How a Health Coach Harnessed Her Rebel Tendency to Lose 40 Pounds and Boost Her Energy.

I love hearing how people put the Four Tendencies framework to work — whether by using knowledge of their Tendency to improve their own lives, or to work more effectively with other people.

Recently, I got an email from Nagina Abdullah, health coach and founder of MasalaBody.com. She listens to the “Happier” podcast, and she told me about how she was able to eat more healthfully, lose weight, and boost her energy by harnessing the strengths of her Rebel Tendency.

This story was particularly interesting to me, because — as Rebels themselves often point out — the strategies that work for other Tendencies often don’t work for Rebels.

So I was fascinated to hear her story, and she wrote an account of it to share — which is below, with my comments in brackets.

Nagina writes:

When I was a kid, I got sent to the principal’s office on a weekly basis. While my teachers would ask the students to be quiet and obedient, I would end up in laughing fits and get sent to the principals’ office to get disciplined.

I struggled with following expectations for my whole life. As a child, I resisted my teachers’ rules. As I got older, I resisted being healthier.

See, I love food. I love sweets, fried food, food trucks, BBQs – everything that isn’t good for my waistline. I ALSO resist following the rules of having to be strict to get healthy.

My tendencies finally made sense when I took Gretchen’s Four Tendencies Quiz. I wanted to see if I was an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, or Rebel.

I wasn’t surprised when I scored as a “Rebel.” Rebels resist outer and inner expectations.

After decades of being addicted to sugar and feeling unable to control my cravings, I embraced my Rebel tendencies. As result, I lost 40 pounds, skyrocketed my energy and started wearing the clothes I had dreamed of wearing.

The “Healthy Rules” I Did Not Want to Follow

After having two kids and working 60+ hour weeks, I felt exhausted and overweight, more than ever before. I needed to get healthier to feel better and have more energy for my kids.

I didn’t want to deprive myself of food I loved and I didn’t have time to spend hours in the gym.

Here are the rules to getting healthier I would regularly hear:

  • “You have to count calories, points, crumbs, licks, and drops”
  • “You must exercise 3+ days a week”
  • “No eating cupcakes, donuts, and everything else you love”

 

Even though I wanted to get healthier, I resisted restrictive rules like these.

This led to a lot of internal frustration, yo-yo dieting, announcing “It isn’t worth it!” and “Why is this so hard for ME?” [Rebels often get frustrated when they try to use the same techniques that work for other Tendencies.]

Even if I wanted to be healthier, I couldn’t even follow my OWN rules.  [Rebels resist outer and inner expectations.]

Would I ever change my habits to get healthier when I kept rebelling against the rules?

I finally got my dream body when (only when) I broke the rules.

Here’s how I broke the rules to lose 40 pounds and keep it off for now over six years.

Above All I Wanted to Be a “Rebel Mom”

Being a mom is the greatest gift, but I feared I would be overweight, exhausted and put myself last in the name of my kids, which is the stereotype of a mom I held.

That’s when I decided to be a REBEL MOM and break through the stereotype.

Here’s my vision of being the mom I wanted to be:

  • Feel confident in a bathing suit so I could swim and play in the sand with my kids
  • Run 5k’s with my kids and set healthy examples for them
  • Feel sexy around my husband
  • Go rollerblading, biking, ice skating, roller skating, skiing, snowboarding and more with my family and feel strong and agile as I am doing it

 

Having a goal of a “Rebel Mom” inspired me to be healthier.  [Rebels want to express their identity; they want to live in accordance with their authentic self; they can do anything they choose to do, in order to be the kind of person they choose to be.]

3 Rules I Broke to Get My Dream Body

I started by eating healthy, because I found that it is the most impactful thing to do. But I needed to make eating healthy enjoyable and realistic for my life and family, and that’s when I realized there were three rules I had to break. [Rebels do well to focus on enjoyment. They also often enjoy breaking rules or achieving aims in unconventional ways.]

Rule 1: “You need to eat healthy every day to lose weight.”

How I break Rule 1:

I have one “Cheat Day” a week where I eat everything I want, so I always get a “break” from the rules and have something to look forward to. A Cheat Day is KEY to losing weight if you hate following those strict diet rules. [As an Upholder and an Abstainer and a very low-carb eater, this would not work for me — but it works for Nagina.]

Rule 2: “You have to eat boring food in tiny portions so you feel like you are starving to lose even 5 pounds.”

How I break Rule 2:

Instead of making my food flavorful with heavy sauces and creams, I use spices and herbs that pack in the flavor and have natural health benefits (like anti-inflammation and reduced water retention). I feel like I’m “cheating” and indulging even though I’m actually eating healthy.

I love to add a pinch of cinnamon (lowers your blood sugar) in my morning coffee because it tastes so delicious. [Again, the focus on pleasure and choice.]

Rule 3: “You are “supposed” to eat healthy.”

How I break Rule 3:

Remember the last time you were at an airport? Temptations at every turn, with most people indulging in them? It’s HARDER to eat healthy than not!

As a result of eating healthy, I feel in control of myself, and feel like I’m rebelling against the “norms” of society. [Rebels often benefit from reminding themselves, “I’m not going to be trapped by a sugar addiction. These big companies can’t control me with their fancy marketing campaigns and crinkly packages. I’m strong, they can’t make me eat their junk.” Rebels also often love a challenge: “Most people can’t resist the goodies in an airport, mall, or store, but for me, it’s not a problem.”]

 What you can do to get healthier:

If you resist outer and/or inner expectations (Rebels resist both, and Questioners and Obligers resist one or the other), and/or you have found it challenging to get healthier, try to BREAK some of the traditional rules by using one of the methods that worked for me:

  1. What’s a stereotype you would break by getting healthier? Embrace that and make it your goal.
  2. Include one cheat day a week and eat whatever you want on those days, while staying healthy on the other days. [Very effective for some people! Not effective for others! Know yourself.]
  3. Add herbs and spices to your foods to make it taste indulgent without the extra calories.
  4. Resist the unhealthy temptations around you and feel in control of yourself.

To help you, I have a special gift for Gretchen Rubin readers. I would like to send you my three spiced late-night snacks to banish your sugar cravings forever AND a bonus recipe e-book, “7 Spicy Recipes to Help You Lose Your First 7 Pounds.” You can get these here.


What I love about Nagina’s account is how carefully she examined what works for her, what she wants, and figured out her own way to get there.

By embracing her Rebel Tendency, she was able to get the benefit of its enormous strengths. By contrast, when Rebels think they “should” be able to use techniques like to-do lists, scheduling, monitoring, or accountability, they often get very frustrated with themselves.

There’s no one “right” way, no one “best” way — only what works for you.

  • Eevi Jones

    Love this one, Gretchen. Thanks so much for featuring this wonderful article from Nagina! I found this especially insightful as it illustrates why it matters to know and be aware of one’s tendency. Knowing about it enables us to take full advantage of it. Nagina was able to used her Rebel Tendency to make this weight-loss journey work for her and to reach her goals.

  • Lisa Zahn

    Thank you! I’m a Rebel too so I love seeing anything for my type. Nagina, your “Rebel Mom” idea made me realize that my own focus on healthy eating and movement is to REBEL against the idea that we’re doomed to age-related illnesses and body fat/aches and pains, and all the other “problems” people are supposed to have as we age. I don’t believe that at all! So I do my best to eat well (and rebel against the idea that healthy food is bland and boring!) and keep walking every day so I can be a “Rebel Woman” no matter what my age. I love your ideas!

  • Karen Scatchard

    Great post & the first one I’ve read that has left me with a good feeling about being a rebel. Would like to read more about Rebels

    • gretchenrubin

      Stay tuned for the book THE FOUR TENDENCIES! The longest section is about Rebels.

      Gretchen Rubin

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