So, you’ve tried every juice cleanse and every fad diet listed on Google, you’ve spent hours at the gym, yet still see no results. You want to improve your health and fitness, but it feels like you’re on a windy road with no end in sight. Sound about right?
Well, you’re not alone. We know – you’ve probably heard that before, but we too have walked in your shoes. In fact, the long journey to discovering wellness is a fundamental part of Level’s birth story!
Let us start by introducing you to our founder, Elle Leonard. Without knowing Elle’s past, it would be easy to assume she’s always had it figured out when it comes to health and fitness. With a strong, lean body, a husband in the NBA, and as the founder of Level, how could she relate?
Well, Elle can relate more than you may think! Elle’s journey to discovering health and fitness wasn’t easy – we’re willing to bet she’s shared many of the same experiences most of you have struggled with.
Why do we share? Because just like you, Elle was that girl trying to figure it out –and, she did. It didn’t come from deprivation, a quick fix, or a focus on her appearance. In fact, the internal journey was just as important as the changes taking place on the outside.
So, coming from a girl who struggled to find her way, we’re here to tell you – a healthy, balanced lifestyle is attainable and sustainable. Let Elle’s journey inspire you to keep going.
A Trip Down Memory Lane
“I’m not quick to share my fitness journey because I feel like there is a misconception of our internal strength being dictated with our external image. So, let me keep it real.” - Elle Leonard
From a young age, a typical day of eating consisted of 4 pieces of toast with butter and cinnamon sugar in the morning, pasta with hotdogs and a Rice Krispies treat in the afternoon, and a tall glass of milk alongside steak and veggies for dinner.
“If food was a language, my Mom would be fluent,” says Elle. “Growing up, I honestly think her favorite thing to do was feed us. She would just cook the kind of food that would make you pause. Those dishes that had you closing your eyes, inhaling through the nose, and swallowing with a slow “Mmmmmm”. While I said my mama’s food was good, I never said it was always healthy. She always knew how to use a good stick of butter or two. But man while you ate it, you weren’t mad!”
If you’re thinking, "this was a typical day of eating for a child?" keep in mind, the education and information surrounding nutrition and wellness were nonexistent compared to what we know now! Yes, given our health-centric society, this may seem shocking – but it wasn’t all that unusual back then. With that being said, today’s society doesn’t necessarily make it easier to understand health! As the saying goes, there can be too much of a good thing. With so much contradictory information on nutrition and a never-ending emphasis on diet-culture, knowing how to eat healthy in today’s society can be just as hard.
For Elle, this lifestyle is all she knew. Growing up, there was never much consideration into healthy eating – just wholesome eating. Picture 8th grade, Elle. Standing about 5 feet 8 inches tall. She had nicknames such as, “Elle Belly”, “Brick House”, “Big-boned”, and “Beef”.
But, it’s important to note – the Elle we’re describing was strong and confident too. Let us remind you – your external body does not define your mental strength! A size 0 does not equate with happiness, just as a size 16 does not equate with unhappiness. As an athlete most of her life, this big-boned body served her. It gave her the strength to power through her workouts and achieve her goals, and ultimately get her to the place she is today.
So, what prompted Elle’s transition to a healthy lifestyle?
“Towards the end of High School and the beginning of college, I started to get really interested in nutrition. With my athletic career over, the weight and physical strength, which previously served me, was no longer required for my “retired” life. While I was interested, I didn’t really find solutions. Yes, I got to cook for myself. But my access to real information was clouded by the low-calorie and sugar-free callouts everywhere in the aisle,” says Elle.
If “healthy eating” sounds like a foreign language, join the club. After growing up in the Midwest all her life, Elle was in for a rude awakening when she moved to Portland, the gold-standard of health. Everything she understood about health (diet this, and sugar-free that) was thrown out the window the second she stepped into Whole Foods for the first time in 2013.
“It took three laps around the store for me to eventually realize that I was NOT in Illinois anymore. I stood there in the middle of the aisle trying to figure out what the heck was going on. I went through all the practical scenarios in my head. ‘Did I move to the wrong Portland? Wait, is there even another Portland? Hell, there probably is. Maybe this place is all vegan. Damn, no. I definitely walked past a butcher multiple times. Also, what is this 365 deal? It’s EVERYWHERE. Maybe it’s a local brand?’ I honestly thought I was doing crazy. I couldn’t understand how I wasn’t finding any of the “Low-Calorie” or Midwest “healthy” brands that I was used to getting. My confusion quickly led to embarrassment.”
While embarrassed, what Elle took away from this infamous Whole Foods trip was a deep dive into rediscovering the meaning of healthy.
“What I noticed is that they broke it down. They were, at their core, about the source. They were about the quality of ingredients, not the calories. When I was trying to make healthy changes in the Midwest, I was sold on the idea of low-cal or sugar-free. We had been taught to hate butter but love margarine. Whole Foods questioned what I knew about being healthy. It was less the fact that I didn’t know the brands. It was a memorable experience because it had me question what I had known to be true,” says Elle.
And the Journey Continues
Don’t be fooled, the change didn’t happen then and there. It was a long journey, filled with every type of diet under the sun. If Google listed it, Elle tried it.
Yes, Elle did in fact juice a banana, proving just how foreign this whole lifestyle was to her!
- Juice Cleanse: A hangry Elle. Need we say more?
- Vegan: While this diet can certainly be healthy, Elle found a vegan lifestyle didn’t sustain the demands of her body, quickly losing her muscle definition.
- Paleo: To Elle’s disappointment, baking and eating a batch of paleo scones on repeat is not quite healthy
...the list goes on.
Somewhere along the way, Elle discovered balance. Yo-yo dieting is exhausting - not only physically, but mentally too. When Elle stopped comparing herself to others and what the societal standard of “healthy” looked like (news flash: healthy is not a size 00!), she was able to intuitively listen to her body and find a lifestyle that worked for her. At first, this meant understanding macros to better understand portion sizes, and eventually, this led to intuitive eating.
No fad diets.
No calorie counting.
No restrictive eating.
Here’s what balance looks like today:
- Discovering what foods didn’t serve her (goodbye gluten and dairy)
- Eating frequently (fire-up the metabolism!) Elle always eats breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks in between (usually a smoothie and Level bar)
- Being more forgiving with meals (aka, treat-yo-self! You don’t need to get a salad every time you go out to lunch if you’re eating healthy the majority of the time)
- Balanced, portioned meals
- Practicing self-love. Physically, mentally, and emotionally.
It’s A Lifestyle and Every Body Is Different
What works for one person isn’t always going to work for the next – everybody is different! When Elle discovered this, her mindset changed and her body quickly followed suit. This healthy way of living was unique to her body, her needs, and her lifestyle.
And, that’s just it. It’s a lifestyle. This whole “healthy” way of living? It’s a life-long process! One that is unique to you and only you. One day might look different than the next. One month might look different than the next. Rather than punishing your body, focus on nourishing it. Instead of focusing on what you can restrict, consider what healthy foods you can add in!
The more you love your body, the more it will love you in return.
So, you see, what Elle discovered is this isn’t really a diet at all. To put it simply, Elle’s health and fitness transformation was leveling up her lifestyle.