening a dialogue and a photo shoot women literally saw themselves like never before and our video interviews allowed people who were not present to see the transformations.
How did your own personal weight loss affect your current work with your clients and your studies?
It is easy to get behind something you do yourself. Everything from my psychological studies, meditation practices, and martial arts allow me to test everything I teach first hand. There are no theoretical practices. If I recommend it, it is usually because I actually have done it every step of the way. It builds a necessary amount of trust between my clients and I.
Can you share more about what you are studying in your PhD program?
I am a born and bred New Yorker…grew up in the Bronx, which means I am a natural born skeptic. The New Yorker in me doesn’t like BS. I want to know if something is real, if it works, and how it works.
Yet on the other side of my personality is a quieter, more contemplative person that spent years exploring meditation with gurus in India, Shamanic healing, and a number of medicine journeys. All of these are literally on the other end of the “rational spectrum” that exists in New York.
The question I had initially was how do these two seemingly opposite approaches reconcile within me? Internally them meshed, but it required a bit of science to understand some of the more esoteric things I experienced over the years. The eastern worlds of meditations tend to focus more heavily on experience rather than explanation, but without the knowledge base it becomes difficult to have a complete conversation with a broader audience.
The official title of my field of study is mind-body medicine aka psychoneuroimmunology, using thoughts and emotions to influence physical health. In many ways it is bridging the gapping between eastern and western medicine.
What is the first step that women (or men!) should take to break the cycle of negative thoughts that have damaging effects on our biochemistry and neurology?
Let’s take a thought that many people can relate to…what do you think when you look in the mirror?
After surveying hundreds of men and women, there was a laundry list of points of view. Most of the thoughts ranged between: “I could look better” to “I look disgusting.”
Regardless of where someone is in that range, we can start with a similar approach:
1. Get some distance from the thought by writing it down or say it out loud. What this does is makes you aware that the thought is just an idea…it is not actually you. It is just an idea you have about yourself.
2. When you have that thought see if you experience a feeling in your body and note where you feel it. Some people will feel it in the stomach or chest, etc.
3. After that keep a record for a week to see how frequently you have these thoughts. This will point out, with frightening regularity, how you speak to yourself. Chance are the pushiest douche bag on the subway is kinder to you than you are to yourself.
With this new found awareness you have a choice to continue what you think and feel or to take steps to interrupt those thoughts. As the neural circuits are interrupted in the brain it has a cascading effect on the body. The entire chain of thoughts, which lead to feelings in the body can be rewritten over time. With dedicated effort you can change your own biochemistry in about three weeks…or as I like to say You can learn to Love Yourself Naked.