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

By The Cairn Project

“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 . 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.