Raj Girn: With this week’s theme of Mindset and Clarity, the goal is to unpack why some high-performing professionals are able to handle so much and stay on top of things, but cannot seem to get a handle on their wellness journey, especially their diet. My guest is Sonia Jhas, a well-known TV personality and mindset and wellness expert.
Here is Part One of our conversation:
After overcoming her personal struggles with body image and negative self-talk, Sonia walked away from a skyrocketing corporate career to share her hard-earned lessons with others. She launched her own company to inspire and educate high-performance women like her, to transform their lives through the insights that she had discovered along her own journey with wellness. After quickly building a social media following of over 350,000 fans globally, she realized that more people needed her guidance than she had anticipated, so she embarked on a speaker’s series, which earned her much acclaim, with talks for organizations that included Girl Talk Empowerment Day, TD Bank, IBM, Scotiabank and Deloitte.
She has worked hard to carve out her niche within the media also, with the goal of reaching more people with her message, appearing regularly on national shows like Breakfast Television, CityLine, Sirius XM, and Global Morning. Sonia has been in over 75 publications, has been on a number of industry magazine covers, and has won numerous awards which include the Notable Award for Best in Sports and Fitness.
Welcome to the show, Sonya. There is so much that I’m looking forward to glean from your expertise and your experience. Thank you so much for joining us.
Sonia Jhas: Thank you so much for having me Raj. As always, it is so exciting to be able to dive in with you today, because whenever you and I connect, there’s a lot of magic that happens. So I feel like today is going to be an excellent deep dive on everything related to health, wellness and mindset.
Absolutely. I cannot wait, sweetheart. Folks my goal with this two-part series is to help stop the seesawing many of us experience going from a week of being healthy to a week of being out of control. And I know that a lot of you guys can really understand what that feels like because it’s really difficult to be consistently healthy all the time. And I think a big part of that is trying to understand what it means to even be healthy. So I am looking forward to diving into that a little bit so we can get some sort of context around all of the different definitions of what health means, what wellness means, and all of the above.
As a seesaw survivor herself, who has cracked the code on this very common dilemma, Sonia coaches high performance women in combating this through a formula that she has created that is tried, tested, rinse and repeat, which we are going to deep dive shortly. But before we do that, Sonia, I’ve got to really ask you to give us some context so that everyone that doesn’t know you, the way that I know you, can understand what this journey for you has been like. How did you crack the code of yo-yo dieting and seesawing back and forth? Can you share some of your journey with where you started with this, with the overwhelm and all these other things that you help a lot of your clients deal with today to kind of where you are at today?
So I would love to say that it’s been sort of natural evolution and that, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve just found self-worth quite seamlessly that has led me to a place of self-love and therefore more balance. But in reality, my journey was actually quite convoluted. It was a bit of a roller coaster because I had spent most of my youth, like many women out there, on that hamster wheel of weight loss, just based on media and diet culture and early exposure to the girls on the covers of the magazines. I inadvertently decided very early on, actually as young as nine years old, that I was larger than I should be. And without realizing it, I made it a problem that I had to solve. And when you’re young, you’re not really worried about the long-term ramifications of the choices that you’re making. You want the quick fixes. You’re desperate to try anything.
“When you’re young, you’re not really worried about the long-term ramifications of the choices that you’re making. You want the quick fixes. You’re desperate to try anything.” ~Sonia Jhas
And so like many women out there, I tried harder and I did fad diets. I starved myself. I had bouts of anorexia, followed by bouts of bulimia in university. And it was that desperation to finally get to the destination. It was like happiness was just 10 pounds away. And if I could just get there, then I would hang on to that feeling forever. And it felt so real and so palpable. But it’s never that straightforward. As we all know, happiness never comes when it’s just 10 pounds away. And so through all the ups and downs, sometimes big, sometimes small, I had every different wardrobe size to take care of my current weight situation. There was so much involved that had accumulated over the years that at the age of about 24 when I was really trying to figure out my next step in life because I had achieved all the ticking marks that my Indian parents had sold me as the perfect destination in life. You know, the husband, the penthouse downtown, the executive career in the corporate world. I had done all of that heavy lifting to get to that final destination.
And I remember sort of looking around at my life at that point, being like this just doesn’t feel right. This doesn’t feel like this can be all there is for me. It just feels unfulfilling. I feel like there’s a void. I don’t know what else to grasp towards, but I need to do something. And so naturally, like a good Indian girl, I decided to go for more education because when is another degree not the answer to self validation? So I got my executive MBA thinking that would fulfill me and give me a little bit more confidence, the feeling of self-worth that I was looking for. And yet still it just felt like there was this haunting feeling. And instead of getting my PhD, which would have finally made me the doctor my parents always wanted, I decided I would just go on a journey within. I found myself thinking about having children and the idea of bringing a daughter into this world or a son into this world with a mother who still was on that hamster wheel of weight loss, felt really risky. It felt like how am I going to be able to set the foundation for another individual’s relationship with their body when I have not made peace with my own?
And I think it was a bit of a rude awakening to really sit back and say, you know what, you’ve done so much work and so many other areas of your life it is now time for you to actually address all of the garbage you’ve accumulated in this area. And so I went on a journey within for about a year to 18 months where I taught myself the fundamentals of fitness and nutrition. We all think we know, especially in this day and age with Instagram science floating around. We don’t realize how convoluted we are with one day it’s Keto, and one day it’s intermittent fasting. And while there was no Instagram during my time, over the years of all of this desperation and this research, I had really sort of created this very messy version of what health and wellness was supposed to look like. And so peeling back the layers around that, reteaching myself the fundamentals and then finally shifting my perspective and taking a long-term approach in terms of creating a new state of wellness through a lifestyle that felt like it was coming from a place of self-love instead of self-hate.
I slowly found over the course of the year that not only was I making tremendous progress on the body front, but I was feeling more and more aligned and more and more authentic and more and more empowered to be more of who I was potentially destined to be. And it was that intersection between doing the mindset work and the fundamental fitness and nutrition work that really brought everything together from a formula perspective that left me with this really deep passion to want to help other people. I found myself wanting to go up to the girls, bobbing up and down on the elliptical machines at the gym, being like, “You’re doing it all wrong. Stop what you’re doing. I’ll help you.” Which would have been clinically insane. And so I didn’t. But what I did decide to do was sort of take the inflection point as a sign that it was time to make some major changes in my life. And despite my parents’ reservations, I quit my corporate career and I launched myself into the health and wellness space.
And there has been no looking back because I think the wealth of knowledge that you accumulate as a mindset and wellness expert when you yourself have been every version of that girl is very different than what happens when you’re sort of learning things from a textbook perspective. Like you go to personal training classes and you know the techniques conceptually, but you don’t know how to really make the whole engine work in a high functioning, empowering sort of way. It’s very different than when you’ve experienced iteration after iteration for yourself. And so I think that has been the piece that has been the most meaningful for me in this space, is bringing that personal experience and then all of the experience that I’ve accumulated with my clients to really be able to move people through their own journeys.
“I think the wealth of knowledge that you accumulate as a mindset and wellness expert when you have been every version of that girl is very different than what happens when you’re sort of learning things from a textbook perspective.” ~Sonia Jhas
So I’m really curious about something that you said, Sonia. You said that you’ve literally been on every different type of fat diet, starved yourself, intermittent fasting, you name it. You’ve done it. When did you figure out that it wasn’t working and how did you fix that?
So I think the reality is we take that spray and pray approach, right? Somebody said something about this, I’m going to try that. Somebody said something about that, I’m going to try that. And the reality is because we’re not clear on the science and we’re not clear on what actually works and how the body actually changes, we stick with something for like four days to four weeks. And then we’re like, “It’s working, but it stopped working.” And we throw in the towel. And it’s not like there’s one formula that works for everybody. I’m not knocking Keto, I’m not knocking intermittent fasting. I’m not suggesting that some of these protocols are not effective. But the really important piece of the equation is finding out what’s going to work for you from a lifestyle perspective.
And for me, that was the biggest crux of the issue, is I couldn’t find a harmonious lifestyle that was sustainable. I had little bouts of these tips and tricks that I was utilizing that were leaving me sort of feeling like I was chasing after things that were never within reach. But when I really got to be honest with myself about what is the life I want to build, what is the evaluation criteria I have for myself to say I am living a healthy, balanced, harmonious life? That doesn’t mean that I can’t be striving for more progress, whether it’s from fitness or an esthetic standpoint, but really that I’m doing it in a way that I can look at myself in the mirror and say, “You’re doing this for the right reasons. You’re taking the right approach.” And this is something that you can stay committed to as opposed to quickly did this, quickly did that.
So what was that for you, Sonia? What was the right reasons for you?
I think for me, the reasons felt like they were very obvious in the beginning. It was I want to look skinny and I want to feel good in my jeans. And it was all about the muffin top. And as soon as that was going to go away, I was going to be like, “I have made it and everyone’s going to love me.” And I think that was really it. I was looking for validation from other people. I know. if I’m being honest, it felt amazing when people would be like, “So how do you get your arms like that?” Or “Why is your stomach so flat?” And I’d be like, “No big deal. Like I don’t even try.” When meanwhile I was deeply, deeply unhappy, starving myself, spinning myself in circles to try and look that way. But that validation felt so real and so important to me, although of course I never would have admitted it at the time. For me, the real shift came from peeling back the layers on my values.
And what do we think about values? It’s so easy to say, “Oh, I believe in philanthropy and I believe in being a good person and honesty and integrity.” And we wax poetic on these things that we think are supposed to be the gold standard for humanity. But we don’t realize, first of all, where those values, if in fact, we do believe in them, have come from and how much of them are just inherited sort of legacy values that we’ve adopted from our family or our culture or society as a whole. And we also don’t really stop to think about what is laser-focused true for us, what actually is going to be our evaluation criteria from a values perspective so that we can make decision making in our life feel that much clearer and that much easier.
Because when you don’t know what your values are, everything becomes so much more convoluted. You can be swayed in this direction, you can be swayed in that direction, the seasons change internally all the time. A muffin is put in front of you. I’m obsessed with muffins and suddenly everything goes out the door because you are in that moment being pulled by different drivers. But when you are clear about what your evaluation criteria is and what’s truly important to you, like you really hone in on your internal why, decision making overall becomes infinitely easier because you’ve got something larger than those hamster wheel emotions going on that you can rest yourself upon to really trust that the decisions that you’re making are, in fact, leading you to be the person and to have the life that you really want. And so for me, some of the things that really rang true were the idea of balance and that I didn’t want to be living a life that felt like I’m working out seven days a week, two times a day, eating only chicken breast and leafy greens because I want to look like a fitness model.
“When you don’t know what your values are, everything becomes so much more convoluted. You can be swayed in this direction, you can be swayed in that direction, the seasons change internally all the time.” ~Sonia Jhas
But I also value not fueling my body with total garbage that has no nutritious value. And looking at those two extremes, I felt very clear about the fact that my goal is to move towards a place of more balance and alignment so that I can ebb and flow in a way that feels compassionate but also focused and deliberate. It’s something that continues to evolve. For me. I would be lying if I said that I have the formula once and it stuck. We keep changing as people. And so the formula keeps changing as well. But from a values perspective, figuring out what was important to me so that every day I could go to bed saying you did good today, not because I lost a pound or not because I starved myself or not because of the fact that somebody else was saying that I was doing well, but that internally I could say with integrity, you are staying committed to what’s important to you. And it may not be easy and it may not be fun, but that commitment, I think, is what gives you that feeling of empowerment and really creates that positive snowball.
So, Sonia, I need to ask you this. I know it’s a question that everyone is going to be really curious about, especially people like me who are extremely busy all the time. And we’re constantly focusing on the business side of our lives a lot more than other aspects of our lives. I want to ask you this. What are the different stages of the yo-yo dieting lifestyle? Because I’m it. Can you explain some of the kind of science or experience that you’ve seen either with yourself or with your clients around that?
Yeah, I think the reason that the yo-yo dieting phase feels so natural for people and that we can all sit there and be like, “Yeah, girl, I’ve been there,” is because by nature, high performing go-getter type A type women really sort of, I think, struggle in so many ways with the all or nothing mentality. That is one of the biggest symptoms of perfectionism. Perfectionism can rear its head in so many different areas of our lives. We tend to think we are perfectionists when it comes to our work, but that’s sort of the way that it stays. And we almost take pride in it. Right? We’re perfectionists. We want everything to be a certain way. We’re go-getters. We’re hardworking. We are very intense. But we think that it sort of stays neatly tucked in this one category of our life. What we don’t realize is that it really does impact health and wellness in specific, whether it is the deep desire to control food in an unnatural way, which frankly means, you know, drinking celery juice or eating bland chicken breast and leafy greens, but no salad dressing and doing all those things that frankly feel shitty.
But we expect ourselves to do them anyway, because that’s how hardcore we are. Or when we sort of end up breaking that protocol because we’re natural and we’re human, we flip all the way to the other side, which is getting it in now while you can, and then it’ll be out of your system and future you is going to be even more in control and even more committed than current you. So then we’re going to be getting on the wagon again and it’s going to work. And there’s this constant idea that future you is going to crack the code in a way that current you can’t do. And so with that perfectionist tendency, we are both in that high functioning mode, but we are also procrastinating all the time. We see that in so many different ways with that push-pull tendency when it comes to perfectionists. You’re either deeply consumed with perfection and executing in a certain way, or you procrastinate as long as you possibly can for fear of failure.
And it’s the same thing when you look at that yo-yo dieting mentality. You’re either super hardcore or you’re procrastinating because you don’t want to fall off the wagon again and you have to mentally hear yourself back up to be able to get back on the wagon. And this idea that future Raj is not going to want the muffins or the cake or the wine or any of the chips because she’s going to be involved in a different way that current Rag is not, is this myth that we carry around with us. And what we don’t realize is that future Raj is built on the actions of today’s Raj. And that is something that I really had to digest and read, digest and read, digest over many years of my life. I always had this idea that something was going to snap and suddenly I was going to be like reformed and that my commitment and my resilience and my tenacity would be unparalleled to anything I was ever able to do up until that point, not realizing that that commitment and that resilience only gets built through the actions of today. And so that, for me, was a major aha moment that was pivotal in changing the yo-yo dieting mentality that I had.