Our Community - Reflections on Adventure

Nature’s Healing: Meet Kristen Ales of Wild and Weightless

“Body positivity isn’t something that is achieved over a weekend or on a retreat in a tropical location–body positivity is a practice.”

Kristen! We’re so glad you’re one of our Ambassadors and that you can bring the mission and expertise of Wild and Weightless to our community. Tell us a bit about yourself! 

Hey I’m Kristen! I am an outgoing, adventure seeking gal with a passion to promote positive body image in the outdoors. I am a relationship focused therapist, with formal training in Wilderness Therapy and Disordered Eating. I have years of experience working as an adventure travel guide, working as a therapist and creating memorable and impactful experiences for participants through Wild and Weightless.

I have been impacted by disordered eating and negative body image my whole life, I have struggled with binge eating and anorexia, and have spent time wearing all different sizes of jeans. I spent a lot of my earlier life in a high conflict, and abusive relationship with my body. I always found a way to blame all of my problems on the size of my body.

Throughout the years, I struggled to find balance. I thought that weight loss would solve all my problems, but the weight always crept back. I thought that an outdoor lifestyle would keep me healthy and thriving, turns out when I wasn’t hiking, skiing or constantly moving the disordered eating voices came back. I thought finding a partner would cure my need for controlling my weight, but it only made it more complicated and secretive. Trust me, I know what it feels like to struggle and feel all over the place.

Was there a turning point for you in this journey where you starting to move toward healing? 

I first started to experience healing from my disordered eating through my work as an outdoor school instructor. I was outside every day, teaching children about redwood trees and rocks. I dressed up in costumes and put on skits to make people laugh, and I ate camp food. For the first time in my young adulthood, I was being celebrated for my skills as a leader, not for the way that my legs looked in my shorts.

For the first time in my young adulthood, I was being celebrated for my skills as a leader, not for the way that my legs looked in my shorts.

This confidence ignited something in me. I started hiking and skiing consistently. I took seasonal jobs that allowed me to travel and explore new places. I said yes to a lot of things that I never thought I would do–things like rock climbing, leading expeditions, and living in a truck looking for the next peak to summit. I started celebrating my body for all that it could do, and my size was actually the last of my worries. I ate because it fueled my adventures and was a way to connect with my friends I met on trail. Food no longer had such power over me.

In reflecting, I wish I would have found the outdoors at a much earlier age. I think it would have helped me learn to have more respect for my body, taught me to have a more peaceful relationship with food, and shown me that being active was actually fun–and not just a method for weight loss, or embarrassing team sport situations.

It’s inspiring that the outdoors was a place for healing in such a literal way for you. Once that shift began, how did your path lead you to starting a business focused on body positivity? 

I received my Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with an emphasis in Wilderness Therapy in hopes to learn how the outdoors impacts our relationship food and our bodies. What I found out was that this was a subject that no one had really talked about. I knew that I wasn’t the only person who had this experience, so I started an instagram account @wildandweightlessand created this call to action video https://vimeo.com/203032409 . I started interviewing other women who recreated in the outdoors. I found that almost all women who spent significant time outside felt overall more satisfaction and less worry about the appearance of their bodies.

What I have learned from years of study in this area, is that the outdoors is a great tool for achieving positive body image, but it is not the “end all be all.” Being in the outdoors is a wonderful way to create a new relationship with our bodies, but it also acts as a distraction from our insecurities. In order to heal the relationship we have with food and our bodies, we must (literally) stop running from our issues. I have created a curriculum around the concept of building trust and deepening the relationship with our bodies on and off of the trail.

The work I do with Wild and Weightless now has two components. One, making the outdoors accessible and welcoming for ALL sizes, ages, and experience levels. I know I had spent a long time believing that I wasn’t worthy enough to enjoy outdoor activities–I want to change this for others. Two, equipping women with the tools and education they need to build a healthy relationship with their bodies, even if they can’t hit the trails. It is important for us to acknowledge that recreating outside is a privilege, and we must create a solid foundation of self esteem for times when the outdoors are inaccessible. For example, if you experience an injury, big life transition, or are in the middle of a global pandemic.

So cool! What’s it like to have your “day job” be so connected to a deep personal experience/passion? 

I absolutely love the work I do. As a therapist and facilitator it is important to remember that all we can do is offer a new way of thinking about and relating to our bodies. It is the participants job to nurture and care for these ideas. Body positivity isn’t something that is achieved over a weekend or on a retreat in a tropical location–body positivity is a practice. I run Wild and Weightless to keep up this practice for myself, and help support other womxn along the way.

Team Photo Kristen Ales
Kristen Ales

Kristen is an outgoing, adventure seeking gal with a passion to promote positive body image in the outdoors. She’s a relationship focused therapist, with formal training in Wilderness Therapy and Disordered Eating. See Kristen's ambassador page.