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Women’s Health And Fitness with Ali Watts
My special guest is Ali Watts. Ali is based in Manhattan, New York. She left the corporate world in Sydney, Australia to follow her passion. She loves helping people transform their bodies and minds through fitness and nutrition. Ali is a qualified personal trainer and yoga teacher. She’s also a qualified health coach through Primal Blueprint and she’s doing her Master’s in Nutrition through an Australian university. She has over ten years of experience in health, fitness and yoga. Also, in her spare time, she runs Primal Health at Primal.Health and also Ali Fitness at Ali.Fitness personal training and podcast. She’s a partner in a gymnastics studio. It sounds like you’re busy, Ali.
We didn’t even talk about what I normally do, which is look after my five-year-old daughter running around.
That is a full-time job, isn’t it? I wanted to start by learning a little bit more about why you left corporate Australia. Did you have a particular health problem of your own? What was happening at that time?
We’ve all got health problems of some sort if we look into it. For me, I always grew up thinking that you’ve got to do whatever makes the most money. It was very much financially-driven. Long story short, I spent a long time in Japan. I had a fascination with Japanese. I ended up doing a degree in Japanese and in linguistics and then an honors degree in linguistics. I realized that working in Japan was great money but when I got back to Australia, that industry wasn’t going to make me much money. I thought, “How can I make more? I better get into banking because banking makes lots of money.” I got into banking and became a branch manager and then a home finance manager and then a business banker.
I lent money to businesses and I absolutely hated it. I felt like I was selling my soul to the corporate world. I was quite good at what I did and so I made a lot of money for the bank, but it didn’t satisfy my spirit in any way. One day I realized that life was too short and during that time, I’d done lots of yoga retreats and became a yoga instructor and followed my passion in the background. I think I may have even been a qualified personal trainer and I just did a course for fun. I realized that it doesn’t matter how much money you make. If you’re destroying your health and your soul, then you’re going to spend all that money on health anyway.
It’s amazing because so many of us go down that road of thinking that if we make a lot of money, somehow in the end, we’ll be happy. It doesn’t work that way. If you’re making money doing what you love, that’s where happiness comes. It took me a long time to figure that out as well. I had followed some of the same pathways you have. How did your health journey affect where you are now and your passion for helping other people, especially other women?
That’s a long story. Firstly, it was all about getting fit and I loved to exercise. I was always one of these people who grew up with two brothers. I loved soccer from an early age. I ended up getting in the Australian team. I’ve always been very sporty. The journey took me through this, “If you can run that far, you must be able to run this far. If you can do that, then you can do this.” There was just no end and I loved it. I overdid it so much that I wasn’t able to eat enough to train that hard. I ended up getting chronic fatigue in a very bad way.
From there, all sorts of things happened and one of them was an addiction to exercise. I couldn’t stop exercising. It’s only over the last couple of years that I have confronted that. I’m still addicted to exercise to a certain extent but in a very different way. During this journey, I had a lot of things telling me that exercise isn’t the be-all-end-all. One of which was a double hip operation structural issue that put me in a wheelchair for eight months and six months on crutches. It gave me no opportunity to exercise. It was probably one of the best things that could ever happen to me for two reasons. Firstly, it made me get into meditation, which was the best thing that ever happened to me. The second thing was I was able to relate to other people. I was a yoga instructor and I was always flexible. I couldn’t understand where other clients were coming from, the ones that weren’t so flexible. I had to start from scratch and learn how to be flexible again.Transformation is easy when you know how to do it. Click To Tweet
Is that a humbling experience for you?
It seems like you’ve always had a driven personality. My audience knows that I also suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia some years ago from the same thing, just driving myself into the ground. With your addiction to exercise, what is it that your mind, your spirit felt that it was getting from the exercise? What was it that you needed that made you so driven about exercise?
That may have changed over time. In fact, you’re the psychologist, you tell me. I shouldn’t have even brought this up because now I’m going to get a counseling session. It changed a bit. Initially, it was probably the endorphin rush and then it became, “This is something that you’re good at and you can get better at.”
If you were to get better at it, what did your mind think would happen though?
I can’t answer that and then maybe I should come and see you. I don’t know the answer. As I said, I think you could probably tell me but I do know that it was becoming detrimental to me. I had to change in order to live a better life. That’s where I could also see that in other people. I was training a lot of athletes at the time and I could see quite a common theme with it. From there, I realized that it’s not just about being fit. It’s about bringing health into fitness.
That’s a huge difference. I’ve worked with athletes who have eating disorders, including having an exercise addiction. I know during the driven period of my life that what I got out being so driven was things like recognition and a feeling of if I make more money, I’m going to be more secure. You and I were talking before the program about the connection between money, health and fitness. Many of us drive ourselves into the ground thinking that if we have a little bit more money or just enough to put into our retirement plan, then that will solve all our problems. That’s why I was interested. I can’t tell you your reason for why you were addicted. I can just share with you what my experience was and everybody has a different take on that.
It’s interesting. I think there were multiple reasons and one could have been the ability to be able to control being a type A person. It’s like having an eating disorder. In fact, I had essentially Anorexia Nervosa disorder where it’s something that’s in your control. I could control how much exercise I did, I can control food and I can control my body weight. There were multiple factors and I talked extensively in one of my podcasts about that. In answer to your question, I got into fitness for myself and then it slowly transitioned. I saw what was happening. All these people were fit but they weren’t healthy. I started a podcast which is all about bringing health into fitness.
What does it mean when you say people were fit but they weren’t healthy?
Many people assume that if you’re fit, then you’re healthy. What people would class as someone being fit, if someone told you they did an IRONMAN race or a long triathlon or did CrossFit or something, you’d consider them fit. A lot of people would assume that they’re healthy because they think fit and healthy go hand in hand.
The immediate question I have is how could you do a triathlon if you weren’t healthy? How could your body physically do it?
Quite easily, but I think the question would be how could they do it in 30 years’ time if they weren’t healthy and they wouldn’t be able to?
Youth plays a role here and just like anything, there are many people with Anorexia Nervosa who lived to be in their 50s and 60s. They are still able to have careers and even have children. As time goes on, their bodies deteriorate. How are you helping your clients bring health into fitness?
As you can see, it was a journey for me and it still is a journey for me in prioritizing health over fitness. I do that by interviewing people like yourself who can give tips on how to be healthy and fit. I interview professional athletes to find out how they do it or how they don’t do it in many cases. Also, I’m interviewing lots of different doctors and specialists in their field. I felt though on this journey that wasn’t quite enough. The reason I felt that was because I came across all these women between the ages of about 30 and 60 and I know you can probably relate to this. I feel like they’re very neglected. The group of that demographic don’t get a lot of attention.
Whether it be like a lot of them are moms and put other people first, I feel like they’re not being heard. I feel like there are groups of people that are amazing because I’m one of them and you’re one of them but need help in the areas of health and nutrition and lifestyle. I’m not talking about diet because that’s where we’ve all come from and if you face reality, we know it doesn’t work. I’m talking on a broader scale. I felt that I had to build a company that could help women like us with like body, mind, spirit, inner child, relationships and finances. Not just about one small domain of dieting or food.
Do you think with women feeling being neglected during that time in our lives, is that a cultural thing? Do you see that as much in Australia as you do in the US?Some people are fit but they are not healthy. Click To Tweet
Yes, I do but I don’t think Australia and US are that different that we could bother comparing. If we’re going to compare, we maybe compare an Asian country like Japan versus the US or something like that. I spent six years living in Japan and I’ve spent four years in Hong Kong.
How do women fare in there?
Maybe this situation could potentially be slightly different, but I feel that they’re still a neglected group. When I say neglected, I don’t think we’re understood nor do we understand ourselves because of the way we change as we get older.
That’s a very profound statement and very true. Most women are working now or at least over half of the women are working. The other probably have children. Their lives are busy and hectic. They don’t take the time to realize that their bodies are changing and their lives are changing. What they want and need are changing until sometimes they have a crisis.
The biggest frustration that I see, and I’ve definitely gone through this as well, is it’s worked for me in the past but it’s not working now. I don’t have the same body that I used to have and it’s frustrating me.
Yes, welcome to the frustration club.
That’s not me talking necessarily.
I mean other women. I hear the same story over and over that you’re hearing and it’s very true. We’d all like to feel like we’re twenty for the rest of our lives, but that’s not going to be the case. Our bodies are changing.
One thing I would say the difference between the Western culture versus potentially Asian, I don’t like to stereotype so much, but one thing I do notice especially in the Western culture is aging is regarded as being something bad. Whereas I find that in some of the other cultures it’s almost the wisdom that comes with it and respect. Like in Japan for example, if someone’s older than you, then you naturally respect them. Whereas I feel like in the Western culture, it’s almost the opposite. It’s like, “You’re old.”
“What do you have to offer?” We’re starting to see that in the workplace too. Older workers who may have extensive experience, let’s say they’re psychologists or in my field, addiction medicine or addiction therapist are being replaced by young people straight out of school. Part of that is economic because the younger people make less money, but I also think that part of it is ageism.
In Western culture, we don’t ever get told to appreciate aging and to enjoy it and it’s a part of life. In the same respect, we don’t have an understanding of death like many other cultures. We almost avoid it. When it happens, we have a funeral. We don’t have fourteen days of celebration.
That’s so true. That’s a glaring flaw. How are you able to work with the women you’re working with to help them learn to value and nourish themselves on all those different levels that we’re talking about?
It’s funny you asked because I attract women that want to get fit and healthy and look like me. I don’t say that because I look amazing. In fact, I try and promote not to look like me because it comes with issues. I’m a very muscular lean physique and because I do a lot of exercises and on CrossFit, I’m fit across all different areas. That’s because I like to be able to train lots of different people and have an understanding of lots of different fitness. In terms of optimal health, that is not the answer. In a way it’s ironic and I’m aware of that and every day putting all these things in place that get me more healthy. I feel like I’m definitely on that path. I attract those people and those people often need to concentrate on other areas. They are also attracted to this body thing rather than all the other areas that they need to be concentrating on.
What I found is that I’m just one experience and what I’ve gone through is not enough to be able to help the women that I want to help. Over the last couple of years, I’ve spent time designing a program that I believe is good and much more holistic. In the meantime, I’ve got a group of women, and it’s funny how they will come to me, who are also just like us within those ages. I have different coaches in different decades basically with incidentally and aging knows, just as you came into this area because of your own issues. They’ve got these amazing experiences that they’ve all had. Together, we’re able to help women because we’re coming from not just my experience but from all of the other coaches’ experiences together to be able to help in any situation any women. Between us all, we can cover anything that could possibly happen to you.
That’s a uniquely feminine approach to work in a team. Women do respond to that and it’s wonderful. You’re talking about Primal.Health.
Ali Fitness is a very different business. Primal.Health is the business now that I’m concentrating on because these are the women I want to help. I’ve got this amazing group of women health coaches who had these unbelievable experiences and also want to help women. They don’t want to worry about building a business and they want to coach because they want to help women.
That’s wonderful. I know that you have been on your own personal journey for a while. You mentioned that you responded very well to meditation and being able to put yourself in other people’s shoes, for example. What did meditation do for you that helped turn your journey around?
I should clarify that I am far, far away from mastering meditation.
That’s for everyone. Even the monks would say that.
To me, meditation is a practice. I came into meditation with the same approach that I came into yoga, which is different to how I approach sport and any other type of fitness. I don’t care about the results. I had to make that clear from the start. I can probably do most yoga poses out there but not because I had to get a yoga pose down pat. It was quite the opposite, I had no desire. With my meditation, that’s the approach that I have to take. I would probably be one of the best examples of the worst meditators in the world in terms of my ADHD if you want to label it that or whatever else. I’m sure I could be labeled if I was a kid these days. Back in my day, they didn’t label. Otherwise, I definitely think I had ADHD. Meditation for me is a journey but it doesn’t matter what result I get.
How does that free you though?
It’s amazing because it’s like no matter what I do, if I sit there for ten minutes and all I do is think about what I need to go and cook tonight, I don’t care because I did my practice. That’s the only measurement that I had is that I have to practice it.
A key, particularly to meditation, is to not judge yourself or think you’re not doing it right. Many people stop meditating because they feel like, “I know I’m not doing it right. I’m not doing it long enough. I’m not doing it frequently enough.” There’s so much judgment involved. There’s an enormous amount of freedom to do something just because it’s your practice.
That became apparent to me when I thought one day, “I don’t think that was very productive.” I just sat there and all I thought about was this and this. Then I thought about it, I feel calm. I’m like, “It works.” It doesn’t matter. You just have to practice it and it works. It amazes me because so many people say, “I tried meditation and it didn’t work.” I’m like, “You tried probably once.” When you first started trying let’s say CrossFit, how did you go in the first week? I’m sure you didn’t go too well. It’s like anything, practice.
I know you generously are offering a free giveaway to my audience. Can you tell us about that?
Primal.Health as I mentioned, we run a 28-day program and we do personal one-on-one stuff after that. The program is all about not just diet, not just nutrition, not just fitness. It’s a combination. We look at the body, which obviously is movement as well as exercise, as well as the environment and everything else. Then we look at the mind. What are you leading into your mind and what are you telling yourself? Then the spirit and then the inner child. Bringing that inner child out. We look at relationships because that affects your health. Then finally finances, because even though at the start, I did downplay finances. Finances do give you freedom and so finances are important.
We looked at all of those things and I wanted to give you something out of our program that would help your audience. Our biggest motto is to slow down and to nourish yourself. I’ve built a fitness program, which I believe is absolutely the best for our demographic. That demographic being women who don’t necessarily love exercise or maybe they do but want to do the minimal effective dose. They don’t have a lot of time, but they want benefits. Most women need strong bones, so bone density being very important and there’s a lot of science behind this. We promote two days of resistance training. That can be simple like body weight exercises. We also give an option to add weights if you like.
In my video demonstrations, I use tomato sauces and stuff from the fridge as well because the reality is that a lot of women don’t have time to go to the gym. They don’t need to go to the gym because all the videos that I do are in my home, on the ground, with very minimal and nothing if you don’t want to bring it. We promote two resistance training and then one hit style, high intensity for cardio. That can be done in several different ways. The best type of exercise is the one you’re going to do. Everyone always asked me, “What’s the best exercise?” It’s the one you’re going to do. With the high intensity, I give them lots of options. I’ve written a program if you want to get on a stationary bike, if you want to run or if you want to do some more bodyweight exercises in a fast way. All the videos are twenty minutes and none of them goes beyond twenty minutes.
Your free gift is a gift of a couple of videos?
Yes, I’m going to send a video and you need to let me know what video you’d like. Your clients need to let me know. We’ve got two resistance training. Every day, we’ve got something for the whole 28 days. We’ve got two resistance training in a week. We’ve got one high intensity. We’ve got yoga, stretching and mobility, and then one that we call primal movements.
How will they communicate that with you?
They can send me an email. If you’re not sure, just say, “Send me a video.” All they need to do in the email is put, “Dr. Ross, Please send me a video.” If they would like to say which one, they can say which one. For example, they might say yoga, stretching, high intensity or they might say resistance training or primal movements.
Are they able to access your email through the Primal Health website?
They can. Otherwise, they can send me an email directly at Ali@Primal.Health.
Do you have any last minute words of advice for our audience about bringing health to fitness?
I’m sure my advice would be very similar to yours and that is don’t bother with the diet. Don’t think that nutrition or exercise or one thing is going to change your health. It’s a combination of several different things and they all need your attention.Aging should not be regarded as something bad. Wisdom comes with it and respect. Click To Tweet
We can end that by saying there is no magic pill.
Yes, unfortunately. I got back from a cruise and It’s the first cruise I’ve ever been on. Potentially my last but it was very interesting. I went to Florida and the Bahamas. On the cruise, I had to start counting. Nineteen different people came up to me. All different ages and sexes came up to me and asked me the same question. It was almost like I had a t-shirt on that said this. A lot of them grabbed onto their stomach as they asked this question. They said, “How do I lose weight around here?” Questions along those lines.
Some of them said, “What exercises are best for my abs?” A lot of these questions came to me when I was at the bar or something else, so it was a bit strange. That’s when I wish I had that purple pill that I could just pull out and say, “Take some of these.” I could have sold them for a fortune. If I was smart, I would say “Don’t bother about doing my 28-day program,” which is cheap and way undervalued. I’d be better off saying, “Buy these pills for $1,000 and I guarantee you that will change your life.” I’d make a lot more money and I’m sure you could do the same.
I was going to echo the exact same thing. I’ve had times when people have asked me to prescribe diet pills or to advise them on a diet. If I had been able and willing to go down that path, I would be able to retire right now but I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. That was more important to me.
Let’s face it, if there was one diet that suited everyone, there would be one diet book.
That’s right but it doesn’t. It’s been great having you on, Ali. I want you to remind everyone of the two websites that they may want to visit.
Primal.Health and the other one is Ali.Fitness. Thank you so much for your time coming on my podcast and what you’re doing is amazing. I feel like a lot of the people that were hoping, if they’ve got deeper psychological issues, we’re not trained in that. We recommend that they come and see you because sometimes if you do have these issues, you need professional help. I know that you’re helping so many people.
Thank you but I don’t want people to think that my anchor program is only for people who have huge emotional scars. Most of us in the world have pain. We have experiences that we haven’t processed that have led us to overeat or over exercise or whatever our behaviors are.
What I mean is that you’re able to find out what they are.
I usually say to people, “If you’ve tried all the things that you thought would work and then they don’t work, then come see me.” I would say the same about you because you’re doing great work and we have the same philosophy, just a little different approach. Thanks again, Ali. It’s been a pleasure.
Thank you, Dr. Ross.
About Ali Watts
Many years ago Ali Watts left the corporate world in Sydney, Australia, to follow her passion — helping people transform their bodies and minds through nutrition, fitness and lifestyle. At the start of 2018, she moved to Manhattan from Hong Kong to spread that passion even further. As an integral part of her own journey as a personal trainer and yoga teacher, Ali realized that to achieve true longevity and optimal health, women really need a holistic approach—addressing the three pillars of lifestyle, nutrition and fitness simultaneously. Among other things (like being a badass fit chick)she runs Primal.health, Ali Fitness personal training and podcast, and is also a partner in an S & C gymnastics studio — www.transformgst.com. Her goal is to help as many people as she can be fit and healthy for the long term.