Kat Ditched Her Obsessive Goal of 6-Pack Abs After Finding Out She Had Hashimoto's
I'm sure many of you can relate to Kat Spangler, 28, and her desire of wanting six-pack abs. But what started out as a healthy interest in food and fitness to support her dancing quickly turned into extreme diets and workout plans just to achieve that flat tummy. After experiencing a myriad of health issues, Kat finally said enough is enough. Here's her story of how she gave up disordered eating and took back her health.
Kat's History With Dieting, Weight, and Fitness
"My relationship with my diet and my body has been a rollercoaster I think far too many women experience," Kat told POPSUGAR. What started out as a healthy interest in using food and fitness to support her future dance career quickly devolved into an obsession with getting a six pack. In her mind, a flat, toned tummy was the epitome of what made a beautiful dancer (and, for that matter, a beautiful woman).
"I spent years utterly fixated on my stomach and how to make it smaller with extreme diets and workout plans. I would pinch the skin around my abdomen, judging its thickness with my fingers. I would cross my arms over my waist every time I sat down, embarrassed about the roll sticking over my jeans. I'd admire my abs in the morning, dreading the moment that first meal would make me 'fluffy' again," she said.
Back then, so much of her worth was wrapped up in how close she was to her goal weight. "Every time my willpower won the battle against dessert or (gasp!) carbs, I'd beam with pride. Every time I'd cave to my cravings, I would berate myself for not being stronger," Kat added. With every failed diet attempt, her self-esteem took another hit, and it seemed like the more obsessed she got, the more stubborn her body became.
Kat's History With Disordered Eating
"I definitely had some pretty intense disordered eating," Kat explained. During the day she would stay totally "on plan." She'd eat a bowl of oatmeal or a banana and peanut butter for breakfast, and a salad, a turkey sandwich, or a South Beach Diet pre-prepared meal for lunch. And for dinner she pretty much always had some sort of protein, a veggie, a salad, and a grain.
"But at night, when my family would go to bed, I'd sneak into the pantry and gather every candy, cookie, chip, cracker, and ice cream I could find, spread it all out on my bed, and stuff my face while watching Friends reruns," Kat said.
Kat would also attempt two-a-day workouts whenever she could. "I would do a workout DVD in the morning, and then hit the treadmill at the gym after school, plus whatever dance classes I was taking at the time."
Kat's Health Issues
Her "enough is enough" moment happened eight years ago as a 20-year old sophomore in college. Kat had been dealing with a myriad of mystery symptoms for six years at that point, and no doctor could give her answers.
"I was constantly getting drop-kicked with bronchitis," she said. "My digestion was a disaster. My skin would randomly erupt in strange, itchy, white patches, and cystic acne. And I could get 12 hours of shut-eye and still fall asleep sitting up in a restaurant while eating dinner with my boyfriend's family."
Kat found a holistic MD who confirmed her self-diagnosis of something called Candida albicans, which is a pathogenic yeast that can wreak havoc on your gut and your entire body. She said she was also diagnosed with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease of the thyroid.
Kat's Shift to Focusing on Her Health
"That diagnosis changed my relationship with my body and with my diet forever. With one phone call, I stopped caring about whether or not I had an extra inch of pudge around my stomach, what fad diet was leading the pack, or what workouts boasted the highest calorie burn," Kat said.
Instead, she wanted to know what foods would lower inflammation and heal her gut. She wanted to know what workouts would give her the most energy and reduce the most stress.
Kat's Diet Now
Kat's diet is a blend of plant-based, Paleo, and the Mediterranean diet. She tries to eat 80 percent plants usually in the form of roasted veggies and fresh fruit. For protein, she mainly eats wild salmon, organic eggs, and collagen powder, and she tries to only occasionally have grains.
"I also avoid gluten, dairy, corn, and soy, and I keep an eye on any food sensitivities," she said. "And yes, I do eat dessert when I feel like it, I just don't overindulge." This usually looks like going to a local bakery for a gluten- and dairy-free cupcake once a week, plus some dark chocolate here and there.
Kat's Workouts Now
Kat mixes up her workouts a lot because her main goal is to enjoy what she's doing. Sometimes she'll just focus on fun classes like dance, pole, and barre. Other times she'll write a program for herself that usually involves three days of strength work, one day of cardio, one day of HIIT, and a couple days of active recovery like yoga.
If Kat doesn't want to think about what she's doing, she loves following programs, such as 21 Day Fix or 80 Day Obsession.
Kat's Nonscale Victories
Kat experienced huge nonscale victories including massive improvements in her skin after healing her gut and putting her Hashimoto's into remission. "Cystic acne used to cover my face, chest, and back, and now I only break out a little bit around that time of the month," Kat said.
Another victory was improved energy. "My fatigue used to be debilitating, and now I have so much energy, I feel like I'm a completely different person," she said.
Kat also was finally being able to separate her self-worth from how her body looked. "I don't need a scale to validate me anymore."
How Kat Stays Motivated on Her Self-Healing Journey
Part of how Kat stays motivated is just by remembering how far she's come. "My body and my mind were in such a bad place for so many years and for so long I had no idea what was wrong or how to fix it," she explained. "Now that I know what my body needs and how incredible I can feel, it's hard to be tempted away from that."
Her other secret for motivation is she daydreams every single day about the future she wants, in vivid detail. "I get so excited and so invested in this vision I'm trying to achieve, it really takes away the appeal of most 'temptations' that might prevent me from reaching those goals," she said.
If you're on your own health journey, Kat said to make it fun! The only way you're going to stick with building a healthy body is if you actually enjoy the process, so find the joy in experimenting in the kitchen and in the gym.
She said you don't need to eat bland foods or torture yourself on the treadmill if that's not what you're into; try something new, like kickboxing, Zumba, or CrossFit. She suggested turning being healthy into a hobby instead of a chore; why not take a Mediterranean or vegan cooking class?
Kat also said you've got to do the real, inner work. "You can't just change what you're doing. You've got to change who you are, how you think, and how you show up for yourself," she added, "you're going to have to confront the limiting beliefs that have led to self-sabotage, the stressors that tend to trigger you, and the habits that threaten to keep you stuck."
Remember that it'll take patience, time, consistency, and intentionality, but when you master those deeper pieces, you'll be absolutely unstoppable not only on a journey to a healthier you, but also in the rest of your life.
Kat's Final Thoughts
Back when Kat was going through all of this, she wished she had a mentor to help her navigate both the emotional and tactical hurdles she was coming up against. This is the exact reason she created her podcast, Life Unleashed.
Co-hosted with her best friend Gio, the podcast features info Kat has learned over the years, such as how to quit procrastinating your biggest goals and how to meal prep based on your personality type. "Hopefully anyone wanting guidance and inspiration on their journey will find it really helpful in getting them to their goals faster and with greater ease than I did," Kat said.